In the 1850s, with the Gold Rush in Victoria, Melbourne became the wealthiest city in Australia. Its riches were not just measured in cash, though, but also in culture.
And that’s why in 1861, with a desire to reflect the growing significance of the city, the National Gallery of Victoria was officially opened.
It is the oldest gallery in Australia, and from those small beginnings, it has also grown into the most visited art gallery in the country.
With a collection of more than 76,000 works spanning thousands of years, it’s clear to see why it’s so popular. Just a short walk from the city, and with free entry, locals can pop in to see a Picasso or a Monet on their lunchbreak.
The NGV has also grown over the years and is now spread across two main locations in Melbourne (with a third due to open in 2028).
The international collection is housed in the main building on St Kilda Road, officially called the ‘NGV International’, which is also where the largest special exhibitions are held.
The Australian collection is on display at ‘The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia’, a multi-level building that is part of Fed Square in the city centre.
The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has two separate locations in Melbourne. This article is about the main building, NGV International.
Even for a city that still prides itself on its cultural offerings, the NGV stands out as a true gem. It’s one of the best museums in Melbourne by any standard, but particularly for art-lovers.
The wealth of the Gold Rush is still seen across many parts of Melbourne, but this is perhaps its finest legacy.
The main National Gallery of Victoria building on St Kilda Road, known officially as the NGV International, is spread across four large levels with a light-filled atrium opening up the middle of them.
Most of the ground level is taken up with the temporary galleries that are used for the big touring shows and blockbuster exhibitions. Although, if you head out the back, you’ll find the outdoor garden with a number of sculpture pieces.
On the first level, one side has a focus on Asian art, with collections from countries like China, India, and Korea. The other side introduces British and European art from about the 13th century.
Heading up to the second level, the British and European collection comes a bit further ahead in time, covering styles from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The other half of this level spans a global look at international work from the 19th to 20th centuries.
The third level is much smaller and only has a few rooms. You’l often find a temporary exhibition here, along with some of the gallery’s contemporary acquisitions.
How to visit?
Although there’s lots to see, the main NGV building is a manageable size and you’ll be able to see it all on a visit, if you want.
It’s certainly worth seeing whether there’s a major exhibition on when you’re planning to visit the NGV, because that could be worth making time for (and paying for). Otherwise, I would suggest about two hours to explore.
From the city centre, it’s easy to walk to the NGV, or there’s plenty of public transport.
Where is the NGV International?
The NGV is just south of Melbourne’s city centre, a short walk from Fed Square or Flinders St Station.
The official address is 180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3006. You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to the NGV International?
The NGV International is very easy to reach by public transport. Eight different tram routes stop at the station outside the gallery’s entrance. It’s also a five-minute walk from the train at Flinders Street Station.
If you’re coming by car, there is paid parking at the the Arts Centre Melbourne and Australian Ballet Centre Car Park.
When is the NGV International open?
The NGV International is open every day from 10:00 – 17:00.
What is the NGV International entrance fee?
Entry to the NGV International is free for everyone.
There may be a charge to see the special temporary exhibitions.
You can find more details at the official website of the National Gallery of Victoria.
If you’re looking for food, there are several good options within the gallery itself. The Gallery Kitchen on the ground level has a good selection of light meals and snacks, while the Garden Restaurant is more formal and popular for a longer lunch.
There’s also the Tea Room on the first level where you can grab a wine or a coffee, or have a traditional high tea experience.
Is it worth it?
There’s a good reason why the NGV is the most visited art gallery in the country – because it has a superb collection and an excellent visitor experience.
I think all the state art galleries are really good and one thing I like is that they each approach their exhibitions and design different. Here at the NGV, the emphasis is one quality rather than quantity, which careful consideration of which works will be on display at any particular time.
It means that it’s easy to find the highlights and you can see all the important areas in a single visit, not feeling like you’ve missed something when you leave.
For anyone planning their time in the city, I think this is one of the best things to do in Melbourne. Include it in your Melbourne itinerary (particularly if the weather isn’t behaving at some point) and you won’t be disappointed.
The NGV also has a lot of resources for children, including self-guided activity sheets and special exhibitions, so it’s definitely a family friendly experience.
The NGV always has special exhibitions at its main international gallery, including several large blockbusters every year.
The larger shows (often exhibiting works by famous international artists) are usually in the large gallery spaces on the ground floor and will have an entrance fee.
Smaller side galleries on the upper levels will often show free temporary exhibitions.
If you’re planning to visit the NGV, I definitely think it’s worth seeing whether one of the main exhibitions is of interest, because they are usually very well put together.
You can see what’s on here, where you can also book tickets in advance.
Some of the key shows for the rest of 2023 are:
- (Until 8 October) Pierre Bonnard, Designed by India Mahdavi: An exquisite showcase of the life of the French post-impressionist, where the design of the show is also a big part of the attraction.
- (Until 10 September) Rembrandt, True to Life: Alongside etchings from the NGV’s collection, there are important paintings of the Dutch master on loan from some of the world’s leading art institutions.
- (From 3 December) NGV Triennial 2023: More than 75 projects spread across the whole gallery will see a hundred artists reflect the world they see today.
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.
If you enjoy the NGV International, then I would certainly recommend also making time for The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Fed Square.
While the collection of Australian works includes a wide range of styles, from traditional and contemporary Indigenous works to colonial-era paintings, there’s certainly an emphasis here on modern art and emerging artists.
In other words, there’s a very different feel here and the visitor experience is standalone and complementary, not simply an extension of the international gallery.
Also, if you’re prepared to wait a bit, the NGV is due to open a new building in 2028. Called ‘The Fox: NGV Contemporary’, the large new gallery space will focus on contemporary artworks, with special exhibition space and a rooftop terrace.