Melbourne has been called Australia’s cultural capital because of the large number of museums, art galleries, and cultural institutions that are scattered throughout the city. Learn more about the incredible history of this amazing city and country by spending time museum hopping. The architecture of many of the buildings throughout Melbourne, and those that have been turned into museums, is fantastic.
Before you start exploring the museums in Melbourne, drop your large bags at a Melbourne luggage locker as many museums do not allow large bags inside. Then head out and check out the museums and galleries such as the Melbourne Museum, National Sports Museum, and Lyon Housemuseum. Put aside a day or two to discover the best museums in Melbourne and spend a terrific time exploring all their nooks and crannies.
Address: 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton
While the building designed by the Fenton Corker Marshall architecture firm may look very contemporary, the rich history found inside will draw you in and make you want to stay and see as much as you can. The Melbourne Museum opened its doors in 2001 and details the very long history of the city.
Head over to the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre to learn about the history of Victoria prior to European settlement. The First Peoples exhibition gives you a detailed history all the way to present day. It is a truly magnificent exhibit you do not want to miss. You will also want to see the Diprotodon skeleton, the largest marsupial in the world.
While here, walk around Milarra Garden. The trail will lead you past several native plants and end at a cave with several rock paintings. If you take your stroll at 1:45 p.m., you will see the short-finned eels getting fed. Feeding occurs every day except during the winter.
Address: 217 Cotham Road, Kew
This museum is housed in the home of architect Corbett Lyon who lived there with his wife, Yueji, and their children. The stylish home has remained the same since Lyon lived there surrounded by an intriguing collection of contemporary art, most by Australian artists, across several mediums including paintings and video including works by Patricia Piccinini, Shaun Gladwell, and Howard Arkley.
The ground floor courtyards are meticulous and the sculpture gardens are really a must-see attraction. You will want to spend some time on nice days exploring all the outdoor spaces before heading inside to check out the marvelous art that is on display.
The house was designed by Lyon, which took five years to perfect the design but only two years to build. The museum is open several days throughout the month but you do have to reserve your spot online for a tour, just remember that tours do fill quickly.
National Sports Museum
Address: Brunton Ave, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
Filled with so many fun and exciting interactive exhibits, this museum allows you to test your reaction times against professional athletes, shoot netball goals, or kick goals at the Australian Football zone. These interactive exhibits are technically for kids, but adults really seem to enjoy these games as well.
Spend time learning about the history of several of Australia’s favorite pastimes including boxing and rugby. The Australian Sports Museum is located on the Melbourne Cricket Ground so you can sign up for a tour of the stadium and then visit the museum afterward. See the significance of the Olympics to Australian sports and learn about the rugby union.
Check out the biggest sporting collection in Australia including Edwin Flack’s Olympic medals. Flack was the first Aussie to medal at the Olympics. Check out a hologram of legendary cricketer Shane Warne, and learn about the history of Australian football which dates back to the mid-1800s. We've written a guide on how to get around Melbourne. It will help you navigate the city to see sights like this.
Islamic Museum of Australia
Address: 15 Anderson Rd, Thornbury, Melbourne
Located in the industrial district of one of the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the Islamic Museum of Australia was started to promote cultural diversity. A former bottling factory has been transformed into a beautiful museum celebrating the Islamic faith.
With several galleries showcasing artifacts and artwork, these galleries are linked by two glass bridges. Sparsely lit hallways lead you into bright galleries filled with interesting and beautiful exhibits that will provoke deep thought. With five galleries to explore, you will spend a few hours at this museum.
The permanent exhibits include Islamic history, art, and architecture through the years including Islam’s contributions in modern times. You will learn about faith, the role of women, fasting, and prayer. You will also learn about famous Muslim Australians which include Moheddeen Abdul Ghias Howsan, a World War II hero, and Anthony Mundine, an Indigenous boxer.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Address: Flinders Street, Federation Square, Melbourne
The ACMI was opened to promote all things related to the screen including television, film, video games, digital technology, and even art. Head to Federation Square where you can kick back and enjoy a wide mix of different films at one of two cinemas at the ACMI. Some of the films shown are limited release and this is the only place to see them.
You will not be able to see any of the films shown at ACMI at your local movie theater, these are exclusive to the museum and any film festivals hosted by the museum. The permanent exhibit, called Screen Worlds, explores the history through present day of moving pictures. Objects, archival footage, and hands-on displays showcase the full history of the moving image.
Address: 2 Booker Street, Spotswood
Home to one of the most extensive collections of science and technology exhibits in Melbourne, ScienceWorks showcases several interesting interactive and hands-on exhibits that center around space, robotics, technology, electricity, and climate science.
