19 Of the Best Museums in Canberra

The nation’s capital city is also its cultural and political heart. The parliamentary triangle is a treasure trove of national museums and galleries. But there are also quirky local museums hidden amongst the national memorials, art galleries, collections, and celebrations of Australian history.

If you are planning a visit to Canberra, you really should include at least a couple of these national and local museums in the Canberra region.

We have arranged our list of museums in Canberra in order of importance to us.

The National Gallery’s Brutalist style might not be everyone’s idea of beauty (I love it!), but with over 166,000 works inside, you’re sure to find something you like.

The National Gallery’s collection runs the gamut from traditional Indigenous art right up to the most contemporary works from across the world.

aussie flag work NGA Canberra
National Gallery of Australia

Highlights include the controversial Blue Poles by Jackson Pollack that caused an uproar when it was purchased in 1973 for A$1.3 million in a decision approved by the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

Jackson Pollack Blue Poles Canberra
Jackson Pollack

They host regular international exhibitions, coming up in 2023 is

My favorite part of the gallery is its large Sculpture Garden on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

Rodin NGA Camberra
Rodin in the sculpture garden

The gallery has a number of innovative programs that aim to make its collection accessible to everyone.

Where: Parkes Pl E, Parkes ACT
Cost: General entry is free but online registration is recommended. Some special exhibitions are ticketed.
When:  10am to 5pm daily (closed Christmas Day).
Getting there: Take the bus from the Civic to King Edward Terrace and Parkes Place East, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Gallery.

2. Australian War Memorial

Spanning over fourteen hectares, the Australian War Memorial is dedicated to commemorating those who have fought and died in the service of Australia.

War Memorial photos 656286 19
Credit: Tourism Australia

Though centered on the domed chapel known as the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Memorial also includes extensive galleries and research center.

History lovers will want to allow a couple of hours to explore the extensive collection that covers Australia’s involvement in all conflicts from the Boar War.

War memorial plane canberra
Aircraft on display at the Australian War Memorial

If you can time your visit for the afternoon book to attend the last post, which is played as the memorial closes. It’s a very special experience and highly recommended.

Tip: After the Memorial closes make your way up to the top of Mount Ainslie, which sits directly behind the memorial for sunset.

Where: Treloar Cresent, Campbell ACT
Cost: All visitors require a free-timed ticket
When: 10 am to 4 pm daily (closed Christmas Day)
Getting there: Take bus 54 from the City Interchange to the stop on Fairbairn Avenue and Limestone Avenue.

3. National Museum of Australia

Eclectic and entirely asymmetrical, the National Museum of Australia does not look like one might expect.

That said Australia’s social history is neither simple nor elegant either, and so the architectural form follows its substance: dedicating itself to exploring the complexities of Australia’s social history, from Burke and Wills to Azaria Chamberlain.

Australian National Museum Canberra ACT

The outside spaces and water garden connect Australian modern history to the continuity of thousands of years of indigenous custodianship of the country. It’s a sophisticated and fun space.

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The interesting architecture continues inside Credit: Tourism Australia

Don’t miss the gift shop for some uniquely Australian items to take home.

Where: Lawson Cresent, Acton ACT 2601
Cost: All visitors require a free-timed ticket
When: 9am–5pm daily Closed Christmas Day Check out opening hours
Getting there: Take Bus route number 53 from Dickson or City Interchange to Lennox Crossing, about 200 metres away.

Find more free things to do in Canberra

Formerly housed in Old Parliament House, the National Portrait Gallery is now contained in a smart new contemporary building with its own shop, café, and theatre for lectures and presentations.

MIdnight Oil National Portrait Gallery Canberra
Midnight oil at the National Portrait Gallery

The collection comprises a wide range of both photographic and illustrative portraits, from the Fathers of Federations to the stars of modern Australian music.

The museum has an excellent book shop.

Where: King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT
Cost: All visitors require a free-timed ticket
When: 10am to 5pm Closed Christmas Day Check out opening hours
Getting there: Take Bus route number 2 or number 6 from City Interchange

5. Museum of Australian Democracy

Old Parliament House was the seat of the Australian Parliament from 1927 until the opening of the current Parliament House in 1988.

Australian Museum of Democracy
Truth Power and the Free Press – Museum of Australian Democracy

This simple Stripped Classical building now acts as the home of the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD). Styling itself as “a living museum” it houses a collection of artifacts as well as a number of rotating exhibitions.

Among the permanent exhibitions is Truth, Power and the Free Press, an interactive installation that challenges you to check your biases and see if you can choose truth from fiction.

