Virtual travel experiences to tour the world when you can’t leave home
Virtual travel experiences are available all around the globe. It is possible to travel virtually from home for planning or pure enjoyment. We’ve assembled a comprehensive guide to the best virtual tours around the world, including museums, art exhibits, live concerts and theaters, national park tours, street art tours and virtual tours of various cultural destinations and sights.
At its best, travel is a live, personal, interactive experience. You cannot feel the energy or smell the food of a European street market unless you are there. You cannot experience the sheer size and ornate wonder of a temple in Kyoto unless you are standing inside. And you cannot feel the wind in your face on an Alpine trail unless you are actually on the mountain. But if you can’t travel for any reason, virtual travel experiences are the next best thing.
Aside from the global COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, there will be other times you can’t travel – or maybe you want a good look at some sight to help plan a trip or to add to your travel bucket list. These days, thanks to the unfortunate mandates of the global coronavirus disease, more and more museums, tourist sights, concerts, libraries, parks, and, well, you name it, are heading online. And that will be a great benefit down the road, too.
“By virtually showing as much as possible of the expositions and the permanent collections, museums are still trying to fulfil their objective of bringing art closer to people,” said Stefan Heger, of the marketing office for The Hague, Netherlands. “A lot of people are in isolation or even quarantine and are stuck at home. Virtual museums visits can add some excitement in these times in which our opportunities are limited.”
Virtual tours can serve as inspiration, he added — “Inspiration now by bringing as much art as possible to people’s living rooms. And inspiration for later, to actually visit the museum in person. We don’t know yet how long this bizarre situation will remain, and, in the meantime, these virtual visits serve as an excellent alternative to visits in person.”
Virtual travel helps you experience the globe when you can’t leave home
Although it is utterly impossible to list every virtual travel opportunity being offered – and they are increasing in numbers weekly – we’re listing a few of our favorites to help you start exploring the world, virtually. In addition, if you are interested in a particular city or landmark, we’d urge you to simply go to the websites of either that place, or the country’s or city’s official tourist page to find out more – or tap into Mr. Google. You may not be able to travel, but you can still experience what the world offers.
There are a couple of ways to search virtual offerings globally: One broad approach for finding virtual travel adventures is Google’s Arts and Culture site that allows you to do a virtual exploration of so many things from food to ballet. To fine-tune the offerings and find what really speaks to you, click on the “Explore tab” in the upper right corner and check out the categories you like. Otherwise, explore some of our specifics below.
Note: This list is accurate as of April 11, 2020, and we will be updating it when we find more virtual travel experiences we think are worthy of sharing. Remember, too, that many of the organizers, institutions and associations behind these links will also be adding and updating, and some offerings may not continue once we can travel again. Return frequently to continue your stay-at-home virtual travel experience.
Travel virtually to domestic and international destinations
Many countries, states or cities have put together their own lists of ways to virtual pay a visit to the sights there. These lists may include a variety of museums, concerts, or other cultural or historical offerings that may not be listed individually, below. So, explore each link fully. And if any other city, state or country interests you, just go to the official tourism office’s website and search for virtual offerings. Many of these offices are placing these virtual travel opportunities on their home pages since the interest is keen with practically everybody around the world under stay-at-home mandates in 2020. Here are just a few examples:
- Arkansas – You can visit the Little Rock Zoo, science museums, art museums and state parks, among other sights. Try a virtual safari every day at 2 p.m. CST or visit the archives for past tours.
- The Hague, Netherlands – Virtual art museum tours to musical livestreams or a walk through Anne Frank’s house, The Hague has moved online.
- Germany, with a wide selection of virtual experiences by state and city, from church steeple panoramas to city walks or 360-degree tours and more: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Dresden city, Saxony Elbeland, Berlin Theater, Frankfurt Städel Art Museum, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Thuringia
Specific categories of virtual travel experiences
Here’s where you can explore some specific areas. More are being offered daily as everybody starts jumping online.
Virtual art museums and history tours
You may not experience the grandeur of being live in front of the Mona Lisa, but you can still take a virtual travel look at her … and so much more.
- Art Museum, The Hague – Virtual tours on Instagram every Wednesday and an archive to access anytime
- Florence art history tours by American art historian Christina Mifsud who lives in Florence. She has run a successful guiding business for years, but without income has moved her tours online to help earn some money (subscription based).
- Louvre Museum, Paris – You literally can walk through the halls and turn to look at art.
- National Gallery, London, England – Plan your future visit with a virtual walk.
- Met Museum, New York City – Six videos take you on a tour of various met galleries and facilities. And, kids or adults, do not MISS this amazing “cartoon” map of the ENTIRE Met You can click on dots to see what’s there in real life.
Virtual concerts & music
Not everybody can put on concerts for free without ticket sales to support them, but there are still some great musical virtual offerings.
- New European Ensemble, The Hague, Netherlands – Livestream concerts weekly
- Mantra wines, Novato, Calif. – Livestream concerts aren’t just for the big boys. We love Mantra, a small winery and amazing tasting room north of San Francisco. Normally, there is music in the evenings, so they’ve moved online! Check the schedules, and read more about Mantra in our story to entice you to put Marin County on your post-corona travel schedule.
- DJ sets? Berlin, known for its club scene, is live streaming sets daily to keep you rocking at home.
