14 Beautiful Museums in Australia and New Zealand
By Jill Harness
We've featured striking and stunning museums from North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Now it's time to finish the list with some of the most beautiful museums in Australia.
1. Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand
Dating back to 1852, the Auckland Museum started in a farm worker's cottage and bounced from location to location until it was moved into its current home. After WWI, the existing collection was merged with a war memorial. The building was finished in 1929 and has since become one of the most famous buildings in Auckland. The impressive structure was designed by Grierson, Aimer and Draffin and features a neo-classicist style. Two additions were added through the years to commemorate those who served in WWII.
2. Art Gallery of New South Wales
The fourth largest museum in Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has been displaying Australian art from the time of the country's settlement until now.
The museum is mostly early Greek classical, but some of the wings constructed later on don't quite adhere to the original style designed by Walter Liberty Vernon. Admission to the museum is free, which is good—with eight wings and a rooftop sculpture garden, you might need to make multiple trips to see all the artwork.
3. Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu
After Christchurch's Robert McDougall Art Gallery closed in 2002, the Christchurch Art Gallery took its place. The gallery's dramatic, modern structure was designed by the Buchan Group. "Te Puna o Waiwhetu" is the name for the spring below the gallery.
4. Sydney Observatory
Home of the oldest observatory and telescope (still actively used) in Australia, the Sydney Observatory dates back to 1858. The sandstone, Italianate structure originally just included an office and home for the resident astronomer; a wing was added in 1877 to provide an additional office, a library, and a second dome for another telescope. The structure was officially converted into a museum by government order in 1982.
Visitors are still invited to visit and use the 1874 telescope to stare at the stars every night; they can use a more modern telescope, too. Aside from serving as an observatory open to the public, the structure also houses an astronomical museum.
5. Sovereign Hill
There are quite a few open-air museums in Australia dedicated to the gold rush. One of those museums is the incredibly popular and delightfully charming Sovereign Hill, where gold was discovered in 1851. The museum, opened in 1970, strives to be a perfect copycat of the town in the 1850s—complete with costumed actors, antiques, and gold panning—and stretches over 62 acres, including two full-sized mines where guests can enjoy guided tours.
6. Albury Library Museum
Both a library and a museum, this great space in Albury was designed by Ashton Raggatt McDougall and opened in 2007. The orange, criss-cross accents on the exterior are said to have been inspired by the historic Murray River rail bridge. The innovative look of the structure earned the building the National Award for Public Architecture from the Australian Institute of Architecture.
The building's library offers a selection of 50,000 materials while the museum showcases the city's culture and heritage, including that of the Wiradjuri natives who once lived in the area.
Also known as the National Science and Technology Centre, this impressive space offers more than 200 interactive science and technology exhibits—many of which are dedicated to inspiring children in the area to develop an interest in science. Surprisingly, the modernist structure is already almost 25 years old, a gift from Japan for Australia's 1988 bicentenary.
8. Nafsika Stamoulis Hellenic Museum Limited
The Hellenic Museum aims to promote “the celebration, understanding, and preservation of the artistic and cultural heritage of ancient and modern Greece.” While the museum was only founded in 2007, it's housed in the old Royal Mint building that in dates back to 1872. The mint building is one of only a handful of Australian structures built in the Renaissance revival style. It was designed by J.J. Clark, who was strongly inspired by Raphael's 1515 Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli.
9. Monte Cristo Homestead
Once a home to the Crawley family, this 1885 Victorian manor stood empty between 1948 and 1963, when it was purchased by Reg and Olive Ryan, who restored the structure and turned it into a museum and antique store. Aside from providing a look at Victorian life and architecture, the Monte Cristo Homestead is also a popular destination for those seeking ghost sightings—it's considered by many to be the most haunted house in Australia.
10. Campbelltown Arts Centre
Aside from an art gallery space, this impressive building features a 180-seat performance studio, event spaces, a sculpture garden, a Japanese garden, a cafe, an amphitheater, and more. It also supports contemporary artists in the area by featuring a residency apartment and studio spaces. Campbelltown is home to one of the biggest Aboriginal communities in Australia, so the center has a particular emphasis on Indigenous visual and performance arts.
11. Australian Museum
The Australian Museum was founded in 1827, making it the oldest museum in the country. The museum building, designed by James Barnet, was completed in 1849 and officially opened to the public in 1857. Since then, it has been expanded and extended greatly to create space for the ever-increasing collection, which covers all nature of sciences including mineralogy, paleontology, anthropology, zoology, and natural history.
12. National Museum of Australia
Formally established by the National Museum of Australia Act of 1980, this national museum is surprisingly young compared to many other national museums; the building wasn't even finished until 2001. The structure was designed by Howard Raggatt, who was inspired by the idea of ropes trailing from a center knot—the ropes represent the stories of all Australians that make up the overall story of the country itself. The exterior is covered in aluminum panels, many of which feature words written in Braille (although some of the words and phrases—such as "forgive us our genocide"—were considered controversial and have since been obscured by silver discs).
While the building where it is housed is entirely modernist, the contents are totally classic, exploring and preserving 50,000 years of history in Australia. The museum's holdings include the largest collection of Aboriginal bark paintings and stone tools.
13. Australian War Memorial
Opened in 1941, the Australian War Memorial is the country's dedication to the members of its armed forces. The memorial also features a military museum, a research center, and a sculpture garden. The idea of the museum occurred to Charles Bean as he observed the fighting of WWI in France in 1916.
The structure was a result of a 1927 design contest that did not have a winner, but instead two participants were asked to create a joint design. The structure was completed in 1941, shortly after the outbreak of WWII. In front of the structure is a narrow courtyard with a memorial pool surrounding an eternal flame. To either side of the courtyard are bronze plaques naming all 102,000 Australian military personnel who have been killed in the line of duty all the way back to the British Sudanese Expedition. Visitors are encouraged to insert poppies in the cracks to honor those who have died.
14. Geelong Art Gallery
The Geelong Art Gallery hosts an impressive collection of 4000 works of art. The gallery itself was first created in 1895, and the current building was opened in 1915. The gallery was expanded in 1928 and again in 1937, 1956, and 1971. Now the once small art gallery is incredibly expansive and stretches across half a block.