I started this blog post by researching virtual travel experiences across loads of different websites, watching videos to see what was out there and compiling a big old list. And then I realised that actually, good old Google seems to be pretty much all you need to travel across the globe from your armchair. Honestly, Google has virtual travel down! Google Earth has vastly improved since it’s early days, and Google Arts and Culture lets you visit museums, art galleries, famous landmarks and even national parks.
As a result, this blog post focuses heavily, but not exclusively, on those two websites. I’ll explain how to have immersive virtual travel experiences with Google Earth, inspire you to visit some of the best museums in the world with Google Arts and Culture, and then take you to zoos, aquariums, castles, Broadway shows and even Disney World! Finally, I’ll give you some bucket-list destinations and the best places to virtually experience them… whether that’s via Google Arts and Culture, Tourist Tube or dedicated websites.
So grab your passport and suitcase! Actually, just grab yourself a cuppa or a glass of wine.
If you’re looking for more things to do during lockdown, have a read of my blog post about exactly that… from den building to indoor treasure hunts!
Virtual Travel Experiences Using Google Earth
I remember being at school with my friends, crowded around a computer screen as we showed each other very blurry bird’s-eye view images of where we lived, or where our last school was. Soon enough we got bored of that, and I never really looked at Google Earth again. Until now! Here’s how to use it for virtual travel experiences.
If there’s somewhere specific that you want to visit, go ahead and type it into the search bar! If you’d like some inspiration, head over to the Voyager tab on the left hand side. This is where you go for pretty much unlimited inspiration, exploration and education.
You can choose ‘Nature’ and be whisked away to America’s national parks, visit Cherry Blossoms around the world, explore Everest Base Camp, watch the crab migration on Easter Island, delve into beautiful caves and swim with Humpback Whales.
Choose the ‘Travel’ tab and explore Singapore, Bruges, Oslo, Porto, Las Vegas… wherever you fancy! Click on a destination and Google will recommend the main points of interest before taking you to your chosen one. Click on ‘Old Towns of the World’ and get taken to 10 different cities, with interesting facts given at each location.
You can even travel through time and space! The ‘Editor’s Picks’ tab gave me options that included Tsunamis in History, a look at the fate of coastal cities as sea levels rise, and a visit to the International Space Station.
What I think is great about Google Earth is how educational it is. As well as the facts that pop up when virtually travelling to your chosen destination, there are a range of quizzes on there, you can view poetry around the world and learn about myths, legends and fairytales from across the globe. You can even learn about how wind becomes electricity. Whatever interests you, there will be enough stuff on here to keep you entertained for the duration of lockdown!
Virtual Gallery & Museum Tours with Google Arts & Culture
So you’ve been travelling around the world using Google Earth, and you’ve developed an addiction for learning! Google Earth will take you inside many interesting and important buildings, but you can also head over to Google Arts and Culture to enjoy museums and art galleries as part of your virtual travel experience. Here you’ll find virtual tours such as:
- British Museum – London
- Tate Britain – London
- National Gallery – London
- MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) – New York
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York
- The State Hermitage Museum – one of the largest museums in the world, based in St Petersburg
- Musée d’Orsay – Paris
- Palace of Versailles – Versailles
- Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam
- Anne Frank House – Amsterdam
- Acropolis Museum – Athens
- National Museum – Tokyo
There are hundreds of virtual museum and gallery tours on there, so have a scroll through and see what takes your fancy. Let me know what you find!
Virtual Travel Experiences to Zoos and Aquariums
What could be better than a panda cam? Those playful bears just love to fall over and roll around! Luckily, Edinburgh Zoo provides exactly that – a panda cam. Many zoos around the world offer virtual tours and travel experiences such as San Diego, Melbourne, Dublin, Houston, Atlanta, Hirakawa Zoological Park in Kagoshima (Japan), Cincinnati and Brisbane Koala Sanctuary.
If the under-water world is more your thing, there are plenty of aquariums that you can visit virtually too. SEALIFE Syndey, Shedd Aquarium, Georgia Aquarium and many others are offering virtual experiences to help you get out and about, from your sofa.
