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10 interactive, immersive virtual tours to make you (almost) forget you’re still home

Red rock formations at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah; still from the interactive online tour, "The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks;" image courtesy Google Arts and Culture.

When the orders first came down to shutter businesses and cultural destinations across the state, I was nonplussed. I work at home most days, so I simply checked my inventory of sweatpants and T-shirts, confirmed my stash of unnecessary snacks, and said something along the elegant lines of, “Pfft. I’ve got this.” A month later, I’ve discovered that wanting to stay home and having to stay home are two entirely different things.

I’ve missed travel the most, so when I heard that a variety of cultural institutions and destinations were queueing up digital tours, I jumped in. But which ones are really worth the time and attention? Here’s your list of the best virtual tours to help you travel without leaving the house—or putting on big-person pants.  

1. David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef: An Interactive Journey is everything you’d expect from the esteemed historian and broadcaster. This multimedia project allows you to click through a variety of locations on a map, revealing facts, trivia, and some of the most breathtaking photography you’ll ever see, taken from boats, drones, and 2-person submersibles. Screencast to your TV to get an even richer experience.

Screen shot of David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef: An Interactive Journey, image courtesy http://attenboroughsreef.com.

2. We should probably all be worried about Google’s bid for world domination. But for today, let’s give a well-deserved round of applause for their excellent Arts & Culture project, especially the Hidden Worlds of National Parks. Through it, you can take in sweeping, dynamic views of five national parks: Kenai Fjords in Alaska, Hawaii Volcanoes in Hawaii, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Bryce Canyon in Utah, and the Dry Tortugas in Florida.

Traveling by rail, staying in cozy, right-sized independent hotels, and enjoying local fare, carefully prepared, was just the way things were done not so long ago. The Bartlett House's iconic dining room preserves the character of days gone by, while offering a menu with international tastes; photo by Meg Pearce.
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3. Discover Puerto Rico was quick out of the gate with one of the most enticing virtual travel ideas. Through their “weekend getaways” video series, you can participate in a variety of hands-on activities, from yoga with a comely beach-bound instructor to a cooking demonstration by Chef Mario Pagán.   

4. The Claude Monet Foundation’s virtual tour at Giverny is an exceptional look at a historic house. It’s hard not to enjoy the cheerfully colorful interior, especially the tiled kitchen, or the sunny, tranquil atmosphere of the artist’s salon. Prefer to be outside? Try the video tours of Monet’s gardens, which inspired more than 250 paintings. 

Traveling by rail, staying in cozy, right-sized independent hotels, and enjoying local fare, carefully prepared, was just the way things were done not so long ago. The Bartlett House's iconic dining room preserves the character of days gone by, while offering a menu with international tastes; photo by Meg Pearce.
Traveling by rail, staying in cozy, right-sized independent hotels, and enjoying local fare, carefully prepared, was just the way things were done not so long ago. The Bartlett House's iconic dining room preserves the character of days gone by, while offering a menu with international tastes; photo by Meg Pearce.
Traveling by rail, staying in cozy, right-sized independent hotels, and enjoying local fare, carefully prepared, was just the way things were done not so long ago. The Bartlett House's iconic dining room preserves the character of days gone by, while offering a menu with international tastes; photo by Meg Pearce.
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5. Italian YouTube channel Travel and Discover has videos as short as 13 minutes and as long as an hour on destinations of worldwide interest. Check out their information-packed takes on Paris, Machu Picchu, Mount Fuji, Mount Sinai, and more. 

6. For a dose of way-way-over-the-top opulence, try this 360-degree virtual tour of Windsor Castle. No, you won’t catch a glimpse of Britain’s royal family, but you will get to digitally walk the same halls and take a bird’s eye view of the State Banquet room. Likewise, England’s Houses of Parliament have their own virtual tour. Don’t forget to toggle up to see the stained glass windows and painted, gold-leafed ceiling of the Royal Gallery.

7. Visit Czech Republic is the country’s tourism bureau, so you’d expect its videos to be slick, overproduced affairs. But I’ll be darned if they aren’t pretty to look at. Scroll down to the bottom of its YouTube channel for some striking 360-degree videos, including a time-lapse cityscape and a cave exploration.

Traveling by rail, staying in cozy, right-sized independent hotels, and enjoying local fare, carefully prepared, was just the way things were done not so long ago. The Bartlett House's iconic dining room preserves the character of days gone by, while offering a menu with international tastes; photo by Meg Pearce.
Traveling by rail, staying in cozy, right-sized independent hotels, and enjoying local fare, carefully prepared, was just the way things were done not so long ago. The Bartlett House's iconic dining room preserves the character of days gone by, while offering a menu with international tastes; photo by Meg Pearce.
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8. Thinking of hitting Atlanta once we’re able to travel safely again? From the Georgia Aquarium to Centennial Olympic park (in the photogenic semidark of dawn), the Buckhead Club, the Historic Fourth Ward Park, and the BeltLine, the city’s forward-thinking fusion of rail trail, greenspace, and art, this interactive map and video series will help you plan what to see and do all around the city.

9. London’s Royal Academy of Arts might be closed for the foreseeable future, but that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing its stellar exhibit Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined. Click through the different rooms, and get up close to some spectacular art.

10. Denver’s tourism office has been working overtime pulling together a comprehensive page of links, videos, galleries, and other resources for shuttered travelers. Especially strong are their street art gallery and daily live-streaming concerts from the Underground Music Showcase. The members of the Colorado Symphony’s French horn section will also give you a chuckle with their cheeky rendition of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”

Travel fans: have you come across other worthy virtual tours? Share them in the comments or on our social media.

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