10 best virtual tours

With much of the world on lockdown, creative institutions have launched virtual tours, performances and collections to view online. Here's 10 of the best.
 Rijksmuseum Nightwatch virtual tour
Rijksmuseum Nightwatch virtual tour

With more than one fifth of the world under lockdown, companies everywhere have been forced to get creative. World-class institutions around the globe have followed suit, launching a series of virtual tours, performances and collections that can be viewed online from the comfort of your living room. For parents trying their hand at homeschooling, the good news is that these can make excellent educational resources, too.

Who knows where the Internet will take us next? Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

1. British Museum

Grande dame of Britain’s museums – though most of the collection comes from foreign shores – the BM has a mind-boggling array of ways to keep you learning from the confines of your home. From exploring more than sixty galleries via Google Street View (a chance to see the Rosetta Stone? – yes please) to the illuminating Museum Podcast, fabulous digital resources and audio tours, there’s a whole lot on offer. If you want to keep it simple, explore the museum’s virtual galleries, or search through the collection online. For the more tech savvy, browse the Curator’s Corner series on YouTube, or – our personal favourite – visit the Museum of the World, a partnership project launched by the BM and Google Cultural Institute. The latter allows you to click on objects on an interactive timeline to see how they connect across time and space. What’s not to love?

2. Central Park

It’s hard to think of many places as iconic as New York’s Central Park. Immortalized on screen from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to hit sitcom Friends, Manhattan’s beloved green lung is rich in history. Learn all about it by taking a virtual tour of the park, with audio accompaniment bringing each sight to life. For a truly immersive experience, there’s even the option to view it in VR.

Photo: Central Park virtual tour 

3. Rijksmuseum

If you’re indulging in some armchair travel, why not hop over to Europe and visit the Rijksmuseum. Netherlands’ national museum, based in Amsterdam, may be shut, but that hasn’t stopped them from putting a range of virtual tours and resources online. Not only is there a fabulous online collection – with more than 700,000 works to view, including those by Vermeer and Rembrandt – there’s also a Masterpieces up Close digital tour and short videos where gallery curators discuss their favourite works. All are in English, of course.

Photo: Rijksmuseum Nightwatch virtual tour

4. Grand Canyon

There are a whole host of virtual tours dedicated to the Grand Canyon, but the Virtual Field Trips – accessed through the National Park Service website – are among the best. The archaeological tour allows visitors to click on different layers of the canyon to learn more about its history, while interactive questions and videos – and even a notepad for you to make your own notes on – encourage viewers to get involved. This is another excellent resource for parents.

Photo: Exploring the Grand Canyon online

5. National Theatre at Home

If Thursday really is the new Friday, what better way to spend it than watching a world-class theatre production? London’s National Theatre is streaming a play every Thursday on YouTube – each one is up for a week, while UK state-funded teachers and pupils can access the entire live-streamed collection. If the performing arts are up your street, visit the Social Distancing Festival, a website launched to showcase art and productions from around the world – there’s a comprehensive live-streaming calendar to browse.

Photo: Jane Eyre is one of the plays streamed by the National Theatre

6. Rocky Mountain National Park

Being stuck indoors may stop us from seeing the wonders of the natural world, but it also scuppers its musical treats. The Rocky sound library offers something a little bit different to the usual virtual tours you’ll find online: Jacob Job, a researcher from Colorado State University, has created a comprehensive sound library of the birds, wildlife and natural soundscapes that can be heard in the park. The result is a sublime musical tapestry of wild Colorado that will tug at the heartstrings. It’s also predictably soothing – if you’re finding it tough to get to sleep, tune in to one of the natural soundscapes.

7. Vienna State Opera

A night at the opera might once have been the preserve for the rich and famous, but not during coronavirus. From mid-March 2020, the world-famous Vienna State Opera has been broadcasting previous opera and ballet performances on its streaming platform – worldwide, daily and free of charge.

Photo: The Parsifal at Staatopera Vienna

8. The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is – paintbrushes down – the best gallery in New York. Online, you’ll find a range of superlative exhibitions and virtual tours to explore, as well as a stellar roster of virtual events to keep furloughed minds engaged. From storytelling to art classes, film screenings and conversations with experts, there’s always something to expand your horizons at the Met.

9. Google Street Art Project

The Google Street Art Project was launched back in 2014 – years ahead of today’s pandemic. Its aim is to preserve transitory street murals and to make this important art form – variably fun, cheeky and/or political – accessible to people across the globe, regardless of class, colour and creed. The project is still going strong. You can browse street art around the world online or take any number of informative virtual tours: the result is beautiful, colourful and engaging.

10. Palace of Versailles

Another Google partnership brings a series of virtual tours of the Palace of Versailles online. Built in the seventeenth century, Versailles is synonymous with gold-dripping luxury. It has a staggering 2300 rooms, and a remarkable collection of paintings and sculpture. Its range of online exhibitions is exceptional, but better still are the virtual tours, 3D models and artworks up close.

Photo: Virtual tour of the Royal Opera at Versailles