By Beth Rivers
Visiting museums and art galleries, great wonders and landmarks, theme parks and zoos — the world over — is a bit of a pipe dream right now. In person, that is, because some of our planet’s most visited attractions have all adapted pretty quickly to the pandemic shut downs and are offering virtual tours…for free!
If you have a favourite attraction that you would love to wander the trails of, it’s worth a Google search to see if they offer a virtual tour, but if you’re looking for some inspiration as to ‘where to go this weekend’ then here are my five top picks, in no particular order as it really depends on whether you’re looking for art, animals or just an adventure.
Google Arts & Culture
Obviously, this is not a tangible attraction but since Google practically owns the online (and mapping) world — a lot of virtual tours can be accessed here. So, in a cheeky way, my five picks really include the world with this pick. It boosts “over 2000 museums at your fingertips“, “over 40 incredible national parks“, audio journeys and the ability to explore different cities and get up close to some of the greatest art ever created, being able to discover sites such as the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower, going behind-the-scenes of well-known theatres and ballets, or dive deep into the world of science and space with your family.
Both a website and an app, the amount of time you could find yourself getting lost in the many different tours and stories of art, history and culture straight from your lounge, bed or home office is really up to you…and the timer you set…to snap you out of the endless web Google has weaved. Even having explored this app before and revisiting for the purposes of this post, I have again found myself about 10 clicks deep, perusing the ‘Pottery from Ancient Peru‘.
The difference between just exploring a place on Google Maps compared to its Arts & Culture counterpart is the variety of interesting articles, videos, activities and insights offered with the ‘tours’.
The British Museum
Once you’ve worked out the zoom control of the timeline (but, to be honest, the zooming fun is part of why I love this one), then it’s just a really cool of exploring different artefacts from over the different eras and regions. The timeline is categorised into Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania — which is, of course, where we always seem to fit in the world perspective.
So the beauty of this virtual design is that you could choose just to discover one region at a time or one of the five themed pairs: art and design, living and dying, power and identity, religion and belief or trade and conflict that will also take you a particular journey.
It all starts before 5000 BC with ‘Crocodile, African rock art’ and only ends where you choose.
While this tour technically falls under Google Arts & Culture — it is a British Museum and Google Cultural Institute partnership — it deserves its own mention for the audio journey of its different collection highlights.
San Diego Zoo
As long as you can find a suitable US–AUS time for the animals to be awake, then click on a live web cam and just watch the elephants roll in the mud, the apes swing through their ‘jungle’, pandas lounging around on logs, as well as baboons, burrowing owls, giraffes, koalas (probably not as exciting for an Australian audience), penguins, polar bears and tigers.
If you can’t see any animals in their enclosure at the time you log on then there’s still video highlights to watch. It’s an especially great virtual tour if you’ve got young kids as they’ve included activity sheets, games and stories to learn more about the animals.
Great Barrier Reef
David Attenborough takes you through an interactive journey of one of our country’s greatest treasures, and one of the seven wonders of the natural world. There are five key locations the map focuses on, using videos, audio, storytelling and experiences such as viewing what normal vision is like compared with the vision of a mantis shrimp.
This tour is perfect for heading into our winter conditions. If you love exploring the deep sea then this is a creative way to do it and stay dry. Of course, it is nothing like physically being in the open waters and being in awe of the colours of coral, but it could be a great alternative to bedtime reading as a family…until you can visit the real deal.
Again, staying on home soil, and literally touring soil, I think their tour summary describes this one best:
Explore the sights, sounds and stories of Uluru in your web browser thanks to our collaboration with Google Story Spheres.
Each Story Sphere combines 360-degree visuals with audio clips to create an interactive experience of a place.
Discover key sites, hear the desert birdsong and listen to traditional owners sharing important cultural knowledge and stories.
I particularly love hearing traditional owners explain the stories in their own language first before it’s translated into English. It really feels like you’ve got your own personal tour guides, while you’re learning some incredible Australian history.
As mentioned above, you can probably find most tours through Google Arts & Culture, although dedicated attraction websites seem to offer the best virtual experience as Google has that ‘street view camera’ look for many of its 360 degree explorations. So, in order to get the best out of a virtual tour, just think of places in Australia or the world you have always wanted to travel or return to and a quick search will most likely tell you if they have a web cam or virtual tour on offer.
Virtual tours mainly come down to personal interests — if you’re into space travel then try NASA’s range of tours, or libraries then have a look around Harvard’s Widener library. Even after this pandemic is over, virtual experiences will only undoubtedly become more innovative and used even more widely as education and leisure tools.