Before I move away from the subject of animals, I’ll also mention that you can use Google Maps to go on a South African safari!
Virtual Castle Tours
This is one for one of my favourite travel bloggers – Wandering Helene – as she loves a castle more than anyone else I know! I’ve already mentioned that you can visit the Palace of Versailles using Google Arts and Culture, but there are plenty of other castles to have a nosey around. If I had a princess costume, I would definitely be getting dressed up and playing princess whilst virtually exploring these:
- Windsor Castle – UK
- Buckingham Palace – London, UK
- Schonbrunn Palace – Vienna, Austria
- Castello Odescalchi – Bracciano (near Rome), Italy
- Akasaka Palace – Minato City, Japan
Disney World Virtual Travel Experience
Of all the virtual travel experiences I’ve seen, this is by far the best one. Head over to the Visit Orland website and you can take a virtual tour of Walt Disney World Orlando – the tricky part is deciding which park to visit first.
For the ultimate virtual travel experience, combine the above virtual Disney World tours with some of the many point-of-view videos of the theme park rides that you’ll find on Youtube. Here are some of my favourites:
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- It’s a Small World
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Pirates of the Caribbean (which my family and I got stuck on many, many years ago)
Experience a Show on Your Virtual Travels
With theatres closed for the foreseeable future, many venues are streaming shows online so that you can watch them from your sofa, in your PJs. I’ve always wanted to go to the opera, and thanks to The Metropolitan Opera, I can experience New York opera from home.
For British theatre, make sure you don’t miss National Theatre’s streaming of live productions on Thursday evenings at 7pm, which are then available to watch on Youtube for seven days afterwards.
If you fancy some Broadway action, BroadwayHD are offering a seven day free trial of their Broadway streaming service which includes title like The King & I, Kinky Boots, Oklahoma, The Wind in the Willows and Romeo & Juliet.
Bucket List Virtual Travel Experiences
To finish with, here are some bucket-list destinations that you can travel to virtually. I’m going to have to bang on about Google again here, as Google Arts and Culture has stepped in again to provide amazing virtual tours of some of these places.
I’ve recently discovered Tourist Tube too, which offers high quality virtual tours of landmarks in cities such as Rome, Paris, Dubai, Athens, Abu Dhabi and more. Tourist Tube doesn’t tend to show you the views inside of buildings, but if you love wandering around cities then it’s great! So here’s some escapism and maybe some inspiration for when we’re allowed out again:
- The Great Wall of China – The China Guide takes you on a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China
- The Colosseum – the quality on TouristTube, is amazing and it’s even better if you have a VR headset to hand
- Taj Mahal – TouristTube again provides quality tours of the outside of the Taj Mahal, and good old Google Arts and Culture lets you wander around the inside.
- Eiffel Tower – you can admire views over Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower with Google Arts and Culture, without the long queues (if you’ve been to Paris you’ll know what I mean)
- Macchu Pichu – Google Arts and Culture seems to be the best one for exploring Macchu Pichu, and YouVisit has great views of it too.
- Great Pyramids – Again Google Arts and Culture has smashed it with views of the Egyptian pyramids!
- Angkor Wat – Virtual Angkor is a website dedicated to a 360 degree tour of this Cambodian landmark and the area surrounding it
- Hawaii Volcanos National Park – back to Google Arts and Culture for a fantastic virtual tour of the Hawaii Volcanos!
- Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska – one more National Park to finish with, because Alaska is high on my bucket list and Google Arts and Culture provides a beautiful virtual travel experience of it.
My very final tip, coming from someone who travels for food, is to have a go at cooking a traditional meal in keeping with wherever you’re virtually travelling too. The smell and taste will help make it feel a little more real!
P.S. for more lockdown content take a look at these blog posts:
- 10 Things to Do at Home During Coronavirus
- How to Look After Your Mental Health During Lockdown
- How to Have a Holiday at Home During Self-Isolation
- Staying Positive During Coronavirus
- 7 Ways to Cheer Someone up During Lockdown
- Practicing Gratitude During Lockdown
- And for when we can travel again: 15 Travel Destinations for a Cheap European City Break