From national monuments to avant-garde galleries and independent theatres, these are Australia’s greatest historical and cultural treasures.
Australia is home to a thriving arts scene with a year-round calendar of exhibitions, festivals and events. Discover Australia’s rich cultural history in a range of museums around the country. See works by the best international and Australian artists in major institutions, small commercial galleries and in city laneways. Attend a full-scale performance at iconic venues such as the Sydney Opera House, or catch a gig by up-and-coming local musicians in a bar or pub. Read on to find Australia’s finest historical and cultural offerings.
A performance at the Sydney Opera House is a must while in Sydney. Choose from more than 40 performances each week, which span opera, theatre, classical music and ballet. You can also join a two-hour backstage tour to go behind the scenes of this incredible architectural landmark. Catch a performance by the Sydney Theatre Company or Bangarra Dance Theatre at elegant Walsh Bay, or visit the acclaimed Belvoir St Theatre in Surry Hills, which has nurtured great Australian performing artists such as Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis. Cut a cultural trail from The Rocks to Hyde Park, taking in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Art Gallery of New South Wales and Australian Museum. The inner-city neighbourhoods of Paddington, Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale are home to many galleries, including the multi-arts space of Carriageworks and contemporary Chinese art museum White Rabbit Gallery. Check out a gig by some of the biggest names in music at the Enmore Theatre in Newtown. Experience the buzz of the Sydney Festival in January and Vivid Sydney in May and June.
In Melbourne you can browse a collection of more than 70,000 works of art at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest gallery. Nearby sits the Australian Centre for the Moving Image which is worth a visit to immerse yourself in the world of film, television and digital culture. The waterfront hub of Southbank is home to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – renowned for its innovative, multimedia exhibitions – and the Arts Centre, where you can watch the Australian Ballet or Opera Australia perform. Discover public art in Docklands and murals by well-known street artists in Fitzroy. Don your finest attire for a blockbuster musical in the opulent Princess and Her Majesty’s theatres, or intimate cabaret, drama or jazz in the city laneways. Visit the Melbourne Museum, which offers a window into Victoria’s Aboriginal culture, then expand your knowledge on an Aboriginal Heritage Walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne Gardens. Melbourne hosts countless cultural events, including the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in March and International Jazz Festival in May.
On South Bank the Queensland Cultural Centre links Brisbane’s major cultural institutions, including the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Museum and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Spend a day here exploring the works of famous Australian artists, see a skeleton of the state’s own dinosaur, Muttaburrasaurus, and stay on into the evening to catch a performance of ballet, opera or orchestra. In New Farm, the transformed industrial space of the Brisbane Powerhouse is the venue for theatre, comedy, dance, art, markets and restaurants. You can also see live music in neighbouring Fortitude Valley (try The Foundry or The Zoo) or experience independent theatre or music in the eclectic inner-city suburb of West End. See an orchestra play between the grand Corinthian columns of Customs House, or watch community concerts in the historic Brisbane City Hall. Attend the Brisbane Writers Festival and Brisbane Festival, both in September.
Tree-lined North Terrace is home to the Adelaide's most significant cultural institutions. Marvel at more than 3000 artefacts celebrating the cultural life of Australian Aborigines, one of the world’s oldest continuous living peoples, in the South Australian Museum. Next door, stroll through the halls of the Art Gallery of South Australia to view an impressive collection of Australian colonial art. Further along North Terrace, visit the State Library, Parliament House and Government House. See a performance at the Adelaide Festival Centre, the home base for the State Opera, State Theatre, Australian Dance Theatre and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Watch artists and sculptors in action in the West End or follow a gallery trail from the elegant streets of the city centre to neighbouring Kent Town and Norwood. Visit during "mad March", when four of Adelaide’s premier festivals – Adelaide Festival, Fringe Festival, WOMADelaide and Clipsal 500 – coincide for a month-long celebration of theatre, music, art, and motor racing. Watch fabulous performances at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June or celebrate LGBTIQ cultural diversity at the Feast Festival in November.
The sprawling Perth Cultural Centre in Northbridge is the confluence of Perth’s cultural heart. See Aboriginal art in the Art Gallery of Western Australia and visual and performing arts in the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. A few blocks away, watch the West Australian Ballet and West Australian Opera perform in Australia’s only remaining Edwardian theatre, His Majesty’s Theatre. Or hear soul singers and symphonies carry through the superb acoustic architecture of Perth Concert Hall. Meet some of Western Australia’s leading Aboriginal artists and learn about the Dreamtime, at the Aboriginal Art Gallery in Kings Park. In Fremantle, check out the Western Australian Maritime Museum and join a tour through the convict-built Fremantle Prison, then catch a free concert at the Fremantle Arts Centre. During February and March the Perth Festival offers a jam-packed program of theatre, music, dance and visual arts.
See colonial arts as well as zoological and botanical collections at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), which is housed within heritage buildings on the Sullivans Cove waterfront. Visit the 13 art spaces within the Salamanca Arts Centre, and then catch the ferry to the lauded Mona (Museum of Old and New Art), which houses the controversial private collection of Tasmanian art collector David Walsh. You can also see leading Tasmanian artists at the 1842-built Lady Franklin Gallery in Lenah Valley, which is open to the public on weekends. In the evening, see the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra play in the Federation Concert Hall or watch international ballet, opera, drama and musicals at the Theatre Royal, Australia’s oldest-running theatre. Alternatively, catch a gig at Rektango or Republic Bar & Cafe. Culture vultures flock to Hobart for the art, film and music that makes up Dark Mofo in June, the music festival Mona Foma in January and the week-long Taste of Tasmania, held over the new year.
In Canberra, you can learn about the birth of Australia’s political system in the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, then watch politicians debate today’s issues in modern Parliament House. See the country’s finest collection of Australian art at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and famous Australian faces at the National Portrait Gallery, or visit 35 purpose-built studios, supporting over 40 artists, at ANCA Gallery. Explore some of the defining moments in Australian history on a guided tour through the National Museum of Australia, or discover the diverse history of Canberra at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Watch ballet, theatre, dance or musical performance at the Canberra Theatre Centre in Civic. See a local production at The Street Theatre or opt for classical music at the School of Music located at the Australian National University. Don’t miss the Canberra International Music Festival in May to experience more than 20 intimate performances.
Explore Darwin’s rich Aboriginal heritage and relive 1974's Cyclone Tracy in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. See traditional and contemporary Aboriginal art and craft in the galleries along palm-lined Mitchell Street. Watch footage of the World War II air raids on Darwin at the Darwin Military Museum and if you're interested in architectural history, visit the 1930s cottages at Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. In Darwin much of the action takes place outdoors. Watch art-house movies beneath the stars at Deckchair Cinema, between April and November. May is the month to hear powerhouse bands at the Northern Territory’s largest music festival, Bass in the Grass. Don’t miss the Darwin Festival in August, an 18-day celebration of music, dance, theatre, comedy, cabaret, film and visual art, staged at various venues throughout the city. During July, the Darwin Fringe Festival hits town for 10 days of events supporting independent artists.