If the news around COVID-19 has put your travel plans on hold, you can still enjoy some of the most iconic exhibitions and artworks from around the world in the comfort of your own home. That’s right, just because you can’t elbow your way to the front of the crowd before the Mona Lisa and enjoy her over the shoulders and iPhone screens of other museum-goers doesn’t mean you don’t get to appreciate her at all! There are more ways to culture than you might think, and one of them is virtual museum tours. Keep reading to discover 20 incredible virtual museum tours, from the Guggenheim in New York to the Louvre in Paris.
First, what are virtual museum tours?
Simply put, virtual museum tours offer simulations of a museum’s physical space using a combination of video and images. This means visitors can browse a museum and its collection on their phone or desktop from just about anywhere – all they need is an internet connection.
The term “virtual museum tour” has been interpreted differently by museums. Some museums offer immersive 3D virtual tours of their collections. A 3D virtual tour gives you a 360° view of the museum’s premises, allowing you to click your way through corridors and rooms of the museum, as well as view the artworks on display. Google Arts & Culture has helped to bring a lot of these tours to life with its Google street views technology – thanks, Google!
Other museums provide only the images of the artworks in their collection, categorising them by room or era and offering explanatory texts to offer context to the visuals – just like you would have in the museum itself.
How to become a virtual tourist
Now that you’re all clued on the concept of virtual museum tours, it’s time to become a virtual tourist. All you really need is: your phone or desktop screen (the bigger, the more immersive), a solid internet connection and some headphones (mainly to help you block out your real surroundings and the sound of your little brother watching cartoons).
So get comfy on the couch, grab a cup of tea, put on some headphones and start clicking your way through some of the most iconic museums in the world. Happy virtual touristing!
The top 20 virtual museum tours
1. The British Museum
The British Museum, which is dedicated to human history, arts and culture, has been experimenting with virtual tours since as early as 2015. With the help of Google Arts & Culture, you can take a 3D virtual tour of the entire British Museum.
In 2017, the British Museum started exploring with more VR tours like its Egyptian galleries tour and its sculpture tour. You can enjoy these tours through Facebook or with the help of a Samsung VR headset.
2. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington DC)
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History also offers not one, but several virtual museum tours! Browse their permanent, current or past exhibitions and if you’re truly invested in this virtual journey through time and history, keep going and check their support centre and research stations. They’ve also got a few other tours to keep you happily occupied. You’re going to need another cup of tea for this one.
3. The Louvre (Paris)
We’ve already mentioned the Louvre’s stunning Mona Lisa VR experience, but there’s more. The Louvre also offers a virtual tour of its Egyptian Antiquities collection; a peek at what the Louvre, which was initially a fortress built by King Philippe Auguste, probably looked like in medieval times; and a tour of the Galerie d’Apollon, which was destroyed in 1661 and then rebuilt by Le Vau.
Top tip: Make sure that you’ve got Flash Player installed to be able to experience these virtual tours.
4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
We can’t all live in New York and be a stone’s throw away from one of the most awe-inspiring museum collections on the planet. But thanks to yet another successful Google Arts & Culture partnership, we can browse The Met virtually. Relish 6 collections, 2 different 3D virtual tours and over 200,000 artworks in this virtual museum tour of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Highlights include: ‘A New Look at Vermeer’ and Christian Dior: Ball Gowns.
5. The Palace Museum (Beijing)
Located in the imperial palace of two consecutive dynasties, the Ming and the Qing, Beijing’s Palace Museum is both stunning and impressive. And you don’t have to find your way to Beijing to appreciate some of its astonishing collection. With virtual tours of 15 of its exhibitions, the Palace Museum is really only a click away. So, get your virtual tourist on and start discovering.
6. The Guggenheim (New York)
One of the most spectacular things about New York’s Guggenheim Museum is the building itself. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1943 and opened to the public for the first time in 1959, this eccentric building is one few would not recognise. And thanks to Google Arts & Culture, you can explore Guggenheim’s extensive collection as well as its iconic spiral-themed interior, all without putting a foot out the door.
