When life gives you a lockdown, it’s time to escape with a little virtual travel! In real life, you’d be packing bags, but all you need right now is a tablet or laptop, and this collection of virtual museum tours to be an Armchair Traveler.
Maybe you wouldn’t want to physically spend a night in a museum, even if you could. It’s a different story, though, when you’re an Armchair Traveler! You can wander the museum in your PJs, from the comfort and safety of your own fluffy pillows! And you can do it night or day, and without all of the crowds.
What you won’t find in our list of virtual museum tours are those that are simply slide shows of a museum’s artwork or artifacts. Yes, they are interesting, but not particularly engaging. You also won’t find any of the museums that are part of the elaborate Google Arts & Culture project listed individually. There are two reasons for that:
- There are literally thousands of them, and
- We’re going to start there, and you can scroll through the available tours to find exactly what appeals to you!
Whenever you’re ready, scroll down and click to be taken somewhere in the world and put a smile on the face of your inner museum geek!
Leave it to Google to index and display the wonderful world museums. Over 100,000 artworks and artifacts from more than 2,000 museums and galleries, worldwide, have been digitized and put on display at Google Arts & Culture, so this is our starting line. Think of it as a shopping mall of virtual tours, only everything is free!
Art fans can browse renowned galleries from almost anywhere in the world. Want to relive your visit to the Tate Britain in London? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of seeing The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa at the Tokyo National Museum. Or perhaps you’re planning a trip to Adelaide, and want a preview of the Art Gallery of South Australia. You can see them all as an Armchair Traveler with Google Arts & Culture.
More of a natural history nut? New York’s American Museum of Natural History, the model for the Night at the Museum movies, is online in Google Arts & Culture. Fascinated by flight? Explore the Milestones of Flight at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum. You can even visit destinations like the Amalfi Coast or Mount Etna.
For more fun, download the Google Arts & Culture app to your Android or Apple smartphone. You can explore many of the same features and museums you’ll find on the web browser version, but there’s so much more. Interactive features let you try hanging a few masterpieces on your wall, or explore an ancient museum right in your living room. But the first thing you’ll want to do is press the camera button. Voila! You are a masterpiece!
Art Museums & Galleries
Musee de Louvre, Paris
The largest art museum in the world is now the size of the World Wide Web, since The Louvre now hosts a collection of online tours. The Paris museum is famously home to the Mona Lisa, but there is so much more to see. Several exhibits from le Petit Galerie are available to tour, but two not to miss are the tours “Remains of the Louvre’s Moat,” showing the foundations of the ancient chateau, and the opulent “Galerie d’Apollon,” the Royal Gallery of the Sun King, Louis XIV.
New York City’s beloved Met turned 150 in 2020. While many of us won’t be able to help them celebrate, we can still enjoy the best of The Met thanks to the Met 360 Project: An award-winning collection of six short 360-degree videos provide a virtual tour of some of the museum’s most iconic art and architecture. You can visit all three locations – The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters – in just a few minutes.
The Met 360 Project is VR capable.
What had been the largest private art collection in Europe was purchased in 1992 by the Spanish state and moved into the Villahermosa Palace, a former aristocratic home in Madrid. Today, that’s the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, with a collection of nearly 1,000 pieces from the 13th to the 21st century, by artists from all genres. The museum has been a leader in the virtual space, having started curating online collections in 2009. Today, you can meander though 88 virtual tours, including the permanent collection, and several exhibits, such as Rembrandt and Amsterdam, Monet/Boudin, Dali Surrealism, and Balenciaga fashion.
Several tours are VR capable, with a special section showcasing these tours. Some tours also have audio guides.
London’s National Gallery offers three virtual tours through one of the world’s greatest collections of paintings. The collections are particularly strong on Renaissance era artwork. The 2011 Virtual Tour of 18 rooms at the museum is one of our favorites, thanks to the integrated information pages for each painting, and the easy floorplan navigation.
Some tours are VR capable; Some require Adobe Flash.
The National Gallery of Victoria was winning headlines (before COVID-19 hit) for its exhibit Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines. As an Armchair Traveler, you can still catch that show, complete with audio narration, along with a tour of the NGV Salon and other virtual tours and videos. The art collections in the virtual tours are truly stunning, and the Crossing Lines exhibit is one you’ll probably walk through a few times.
Tours are VR capable.
Some museums made us Wow-out-loud because of their displays. This one made us say “wow” before we even clicked our way inside. Sure, we’re used to 360-degree videos now, but the National Palace Museum in Taipei promises 720-degrees of realism! You can navigate the guided VR tours simply by clicking through the video, or by using the floorplan map on the right, or the list of tour stops on the left. If you choose the Featured Routes, the video will move you along the route at its pace, not yours. Also, you may need to click the menu button on the upper right to start the VR Tours.
