The Best Melbourne Museums

A priority for us on trips back to Australia is soaking up as much culture as we can. After we’ve caught up on the newest restaurants, we can be found in museums and galleries catching up on the latest exhibitions.

Melbournians like to think that Melbourne is Australia’s cultural capital, yet all of the country’s major cities boast world-class museums and galleries. Let’s not forget Sydney is home to the Opera House, the wonderful Art Gallery of NSW, and the country’s best theatre and dance companies. Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, and Darwin also have impressive museums.

Still, Victoria’s capital is home to some compelling educational and cultural spaces – we especially loved ACMI, where we saw the David Bowie show last week, and the engaging Immigration Museum.

Here’s our guide to the best Melbourne museums.

Where to Settle in to See Melbourne’s Museums

There are few Melbourne hotels than Quay West Suites more ideally placed for culture vultures and art lovers looking to settle into the city. Slap bang in the Southbank area, it’s just minutes from the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Recital Centre, and Federation Square, home to ACMI, below. The spacious, contemporary-styled studio apartments are fully self-contained with kitchenettes and laundry facilities, and balconies with fantastic city vistas.

Best Melbourne Museums for History and Culture

The Melbourne Museum

A museum of history, the natural environment, ethnography, and culture all in one, this is easily of the best Melbourne museums and is a must for families. Home to the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, the First Peoples exhibition is reason enough to visit, for its excellent introduction to Aboriginal languages, interactive celebration of identity told through stories handed down from generation to generation, and the wonderful section Many Nations, which has almost 500 artefacts and a hands-on activity area for kids. Like most Australian museums, tickets are expensive for foreign visitors at $14 for adults, however, a bonus is that children enter for free.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

Located at Federation Square, the excellent Australian Centre for the Moving Image or ACMI hosts temporary shows, such as Bowie, which we saw last week, but it’s also home to a fantastic permanent exhibition on the history and development of Australian cinema, television, and digital culture. They also offer a fascinating programme of film screenings, performances, discussion panels, and creative workshops. The permanent exhibition is free to enter and can easily consume a couple of enjoyable hours, which is great news for those in Melbourne on a budget. However, the touring shows like Bowie are expensive and can get terribly crowded, so are best booked ahead, online – reserve tickets for the morning slots to avoid the families with strollers.

Immigration Museum

This compact museum to Melbourne’s history of immigration and multicultural community is located in the old Customs House. Displays use a combination of personal stories, mementoes, family photos, archival images, historical documents, video, and interactive media to explore the journeys and lives of refugees and immigrants who settled in Victoria, and the contributions they have made to Australian culture and society. My Russian grandparents and mother were European refugees who spent their early months in Australia in a displacement camp, so I obviously have a personal interest in immigration history, however, a visit here for anyone is timely considering the state of the world at the moment, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the Australian government’s appalling treatment of refugees and the embarrassing horror that is the detention camp on Nauru. Make sure to save time for the Discovery Centre on the ground floor, where you can track your family’s migration history.

Chinese Museum

The Chinese were some of Australia’s earliest immigrants, arriving as far back as the colonial period, during the Gold Rush, and again in recent years as students, professionals, and tourists. The Chinese-Australian community has left an indelible mark on the country’s development, landscape, society, culture, and cuisine. Every Australian capital city has a Chinatown, every town a Chinese restaurant, and almost every home a wok. The permanent exhibition at this petite museum in Melbourne’s Chinatown examines Australia’s Chinese heritage and its profound influence, while temporary shows might celebrate Chinese art or explore aspects of history, such as the current exhibition Queensland Dragon: Chinese in the North – a century ago Chinese migrants comprised 30 percent of that state’s population.

More Heritage Museums

If you like the sound of the Immigration Museum and Chinese Museum, you might also enjoy these other museums to Melbourne’s multicultural history: the Hellenic Museum explores Melbourne’s Greek heritage, which dates to the colonial period (some Greeks arrived as convicts, others as early settlers and gold miners); the Jewish Museum, which examines Melbourne’s Jewish roots, the diverse background of Jews in Australia, and contribution of Jewish culture; and the Museo Italiano, which charts the history of early Italian-Australians, with a virtual experience covering the journey that many of the immigrants made and the impact of Italian culture on Australians. After a visit here, you’ll understand our obsession with drinking good coffee.



There are 4 comments

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  1. Henry | @fotoeins

    Awwww, I’m totally jonesin’ to return to Melbourne! I’ve already visited The Melbourne Museum and ACMI, but the multicultural museums mentioned here are what piques my interest.

  2. Lara Dunston

    You will really enjoy them, Henry. I also noticed that Context Travel, which has just recently started offering walking tours in Australia, has an immigration-themed walk that looks fascinating. Sadly we won’t have time to try it out this trip.

  3. Keith Kellett

    A must for me is the ‘Captain Cook Cottage’ in Fitzroy Gardens. I’ve visited the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Middlesbrough, the Schoolroom in Great Ayton and the Cook Museum in Whitby, and I just need this to ‘make up the set’.

    I’ve also seen the ‘Tin Endeavour’ … and will make a point to visit the Endeavour replica, if it’s still at Darling Harbour next time I’m in Sydney.

  4. Lara Dunston

    Hi Keith, I must admit to having sat near the Captain Cook Cottage but not having actually been inside. I did, however, get a look on board the Endeavour many years ago – very handsome – though no idea if it’s still there. I’ll find out when we’re back in Sydney next week and let you know.


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