The ultimate guide to museum hopping in Melbourne

The ultimate guide to museum hopping in Melbourne

Installation view of Refik Anadol Quantum Memories 2020 Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with funds donated by Loti & Victor Smorgon Fund and Barry Janes and Paul Cross, 2020 © Refik Anadol Photo: Tom Ross

Whether you’re hankering for some history or curious about contemporary art, these are the best places to go to enrich your experience.

The capital city of the Australian state of Victoria, Melbourne is one of the most exciting and impressive destinations in the country. After all, this thriving city has plenty to offer – from its pristine beaches, buzzing nightlife, world-class dining, and incredible architecture. Additionally, Melbourne has an impressive number of museums that cover all fields and subjects.

Living up to the title of Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne has no shortage of unique museums that seek to entertain and educate. The city’s best museums range from history, fine art, and sports to prehistoric periods and space exploration. Make museum-hopping in Melbourne a part of your travel bucket list and check out the following must-see museums and galleries in the city.

(Note: Most of these museums prohibit guests from carrying large bags inside the galleries. Instead, you can leave your items at a luggage storage locker in the city.)

Melbourne isn’t dubbed the cultural capital of Australia for no reason; there’s a dizzying amount of museums, galleries, and institutions all over the city to satisfy the interests of all kinds of travelers. The following are our top picks for must-visit museums in Melbourne:

Melbourne Museum

There’s no better way to start museum-hopping around Melbourne than visiting the very museum named after the city. Founded in 2001, the Melbourne Museum is a cultural institution dedicated to the history, culture, and all things related to Melbourne and the state of Victoria. It is the biggest museum in the Southern Hemisphere and boasts an incredible collection of artifacts and relics – from prehistoric fossils and remains to Aboriginal objects.

Special exhibitions currently on show include Mini Mega Model Museum, with Top Designs 2021 landing on April 17 and Treasures of the Natural World landing in June.


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National Gallery of Victoria

The National Gallery of Victoria, also known simply as NGV, is the oldest and largest art institution in Australia. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, and it’s easy to why.

The stunning gallery is home to the country’s biggest and most significant international art collection. Visitors of NGV can expect to see works by major artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Degas, Cezanne, and more. Art lovers and aficionados will certainly have a blast when visiting the NGV.

We recommend checking out the NGV Triennial which is in its final days. Featuring major new commissions and recent works that span geography, perspective and genre, the exhibition celebrates the work of some of the world’s most accomplished artists and designers, while also giving voice to emerging practitioners.


Made for visitors of all ages, ScienceWorks is one of the most interesting and innovative museums worth visiting when in Melbourne. As its name suggests, this facility is dedicated to all things science, including space, technology, robotics, electricity and so much more.

ScienceWorks offers activities for all visitors of all ages through its guided tours, demonstrations, interactive exhibits, and workshops. One of the highlights at the facility is the Melbourne Planetarium, with a huge, 52-foot dome featuring 30-minute short films related to astronomy. Better still, on Friday nights the Melbourne Planetarium reawakens after hours for adults only with a stellar line-up of fulldome film screenings.


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Old Melbourne Gaol

The Old Melbourne Gaol is one of the city’s most interesting museums and is a definite must-visit when traveling to Melbourne. Before it was transformed into a museum, the facility served as a prison for over eight decades and imprisoned some of Australia’s most infamous criminals, including the likes of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly and gangster Squizzy Taylor.

The former jail has since functioned as a museum and has on display some gruesome objects and artifacts, such as deadly weapons, death masks, and other memorabilia from the prisoners and the staff. Guests who want a more thrilling experience can join one of Old Melbourne Gaol’s night tours, where you will explore the prison complex in the evening by candlelight.

Currently, exhbition highlights include Bending the Bars which commemorates the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Victoria, alongside the immersive adventure puzzle game Cluedo Experience, which brings the iconic board game Cluedo to life.


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Immigration Museum

Melbourne is a melting pot of cultures, and immigrants make up a huge portion of the country’s overall population. Captain James Cook first set foot in Australia in 1770, and the country has since seen a major change in its demographic and has become home to citizens from over 200 different nations. The best way to learn about the city’s history and community is by visiting the Immigration Museum.

Housed within the Old Customs House of Victoria, the museum explores the different ethnicities that exist around the country and shares personal stories of the arrival and integration of immigrants into Australian society. One of the most interesting sections of the museum is the Discovery Centre, where guests can trace their family tree and genealogical history.

A highlight at the moment is Atong Atem: To Be Real exhibition. As part of PHOTO 2021 International Festival of Photography, award-winning artist Atong Atem has created a new series of large-scale, bold and dynamic photographic works for the Immigration Museum.

National Sports Museum

Sport is a major part of Melbourne’s culture and the best way to learn all about is by visiting the National Sports Museum. Housed within the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, which is the city’s biggest sports stadium, the museum documents the history of sports in Australia and boasts a display of artifacts from different sports such as cricket, rugby, Australian football, basketball and more.

Furthermore, the National Sports Museum is also home to the Australian Sports Hall of Fame, which commemorates some of the biggest personalities who have made waves in their respective fields.

Hellenic Museum Melbourne

The Nafsika Stamoulis Hellenic Museum Limited, or better known as the Hellenic Museum, is a relatively new museum in Melbourne that’s definitely worth your time. This cultural facility is dedicated to preserving and promoting Melbourne’s Greek heritage.

The space has a permanent exhibition comprised of ancient artifacts and incredible relics that date thousands of years back. This impressive collection includes memorabilia and objects such as ancient Greek statues, Cypriot pottery, photographic installations, and plenty of other interesting items.


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Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Housed in the iconic Federation Square, the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia is the second location for NGV and is one of the trendiest and most impressive art galleries in the city.

The museum is home to over 25,000 works of art from Australian artists, both indigenous and non-indigenous, such as paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, textiles, prints and decorative arts. One of the highlights at the center is Frederick McCubbin’s iconic triptych known as “The Pioneer”.


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Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, or simply ACMI, is a national museum dedicated to anything related to the screen, including television, movies, art, digital technology, video games, and more. The complex has two cinemas and exhibition spaces that feature a mix of films from all over the world. Their new centrepiece exhibition The Story of the Moving Image is one worth seeing.

ACMI is definitely a must-visit for locals and tourists who are film or television aficionados.


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Museum of Chinese Australian History (Chinese Museum)

Aptly located in the heart of Melbourne’s Chinatown district, the Museum of Chinese Australian History is a cultural institution that was built to preserve the culture and heritage of the city’s Chinese community.

Also referred to simply as the Chinese Museum, this facility has five stories filled with permanent exhibitions as well as Chinese artifacts and items such as photographs, and textiles, including the impressive Millenium Dai Loong Dragon, which is the world’s biggest Chinese dragon.


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