Best Adelaide Museums

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No visit to South Australia is complete without stopping into 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.

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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, the largest collection anywhere in the world. Some of the other galleries are Ancient Egypt, Whales and Dolphins, and South Australian Biodiversity.

Another highlight 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, usually daily at 11 am, but check the website before visiting as it does change.

The museum also hosts a variety of special exhibitions. I enjoy the annual Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year display, but there are so many others worth visiting too.

The South Australian Museum is open every day from 10 am-5 pm, entry is free.

Migration Museum

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.

I had never been to this museum until I went to have a look for the purpose 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 10 am-5 pm, entry is free


MOD is the newest museum on the block in Adelaide. While it isn’t stated anywhere, it’s commonly believed 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 effects.

Another exhibition was based on 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 feel. Interesting! And no, it was more “uncomfortable” than truly “painful”.

MOD is open 12-6 pm Tue-Thu, 12-8 pm Fri, 10-4 pm 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.

Each day there are a variety of free tours through the galleries. Some of the tours are general and show a bit of everything, other times they are for a specific area or exhibition.

There are often special evening events too, 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 10 am-5 pm, 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 10 am-5 pm, entry is $15 for adults, concession is $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 homemade 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 10:30 am-4:30 pm, entry is $10 for adults, concession $8, a child under 16 $5, a child under 5 free and family $25

National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum is home to over 100 different exhibits. Amongst those are many old locomotives and carriages previously used by the South Australian Railways, and also some from other companies interstate.

There are other smaller displays on almost anything related to the railways, including wartime displays, the travelling circus, and women in railways. There are display boards and ticket counters previously used at the Adelaide Railway Station.

Everywhere you look there are historical artifacts, from whole stations to signs and signals.

Model railway fans will enjoy a display showing the different areas of the state and the trains that ran on them, and a miniature train ride is available throughout the day doing laps of the entire site which the kids will love.

The National Railway Museum is open daily from 10 am-4:30 pm, entry is $15 for adults, concession $9, a child under 16 $6, a child under 5 free and family $36

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 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 10 am-2 pm 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 its 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 based on the availability of volunteers who run the tours.

Ayers House Museum currently has restricted opening hours due to Covid-19. It is open Sat & Sun 10 am-4pm, entry is $10 for adults, concession $8, a child under 16 $5, a 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, 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 10 am-4 pm, 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 also includes 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 12-5 pm 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 due to their owners, their uses, or they were a one-off when they were made.

There are 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 is a must for any car enthusiast.

The National Motor Museum is open every day from 10 am-5 pm, entry is $17.50 for adults, concession $14.50, child under 16 $7.50, child under 5 free and family $41 (2 adults & up to 6 children).

More Adelaide Museums to Visit

Here are a few more museums in Adelaide 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

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About the author

Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred, living here for her whole life. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.

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