7. The Uffizi Gallery (Florence)
Italian Renaissance fans, this one’s for you. Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, home to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation, has also joined forces with Google Arts & Culture to bring you this 3D virtual tour of its collection. Click through the Uffizi’s hallowed halls and get up close and personal with some of the greatest Italian sculptures and artworks in existence, all while you’re in your pajamas.
8. Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam)
Amsterdam’s biggest museum is spread across 4 floors, 30,000 square meters and 80 galleries. So it makes sense that Google Arts & Culture would afford the sprawling Rijksmuseum not just one 3D virtual tour, but 8 immersive 3D virtual tours instead. Art fanatics and amateur appreciators alike are sure to enjoy this virtual experience – there are so many exhibitions to choose from and floors to click through.
Highlights include: This in-depth look at Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. And this post on what else to see at the Rijksmuseum might also help you navigate your virtual tour of the museum.
9. J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles)
Fancy a visit to the Getty Centre without schlepping your way to Los Angeles? Once again Google Arts and & Culture has your back with a 3D virtual tour of the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Centre. Founded in 1953, the Getty Museum has an impressive collection that spans time and style featuring works from the Neolithic and Late Antiquity periods right through to artworks created in the early 20th century. And you can see more than 15,000 of the museum’s artworks right here.
10. The Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam)
This 360° virtual tour of the Van Gogh Museum is a great way to experience Vincent van Gogh’s artworks. The museum has the largest collection of van Gogh’s work, with 200 paintings, 400 drawings and 700 letters. And with the help of 360° Stories, the Van Gogh Museum comes to life right there on your screen.
Top tip: Once you’re in the lobby, head straight up the stairs and to the first floor for a look at some of van Gogh’s most famous works.
11. The National Gallery of Art (London)
Renaissance pieces from Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany, and artworks by Titian, Veronese, and Holbein – London’s National Gallery is a feast for the eyes. And thanks to Google & Culture, it’s a feast you can enjoy without braving the outdoors.
So skip the latest episode of the 10th season of whatever it is you’ve been binge watching lately, and explore this 3D virtual tour of the National Gallery instead. Whoever said you need to leave your home to indulge in a cultural experience?
12. NASA (Greenbelt)
To bring you 360° tours of the Hubble Space Telescope Center, NASA partnered with YouTube. And aren’t you happy they did?
Whether you grew up with dreams of being an astronaut (or you’re still dreaming of being an astronaut), this opportunity to glimpse how NASA does things is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Enjoy inside views of the Mission Operations Room and the Operations Support Room, and see exhibits of hardware that’s actually been in space.
13. Vatican Museums (Rome)
The Vatican Museums are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world – and therefore one of the busiest, too. Skip the crowds, but keep the experience of seeing some of the greatest and oldest sculptures and artworks in the world with these 360° virtual tours of the Vatican museums. And yes, one of those tours is of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s famous ceiling.
Top tip: Conquering the Vatican Museums, online or on foot, is no easy feat. Make things a little easier on yourself with this guide.
14. Dalí Theatre-Museum (Figueres)
Good news: you don’t need to trek all the way to Salvador Dalí’s home town of Figueres in Catalonia to learn about this famed artist and his outlandish artworks. As you’ve probably already guessed, the Dalí Theatre-Museum also offers 3D virtual tours of its premises – but not of everything, so this is one you’ll need to keep on your physical bucket list as well.
15. National Women’s History Museum (Alexandria)
A different take on the traditional walk-through virtual tour, the National Women’s History Museum has opted for a more interactive and subject-specific approach. Click through a range of online exhibits spotlighting women athletes, women at NASA, women in sport and women in politics.
Each exhibition is the ideal combination of informational and inspiring. And with nearly 30 online exhibitions to enjoy, you’re sure to find something you like or to spend the entire afternoon learning about women and their role in American history.