Topics have been divided into themes and there are sections for different age groups so even the youngest visitor can begin learning about science and the modern world. Older kids will be able to conduct their own experiments and play several interactive games. Sign your kids up for fun workshops where they can learn even more.
There are even plenty of activities and workshops for kids under five years. A parent or guardian is required to stay with the younger kids during their workshops. The Melbourne Planetarium is also here with its 52-foot domed ceiling and comfy reclining seats. You can sit back and enjoy 30-minute films that focus on science and have an astronomical theme.
Ian Potter Center: NGV Australia
Address: Federation Square, Melbourne
Located in trendy Federation Square, NGV Australia is located in the Ian Potter Centre and is home to one of the biggest art collections in Australia. With over 20 different galleries spread out over three floors, you can easily spend an entire afternoon exploring all this museum has to offer.
As you make your way through NGV Australia, you will learn more about the history of Australian art including the art that was brought to the country into the European settlement including drawings, paintings, photographs, prints, decorative arts, and textiles.
Stroll through the Colonial era in one gallery, visit the Heidelberg School in another gallery and even make your way through the gallery of contemporary art. Before leaving, check out the large collection of Aboriginal art and artifacts, including Torres Strait Islander artwork.
National Gallery of Victoria – International
Address: 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Plan to spend a few hours exploring the biggest, most popular, and oldest art institution in Australia. The National Gallery of Victoria grew so large that it was moved to another space, leaving the international art pieces at the gallery on St Kilda Road.
While the museum is large, it is not so big that you cannot see all the galleries in one afternoon. You will be doing a lot of walking so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. You will see many of the classics including Man Ray’s Kiki with African Mask, Rodin’s first cast of The Thinker, Yayoi Kusama’s Tender Are the Stairs to Heaven, and Picasso’s The Weeping Woman as well as 70,000 other pieces.
Address: 400 Flinders Street, Melbourne
Australia was originally inhabited by First Nations People, who lived on the land for thousands of years until Capitan James Cook landed in 1770 on what is now known as Sydney. Today, over 250 different countries are represented in Australia and it has become a melting pot of ethnicities and religions; an estimated 28% of Australian residents are immigrants.
The stories of immigrants dating back to the 1770s are really quite interesting and as you explore the museum, you will get an intimate look at the lives of the first immigrants and the struggles they faced when trying to tame this fierce land. Listen to the stories of why people left their homelands and sought to make a new home in a foreign land.
Learn more about Customs House, where the Immigration Museum is housed, and the changes to the immigration policies of Australia through the years. From the prisoners who were forced here to the servicemen stationed here, their stories have been recorded and are displayed for you to learn more about these rugged people.
What are the best free museums in Melbourne?
With there are several free things to do in Melbourne, browsing a museum may not be at the top of your list. But Melbourne does have several great, small museums that are cheap or free to visit. There are even a few of the bigger museums that offer free admission so you will want to check them out. For a list of more free things to do in Melbourne, take a look at our guide.
National Gallery of Victoria - International
Located on St Kilda Road in the Ian Potts Centre, this museum is home to the international collection of the National Gallery of Victoria where you can find several great works by world-renowned artists.
National Gallery of Victoria
Also located on St Kilda Road but across the street from the Ian Potts Centre in the newly designed building, this museum is home to over 73,000 works of art.
Located at Point Cook, only 25 minutes from Melbourne, the RAAF Museum showcases the history of Australian aviation and is home to several historic planes, helicopters, and drones.
Which are the best museums in Downtown Melbourne?
Downtown Melbourne is always bustling, especially since the Central Business District seems to never sleep. There are several wonderful museums located in and near downtown Melbourne so you can spend the day downtown and check out several great museums.
This museum is one of the most personal and intimate museums you will ever visit as you get a glimpse into the lives of the first immigrants to Australia. Stories dating back to the 1770s will draw you in and make you feel the struggles and triumphs of these brave people.
Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Check out one of the biggest art collections in the country when you explore this amazing gallery in Federation Square. Immerse yourself in paintings, drawings, decorative arts, textiles, and photographs.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
This interesting museum was opened to promote all things related to the moving image including television, film, video games, and art. Also located in Federation Square, spend an afternoon learning about the history of movies and television.
Are there any cheap museums in Melbourne?
The short answer is, of course, there are cheap museums in Melbourne. The longer answer is that cheap really is a relative term so what you may consider cheap could be rather expensive to others. It is really easier to find free or discounted tickets for museums rather than look for cheap museums. ScienceWorks offers discounts on certain days and of course, the ACMI and National Gallery of Victoria are free.
Spend time exploring Melbourne museums including art museums with modern art and contemporary art. Museum hopping in Melbourne is great fun because of the wide variety of museums that are located in such a small area. Spend time getting to know the city and even the country through her history and art.