Walking Tour: Museums and Art Galleries in Sydney, Sydney (Self Guided)

Sydney has a wide range of museums to satisfy every possible interest. Many of these museums offer wonderful temporary exhibits in addition to their exceptional permanent collections. Most of the museums reveal the history of the Australian continent, which is inseparable from the maritime aspects. Taking this walking tour, you will become familiar with Sydney’s most famous museums.
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Walking Tour: Museums and Art Galleries in Sydney Map

Guide Name: Walking Tour: Museums and Art Galleries in Sydney
Guide Location: Australia » Sydney (See other walking tours in Sydney)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 km
Author: nataly
Sydney Observatory

1) Sydney Observatory

This 140 year old observatory is the oldest in Australia. The Sydney Observatory was designed to preserve the history of the science of astronomy. It is surrounded by serene gardens where visitors can sit and enjoy the view.

The Sydney observatory was first the site of a windmill. Later a fort was built to defend the city from attacks by the French and rebellious convicts. In 1825, the eastern wall of the tower was used to send signals to passing ships. In 1856, government astronomer, William Scott was commissioned to design an observatory adjacent to the signal tower. The sandstone building has an Italianate style designed by architect, Alexander Dawson. At first the main task of the observatory was to tell the time through the Time Ball Tower. At 1.00 pm, the ball at the top of the tower would drop to signal the time to the harbour and the city.

The museum has many old telescopes, sextants and other astronomical objects on display. There is a 3-D space theatre and sky viewing sessions overseen by a professional astronomer. The sessions are held at night and visitors can observe the planets through a state of the art 40cm Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope or an ancient 29 cm refractor telescope built in 1874 which is the oldest functioning telescope in Australia.
Susannah Place Museum

2) Susannah Place Museum

The Susannah Place Museum highlights the life of the working class in Sydney from 1844 to 1990. It is located in the Rocks area of Sydney which was once a slum and rough neighbourhood.

The Susannah Place Museum consists of four sandstone houses. These are the last of the sandstone structures that were once found in abundance in the area. They were originally built in 1844 for Edward and Mary Riley. There is also a corner shop adjacent to the buildings. They have been the home of many working class families after the Rileys. The interesting part of the museum is that restoration has been performed only to make the structures safe. All other aspects have been left undisturbed.

The houses have layers of paint and peeling wallpaper, a 150 year old lounge, an 80 year old kitchen and a 100 year old bedroom. The brick type toilets to the recent flushing toilets are depicted to show the changing sanitary methods used in the city. The backyard shows the changing methods of washing from the tub to the washing machine used in a working class neighbourhood. The museum has a short DVD on the history of the The Rocks and photographs on how the road looked before the building of the Harbour Bridge. The corner shop is decorated to reflect the richness of working class community life and sells 19th century products over the counter.

Hours: Monday-Sunday 2:00 – 5:00 pm
Museum of Contemporary Art

3) Museum of Contemporary Art (must see)

The Museum of Contemporary Art, or simply MCA, has a goal to exhibit the best contemporary art from Australia and the world. Originally opened in 1952, then relocated in 1989, it is among the newer museums in Sydney. Despite its relative youth, it has a reputation of one of the most internationally respected organizations among those purposed to exhibit, interpret, and collect contemporary art.

Why You Should Visit:
Fun & comprehensive Australian art selection in many art forms, air conditioning, and free exhibitions (the first two floors are free to access, donations accepted).

Amazing views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge from the rooftop café (just go onto the terrace – no purchase required!).
If you find yourself not enjoying the museum or thinking the exhibits are not good, try taking the tour, as it might help to change your mind.

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 10am-5pm; Wed: 10am-9pm
The Justice and Police Museum

4) The Justice and Police Museum

The Justice and Police Museum is dedicated to this history of law and order and crime fighting from the arrival of the convicts to the twentieth century. It is housed in a building that was used by many law enforcement agencies throughout history.

The building had several uses before it became a museum. It served as a Water Police Court, a Water Police Station, a Police Court and Traffic Court. The rooms have an array of displays about crime fighting, famous criminal cases and heroic policemen. There are also many photographs and crime fighting equipment on display.

The Justice and Police Museum contains many interesting exhibits for visitors. There is an intact prison cell in the building, an original front desk area that formed part of many police stations, a collection of weapons used by the police down the ages, a well preserved courtroom where visitors can sit in the judge’s chair or take the witness stand and a torture chamber for misbehaving prisoners. One of the rooms contains many objects and pictures to pay homage to the policemen fallen in the line of duty. A recent display called Sin City showcases the history of crime in Sydney from the time the city served as a prison colony to the present.

Hours: Saturday-Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Museum of Sydney

5) Museum of Sydney (must see)

The Museum of Sydney showcases the fascinating history of the city and how it developed from a small village near a harbour to a vibrant metropolis. History comes alive to visitors through displays, pictures and digital media techniques.

The Museum of Sydney is on the site of the first Government House built for the first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Philip. It was constructed in 1788 and was unearthed by archaeologists in 1983. The early drains are left exposed in front of the modern structure housing the Museum of Sydney. It was designed by the architect firm, Denton Corker Marshall. The museum opened its doors for public viewing in 1995. It has an award-winning sculpture called the Edge of the Trees depicting the first contact between Aborigines and British settlers.

