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8 Under-the-Radar Museums in Sydney

As these fascinating spots prove, bigger isn’t always better when it comes to cultural institutions.

Outside the ANZAC War Memorial, Sydney
Hi, I'm Molly!

Molly is an Australian travel and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Lonely Planet, Fodor’s Travel, Refinery29, and Teen Vogue.

While the blockbuster exhibitions at the Australian Museum should be on most tourists’ itineraries, it's also worth escaping the crowds to see a different side of Sydney at these smaller, specialty museums. From convict life to contemporary art, this list will give you plenty of options to fill a spare day or two in the city.

1. Hyde Park Barracks

Entrance to the Hyde Park Barracks
Discover life as an early settler at the Hyde Park Barracks.Photo Credit: ArliftAtoz2205 / Shutterstock

An intimate look at early convict life.

Immerse yourself in the convict experience of Australia’s early white settlement and its impact on First Nations people at this UNESCO World Heritage–listed site in the center of Sydney. The Barracks were originally built to house convicts and were later used as a women’s immigration depot and asylum. The museum tells the stories of the men, women, and children who passed through its doors via immersive audiovisual displays. It also houses one of Australia's largest archaeological collections, with over 4,000 original artifacts from the 1800s.

Don’t miss: Having a (brief) lie down in one of the convict hammocks.

2. Susannah Place Museum

Inside the operating corner store at Susannah Place Museum
Tour the homes of 19th-century families at Susannah Place.Photo Credit: StepandMel / Tripadvisor

See how Sydney’s working-class families lived throughout the generations.

One of the Museums of History NSW, Susannah Place is a terrace of four small houses in the heart of the Rocks that were built by Irish immigrants in 1844. This museum of Sydney’s working-class heritage tells the stories of the more than 100 families who called this place home for around 150 years. It offers a rare glimpse into the past with even the many layers of paint, wallpaper, and floor coverings preserved.

Don't miss: A visit to the still-functioning corner store.

3. ANZAC Memorial

Interior of Anzac war memorial in Sydney with Sacrifice bronze sculpture by Rayner Hoff
The ANZAC Memorial stands as a solemn tribute to honor military service members.Photo Credit: Keitma / Shutterstock

Take some time to learn about Australia’s fallen and their families.

Comprising the Halls of Silence, Memory, and Service, this memorial to the spirit and legend of the ANZACs (Australia and New Zealand Armed Corps) is a tribute to the sacrifice of Australian servicemen and women and their families. Located in South Hyde Park, it is also one of the most beautiful examples of art deco style in Australia. The memorial holds a significant collection of over 7,000 objects relating to the ANZACs, such as medals, badges, uniforms, field equipment, photographs, documents, manuscripts, and books.

Don’t miss: Looking up to the 16 sentinels atop the external buttresses representing the units of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

4. Justice and Police Museum

Outside the Justice and Police Museum, Sydney
The Justice and Police Museum offers a glimpse into the city's criminal justice history.Photo Credit: Thulung.com / Shutterstock

From the history of bushrangers and razor gangs to high-tech forensics.

True crime fans rejoice—this museum of Sydney’s underworld is for you. Home to collections of mug shots, weapons, and crime-scene photos as well as holding cells, courts, and charge rooms, the Justice and Police Museum draws visitors into the history of crime, policing, and punishment in the city. It is housed in three 19th-century buildings that served as the Water Police Station, Water Police Court, and Police Court, once Sydney’s busiest policing complex.

Don’t miss: The NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive.

5. Museum of Fire

A child rides in one of the display fire engines at the Museum of Fire
The Museum of Fire offers a great introduction to fire safety for budding firefighters.Photo Credit: Museum of Fire / Tripadvisor

Great for kids of all ages.

A unique experience in Sydney, the Museum of Fire stands as a testament to the heroic efforts of firefighters in the local community. A highlight is the museum's vehicle collection featuring hand-drawn, horse-drawn, and motorized fire fighting appliances from the late 18th century to the present. Take the chance while you are out in Penrith to enjoy a cruise through the ancient Nepean Gorge, part of the Blue Mountains National Park.

Don’t miss: Going for a fire engine ride—but make sure to ring ahead and book your spot.

6. Museum of Human Disease

Two men exploring an exhibit in the Museum of Human Disease
This is the museum to explore various medical conditions and their impact on the human body.Photo Credit: quinni_224 / Tripadvisor

Not for the faint of heart.

The Museum of Human Disease requires a strong stomach, with exhibits about hundreds of diseases and their complications including HIV/AIDs, cancer, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, genetic diseases, and the effects of drugs. It also highlights the effects of lifestyle factors on the human body, with over 2,500 diseased tissue specimens on display. The museum is located on the campus of the University of New South Wales.

Don't miss: The virtual reality artery walkthrough.

7. Chau Chak Wing Museum

People exploring an exhibit in the Chau Chak Wing Museum
The Museum showcases a diverse array of art, natural history, and cultural artifacts.Photo Credit: Chau Chak Wing Museum / Tripadvisor

Home to Sydney University’s major collections.

Opened in 2020, this purpose-built museum houses three important collections at the University of Sydney—the Nicholson Antiquities Collection; the Macleay Collections of natural history, ethnography, science and historic photography; and the University Art Collection. Get up close and personal here with artifacts from ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt, as well as art of First Nations people and works of leading contemporary artists. It's truly one of the hidden gems of Sydney.

Don’t miss: The Australian Aboriginal, Torres Strait, and Pacific Islander cultural objects and photographs in the Macleay collection.

8. Brett Whiteley Studio

Entering into the preserved Brett Whiteley Studio
The Brett Whiteley Studio in Sydney is a preserved haven of the artistic genius.Photo Credit: Brett Whiteley Studio / Tripadvisor

Peek the life behind the paintings.

This studio was the workplace and home of celebrated Australian artist Brett Whiteley (1939–92), creator of many famed works including the Almost Once matches sculpture in the Domain. Here, experience the atmosphere of the space—the studio with his unfinished paintings, art equipment, and collections of reference books. The living area has memorabilia such as photographs, objects, postcards, furniture, his music collection, and sketchbooks. For more under-the-radar art, take a street art tour of nearby Newtown.

Don’t miss: The graffiti wall with quotes and images from the artist.

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