Amazing Places You Can Visit Without Leaving Home
Some day -- and we hope it's soon -- readers who find this page will wonder why a travel publisher would suggest they take virtual tours of some of the world’s greatest sights instead of simply visiting them. After all, aren't the places on this list among the compelling destinations you could travel to?
They are. But these virtual experiences are themselves extraordinary -- fitting substitutes for the real thing when that real thing is temporarily out of reach.
So join us in indulging our shared wanderlust. If this is the first time you’ve been to some of these places, prepare to have your mind blown. Because here you'll find some of Earth’s most impressive treasures: natural wonders, works of art, architectural miracles and much more. They belong on any traveller’s bucket list, and we plan on helping you make the trip in person in the future. But in the meantime, we hope you’ll find as much joy as we have in exploring them from afar.
The hallowed halls (and glass pyramid) of the Louvre may be empty of visitors for now, but you can still go in. One of the best exhibits to explore on your own is the remains of the moat from the original Louvre fortress -- something you tend to miss when you're jockeying for position in front of the "Mona Lisa". Speaking of which, we'd be remiss if we didn't note that the #LouvreChezVous/#MuseumFromHome initiative also lets you get up close and personal with the lady herself. And for a taste of the truly ancient, head to the Egyptian wing, past the imposing sphinx, and see if you can spot the statue of a scribe from 2500 BCE.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Studies have found that aquarium-watching helps reduce stress and anxiety, and we're here to tell you the virtual version is no exception. We felt our own mood improve after a few minutes with the sea otter cam -- one of several exhibits live-streamed by the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. For serenity now, proceed directly to the aquarium’s famed Kelp Forest or Moon Jellies.
The legendary Berlin Philharmonic is essentially playing house concerts with no door charge. Register for free 30-day access to the orchestra's Digital Concert Hall, and you can take in hundreds of stunning performances from your sofa. If you do nothing else, watch a snippet of the celebrated new maestro's debut last summer: Beethoven's Symphony No 9 in D Minor (including the "Ode to Joy" finale ) live at the Brandenburg Gate. In fact, the piece has become something of an anthem in recent weeks, with everyone from the (homebound) Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra to (also homebound) Spanish window musicians chiming in.
The San Diego Zoo
The USA’s most visited zoo -- with more than 3,500 animals in residence -- was a pioneer in the world of open-air habitats, and remains a leader in conservation science. You can watch a number of its most beloved inhabitants -- from koalas to penguins to the new baby orangutan of the Lost Forest -- on live streams. Your virtual visit even has an edge over real life: though mega-celebs Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu were repatriated last year, you'll still find great archival footage of them on the Panda Cam.
The National Theatre
Thanks to its long-running NT Live programme, the National Theatre has the largest archive of cinema-quality recordings of any theatre in the world, and it will be streaming past performances from the vaults for free on its YouTube channel. Starting from 7pm on Thursday, 2 April, a new play will be available to watch every week, beginning with "One Man, Two Guvnors", starring James Corden. The National Theatre at Home programme will also feature bonus content including cast and creative Q&As and post-stream talks. Other plays to look forward to over the coming weeks include "Jane Eyre", "Treasure Island" and Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", starring Tamsin Greig.
Vienna State Opera
Another of the world's great opera houses, the Wiener Staatsoper, is now streaming not only operas, but also ballets. They're previously recorded, of course, but to keep the experience as authentic as possible, the line-up even mimics the original 2020 schedule. Whether you’re an aficionado or a first-timer, Sunday’s performance of "Cinderella" on Saturday, 4 April is the one we’d bookmark first.
If you’ve ever been on safari, you know that few experiences rival those adrenaline-fuelled rides through unfamiliar terrain in search of the Big Five. But SafariLive comes close. Track lions, leopards and hyenas as you make your way around herds of wildebeest and elephants, all while expert rangers fill you in about what you're seeing. And if you haven’t yet fulfilled your safari dreams in real life, these virtual adventures filmed in South Africa and Kenya are the perfect inspiration.
