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6 living history museums to discover in NSW

There’s nothing quite like a living history museum for an authentic experience and insight into the past. You can take a trip back in time by exploring some of New South Wales’ most important historic houses, gardens and museums. Here are six living history museums to discover in NSW…


Situated in the heart of historic Sydney, the Hyde Park Barracks provide a remarkable living record of early colonial Australia. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed site was originally built to house convicts, but the Barracks later served as an immigration depot, asylum, law courts and government offices. Today it is a cutting-edge museum where tradition meets innovation.

Open Thursday–Sunday, 10am–5pm
Enjoy half price entry, Sydney Living Museums Members receive free entry


Undoubtedly one of the most splendid private houses ever built in Australia, heritage-listed Elizabeth Bay House continues to astonish visitors some 183 years after it opened. The Colonial Regency style house – now also a museum – draws attention from a distance for its resemblance to a Greek temple.

On closer inspection, the elegant rooms, sweeping staircase and lavish furnishings showcase the bold tastes and aspirations of its original owner, Alexander Macleay, one of the most important public officials in colonial Sydney. But Elizabeth Bay House’s former glory owed as much if not more to Macleay’s true passion, the magnificent surrounding landscaped gardens. His obsession ultimately pushed him towards financial ruin in the economic downturn of the 1840s. The property has undergone a series of transformations over the decades, including its time as a squat inhabited by bohemian artists in the early 1930s.

Open Sundays, 10am-4pm
Enjoy free entry


Built for the young military couple John and Elizabeth Macarthur and their growing family in 1793, Elizabeth Farm is one of the oldest homes in Australia. But a dark and dramatic history lurks within. Elizabeth Farm has witnessed major events in the growth of the colony – from the toppling of governors and convict rebellion to the birth of the Australian wool industry. The family faced much turmoil here too.

The original cottage was transformed into a fine colonial bungalow, and today, set within a recreated 1830s garden, Elizabeth Farm is completely open to public access for a truly immersive experience.

Open Friday and Saturday, 10am-4pm
Enjoy free entry


A few blocks from the town centre of Nowra on the NSW south coast, Meroogal has hardly changed since being built in the 1880s. Handed down and treasured through four generations of women from one local family, the distinctive ‘Carpenter Gothic’ house tells a multitude of stories about the Thorburn and Macgregor women, as well as the local community in which they resided. The house still overflows with family belongings – from furniture, ornaments and their favourite books to photographs, diaries, newspaper clippings, recipes, clothes and appliances.

Open Saturdays, 10am-4pm
Enjoy free entry


Once ‘the most talked about house in Sydney’, Rose Seidler House remains a fine example of mid 20th-century modern domestic architecture in Australia. Designed for his parents by a young Harry Seidler – considered a leading exponent of Modernism's methodology and the first architect to fully express the principles of the Bauhaus in Australia – the house was completed in 1950 and instantly overturned almost every convention of suburban home design, courtesy of its radical design both inside and out. The house is surrounded by bushland with panoramic views of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. 

Open Sundays, 10am-4pm
Enjoy free entry


Rouse Hill Estate, which looks out over the paddocks and across to the mountains, chronicles the changing fortunes of six generations of one family through its assortment of belongings, treasures and memories. The house and farm was once the social hub of the area, thanks to its grand stables and prize horses, orchards and elegant summerhouse. Today Rouse Hill Estate also features the restored 1888 Rouse Hill schoolhouse and the site of the doomed 1804 ‘Vinegar Hill’ convict rebellion.

Open on the second Sunday of each month, 10am-4pm
Enjoy free entry

These wonderful historic experiences and more are curated by Sydney Living Museums.