- Carillon bell tower, in Berlin’s large Tiergarten Park, has 68 bells that are played manually by Jeffrey Bossin. You can watch past concerts on YouTube (and they are amazing since he uses fists and feet to play). Read about it and Bossin on the home page before going to the concerts on YouTube, and check the schedule for live events.
Be prepared for when you are ready to travel by reading:
Virtual theater and dance performances
Yes, really, why not go to London’s National Theater or others.
- Alvin Ailey’s dance troupe is renowned worldwide. Tap into dance performances (some are date-limited so check the schedule) and join chats with dancers on Instagram.
- London’s National Theater is releasing past performances online for free viewing. Again, check schedules.
- L.A.Theater Works, like other theaters, records shows for archives, but now has many available online to watch – not always super high-end production because that’s not the intent, but great theater nonetheless.
Virtual Culture and history
So many cultural sights are getting online in SOME way, it’s hard not to find something to entertain you virtually. Here are a few:
- Berlin History – Want to take an up-close look at many famous historical sights? Do it online or download the app. Before and after photos are creatively presented and could be great ways to teach history too.
- The Secret Annex – Take a walk through where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam and supplement the tour with historical videos.
- Berlin Wall – A Berlin Wall app was spun off the Wall Chronicle Although a great tool when actually in Berlin you can still “walk” part of the wall with the app with photos and history. Find out more about divided Berlin and the Secret “Stasi” police in then-East Germany by reading some of our stories.
- Cologne cathedral panorama (And a few other UNESCO panoramas in Germany’s state of North Rhine-Westphalia)
- Italy – Tour operator LivItaly has launched tours and talks (for a small fee) to help their guides continue to make a living.
- Buckingham Palace, England – Does not include a visit with the Queen.
- This year, 2020, is San Francisco Golden Gate Park’s 150th anniversary. Festivities were planned to start in early April, but for now much of it is online. Using live cams and virtual tours, you can tour so much in the park, including concerts, tours, a visit to the Conservatory of Flowers, a look at the park’s (normal) outdoor life, and much more. Plan to spend a lot of time here!
- Great Wall of China – Can’t hop a plane to China of course so how about a virtual walk that also offers 360-degree views.
From coast to coast, take a look at the animals, the feedings and other shows. Go to your favorite aquariums website to see what they have to offer.
- New England Aquarium – Tap into particular tours (even trimming a harbor seal’s nails). Of course, the penguins are a favorite.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium – Live cams could keep you busy for a long time. The jelly cam is amazing and, having stood in front of the massive tank, you’ll want to go and see it for yourself. (Take a look at our own video view of the “dance of the sardines” here.)
Virtual street art
Sure, it’s great to stand in front of a massive mural or poignant piece of street art, but you can see hundreds of cities’ street art online too. Here are two options.
- Street Art Cities is one option. Click on The Map to pick a place for a tour – there are many thousands. Static shots, but insightful and begs to be explored.
- Google Street Art offers more stories to go with the art. Also static but worth it. (Here is a look at our photos of some our own favorite street art from around the world.)
Get outdoors virtually
Exercise and outdoor adventures are OK as long as you don’t do any non-essential travel to get there. Making that more limiting for many. So step beyond your city or county virtually.
- U.S. National parks –hit the road all around the country for some tours at select parks.
- Camino de Santiago, Spain – Always wanted to walk this pilgrimage? Dabble at it with some virtual walks. You’ll want to join the Facebook group.
- Appalachian Trail – A long-distance hike (2,100+ miles) many dream of. Here, you can “hike” it virtually. You’ll need to download the app.
- Google Earth is no stranger to most but you can use the technology to tour all kinds of parks and monuments. (read our story about Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park, pictured above)
- Western States 100-mile Endurance Run is an ultra in the Sierra Nevadas in California that very few can make it into these days. With Google Earth, you can experience its up and downs virtually with this flyover. (Then read about my experience running it for extra insights!)
- Northern Lights – You can wait to see them from the comfort of your home with org’s webcam at the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Manitoba, Canada. (Here, you can read our story about how to go about your own bucket-list hunt of the Northern Lights).
- Explore.org has a lot of other webcams of nature and wildlife around the world. Just go to the site and pick from dropdowns including Africa, Dogs, Beaches and Sanctuaries. Oh, and puppies!
Virtual tours of city streets
Or you can just lurk and watch what’s happening around the world, even from your home! Try a live webcam. You may find yourself mesmerized for hours. Here are a few places that offer webcams, with others available with a quick online search.
- Skyline webcams – Click on “Live Cams” and pick a country from several dozen offered. Some countries have just one cam while others may have dozens. Think Prague in The Czech Republic, Rome’s Trevi Fountain, Puntarenas in Costa Rica, or Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.
- Earthcam – I must admit, watching Times Square area today with a photo background of past bustling images was a reality check. Also try foreign cities, universities, trails or even a lion’s den (Ok, it’s at a zoo….).
- Webcam Hopper – Another webcam provider with city and street views.
- 360 Cities – just what it says, pick a city and enjoy. Note: These are uploaded 360 videos and are not real-time. (Select a place using a map by clicking here.)
- In Toyko’s Shibuya district, this street crossing renown for throngs of people. You can watch it on a webcam – but right now be amazed at how few people there are in April 2020 during stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stay-at-home orders or just staying home doesn’t mean you have to stop traveling. It will just limit the live experience … temporarily. In the end, adding virtual travel experiences to the list of tour opportunities could enrich your travel bucket list. And these sorts of offerings will not be around in many cases permanently so you can plan your future travel experiences from your home.