No visit to South Australia is complete without stopping in to one of the many museums. Some of them are free to visit and all are worth an hour or two. I have been madly running around the city to come up with a list of what I think are the best Adelaide Museums.
- 1 South Australian Museum
- 2 Migration Museum
- 3 MOD
- 4 Art Gallery of South Australia
- 5 South Australian Maritime Museum
- 6 South Australian Aviation Museum
- 7 National Railway Museum
- 8 Bay Discovery Centre Museum
- 9 Ayers House Museum
- 10 Museum of Economic Botany
- 11 Tramway Museum St Kilda
- 12 National Motor Museum
- 13 More Adelaide Museums to Visit
South Australian Museum
This is the most prominent of all the museums. It is located on North Terrace between to State Library and the Art Gallery and it’s the one people mean when they say “The Museum”. The ground floor is always a favourite with kids. For as long as I can remember there has been a display containing full-sized animals from all over the world. It’s possible to get up and close with an elephant, a tiger, monkeys and bears. There’s even a lion with a tail that moves – making many people look twice.
The museum also has a really good gallery displaying information about Aboriginal Cultures. Just some of the others are on Ancient Egypt, Whales and Dolphins, and South Australian Biodiversity. One of the other highlights is a full sized giant squid displayed in an old elevator shaft, so it can be viewed from three different levels. Free tours are offered at different times, currently daily at 11am, but check the website before visiting as it does change.
The museum also hosts a variety of special exhibitions. As I write (October 2018) it is hosting the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year display
The South Australian Museum is open every day from 10am-5pm, entry is free.
Around the corner from the South Australian Museum is the Migration Museum. Australia is such a young country and we have been very much moulded by immigration, often in waves from various cultures. This museum takes a look at everything from the First Fleet to immigrants of today.
The Migration Museum is housed in what was once South Australia’s Destitute Asylum, which is interesting in itself. It often has temporary exhibitions in some of the various buildings on the site. From now until the end of 2018 free tours are offered at 3pm every Saturday and Sunday.
I had never been to this museum until I went to have a look for the purposes of writing this, but I have to say I enjoyed my visit. My family has been in Australia for seven generations, so unlike most Australians I do not have parents or grandparents born elsewhere so many of the issues surrounding immigration were only vaguely familiar to me. As such I found much of the information really interesting. It’s not a huge museum, and you will need no more than an hour or so here to look at everything thoroughly.
The Migration Museum is open every day from 10am-5pm, entry is free
MOD is the newest museum on the block in Adelaide. While it isn’t stated anywhere, it’s commonly believe MOD stands for “Museum of Discovery”, and on their website they describe themselves as “Australia’s leading future-focused museum, provoking new ideas at the intersection of science, art and innovation.” The museum is located in the brand new UniSA medical building on North Terrace and from the moment visitors step inside it’s very clear this is a high-tech space.
The exhibits are not what you would expect to see it an old-style museum. When we visited the first gallery we looked at was filled with seemingly normal looking pictures on the walls, but these were part of an Augmented Reality display. We were given instructions to download an app on our phones (using the free wifi) and then by pointing our phone cameras at the pictures we saw each of them moving and heard relevant sound affects.
Another exhibition was based around our perceptions of pain. There was the chance to get involved, where visitors could experience pain and other stimuli and understand how outside elements affect the amount of pain we felt. Interesting! And no, it was more “uncomfortable” than truely “painful”.
MOD is open 12-6pm Tue-Thu, 12-8pm Fri, 10-4pm Sat-Sun, entry is free
Art Gallery of South Australia
The South Australian Art Gallery is exactly as it sounds – a place for art. It covers all styles of art, from traditional paintings to modern sculptures with over 38000 individual pieces in the collection. There are various display areas, and usually there are also temporary exhibitions, so there are always new things to come and look at. They often do special evening events, usually on Fridays, and during the day there are regular talks, films or other things to participate in. Look at the events page on their website for more details.
The Art Gallery of South Australia is open daily from 10am-5pm, entry is free
South Australian Maritime Museum
This is the first of three transport-related museums located in Port Adelaide.
