Was the Sistine Chapel on the top of your list of places to visit, but the endless queues into the Vatican Museums always put you off? Have you always dreamed of walking down the futuristic structures of the Guggenheim in Bilbao but couldn’t afford a trip to the Basque Country? Would you like to gaze over the Peruvian Andes from the top of Machu Picchu? Well, you’re in luck! Museums, galleries and archaeological sites around the world have closed their physical doors to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, but they’ve opened their digital ones, so you can visit the best culture destinations from the comfort of your home. Even Google has upgraded its Arts & Culture platform by creating even more photo galleries and street view walks, to make your visit feel like the real deal.
All this is available to everyone and at no cost. That’s right - seeing the world (through your contact lenses) is now completely free. All you need is an internet connection, a comfortable sofa, a cup of tea and a screen of any kind (the bigger, the better). We’ve rounded up the 8 best virtual museum tours around the world, so keep an afternoon free this weekend, and get scrolling!
Vatican Museums, Rome
It’s time for that Vatican Museums visit you’ve been postponing in favour of a sunny walk down Via dei Coronari! Stroll through the papal apartments, full of frescoes, soaring vaulted ceilings and precious works of art collected over the centuries. Between an intricate mural by Raphael and one of Michelangelo’s famous tapestries, you’ll get to have the most interactive lesson in the history of art.
Obviously, you can’t miss exploring the iconic Sistine Chapel. Let the beauty of the frescoes made by Perugino, Botticelli and other great Italian painters of the '400 captivate you, complete with a tour guide taking you through each room. Don’t forget to look up (virtually, of course) and admire the famous vault painted by Michelangelo that would even make your dog wake up from its doze in your lap and go ‘wow’.
Natural History Museum, London
Want to feel like you’re spending a night at the Natural History Museum? No children on school trips or long queues of tourists: just you and one of the most famous collections of artefacts. Thanks to Google Street View and the interactive visits narrated by the museum curators, you can discover 300,000 species of dinosaurs, fish, reptiles and other celebrities of the natural history world.
Channel your inner Ross Geller and learn everything there is to know about the first T-Rex fossil ever discovered, the first dodo, or the giant fossil of a mammoth. For an enhanced experience, use a VR Cardboard viewer and watch videos that magically bring extinct creatures back to life and into your living room.
If you were going for a real visit to the archaeological site of Petra, we would certainly advise you to put on contact lenses with UV protection, a good pair of sunglasses and your cool Indiana Jones hat. But thanks to Google and its popular Street View platform, you can now discover the mysteries of one of the Seven Wonders of the world without even having to get out of your pyjamas.
We know what you’re thinking: admiring the majestic rock-carved facades from a screen is less memorable than experiencing them live, but the energy of this mystical place, where architecture and nature meet to create something unique in the world, can transcend any device. And who knows, it might put Jordan on the top of your to-visit list once quarantine is over!
Machu Picchu, Peru
This is another one of those places that needs to be experienced in the real world to be believed, but let's put it this way: you’ll get to save on the $24 you’d spend on the shuttle bus up the Andes (and all the things you’d buy from the gift shop). Youvisit lets you embark on an immersive trip to this ancient citadel of the Inca empire, while lying on the sofa. The bright, detailed 360-degree photos give a vivid idea of this beautiful place that is as rich in history, as it is in mystery. A warning: our hearts melted at the sight of the alpacas walking around the site, so be prepared to stare at them in awe too. You can also enjoy a convenient audio guide (in English) full of historical and architectural facts that you can use to impress your friends.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The Guggenheim in Bilbao is a must for architecture and contemporary art enthusiasts. Frank Gehry’s commanding building, crafted from titanium and limestone in an otherworldly shape, has become one of the world’s most famous art spaces.
Use Google's "Explore" mode to enjoy the view of the Basque city and explore the original installations located both inside and outside the building. Join the museum’s interactive tour through collections of postwar American and European painting and sculpture - we also recommend the beautiful photo galleries showing the construction of the museum.
Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Name an art treasure - the Getty has it. From Van Gogh’s Irises and Renoir’s La Promenade, to intricate neolithic clay figures and modernist statues: experience the beautiful European artworks, from as back as the 8th century. Google Arts and Culture lets you explore the corridors of the famous museum, and discover its huge gallery spaces from the comfort of your home. It even lets you click on each artwork, and read on its history and background (imagine if you could do that in real life!). Once you get your culture fix, you can click on Xplorit, another viewing platform, to experience The Getty’s sunny sculpture plaza and garden terrace - best enjoyed with a glass of iced tea.
Pergamon Museum, Berlin
If ancient art is your thing, you’d love the Pergamon Museum. This virtual tour will feel like a time machine, shooting you centuries back, among the big and commanding monuments you’ve seen in films and documentaries. You simply can’t miss a visit to the Pergamon altar: an imposing masterpiece from the Greek era, which also lends its name to the museum itself. But don't stop there: explore the majestic market Gate of Miletus, with its beautiful colonnades dating back to the time of the Roman Empire. And you can’t leave without stopping by the Ishtar Gate, the entrance to the ancient Babylon: a stunning monument covered with intricate blue ceramic dowels.
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul
Raise your hand if you’re an expert of Korean contemporary art! Well, you caught us, we’re not experts either, but now we can all learn together. Let’s take a walk in the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Seoul: we’ll find all sorts of visual artworks created by South Korean and international artists. Let’s discover rooms full of lights and distorting mirrors, or intriguing installations like a giant column made of old TVs. Finally, don’t switch off your computer before taking a digital walk through the cheerful gardens in front of the museum: luckily, it’s always sunny outside when you are on Google street view.