Sydney Opera House
Even if you've never been to Sydney Harbour, you know those soaring white sails, and now’s your chance to take a peek inside. Accompanied by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, cellist Benjamin Schwartz and soprano Nicole Car (if you can't quite place the music, it's from Verdi's "Luisa Miller"), you'll wander through a day in the life of the world's most famous -- and most photographed -- arts venues, from early morning, before the performers arrive, to stolen moments between acts. And if you’re anything like us, you'll be planning your next (or first) trip Down Under before the video's done.
Instilling a sense of wonder in everyone who enters, the 15th-century Sistine Chapel is most renowned for Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes. You'll have them (and the rest of the place) to yourself if you visit virtually, before making your way through a whole series of Vatican Museums, not least, Raphael’s Room and the New Wing.
The National Museum of Natural History
One of the world's most visited museums for good reason, this branch of the Smithsonian is at keeping kids of all ages entertained and learning. If your household could use something diverting and educational, head on in and start exploring the fossils, ocean life and even the insect zoo. And for pure eye candy, look at the Gems and Minerals Wing, and the Butterfly Pavilion.
Volcanoes National Park
The British Museum
Home to no fewer than 8,000,000 works, the venerable British Museum's collection is one of the world's largest. But even the tiniest objects hold their own on its virtual tours: we love that you can view individual pieces, play audio to learn more and search for related works. There's also a scrolling capability that lets you go back thousands of years.
The Taj Mahal
Built by a 17th-century Mughal emperor in memory of his favorite wife, who died during childbirth, the Taj Mahal is one of the most lavish and romantic architectural tributes on earth. You'll see how the marble exterior seems to change colour throughout the day, from early-morning pinks to dusky blues, while the persistent thrum of tour groups makes the scene that much more realistic -- this UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts as many as eight million visitors a year.
The Museum of Modern Art
This art-world institution reopened, with more space and all new galleries, to much fanfare last year. To preview the redesign before your next trip to the Big Apple, visit these in-depth online galleries and take advantage of the ability to zoom way in on the likes of Georges Seurat's "The Channel at Gravelines, Evening" (it will really illustrate why the style of painting is called Pointillism) and Vincent Van Gogh’s "Starry Night". Or check out the newest, coolest exhibit on one of Abstractionism’s unsung heroes, Sophie Taeuber-Arp -- excellent discussion topics at your next virtual cocktail party.
If going to your happy place ordinarily involves a regulator, a mask, a buoyancy compensator, a wetsuit, a plane ticket and live-aboard reservations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is willing to take you there, gear- and cost-free. You can do a series of virtual dives through National Marine Sanctuaries, whether you want to explore the waters around American Samoa (don’t miss Big Momma), the Florida Keys (have a look at the Aquarius Reef Base research centre) or any of several spots in between.
The Palace of Versailles
Does anyone else’s home feel a bit... cosy? This virtual tour might help. Escape to the gilded (and expansive) palace of Versailles, home to French King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette -- before the small matter of a revolution, at least. Explore their extravagant (separate) bed chambers, saunter through the Hall of Mirrors, gaze at the pastel ceiling of the Royal Opera House and follow the gravel paths of the renowned royal gardens.
Street Art Tours
The traditional version of a Northern Lights tour goes something like this: 1. Put on 147 layers. 2. Waddle out into some gorgeous but still undeniably bone-chilling expanse. 3. Wait patiently. 4. Run inside to warm up. 5. Emerge to learn you’ve just missed the show. 6. Repeat until your luck changes.
Of course, the spectacle is totally worth the effort. But one advantage of watching from home, which you can do thanks to Manitoba’s Churchill Northern Studies Center, is that you eliminate steps 1-5 and cut straight to nature’s most amazing light show. And late winter into early spring (i.e., now) happens to be among the best times to be tuning in.
The Great Wall of China
Of the Great Wall's 4,000 total miles, 3,000 or so are walkable. To start doing reconnaissance for your own trek across this New Wonder of the World, without wearing out the tread on your gym shoes, visit virtually instead. And soon enough, you'll be experiencing the real thing. (The oldest sections have been there for about 2,000 years, after all, so in Great Wall Time, this waiting period is the tiniest of blips.)