Salvador Dali has long been one of our favorite artists, so we were pleased to learn that Florida’s Dali Museum in St. Petersburg has an interactive, 360-degree virtual tour! Unfortunately, you can’t interact with every painting, but the space is beautiful, and it’s fun to wander around, even if only virtually.
History, Natural History & Cultural Museums
In the world of Washington, DC, this might be our favorite place to spend a day. Or a week. Thanks to modern technology, though, you can spend as long as you want exploring every single exhibit! Move at your own pace through the 360-degree, self-guided tours. Follow the arrows through every room and exhibit, or use the interactive map to jump right to your favorites.
The Museum of Natural History also offers narrated virtual tours of the Sant Ocean Hall, giving you the experience of a guided tour without leaving your armchair. More narrated tours will be added as they become available. Apart from the Museum of Natural History, 360-degree virtual tours are also available for the Smithsonian Castle, and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. You can even go behind the scenes with virtual tours of the Support Center, and get a view of marine research and exhibits at the Research Stations.
One really interesting aspect of the virtual tours at the National Museum of Natural History is the ability to time travel. The museum’s equivalent to Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine machine is a collection of past exhibits in the same immersive, 360-degree format. More than a decade’s worth of select exhibits have been preserved, including almost all of the former Fossil Hall.
All NMNH tours are VR capable.
Musei Vaticani – The Vatican Museum
One of the world’s most extensive collections of art and artifacts belongs to the Vatican. A tiny portion of it is on display in the Vatican Museum, which is well worth visiting when you’re in Rome. During those times when you just can’t get to Italy (for whatever reason), can still marvel at all of the history and beauty as an Armchair Traveler!
The Vatican hosts a dozen virtual tours of different areas of the museum. Each one is an interactive, 360-degree walk through, and one of the only ways to have the Vatican all to yourself! Whether you choose the stunning Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms, or one of the halls, every intricate detail is captured for you.
Some tours are VR capable.
The British Museum
If you like exploring destinations on Google Street View, you will love this virtual visit to the British Museum; It is the largest indoor space on Street View! You can click your way through 60 galleries, and see highlights like the Rosetta Stone, and the popular Egyptian mummies.
Athen’s Benaki Museum is a collection of galleries, each with its own focus. While it would be more than enjoyable to walk around Athens visiting each site, you can do it all from your own home as an Armchair Traveler! The museum’s home on the web is a hub for virtual tours and exhibits, or you can follow our shortcuts straight to the 360-degree virtual tours:
- Museum of Greek Culture
- Museum of Islamic Art
- The Ghika Gallery
- The Yannis Pappas Studio
One doesn’t have a list of the world’s great museums without the Guggenheim. While the museum does not have a virtual tour, per se, we don’t want to leave out the massive collection that you can view online. And we do mean massive: over 1,700 artworks by more than 625 artists, all digitized for your at-home gallery going! The searchable collection of selected works comes from the Guggenheim’s even larger 8,000-piece collection. Pieces range from the 19th century through today, and the collection is regularly updated.
In real life, you would have to travel to the Guggenheim installations in New York, Venice, and Bilbao to see everything in the online collection. Even then, not everything seen online is on display in the museums at all times. You also won’t need a tour guide, as the Guggenheim thoughtfully prepared a biography for each of the artists, and insights on their works. Which means, in a way, you’re getting much more from your visit as an Armchair Traveler!
Many of the large, popular museums we know today began as private collections, likely in someone’s home. That’s the story with the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. It was not always the big-city, modern museum it is now. The original museum, located in Merion, Pennsylvania, opened in 1925. It featured the collection of Albert C. Barnes, and was known as one of the strangest art museums in the world. That building closed for good in 2013 and the collection was moved to the new Barnes in Philadelphia. Thanks to modern technology and the New York Times, though, you can still take a virtual tour!
Tour requires Adobe Flash.
Virtual Museum Tours
We are confessed museum nerds / gallery geeks. If you ever lose track of us in a city, chances are we’re lost ourselves in one museum or another. At first, we thought lockdown meant no meandering through galleries. A sad thought, indeed, until we realized that some of our favorite museums – and many more that we’ve yet to visit – have moved at least some of their exhibits online. And, while museums generally focus on the past, many are fully in the technological present with extremely well done virtual tours.
If you enjoy these Virtual Travels, check back frequently for updates. Don’t forget to sign up for our emails to find out when new editions of the Armchair Traveler are posted.
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Banner image: The Met’s Temple of Dendur exhibit by Lydia Liu (CC by 2.0)