Check out the Press Gallery and the offices of staffers left as if they had just rushed out of the building 50 years ago!

There are a number of free tours including a 20 minute building history tour, and a 45 minute highlights tour and detailed insights tour is reasonably priced for those who want to know more.

Information about the accessibility of the collection is available here.

Where: 18 King George Terrace, Parkes ACT
Cost: Entry is free, but bookings are essential.
When: 9am to 5pm daily Closed Christmas Day
Getting there: Take Bus route number 2 or number 6 from City Interchange

There are a lot of museums and a lot of galleries in Canberra, but only the Canberra Museum and Gallery, situated right in the middle of the city, gives us the convenience of both.

The facility spreads out a number of different exhibitions across two separate floors, skilfully combining the artistic with the historical.

Where: 176 London Circuit, Canberra ACT
Cost: Free
When: 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday – Closed Sunday and Christmas Day
Getting there: Short walk from City Interchange.

7. National Dinosaur Museum

Despite being one of the most popular attractions in the ACT, the National Dinosaur Museum is not nearly as well known as other sites on this list.

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National Dinosaur Museum Credit: Tourism Australia

Situated just outside of Canberra in the Gold Creek Village, the Museum showcases fossils along with displays of replicas and a live animatronics show.

It had fallen into decline but has had a new renovation and has expanded indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Where: 6 Gold Creek Rd, Nicholls ACT
Cost: From $20
When: 10.00-5.00 every day (except Xmas Day) Confirm the opening hours
Getting there: Possible by bus but requires two changes and takes 45 mins. Car or rideshare is the best option.

8. Canberra Glassworks

There are few substances that have been more useful to humans than glass, and Canberra Glassworks is a place that celebrates that fact.

Canberra Glassworks
Canberra Glassworks

Located in the old Kingston Powerhouse, the Glassworks contains a wide variety of handmade glass pieces and includes a glass-making studio that is the largest of its kind in Australia.

Tip: If hunger strikes pop into Brodburger, considered one of the best burger places in the city.

Where: 11 Wentworth Ave, Kingston ACT
Cost: From $20
When: Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 4pm Check out opening hours
Getting there: Bus route number 2, 6 and 56 stop about 5 minutes walk from Canberra Glassworks

9. National Film and Sound Archive

Housed in a preserved Art déco/stripped classical building that was once home to the Australian Institute of Anatomy, the National Film and Sound Archive contains some of Australia’s most important pieces of media heritage.

National Film and Sound Archive
National Sound and Film Archive

Make sure to check out The Story of the Kelly Gang, the world’s first feature film. There’s also a lovely covered verandah, courtyard garden, and cafe.

Where: McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT
When: 10am to 4pm daily – 8pm on Friday nights (except Christmas & New Year’s Day)
Cost:
Some exhibits are free some charge –Check out admission costs here
Getting there: Bus route number 6

10. National Capital Exhibition

Canberra isn’t an ordinary city. Unlike, say Sydney or Melbourne, the nation’s capital was planned and largely constructed after the Federation, and the National Capital Exhibition tells this story.

The permanent exhibition includes a scale model of the city, interactive displays that show how Canberra has changed over time, according to or contradicting the original plan.

Scale model of Canberra National Capital
This scale model of Canberra is a great place to start your visit to the capital

An outdoor cafe under mature shade trees overlooks the lake and gets a breeze on even the hottest Canberra summer days!

Where: Barrine Dr, Parkes ACT
When: Open weekdays 9am – 5pm, weekends 10am – 4pm
Cost:
Free entry
Getting there:
Bus Route 2, 6, 7, or 10 from City Interchange stop about 5 minutes walk from the exhibition.

11. Questacon (National Science and Technology Centre)

Canberra’s National Science and Technology Centre, better known as Questacon, is a crowd favorite, frequented by Australian schoolchildren for decades.

Questacon Canberra
Questacon

Questacon contains hundreds of interactive exhibits, from the subdued and introspective to the very hands-on, all designed to inspire children to explore the fields of science.

This is a fun day for the whole family. My kids spent many happy hours in the imaginative play area and, as they got older, loved the earthquakes and lightning strikes!

Where: King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT
When: daily from 9 am to 5 pm (except 25 December)
Cost:
$18-25
Getting there:
Bus route no 4 or 6

12. St. John’s Schoolhouse Museum

Built next to the lovely St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, St. John’s Schoolhouse is the oldest school in Canberra. It began life in 1845. This in fact, makes it one of the very oldest things in Canberra!

St Johns Schoolhouse Canberra
St. John’s Schoolhouse Museum

The Schoolhouse Museum now allows visitors to go back in time to the very early days of colonial schooling, with a variety of artifacts as well as faithful historical mock-ups of old classrooms.

