Australian Museum, Sydney, New South Wales © Australian Museum
12 of Sydney’s best museums, galleries and theatres
As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Sydney’s cultural heart beats loud and proud with plenty to discover.
By Lana Bogunovich
In a city as dynamic and multi-cultural as Sydney, there’s always something new to see and learn. From its eclectic urban street art and world-class art galleries to its magnificent museums and heritage-listed theatres, Sydney’s cultural gems are a celebration of its diversity that will captivate your imagination as well as your soul.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
On Wednesdays check out Art After Hours when the gallery stays open until 9pm. Check out the exhibitions, join a guided tour and catch a film screening.
Where: City centre
The Art Gallery of New South Wales is Sydney’s premier arts destination for fine art. The extensive collection features everything from classic Australian and European works to modern and contemporary art, as well as Asian, Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander art. The gallery also hosts the annual Archibald Prize, the country’s most prestigious portrait prize. While you're here, you can join a lecture, see a film, enjoy live music performances and dine at the gallery’s café or restaurant, helmed by esteemed Australian chef Matt Moran.
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Where: Circular Quay
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is dedicated to making art accessible to all people. It celebrates the work of modern-day artists and offers a diverse range of ways in which to appreciate and engage with art. The best news? General admission is free, with the option to purchase a ticket for additional galleries. As you wander through the gallery’s diverse and engaging exhibits, you’ll likely find your own creativity and imagination stimulated and inspired.
Museum of Sydney
For further insight into Sydney’s past, visit The Rocks Discovery Museum which features an intriguing collection of images and artefacts housed in an 1850s sandstone warehouse.
Where: City centre
The Museum of Sydney tells the stories of the people and events that have shaped the city throughout history. Built on and around the historic remains of Australia’s first Government House, this site played a significant role in the country’s early years of British settlement. The building was demolished in 1845 only to be rediscovered in 1983 during an archaeological excavation which also revealed a number of artefacts. Today, this very special museum houses the historic items found during that fateful excavation, giving you a glimpse of the events that took place in Sydney nearly 200 years ago.
A true celebration of creativity and innovation, the Powerhouse Museum is home to an astounding collection of more than 380,000 items across science, design, technology, history, the arts and engineering. It’s a great place for people of all ages to explore the ideas, technologies and people that have impacted our lives and the world we live in. Don’t miss the Zero Gravity Space Lab where you can experience what it’s like to be weightless while living and working in space.
Australian National Maritime Museum
Where: Darling Harbour
Being an island continent, Australia has always had a special connection to the ocean. Delve deep into the country’s rich seafaring past and present at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Home to an impressive collection of items dating back to 1606, when the first Europeans landed on Australian shores, the museum also tells the maritime stories of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples. The museum boasts one of the world’s largest floating fleets including warships, submarines and tall ships, and you can climb aboard and explore.
Founded in 1827, the heritage-listed Australian Museum is the country’s first museum. It features more than 21 million items and is home to the Australian Museum Research Institute, making it a significant site for natural and social science research, as well as history, culture and learning. Make your way through the Wild Planet exhibition and explore the world’s incredible biodiversity with more than 400 animals on display. See dinosaurs up close, learn about the fascinating cultures of the Pacific, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and take a glimpse into the future with the interactive Climate Change display.
White Rabbit Gallery
The White Rabbit Gallery has been a significant highlight of Chippendale’s burgeoning creative arts scene since it opened in 2009. Founded and funded by Kerr and Judith Neilson, the charitable gallery celebrates contemporary Chinese artists and has grown to feature a collection of more than 2,000 works by nearly 700 artists, with at least 35 artists on exhibition at any one time. Be sure to sit down at the on-site Tea House, which serves a range of Chinese teas and handmade dumplings.
Where: Sydney and surrounds
Take your love of art outside and search for impressive street art in some of Sydney’s hippest neighbourhoods. For colourful murals and graffiti art, the perfect place to start is Newtown. A must-see is the heritage-listed 'I Have a Dream' mural on King Street. Closer to the city, check out the streets of Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Chippendale where you’ll find the famous Bin Chicken mural by Scott Marsh on Teggs Lane. In Bondi Beach don't miss the impressive, and often changing, works along the Bondi Beach Sea Wall, including those of renowned Sydney street artist Mulga, whose bright and quirky humanlike animals are instantly recognisable.
Sydney Opera House
Book an exclusive Opera Australia experience to be part of a live performance with a walk-on role, a five-star dinner overlooking the harbour, private behind-the-scenes tours and other VIP experiences.
Where: Circular Quay
For the ultimate Sydney bucket list experience, see a live performance at the world-famous Sydney Opera House. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed architectural wonder is one of the most iconic performing arts centres in the world, and with more than 40 shows every week, it offers something for everyone. Check out what Opera Australia has in store for the season or join a tour and go behind the scenes, learning all the secrets of this magnificent venue. Don't miss exquisite fine dining at esteemed restaurant Bennelong.
Sydney Lyric Theatre
Housed inside The Star Sydney, Sydney Lyric Theatre is one of the city’s newest theatres. Some of the world’s best known musical performances have played here including Matilda the Musical, The Book of Mormon, Legally Blonde, Pippin, Hamilton, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Arrive early and enjoy a drink in the theatre’s lobby bar overlooking the harbour.
Capitol Theatre is a beautiful, heritage-listed theatre that has transformed over time to accommodate its various uses, from markets to circus to cinema to theatre. The stunning interior design it features today takes inspiration from an Italian piazza, with grand columns and capitals, stone cornices and statues, antique lanterns and tiled panels. Capitol Theatre hosts world-class musicals, ballet, concerts and theatre performances.
Where: City centre
The palatial State Theatre first opened in 1929 and has since been an important part of Sydney’s social and cultural makeup. The theatre’s magnificent interiors feature an eclectic blend of Art Deco, Italian and gothic design elements with various sculptures, artworks, fixtures and stained glass. Check out the Australian artworks in the Dress Circle gallery and take a tour for more insights into the theatre’s fascinating history and design.