Down the darkened hall, through prehistoric sounds and animations of a land before time, the anticipation builds as you approach one of the highlights of Melbourne Museum – the triceratops!
Taking the spotlight in the centre of a dedicated room, the world’s most complete and best preserved triceratops skeleton is a dramatic sight (especially with all the sound and lighting effects that accompany it).
This enormous 67-million-year-old creature doesn’t really have anything to do with Melbourne – it was uncovered under 3.5 metres of sandstone in the US state of Montana.
But that’s the interesting things about Melbourne Museum: although there’s lots here about the city and Victoria more generally, there are also some world-class exhibitions that could be in any big international institution.
For all visitors to the city (of any age), there’s likely something of interest, which is why I think this is one of the best museums in Melbourne.
Temporary exhibitions bring some fascinating topics to life during the year, while the permanent galleries focus on nature and culture, showing how our world has changed, how generations of Australians lived here for millennia, and what makes Melbourne such a special city.
Melbourne Museum is spread across three floors and covers a range of topics.
The lower ground floor is where you’ll find the main hall for temporary exhibitions and also the IMAX movie cinema. Both of these you can access without going into the main part of the museum (and they have their own tickets).
The main entrance is on the ground floor, which leads you into the large open atrium in the centre of the museum. Off the atrium on the ground floor are several gallery spaces.
These galleries on the ground floor include:
- The Binjulaka Gallery, which has an interesting exhibition about Victoria’s Indigenous culture from before colonisation until today (and connecting to the Te Pasifika gallery).
- The Forest Gallery, which has a collection of plants in an outside area that you can stroll through.
- The Science & Life Gallery, covering huge things like the planet’s geological changes over millions of years, down to tiny things like weird bugs.
On the first floor, the main permanent attraction is the Melbourne Gallery, which has an impressive collection of items related to different parts of the city’s heritage and culture, with a highlight being the body of racehorse Phar Lap.
The second floor also has some smaller spaces for temporary exhibitions that may be worth exploring.
How to visit?
Melbourne Museum is really easy to visit. It’s just on the edge of the city centre and well connected by public transport, so it won’t take long to reach by either foot or tram.
The museum is quite large and if you want to see it all properly I would suggest allocating about three hours. It can be done faster (or slower) depending on how long you spend in each gallery.
During school days, the museum can get a bit busy with school groups, but they tend to focus on one gallery at the time, so you should be able to avoid them if you move around.
You can book tickets in advance here. It’s probably not necessary a lot of the time, but might be a good idea on busy days to save waiting when you get there.
Where is Melbourne Museum?
Melbourne Museum is in Carlton Gardens, just over the northern edge of the city centre.
The official address is: 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton, Victoria, 3053. You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to Melbourne Museum?
Because it’s on the edge of the city, Melbourne Museum is walkable from many areas, and is easy to access by public transport.
By tram, you can catch route 86 or 96 to the Melbourne Museum stop, or you can take the City Loop train to Parliament station.
When is Melbourne Museum open?
Melbourne Museum is open every day from 09:00 – 17:00.
The museum is closed on Good Friday and Christmas Day.
What is the Melbourne Museum entrance fee?
For the main part of the museum, entry costs:
Child (up to 16 years): Free
There may be additional charges for temporary exhibitions.
You can find more details at the official website of Melbourne Museum.
For food when you’re here, there are a few different options.
Mercury Restaurant is casual but has more of an ‘adult’ restaurant atmosphere, serving bottles of wine for example.
The Market Cafe is more family-friendly, with sandwiches, burgers, and other easy bites.
There’s also a cafe if you’re just looking for a hot drink and a snack.
Is it worth it?
There’s no doubt that Melbourne Museum is one of the best museums in the city. It covers a wide range of topics and does an excellent job at putting together interesting exhibitions.
Like many natural history museums (which is a large part of Melbourne Museum), some of the collection is aimed more at school children and not specific to the city, meaning it may be of less interest for a short trip to Melbourne.
But, having said that, the Melbourne Gallery has a comprehensive variety of items related to the city that will have some value for visitors wanting to learn more about the culture here.
And the triceratops exhibition is fantastic and a real blockbuster for anyone!
I think Melbourne Museum is likely to be of more interest for families, and it’s a solid choice for a way to spend a few hours (particularly when the weather’s not great).
Adults visiting from interstate or overseas will probably find that the Melbourne Gallery part of the museum is a good enough justification to come, but I probably wouldn’t put it at the top of the list if you’re short of time and trying to prioritise what to see.
There is always a range of temporary exhibitions being held at Melbourne Museum – some big blockbuster shows, and smaller niche events in the side galleries.
To see what’s on at the moment (or coming up soon) you can have a look at the museum’s event listings.
Some of the key shows for the rest of 2023 are:
- (Until 8 October) Fantastic Beasts, The Wonder of Nature: Using some of the ideas from the movies, this touring exhibition looks at how there are many real animals just as remarkable as those in fiction.
- (Until 3 September) Sutr Santati, Then, Now, Next: A showcase of 75 hand-woven textiles created by contemporary Indian designers.
- (1 September – 28 January) RELICS, a New World Rises: A mixed-media sculpture exhibition with lego pieces and real-world artefacts.
There are also often talks and other special events held at the museum, so be sure to check what’s on when you’re visiting.
Melbourne Museum is big enough to be an attraction in itself, and is close enough to the city that it can be combined with any other attractions in the CBD to fill your day.
But, while you’re here, you may want to consider also seeing the Royal Exhibition Building, just across from the main entrance.
This gorgeous building is one of Australia’s World Heritage Sites and has a really interesting history connected to the things that have taken place here.
Aside from visiting the Royal Exhibition Building when there’s an event taking place, you can only access it on one of the guided tours that run regularly each day. More information here.
Carlton Gardens, surrounding the Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum, are also part of the World Heritage Site listing, so you might like to take a little time to wander through and have a look.