Notable displays at the museum are panoramic views of the city, goods and chattels belonging to convicts uncovered by archaeological digs, objects dedicated to the indigenous people who lived in the location before the arrival of the Europeans and models and descriptions of the first fleet that brought British troops and convicts to Australia to set up a penal colony. The museum tells the tale of the people who lived and worked in the city and visionaries who shaped modern-day Sydney.

Why You Should Visit:
One place to quickly upgrade your knowledge about Sydney by way of varied and interesting exhibits including unique artworks, archaeology, models, and more.
Although not large, the museum is well laid out and there are several videos, archive films, and interactive exhibits.

Taking the guided tour is a good idea, as it unravels so much more information. There is a lot of subtlety to the museum which is probably lost on the people who criticize it for not being BIG.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Art Gallery of New South Wales

6) Art Gallery of New South Wales (must see)

The Art Gallery of New South Wales holds a large collection of Australian, Aboriginal, Asian and European Art and hosts changing exhibitions all through the year. The aim of the gallery is to be a place of experience and inspiration through collections, exhibitions, programs, and the study of art.

Walter Liberty Vernon designed the building in the classical tradition of grand colonial mansions of the time. The gallery opened in 1897. Since its opening, several extensions have been added to the structure including the Captain Cook Wing and an Asian Arts Wing.

The collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales includes an impressive selection of British Victorian Art and smaller collections of early French, Italian and Dutch painters. Many works of famous 19th-century Australian painters like John Glover and Arthur Streeton and 20th-century artists like Margaret Preston and Sydney Nolan. It also awards the Archibald Prize, the highest Australian art award, the Sulman Prize, and the Wynne and Dobell art prizes. The library has a large collection of books on art, manuscripts, rare books and files of Australian artists. Other facilities include a café and a shop selling art books, gift articles, and postcards.

Why You Should Visit:
Brilliant selection of art, many examples of different art genres, relaxing atmosphere, very pleasant and helpful staff.
Free admission save for special exhibitions that are generally worth paying for and seeing.

The gallery is open late on Wednesdays – including the café and more formal dining upstairs.
Make sure you check the free guided tour schedules before you go – they make a lot of difference.

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 10am-5pm; Wed: 10am-10pm
Hyde Park Barracks

7) Hyde Park Barracks (must see)

The Hyde Park Barracks served to house the large convict population who were transported to Australia from Britain. It is now a museum dedicated to the history of the building.

The Hyde Park Barracks was designed by emancipated convict architect, Francis Greenway. It was built by convict labour between 1817 and 1819 as the first permanent shelter for convicts. They roamed the streets and crime was rampant until the construction of the barracks. It is located at the centre of a walled compound covering 2.16 hectares and has three floors. Other buildings inside the walls included a cookhouse, a bakery and quarters for soldiers. It was closed in 1848 and had many uses since. It became a dormitory for emigrant women who awaited the arrival of their families, an asylum for destitute women and was later converted as government offices and law courts.

In 1981, the Hyde Park Barracks became a museum run by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. The first floor recreates the arrival of the first fleet with convicts and the life and times of the early convicts including a confinement box and leg irons. The second floor recreates the history of the building after it ceased to be convict barracks. The top floor recreates barrack rooms with hammocks showing the dwelling place and conditions of convicts at the time.

Why You Should Visit:
To understand more about Sydney's past either at your own pace or with the aid of an excellent audio guide that helps to bring the stories to life.
Incredible levels of detail and unique displays throughout that mix modern technologies with the old building and stories.
The staff at the gift shop and reception area are very friendly and informative.
Set on beautiful grounds, the area is just beautiful to stroll around.

There is a cute little restaurant right outside the museum that serves great lunch and drinks – it's fun to eat in the courtyard with ivy climbing up the walls behind.
The bathrooms are also located outside and behind the main barracks building which requires you to return your audio guide on the way out and recover it when you return.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Australian Museum

8) Australian Museum (must see)

The Australian Museum is the oldest in Australia and showcases an array of natural history and anthropological exhibits. It is an interesting and entertaining museum for visitors of all ages.

The museum was founded by the Earl of Bathurst who was the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1845. It was housed in many temporary locations until it moved into its present building. The handsome sandstone structure was designed by architect James Barnet and opened for public viewing in 1857.

At first, exhibits at the museum included stuffed birds and animals focusing on the flora and fauna of Australia and the South Pacific. After 30 years anthropological exhibits about the indigenous people of Australia were included in the display. Objects unearthed by archaeological expeditions about the first European settlements in the country are also showcased at the museum.

Special temporary exhibitions and programs are held for young and old visitors. Children are fascinated by the dinosaur gallery and the special interactive space in the museum designed for young visitors. There are lectures and workshops for adult visitors and ‘Scientist for a Day’, programs for children. The Museum also hosts performances by local musicians and dance companies on Sunday afternoons.

Don't forget to take the Official Sydney Guide at the airport or at one of the tourist information stands to get a coupon discount for the ticket.
You can re-enter as many times as you like on the day, so have a little picnic/siesta in the park before going back inside for more.
Otherwise, try the rooftop (level 4) café for excellent views of the city and a nice rest in between galleries.
The special exhibits that they have throughout the year are worth keeping an eye out for.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5pm

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Whether you are in Sydney for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Sydney has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Sydney, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

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