HDAC inhibitors have been reported to produce antidepressant and pro-cognitive effects in animal models, however, poor brain bioavailability or lack of isoform selectivity of current probes has limited our understanding of their mode of action. We report the characterization of novel pyrimidine hydroxyl amide small molecule inhibitors of HDAC6, brain bioavailable upon systemic administration. We show that two compounds in this family, ACY-738 and ACY-775, inhibit HDAC6 with low nanomolar potency and a selectivity of 60- to 1500-fold over class I HDACs. In contrast to tubastatin A, a reference HDAC6 inhibitor with similar potency and peripheral activity, but more limited brain bioavailability, ACY-738 and ACY-775 induce dramatic increases in α-tubulin acetylation in brain and stimulate mouse exploratory behaviors in novel, but not familiar environments. Interestingly, despite a lack of detectable effect on histone acetylation, we show that ACY-738 and ACY-775 share the antidepressant-like properties of other HDAC inhibitors, such as SAHA and MS-275, in the tail suspension test and social defeat paradigm. These effects of ACY-738 and ACY-775 are directly attributable to the inhibition of HDAC6 expressed centrally, as they are fully abrogated in mice with a neural-specific loss of function of HDAC6. Furthermore, administered in combination, a behaviorally inactive dose of ACY-738 markedly potentiates the anti-immobility activity of a subactive dose of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram. Our results validate new isoform-selective probes for in vivo pharmacological studies of HDAC6 in the CNS and reinforce the viability of this HDAC isoform as a potential target for antidepressant development.