Where: 45 Constitution Avenue, Reid
When: Wednesday 10am to Noon and Saturdays and Sundays 2pm to 4pm.
Cost:
Your visit is by donation
Getting there:
Bus route no 59 stops 1 minute from the museum.

13. Canberra Railway Museum

Located right next to Canberra Railway Station is (quite fittingly) you will find the Canberra Railway Museum.

Of interest to Australian train spotters, the museum has made its way through hard times to display the likes of Z1210 (one of the oldest mainline locomotives in the world) and 6029 (the most powerful steam locomotive in Australia.

Canberra Railway Museum
Canberra Railway Museum

There are only 20 volunteers and at the moment the museum is only open on Sundays, but they have big plans to increase the renovation of stock, the number of exhibits, and their opening days and hours.

Where: 7 Geijera Place, Fyshwick ACT
When: Sunday from 10am-3pm
Cost:
Admission is $10 for adults, $7.50 for concessions, and $5 for children (5-15 years)
Getting there:
Bus route number 2 will get you about 20 minutes walk from the museum.

14. CSIRO Discovery Centre

From Wi-Fi to insect repellent, Aerogard, Australia’s CSIRO has been a world leader in science for around a century.

CSIRO Discovery Centre
CSIRO Discovery Centre

But CSIRO scientists don’t just tinker away in the lab, they’re keen on communicating scientific discoveries to the next generation.

The Discovery Centre was founded for just that purpose, showcasing programs for students of all ages.

Where: N Science Road, Acton ACT
When: Sunday from 10am-3pm
Cost:
Admission is $10 for adults, $7.50 for concessions, and $5 for children (5-15 years)
Getting there:
Bus number 2 or 32 from the City Interchange.

Located within the grounds of the Australian National University, the Drill Hall Gallery was initially built to train soldiers for WWII.

Drill Hall Gallery Canberra
Drill Hall Gallery Canberra

As of today, it serves as a heritage-listed art gallery showing both local and international contemporary art in four separate exhibition spaces.

Where: Kingsley St, Acton ACT 2601
When: 10am-5pm Wednesday to Sunday.
Cost:
Free
Getting there:
10-minute walk from Canberra City Interchange

16. Canberra Fire Museum

Surrounded by bushland, Canberra has (like much of the country) always been highly susceptible to fires.

Canberra Fire Museum
Canberra Fire Museum

Open only on Saturdays, the Canberra Fire Museum (of the Fire Brigade Historical Society) tells the story of Australia’s long-running and difficult relationship with this most destructive of elements.

Most popular of all, it also displays several historic firefighting vehicles.

Where: 4 Empire Circuit, Forrest ACT
When: Open Every Saturday from 10am – 2pm
Cost: Gold coin donation is appreciated
Getting there: Bus number 58 will get you a short walk from the museum

17. Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

Twenty kilometers out of Canberra at sleepy Tidbinbilla is the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.

Canberra Deep Space Complex
Canberra Deep Space Complex

Playing a vital role in the 1969 lunar landing, this satellite communication station is partially open to visitors, offering a number of exhibits and programs about Australia’s astronomical history.

Where: Paddy’s River, Tidbinbilla, 421 Discovery Dr, Paddys River ACT
When: The centre is currently closed but will hopefully reopen early 2023. Check for an update here
Cost: free
Getting there: You will need a car to visit

18. Royal Australian Mint

Although coins are falling increasingly out of style in our cashless economy, the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra still churns them out, having produced over fifteen billion of them since its founding in 1965.

Australian Mint
Australian Mint

Apart from its daily work, the Mint also offers free public tours of the facility along with exhibitions and permanent displays.

Tip: If you’re travelling with kids pick up a Mint Treasure Hunt from the front desk to keep them busy

Where: Denison St, Deakin ACT
When: Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm, Weekends and public holidays 10am to 4pm
Cost: free
Getting there: Bus route 58 (Weekdays) and 932 (Weekends) stop nearby.

19. National Bonsai and Penjing Collection

Somewhere in between a museum and a botanical garden, the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection is a miniature patch of paradise within Canberra’s National Arboretum.

National Bonsai Collection
National Bonsai and Penjing Collection

This section of the Arboretum consists of around 120 individual exhibits, with workshops and programs also on offer for those keen to learn more about this ancient art.

Where: Forest Dr, Molonglo Valley ACT
When: Open daily 9am – 4pm
Cost: free
Getting there: There is no public transport to the National Arboretum Canberra. Free parking is available.

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