A Visitor’s Guide to the National Museum of Australia
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A Visitor’s Guide to the National Museum of Australia

A Visitor’s Guide to the National Museum of Australia

on 01 July 2019 in Local News

There are certain activities that every visitor to Canberra should do. Parliament House, Jerrabomberra Wetland, the Australian War Memorial and of course the National Museum of Australia. Australian stories come alive at the National Museum of Australia and located on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin it’s an absolute must to explore. 


Here’s why…


About the National Museum of Australia


The National Museum of Australia is a publicly funded institution governed as a statutory authority in the Commonwealth Arts portfolio. It first opened its doors on 11 March 2001 and while this makes it one of Australia’s newest cultural institutions, it was almost 100 years in the making. Today it is home to the National Historical Collection and is one of Australia’s major cultural institutions. 


The Museum’s exhibitions, collections, programs and research focus on three interrelated themes:


– Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture

– Australia’s history and society since 1788

– the interaction of people with the environment.

These areas define the Museum through the themes of land, nation and people. 


What to expect from your visit


There are three levels to the Museum which can be navigated using the Museum map. Highlights include:


Gandel Atrium


With soaring ceilings and expansive windows that overlook Lake Burley Griffin the stunning architectural space of Gandel Atrium is surrounded by objects from the Museum’s collection, including a Muttaburrasaurus skeleton and an iconic 1955 FJ Holden. Look up at the huge rope knot ceiling as you enter, a metaphor for the strands that tie Australians together as a nation.


Circa Theatre


Circa Theatre is an audiovisual revolving theatre that takes visitors on a unique visual journey through history, taking you from the ancient past to the present day. Many of the characters in the show are objects from the collections, which you will meet again when you explore the exhibitions.  Visitors enter the theatre seating area during an audio introduction which then moves through subsequent quadrants that feature short segments (3–5 minutes) in a multi-screen theatrical setting.


Garden of Australian Dreams


The Garden of Australian Dreams is a remarkable garden made up of maps and symbols, where every step you take equates for 100 kilometres across the continent. Located in the heart of the Museum its a symbolic landscape exploring ideas of place and country. With water features, creative landscaping and lighting effects it’s a sight to be seen. 


Paddle Steamer Enterprise


One of the world’s oldest working paddle steamers, Enterprise is the largest working exhibit at the Museum. It illustrates the important role paddle steamers played in Australian history and it is staffed by a dedicated crew of volunteers. Check the Museum’s calendar for inspections from September to May. 


Phar Lap’s heart


The horse Phar Lap is a legend of Australian sporting history and Phar Lap’s heart is one of the icons of the National Museum’s collection. It weighs 6.35 kilograms, more than 1.5 times the weight of a thoroughbred racehorse heart. Returned to Australia for testing following his sudden death in the United States in 1932, his heart symbolises great courage, generosity and power. 




Kspace is the Museum’s interactive adventure game for kids. Children can build their own time-travelling robot then blast off to explore a mystery location in Australia’s past. Designed for children aged 5 – 12, Kspace takes about 30 minutes to complete. To extend the Kspace experience, kids can download the Kspace Augmented Reality Trail app, encouraging them to explore the Museum by finding characters from the Kspace games. 


As well as discover these highlights you can explore galleries showcasing:


– Australia’s diverse and unique species and environments

– the fascinating journeys of people and objects that connect Australia to the world

– Australian history since European settlement

– the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their spirituality, diversity, identity and survival.    


Tours and Talks


If you’d like to see the Museum through the eyes of a knowledgeable host, take a guided tour. Hear the stories behind the collection and learn more about First Australians with a Highlights Tour (departs daily at 10am and 1pm) or enjoy the Ultimate Museum Experience which includes a:


– one-hour Museum highlights tour — customised to suit your interests

– main course meal with a glass of wine in the stunning waterfront Museum Cafe

– $20 Museum Shop voucher

Bookings can be made at the Information Desk or by emailing bookings@nma.gov.au. Cost is $60 per person. For families not wanting to do a tour but still wanting some guidance, download the Highlights for Young Historians guided trail


Entry and getting there


The National Museum of Australia is free to enter, however costs apply for some special exhibitions and events. Parking is available between 8:30am and 5pm at a cost of $2.90 per hour or $14 per day when parking midweek. Parking is free on weekends and public holidays. 


If you prefer to avoid parking hassles and get dropped off near the front door, Canberra’s new Culture Loop shuttle bus service runs past the Museum on an hourly schedule from the city. You can also catch the Action Bus with Route 53 stopping 200 metres from the entrance. 


If you ride your bike, bicycle parking is available near the lakeside entrance. 


Before you leave, see What’s On for all exhibitions, events, tours and experiences at the Museum. 


Winding down

Exploring the National Museum of Australia is one of the essential things to do in Canberra and you’re guaranteed a great day out. But with every great adventure comes the need for a place to relax and wind down and that’s where Marketplace Gungahlin comes in. With a wide array of cafe’s and dining to choose from, the Marketplace Gungahlin has everything you need to wind down and reflect on the fun and fascinating day you had.