Canberra offers plenty of cultural attractions for everyone from art enthusiasts and history fans, to science buffs. Learn about your country through its museums and galleries.
Pay your respects at the Australian War Memorial, where you can visit its sandstone sculptures and the Pool of Remembrance. Kids will especially love exploring the National Dinosaur Museum to satisfy their inner palaeontologist!
National Gallery of Australia
The National Gallery of Australia is much more than a cultural repository – it serves as a place where Australian histories are told through local voices. From its sprawling building with its distinct themes and colours – to exhibitions which highlight all heritages, cultures and eccentricities represented there.
Since opening its doors in 1982, this museum has amassed an extensive collection of Aboriginal artist works as well as contemporary Australian and international art. Boasting over 100,000 artworks – sculptures, oil paintings, photographs and indigenous artwork – including sculptures by Aboriginal artists as well as non-indigenous Australian works from Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, William Dobell and Sidney Nolan among others – Asian art was further strengthened under Ron Radford who added significant Indian sculpture and screen painting collections and moved them from basement spaces up to main entrance level thereby adding significant collections of Indian sculpture and screen paintings collections from underground spaces up into main entrance level bringing more Asian art collections together under his directorship and moving it from basement spaces up to main entrance level level for easier access.
The National Gallery of Australia is an essential stop on any visit to Canberra, especially with children as there are plenty of activities designed to keep them engaged. Nearby Australian War Memorial pays respects to 102,000 service personnel who have given their lives for their country while Parliament House provides insight into national politics.
National Portrait Gallery
With its expansive collection of paintings, sculptures, and photographs that span our nation’s history, this gallery makes for an enjoyable day trip. Offering comfortable seating arrangements as well as free wifi connectivity and cafe services – its staff are extremely welcoming and helpful – make this gallery worth your while!
The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra is one of its true gems, housing portraits of people who have had an impactful influence on Australian culture and identity, such as artists, politicians, musicians, athletes and royalty. You’ll come face to face with them all here – artists, politicians, musicians athletes royalty are all represented here! Additionally the Gallery manages an extensive Sidney Nolan painting collection on behalf of Australia government.
As well as traditional portraiture, the gallery also displays photography, drawings, prints and caricatures; medals, coins, papier-mache figures, wax busts – even an impressive cast of Mark Quinn’s head made out of ten pints of his blood!
National Portrait Gallery exhibitions are both eye-opening and thought-provoking. Pub Rock was developed almost entirely during lockdown in 2020 to amplify its role as a place for storytelling; and Bogong Cluster by Gamilaroi/Wiradjuri artist Jonathon Jones with Elder Dr Matilda House provided an exquisite visual interpretation of hidden physiological responses related to togetherness or isolation.
National Dinosaur Museum
As opposed to museums that present dry explanations of fossils, this museum brings prehistory alive through interactive displays that bring it all to life. Young palaeontologists can explore an impressive collection of skeletons and skulls – even robotic dinosaur models that blink, breathe and roar!
Families visiting with kids must visit this museum! At the National Dinosaur Museum, their team of knowledgeable staff are passionate about educating all age groups on Earth’s prehistory – with expertise spanning science, teaching and geology backgrounds and keeping abreast with recent finds in paleontology.
One of the premier tourist attractions in Canberra, this museum provides a fascinating look into Australia’s past and culture. Its collections cover art, science and heritage in an architectural blend between Art Deco and classical designs.
Though one of the newest museums on our list, this museum is already one of the most visited. Boasting an expansive range of historical exhibitions and displays – many interactive – it provides an invaluable education experience for kids learning about Australia’s natural history and Indigenous cultures. History enthusiasts can book tours that focus on particular exhibits or highlights from its collection or simply visit on their own.
Canberra Railway Museum
Canberra Railway Museum stands alone among Australian Capital Territory museums with an amazing collection of historic steam locomotives, carriages and rail memorabilia dating back 140 years – most prominently its flagship loco 1210 that brought Canberra its inaugural train in 1914.
The museum was established to preserve and showcase Canberra’s historic railways while providing a heritage experience for locals and tourists. It houses an array of former NSW rolling stock including locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars and track maintenance vehicles which may even be taken on tours outside of ACT for paying customers.
The main depot features over a dozen sets of carriages ranging from ornately polished wooden and stainless steel classic Pullman carriages, to more contemporary sets that still boast original seating, dining, sleeping, freight/goods arrangements. Visitors are free to wander among them and even climb aboard some locomotive cabins (though technically you aren’t supposed to enter any workshops where renovation work takes place).
The museum was established in 1967 and for years operated under the Australian Railway Historical Society’s Canberra (ACT) division. However, in 2016 its freight company collapsed under heavy debts, leading the ACT division into liquidation with many assets sold off at auction in August 2017. By May 2018, two non-profit companies were created in order to run and safeguard both the museum and its heritage assets.