They don’t call it the world wide web for nothing. We have plenty of content, stories, and characters to lose ourselves in during this time of social distancing. There is no shortage of movies or television shows or virtual chatrooms to fill every last one of our vacant minutes. And with the help of some drones, fancy cameras, and augmented reality tools, everyone from your local state park to world-renowned museums has been able to provide virtual tours for anyone with high-speed internet to enjoy for a while now.
These virtual experiences, while impressive, didn't seem to find their place in our normal, everyday lives. If you are past elementary school, there really is no reason for you to spend half a day taking a virtual tour of the Louvre. For a long time, it felt like surveying these virtual tours was akin to browsing the Wikipedia page of an upcoming movie. Why spoil the experience with a watered-down version of the real thing? The whole point of museums and national parks and adventures is to go outside and no virtual tour, however elaborate, will ever replace that.
But in times when we're confined to the walls of our homes, we must resort to more creative ways of expanding our boundaries and at least give our minds and eyes something new and stimulating to feast on. The virtual tour serves that purpose. Find a quiet spot, put on one of these relaxing playlists, turn off your phone, and just get away from it all. Think of these virtual tours as guided meditations, where you focus on nature and zone out for an hour as your cursor escort you through museum halls and fields and canyons and rivers.
Google Arts & Culture is a great resource for any art fan (with limited access to art with over 2,500 museums) and it's especially handy for those who rely on a quiet museum visit to gather their thoughts. There you'll find comprehensive tours of popular destinations like the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and London's Tate Modern (if you think you hate museums, start with the Tate!).
If it's specific artists you seek, maybe start with a visit to the Frida Khalo Museum, or a check out this Rembrandt exhibit or stop through the Van Gogh Museum. If you love fashion, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (home of the now-postponed Met Gala) offers plenty of online-only exhibits on designers like Rei Kawakubo and Coco Chanel.
Think of a normal Google Earth tour of a block, only every picture perfectly captures the street art of everywhere from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Malmo, Sweden and an art expert's audio tour plays in the background as you scroll through all the images. These virtual walking tours are perfect for those who love art but hate the establishment.
Major Tourist Attractions
As we turn the corner towards what's usually a big travel season, we remember all the great trips we've taken and lament the ones we'll have to postpone. Relive past adventures and take new ones with virtual tours of major attractions around the world. You can tour the Colosseum, the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Picchu, and Christ the Redeemer. You can also take a virtual hike on the Great Wall of China, through The China Guide.
24-Hour Live Feeds
Do you want to know what exactly is going on in Times Square, right this second? Wouldn't it be nice to stream a panoramic view of Paris during the workday?
This isn't exactly a tour, but around the clock live feeds are fairly common for highly-trafficked areas, like this live stream of Paris from the top of the Penninsula Hotel. You can watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle in real-time. You can also watch over Time Square any time with this live feed or watch ships pass through the Panama Canal with this one.
The National Parks Service partnered with Google (yes, Google again) to follow a handful of park rangers through some of Americ's most stunning and challenging terrains, from the Alaskan Glaciers to Utah's Bryce Canyon.
At the state level, a handful of conservation efforts have developed virtual tours of some of America’s most emblematic landscapes. Start with the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma's virtual field trip – you have to see for yourself just how soothing these views can be. Sit by a sunny window and let our eyes feast on clear blue skies, red clay formations, and fields of wildflowers. For a Google-free walk among the trees, the National Parks Service has a very robust virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park: the park has nine webcams strewn about, one of which has a Livestream feed.
Tour Architectural Wonders
You are likely spending more time at home than ever before and have become increasingly aware of how every wall and corner work in tandem to shape your life at home. Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most amazing American architects to ever live, and there isn't a cool apartment, mega-mansion or super-villain lair that doesn't take inspiration from his works.
These houses are just very cool to look at. In April, a dozen of Wright's best-known properties have taken turns sharing live tours of the grounds on Facebook and Instagram. You can find them on any platform under #WrightVirtualVisits accross platforms and a compilation of all the tours can be found here. If you're still not sold, start with Fallingwater. You won't regret it.
Virtual Tours with NASA
Now is as good a time as ever to think about life beyond planet Earth and NASA is a leader in not just space exploration but in visualization. You can explore the tour on desktop, but if you want to experience the tour in its greatest form, use a smartphone and download Google Expeditions for an augmented reality trip to NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center. This is a thorough and comprehensive, 360-degree tour for NASA novices and aircraft enthusiasts. You can also give yourself a tour of the Hubble Space Telescope's mission operation center.
But you're here to see stunning images of outer space. NASA's lesser-known specialty is visualization (where scientists work with graphic designers and artists to come up with the most accurate depiction of what they're studying). The TRAPPIST-1 system is home to seven Earth-sized exoplanets that look very cool. You can learn about how our understanding of these planets changes with every new discovery in this 360 YouTube experience. But if you want colorful stars and planets, check out the Exoplanet Travel Bureau.
Visit A College Campus
It's certainly a very unusual time to be college-bound, but many experts say the best way to get through these hard times is to have specific and clear hopes for the future.
A college counselor based out of Atlanta, Georgia took it upon himself to make 360-degree drone tours of every school on US News Top 100 Colleges list. The videos are all under one minute and not necessarily a stand-in for visiting in person, but you do get to see these schools for the mini-worlds they truly are.
Virtual dives are a trippy affair and thanks to the National Marine Sanctuaries, you can explore the blue depths of the American Samoas, the Florida Keys, Monterey Bay, and many others. For real-time adventures, check in with the New England Aquarium to see live feeds of the marine life they take care of.
Virtual Trip To Disney
Disney announced that it would close its parks at least through March 31st. Now, however, you can go on some of the rides virtually. This might not do anything to assuage a hyperactive five-year-old, but if Disney was in any way a part of your childhood, the trip down memory lane is well worth it. Think of this as an interactive photo album of a childhood family vacation. Revisit iconic rides like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain through the thrilling lense of a maverick visitor who broke the rules and recorded their whole ride.
Visit Other Countries
Assuming you're not from there, what do you really know about Chile? If you download Chile 360 (free for iOS and Android), you'll have instant access to interactive 360-degree images and footage of some of Chile's most impressive natural wonders. If you seek a more granular, educational virtual tour, start with some of the European Southern Observatory's many resources, like this virtual reality tour of the capital city of Santiago. Or spend some quality time with some stellar observatories throughout the country.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.