Virtual tours — they’re the internet’s greatest gift to social distancing, travel-deprived individuals with a wanderlust itch they can’t scratch due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We can’t physically visit the Faroe Islands’ windswept mountains nor can we feast our eyes on the Louvre’s artsy masterpieces, but thanks to remote tourism, travel lovers can experience both locales with virtual tours here and here, respectively — all while being couch potatoes in our living rooms.
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We’ve scoured the far corners of the internet for the best virtual tours — I’m talking 360-degree panoramic views, high-definition imagery and interactive engagement with far-flung environments that you could only dream of visiting. Some virtual tours are even optimized for VR headsets.
Categorized by six continents — Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, Australia/Oceania and South America — here are the most amazing virtual tours you can experience in the comfort of your own home.
The best virtual tours in Europe
Sinking one’s feet into the unforgiving cobblestone roads that populate Europe’s ancient, beautiful cities isn’t an option for many travel enthusiasts right now, but thankfully, the internet has provided us with a cornucopia of stunning virtual tours — and your soles will thank you for laying back and enjoy the remote-tourism experience without putting a foot on the ground.
Czech Republic: Prague
This beguiling nighttime virtual tour of Prague will have you scribbling “Czech Republic” on your must-see travel list. On this virtual tour, you can feast your eyes on a pretty-as-a-picture, bird’s eye view of the Charles Bridge — a historic structure that was built to completion in 1402. You can also look across The Vltava, the longest river in the Czech Republic. This virtual tour includes 360-degree panoramic views and ethereal, magical music that will transform you into another world.
Spain: The National Museum of Sculpture
This immersive virtual tour of Spain’s National Museum of Sculpture features not one, not two, but 30 — yes, that’s right, 30 -- 360-degree rooms that allow you to explore the museum’s stately (and informative) interior. You can hop from room to room and zoom in on intricate sculptural details by clicking on magnifying glass symbols. You can also wander around the museum’s patio and marvel at the building’s magnificent architecture. As a cherry on top, a traditional Spanish folk song plays in the background while you weave in and out of the museum’s exhibits.
Portugal: The Pena Palace
The best virtual tours in North America
Two of the best North American virtual tours are located in the good ol’ USA — these remote-tourism visual masterpieces will have you singing, “America the Beautiful.” From a mesmerizing national park to a state with rich colonial history, you’ll find yourself getting lost in deeply engaging tours. Finally, you’ll be able to visit Mexico and explore the sacred, ancient Mayan ruins.
California: Yosemite National Park
There’s no way to fully explore the Yosemite National Park virtual tour in one sitting — there are more than 130 sites to visit right from your couch. You can bask in the beauty of California’s stunning waterfalls, spin around in vibrant meadows, and take in nature’s grandeur as you stand on imposing cliffs. Clicking on red points populated throughout the virtual tour will transport you to a different location in the park. The virtual tour also captures the true-to-life ambiance of each scene with accurate audio — from the chitchatter of fellow tourists to the burble of a fast-moving creek.
This remote-tourism platform is particularly special because of its mish mash of engaging features, including aerial views that let you soar through the sky from one site to another. You can also explore Lexington on foot and take a peek inside popular political figures’ estates. My favorite part of the Lexington virtual tour was visiting the quaint home of Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln’s wife. And as an added bonus, this virtual tour supports VR headsets.
Mexico: Chichen Itza
The best virtual tours in Asia
Skip the super-long flight to Asia and absorb the continent’s most beautifully striking locales right on your laptop. The best Asia-based virtual tours will have you exploring the depths of a mind-blogging cave in Vietnam, strolling through vibrant tourist attractions in Thailand and gawking over scenic vistas in Bali. It’s too bad, though, that we can’t chow down on delicious, authentic Asian dishes such as pho, spicy shrimp soup and Indonesian fried rice.
Vietnam: Hang Son Doong
Prepare to be amazed! National Geographic is offering a picturesque look inside the world’s largest cave — Hang Son Doong in Vietnam. The virtual tour features a map on the right-hand side; you can click on various points of interest throughout the map to navigate to a place that arouses your curiosity. You can also click the on-screen arrows and the tour will lead you deeper into the colossal cave. The high-definition imagery heightens your senses — you can almost “feel” the textured aspects of the cave, including the rugged rocks and dewy vegetation.
Bali is an Indonesian archipelago — and a masterpiece of nature that was carved by a talented divine being. See for yourself in this postcard-perfect virtual tour, which features more than 50 points of interest, including rugged coastlines, white sandy beaches and rich-blue lagoons.
Thailand: The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is the eclectic architectural splendor of Bangkok, filled with multi-tiered roofs, golden spires and intricately decorated statues. Check it out in this magnificent virtual tour.
The best virtual tours in Africa
With more than 50 countries to choose from, the African continent seduces tourists with its exquisite views from Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to the steep descent of Zambia’s Victoria Falls. With these virtual tours, you can get a taste of the natural wonders (and historical treasures) that Africa has to offer.