16. Museum of Natural Science (Houston)
From dinosaurs to ancient Egypt to the animal kingdom, Houston’s Museum of Natural Science is kitted out with eye-popping exhibitions and wow-worthy facts about the world we live in. The 3D virtual tour of the museum created by Google Arts & Culture is a great one for kids and adults alike to click around in.
Top tip: There’s a lot of information to glean from this museum’s online exhibits. Make sure you click through those too, once you’ve finished your virtual tour of course.
17. Museum of Ethnology & Museum of Popular Art (Lisbon)
Anyone interested in ethnology (a branch of anthropology that studies cultures and the relationships that people have with their respective cultures) will be enthralled by Lisbon’s Museum of Ethnology and Museum of Popular Art. With 40,000 objects that represent more than 380 cultures across 80 countries and 4 continents, the museum is an ethnographic gold mine. You can explore it online with this 3D virtual tour.
18. MoMA (New York)
This list wouldn’t be complete without something for the modern art lovers among us. And thanks once again to Google Arts & Culture, you can browse part of MoMA’s enviable collection with just the touch of a button. Peer at some of the collection’s most famous artworks and get acquainted with Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s work. Unfortunately, there isn’t a walk-through tour included in this package but, hey, you’ve gotta save something for your real-life visit!
Top tip for when you do manage that real-life visit: With six floors, a visit to MoMA can be rather intimidating. How about an insider’s guide to help you navigate this colossal museum?
19. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid)
Featuring artworks from the 13th century to the 20th century, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid is a top stop for Madrid visitors. But with a Google Arts & Culture virtual tour on offer, you needn’t go to Madrid to see some of the collection. Whether your Madrid itinerary was just too packed to visit this museum or you’re stuck at home, a browse through this Museum’s collection and a virtual stroll through its corridors is a veritable treat.
20. The National Museum of Computing (London)
Thanks to modern technology, we have the ability to visit amazing places without actually having to go there. For those of you thinking, ‘What sorcery is this?’, a (virtual) visit to The National Museum of Computing might be in order. See the world’s oldest working computer and a host of other interesting artifacts. This virtual tour doesn’t give you access to the entire museum, but with two rooms worth of exhibits to explore you’ll be well occupied.
21. George Washington’s Mount Vernon (Mount Vernon)
Ever wondered about the origins of the United States’ first president? Whether you have or you haven’t, this incredible virtual tour offers a unique view into George Washington’s life and his famous home, the plantation Mount Vernon. Click your way through the rooms of his impressive estate and learn a little more about the man himself while you’re there.
22. Casa Batlló (Barcelona)
Gaudí fans will be pleased to see that they can virtually tour the infamous Casa Batlló. First built in 1877 by Emilio Sala Cortés, Casa Batlló was saved from being demolished and redesigned by Gaudí in 1904. The magnificent facade and stunning interior are a favourite among tourists in Barcelona. See for yourself!
Next-level virtual museum tours: VR tours
In addition to virtual tours that allow you to click through museums on your phone or desktop, there are virtual tours that involve Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, which offer a completely immersive experience.
VR tools are often used in museums to complement current exhibitions by providing context or offer an in-depth look into a subject. One of the best examples of this is the Louvre’s ‘Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass’. This VR experience gave visitors a more personal Mona Lisa encounter by letting them examine the painting without the crowds in a virtual space that also allowed them to be much closer to the painting – so close that you could see the texture of the panel the Mona Lisa is painted on. (For those of you who are on th edge of your seat, you can download this VR experience via VIVEPORT.)
If you’re really into the idea, a VR headset is a worthwhile investment. Not all virtual museum tours require a VR headset, but some museums’ tours are compatible with them. Keep in mind that you’ll also need a Web VR enabled internet browser to explore this option.
Getting your own VR headset and making sure you’re using a Web VR enabled browser does sound kinda techy, but virtually wandering through the National Museum of Natural History and seeing a life-size elephant in your living room might just be worth it.
Still planning on heading outdoors for your next cultural experience?
If you’re still keen to get out of the house to experience culture, you can keep your plans flexible in case the situation changes. Book on Tiqets and select the cancellation option to cancel for free up to 24 hours before your visit.