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The Coolest Virtual Tours You Can Take In Lieu Of Travel

Most travel — especially international travel — is on a long hiatus. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go places. You just have to do it virtually now. Not being able to just hop on a plane and jet off whenever you want has created a boom in virtual tours. The U.S. National Parks Service, museums large and small, breweries and distilleries, and national tourism boards have all leaned into virtual travel over the past month, giving us a chance to scratch that wanderlust itch without putting anyone at risk.

While virtual tours might not feel quite like the real thing, they definitely inspire wanderlust and help you connect with a wider world that is currently out of reach. Sure, sitting in our beds or on our couches will never be a replacement for the sounds, smells, and energies of actually standing in front of the Mona Lisa or walking a distilling floor. But it’s something. A chance to escape the doldrums of the day-to-day during a lockdown. A chance to dream of travel again.

The ten virtual tours below offer a chance to stoke your travel dreams. We’ve tried to cover options from different sectors and brands. For instance, we only call out one Smithsonian museum because you can find the rest of the museum’s tours once you’re viewing the first one — same with the National Parks, art galleries, and so on.

Ready? Let’s hit that virtual road!

The Museum of Islamic Art — Doha, Qatar

Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art is one of the world’s coolest museums (I actually got to go last year and it was a highpoint of the entire year, culturally speaking). The museum covers thousands of years of science, history, and art in its expansive collection. Thousand-year-old Persian rugs hang next to gilden murals and detailed, hand-carved jewelry.

Then there are the astrophysics instruments. The museum’s collection of medieval Islamic astrolabes (a cosmic calculator) is stunning.

Museo Galileo — Florence, Italy

Speaking of astrolabes, the Museo Galileo in Florance is a must-stop if you ever get a chance to go to Firenze. The museum — next door to the Uffizi Gallery — has a massive collection of medieval maps, globes, scientific instruments, telescopes, old labs, and more throughout several floors. The whole experience is a fascinating look into the spread of European culture and people throughout the world in the 1400 and 1500s, how Europeans viewed space, and the massive impact European science has had on everyday life.

The National Palace Museum — Taipei City, Taiwan

The National Palace Museum offers a chance to learn about the 5,000 plus year history of Sino-focused culture in Taiwan. The lush museum grounds are worth a wander on their own. But it’s in the several exhibits peppered throughout the palace buildings where the real treasures reside. The tour will offer you a glimpse into an ancient and gorgeous world of history, art, and architecture.

Remarkable Redwoods Virtual Tour — Redwood National Parks, California has a great interactive experience called “Find Your Virtual Park” that covers parks from coast-to-coast. There are interactive 360° virtual tours via YouTube, podcasts, webcams, and even kid-focused activities for those locked down with kids. One of our favorites is the Remarkable Redwoods tour — with Ranger Greg walking us through all aspects of the Ancients in California.

Google Earth Voyager — Worldwide

This one is a little more wide open to interpretation. Google Earth Voyager offers street-view virtual “walking tours” of cities, towns, and destinations all over the world. Simply hit the “Travel” section and you’ll be taken to street-view tours with points of interest ready to explore. It’s an interesting way to walk around a place from your phone or computer. There are also opportunities to hike volcanoes, wander through wildlife reserves, go diving, see the Arctic, and so much more.

Smithsonian National Museum Of The American Indian — Washington, D.C./New York City

The National Museum of the American Indian has some fantastic interactive and virtual art and historical installations. Their current exhibitions on Native American photographers, an overview of the cultures of the Americas called “Americans,” micro-installations like the Pacific Northwest History and Cultures: Why Do the Foods We Eat Matter?, and more are all available digitally right now.

It’s also worth noting that the Smithsonian has large selections from all their museums available online.

360° — Australia

If you’re in North America, Australia has probably never felt further away. Luckily for you, Tourism Australia has a collection of 360° videos that take you deep into every corner of the massive country. The theme of the videos is the coastlines, waterways, and beachside stretches of the continent. The videos are fully immersive and will leave you longing to finally go Down Under once the coast is clear.

Musée du Louvre Online Tours — Paris, France

Paris’ Louvre is probably one of the most well-known museums in the world. It’s also so massive that you’d be hard-pressed to see it all in one day. The museum has pivoted in the wake of the current pandemic and is offering four “Online Tours” through its The Advent of the Artist Exhibition, Egyptian Antiquities, Remains of the Louvre’s Moat, and Galerie d’Apollon (the model for Versailles Hall of Mirrors). You also have a chance to browse the overall collection through the “Search the Collection” option.

Buffalo Trace Distillery — Frankfort, Kentucky

Buffalo Trace was ahead of the curve on virtual distillery tours. The tour — launched early last year — is comprehensive and offers a chance to dive into all the labels under the Buffalo Trace roof while learning the history of bourbon and everything it takes to get a perfect dram.

A word of warning though, this interactive experience is a download and plays like a simple video game. Still, it’s a great distraction that’ll teach you little something about Kentucky bourbon.

7 Minutes in Saint Lucia — Saint Lucia

7 Minutes In Saint Lucia is an IG-focused virtual look at the Caribbean island through the eyes of locals. Every Tuesday and Thursday local chefs, tour guides, yogis, and DJs offer a window in the tropical paradise for seven minutes via Instagram. The stories are saved on Travel Saint Lucia’s IG page if you want to go back and dive in. Overall, this is a great way to get a small taste of a paradise from the comfort of your home.