Despite being Australia's third-largest city, Brisbane doesn't enjoy the international fame of its southern counterparts. But don't let that discourage you from visiting this diverse and dynamic city, with the state's most significant galleries and museums topping many visitors' to-do list. Read on for our guide to the best museums in Brisbane.
Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
These two galleries at South Bank, jointly referred to as QAGOMA, form the centerpiece of Brisbane's cultural precinct. Holding more than 17,000 artworks by national and international artists, QAGOMA has a particular focus on contemporary Asian and Pacific art. Recent exhibitions include a collection of painted car hoods from a Western Desert community known as the Kayili artists and a selection of video art by Indigenous Australians.
Situated on either side of the State Library of Queensland, the galleries are open daily and entry is free. The Gallery of Modern Art is home to a popular farm-to-table restaurant and a relaxed bistro, while at the Queensland Art Gallery cafe you'll find fresh salads and sandwiches.
Also at South Bank, the Queensland Museum hosts permanent and changing exhibitions, as well as hands-on experiences, that focus on the natural history and cultural heritage of the state. At the Discovery Centre, visitors can see live snakes and insects and interact with the knowledgeable staff. There is also a dedicated STEM-learning space called SparkLab for 6 to 13-year-olds inside the museum. Other displays cover Queensland's unique flora and fauna, ancient fossils that tell the story of the state's prehistoric dinosaurs, marine creatures, and megafauna.
Queensland Maritime Museum
Since 1971, the Queensland Maritime Museum has been the city's top destination for all things seafaring. It is home to the largest collection of lighthouse artifacts in Australia, as well as full-sized ships that are open to the public, including the HMAS Diamantina frigate, The steam tug Forceful, and the WWII-era Penguin pearling lugger. The museum itself occupies a historic pavilion that was created for the World Expo 88.
Named after U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the South West Pacific, this museum focuses on Brisbane's role during World War II. It is a small but fascinating peek into a little known part of Australia's history when a million U.S. military personnel stopped over in Brisbane on their way to the front line.
Opened in 2004, the MacArthur Museum has three main exhibits, respectively highlighting the war effort in Brisbane, the South-West Pacific campaign and General MacArthur himself. However, the museum is only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
Old Government House
When Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859, it needed a new building to house its independent government. Today, you can learn about colonial life in Queensland by taking a tour of this building, Old Government House, and its grounds, including the drawing room, storeroom, and servant's hall. The museum also has a variety of historical artifacts, as well as video and multimedia exhibits. It also includes the William Robinson Gallery, showcasing the work of one of Australia's most renowned landscape artists.
QUT Art Museum
Next door to Old Government House, you'll find some of the city's most adventurous art at the QUT Art Museum. With a focus on Australian artists—mostly from the 1960s onwards—the collection of more than 3,000 pieces explores themes of identity, place, and community. Highlights include works by Grace Cossington Smith, Charles Blackman, Jimmy Pike, and Dadang Christanto.
Woolloongabba Art Gallery
This contemporary art gallery has been operating south of the city center in the suburb of Woolloongabba since 2004. It features temporary exhibitions of local and Australasian sculptors, painters, photographers, and multimedia artists in its three exhibition spaces.
Recent exhibitions span contemporary ceramics, landscapes, still lives, and portraiture, as well as a collection of works by Lardil and Kaiadilt artists working on Mornington Island. Art collectors will be able to expand their collection here as some art is available for purchase.
Museum of Brisbane
Brisbane City Hall is the city's most recognizable landmark and the largest city hall in Australia, with a dramatic neo-classical facade that dates to the 1920s. The Museum of Brisbane can be found on the third floor. Exhibitions display the history, myths and legends of the city, as well as the works of local artists. After exploring the museum take advantage of a tour of City Hall or the Clock Tower
Commissariat Store Museum
Housed inside one of Queensland's oldest buildings, the Commissariat Store Museum explores life in the colony and the state's convict history. It opened in 1982, although the original building was constructed by convicts between 1828 and 1829 to serve as the store for the Moreton Bay penal settlement. The museum's most notorious object is a bottle containing the "convict fingers," which, according to legend, were cut off by the convicts themselves to avoid hard labor.
Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium
Within the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium is one of the city's hidden gems. The Cosmic Skydome, a 40-foot-diameter projection dome, is the main attraction, along with some interesting traditional displays and an observatory. The planetarium's namesake built Australia’s first astronomical observatory in Sydney and charted the Southern Hemisphere’s stars during the early 1800s.
General entry here is free, but shows in the Cosmic Skydome cost an extra fee. All shows include a tour of the night sky from the Planetarium's astronomers. There is a special selection of shows available for children under 6 and bookings are recommended.