NGV International entrance with water fountain.

©Kate Morgan/Lonely Planet

NGV International

Top choice in Melbourne

Housed in a vast, brutally beautiful, bunker-like building, the international branch of the NGV has an expansive collection, from ancient artefacts to the cutting edge. Regular blockbuster exhibitions (prices vary) draw crowds, and there are free 50-minute highlight tours on the hour from 11am to 2pm daily. It's a rite of passage to touch the water wall at the entrance.

Key works include a Rembrandt self-portrait, Tiepolo's Banquet of Cleopatra and Turner's otherworldly Falls of Schaffhausen. It’s also home to Picasso’s Weeping Woman, which was the victim of an art heist in 1986 to protest the lack of state art funding. The 1st floor is given over to Asian art, with exquisite pieces from China, Japan and Southeast Asia. The gallery also has an excellent decorative arts and furniture collection, which is showcased alongside contemporaneous paintings rather than being quarantined in its own section.

Designed by architect Sir Roy Grounds, the NGV building was controversial when it was completed in 1967 but has come to be respected as a modernist masterpiece. Make sure you wander through the foyer to the Great Hall, with its extraordinary stained-glass ceiling (lying on the floor to the side is recommended), and continue out onto the sculpture lawn.

Keep an eye on the website for NGV Friday Nights, a series of fun-filled ticketed events featuring music, bars, dining and late-night access to feature exhibitions.

The NGV's Australian art collection is on display at the Ian Potter Centre at nearby Federation Sq.

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