Egypt: Tomb of Menna
Of all the tours I’ve discovered, this one is by far the most immersive — this virtual tour of the Tomb of Menna isn’t just a 360-degree image. Oh no, it’s far better than that. You can explore every nook and cranny of this ancient tomb, which is decorated with well-preserved Egyptian wall paintings and hieroglyphics. Other Egyptian virtual tours you should check out are the Tomb of Queen Meresankh III, The Red Monastery and The Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan.
South Africa: The Msanzi Experience
This virtual tour invites you to explore the hidden wonders of South Africa, including three spectacular national parks. Before each tour, you’ll get whisked away into an awe-inspiring video that succinctly describes the site you’re about to visit (you can always skip this).
You can stand on the rocky edge of Table Mountain and ogle at the beautiful city of Cape Town. Or you can visit an elephant graveyard and the iconic Hole-in-the-Wall — an extraordinary natural arch.
Ethiopia: Bete Giyorgis
Bete Giyorgis is a striking structure that was carved out of a single rock dozens of feet below the surface. Archaeologists date Bete Giyorgis back to the late 12th century. The cross-shaped underground wonder continues to draw curious tourists from all over the world, but this virtual tour gives you up-close access to Bete Giyorgis without moving a muscle. To navigate to other perspectives of the Bete Giyorgis, you can click on the tiny yellow camera icons on the map or scroll through the bottom carousel.
The best virtual tours in Australia/Oceania
Australia and Oceania may seem like out-of-reach locales for now, but I've discovered some virtual tours that will make these picturesque regions seem like a quick click away.
Australia: Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park
What makes the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park virtual tour unique is that it is populated with music note icons. When you click on one, you can hear the locals’ thought-provoking perspectives on the unspoiled natural beauty of the far-reaching park located in the Northern Territory of Australia.
New Zealand: Fiordland
Holy smokes! Welcome to paradise, folks. This heart-stopping virtual tour will take your breath away. As you’re hovering above the landscape, AirPano offers you a scenic slice of heaven in a little place called New Zealand. The crystal-clear waters of Lake Manapouri reflect the grandiose mountains of Fiordland — it is a spectacular sight.
Tahiti: The Museum of Tahiti
Polynesian culture is so much more than hippy Tahitian dancing and bright, colorful flower headdresses — Tahiti has a rich cultural history and The Museum of Tahiti has captured snapshots of the fascinating story behind the island paradise. There are several exhibits you can explore in this virtual tour, including the spiritual saga of Tahitian locals.
The best virtual tours in South America
South America is exploding with rich history and well-preserved traditional culture, but you don't have to miss out on the region's splendor due to the pandemic. Here are the best virtual tours of South America.
British Airways is sponsoring virtual tours that reveal the many electrifying sides of Lima, including the famed 15th-century Inca citadel Machu Picchu. It’s a smart business move for British Airways — virtual tours are a perfect way to build a niche of eager tourists who will jump at the opportunity to take a flight to Lima when COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted. And we won’t hesitate to take advantage of the free digital entry into Lima right on our laptops.
Brazil: Rio de Janeiro
It’s unfortunate that a virus is hindering our travel to Rio de Janeiro, but on the plus side, you can skip the super-long Christ the Redeemer queue (which some say takes hours) and explore the most popular Brazilian landmark without having to wait a second with this virtual tour. You should also check out Ipanema Beach and the Corcovado Viewpoint.
Argentina: Buenos Aires
With this virtual tour, you can almost hear the Argentinian tango music emanating from your laptop. The remote-tourism platform will give you a bird’s eye view of Buenos Aires — and unless you snagged a helicopter ride, it’s a perspective you could ever experience on foot in the bustling Argentinian city.
At Laptop Mag, we’re known for being thorough when it comes to the tech we’re passionate about — and virtual tours are no different. I dug through the far corners of the web to discover the best virtual tours I could find for readers who’ve been yearning to escape their hometown as the viral pandemic anchors us all.
While we immerse ourselves into virtual tours from all over the world, I can’t help but marvel at technology’s ability to rise to the occasion when humans suffer setbacks, whether it’s Microsoft Teams and Zoom calls to connect remote co-workers or virtual tours to remedy our insatiable itch to travel.
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Kimberly Gedeon, holding a Master's degree in International Journalism, launched her career as a journalist for MadameNoire's business beat in 2013. She loved translating stuffy stories about the economy, personal finance and investing into digestible, easy-to-understand, entertaining stories for young women of color. During her time on the business beat, she discovered her passion for tech as she dove into articles about tech entrepreneurship, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the latest tablets. After eight years of freelancing, dabbling in a myriad of beats, she's finally found a home at Laptop Mag that accepts her as the crypto-addicted, virtual reality-loving, investing-focused, tech-fascinated nerd she is. Woot!