Come along to discover the maritime history of South Australia. Over three floors there are a multitude of displays. You can explore the ketch “Active II”, see what it was like to travel on a ship to Australia a hundred years ago, and learn about the Port River dolphins. There is always something interesting going on at the Maritime Museum. Throughout the year they have lots of temporary exhibitions to add to the many permanent displays. Every school holidays there are activities just for the kids too. Also included in your entry ticket is the opportunity to climb the nearby Port Adelaide Lighthouse. The museum has also been periodically running tours of the now defunct Torrens Island quarantine station. Check out their website for further details.The South Australian Maritime Museum is open daily from 10am-5pm, entry is $15 for adults, concession $9 child $6 and family $34.50
South Australian Aviation Museum
The South Australian Aviation Museum is housed in a relocated WWII hangar and is home to approximately 15 aircraft. You can’t help but notice the impressive F-111 as soon as you walk in, but there are many other planes of various sizes throughout the building. Some of the planes are roped off, but there are extra guided tours that can be purchased to get inside of them and hear about the history of that particular plane. There are also many displays of various items to do with flight, from the rocket program at Woomera to the mail runs in country Australia. There are home made planes, various propellors and engines pulled apart to show how they work. I particularly enjoyed seeing the old passenger planes. They may have been less luxurious, but they had so much more legroom!
The South Australian Aviation Museum is open daily from 10:30am-4:30pm, entry is $10 for adults, concession $8, child under 16 $5, child under 5 free and family $25
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is open daily from 10am-4:30pm, entry is $12 for adults, concession $9, child under 16 $6, child under 5 free and family $32
Bay Discovery Centre Museum
The Bay Discovery Centre describes itself as “a Social History Museum celebrating the cultural heritage of South Australia.” This is a small but fun and colourful museum with displays on everything from the first South Australian settlers (who landed here at Glenelg) to swimwear throughout the years, to the Glenelg tram and Magic Mountain (a theme park that was located in the area for many years). If you are spending any time in Glenelg – and you should – then a a half an hour or so here would be a great inclusion in your day.
The Bay Discovery Centre is located in the seaside suburb of Glenelg, about half an hour from the city centre by tram and is open daily from 10am-4pm and entry is by gold coin donation.
Ayers House Museum
Ayers House is a Victorian-era home located on North Terrace. It was built in 1870 and it’s most prominent resident was Henry Ayers, the eighth Premier of South Australia. Henry and his wife Anne decorated it in an opulent style with furniture mostly brought over from England. In recent years the house has been restored to the glory of this time.
During your visit you will be able to explore three levels of the house, including the basements. Guided tours of the house are available on the hour and cost $5 per person.
Ayers House Museum is open Tues-Sun 10am-4pm, entry is $10 for adults, concession $8, child under 16 $5, child under 5 & National Trust members free
Museum of Economic Botany
Located in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, I only discovered this museum a couple of years ago. It’s apparently the last of it’s kind in the world, and some of it is still displaying items that were first included 130 years ago. There are hundreds of plant samples from leaves to seeds and flowers. There are also lots of models of various plant bits and pieces too, made out of paper mâché and so realistic. I really liked the display full of all different kinds of mushrooms – I had no idea there were so many.
Occasionally there are also temporary exhibitions, so if you are wandering around the Botanic Gardens, pop in to have a look at the latest happenings.
The Museum of Economic Botany is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am-4pm, entry is free
Tramway Museum St Kilda
Located in the northern suburb of St Kilda, the Tramway Museum is staffed entirely by volunteers. The museum is dedicated to the history of trams in Adelaide, but it does also include some trams from interstate. There are currently almost thirty restored trams to look at, and the entry ticket also includes rides on them for the entire day. They do loops down to the St Kilda playground, so this is a perfect day out with the kids.
The Tramway Museum of St Kilda is open Sundays 12-5pm year round, and Wednesday in school holidays, entry is $10 for adults, concession $7, and family $28
National Motor Museum
Located at Birdwood in the Adelaide Hills, the National Motor Museum is home to everything related to cars. I only allowed an hour to look around this museum. It is not enough, even for someone who is not a huge car enthusiast. Allow 2-3 hours at least. There are dozens – probably hundreds – of cars of all shapes and sizes on display here. Many of them are unique, either do to their owners, their uses, or they were a one off when they were made. There are also heaps of motorcycles too. There are also car-related displays, car arcade games, and information about the now defunct Holden manufacturing plant here in SA.
The drive up to Birdwood in the hills to the National Motor Museum really is a must for any car enthusiast.
The National Motor Museum is open everyday from 10am-5pm, entry is $15.50 for adults, concession $12.50, child under 16 $6.50, child under 5 free and family $3
More Adelaide Museums to Visit
Here are a few more museums in Adelaide that I have not yet had a chance to visit but that may be of interest.
- Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute
- National Military Vehicle Museum
- RM Williams Museum
- National Wine Centre of Australia
- Carrick Hill Historic House
If you know of any other museums in Adelaide I should check out, let me know in the comments below, and if I enjoy my visit, I will add it to this post.
Want even more? – I have created a Facebook Group to answer any questions you may have about travel in South Australia. We can help with any queries you have, make further suggestions and provide the latest information. Click here to join now.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.