Dreaming of a fun summer vacation on Los Couches or a quick weekend trip to Via Backyardia? Social isolation and a not-so-little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic has scuttled everyone’s travel plans, leaving many of us longing for a return to normalcy and a getaway to anywhere that isn’t our own homes.
We can’t reopen the world for you, but we can bring some of the planet’s most beautiful and fascinating destinations a little bit closer courtesy of these cool virtual tourism opportunities that are anything but boring. Bonus: You don’t even have to pack, and the drinks are ridiculously cheap (thanks, BYOB!).
Virtual Aurora Tours
The Northern Lights are said to be one of the most magical sights you can witness without boarding a rocket ship to outer space. Right now, Lapland may feel as inaccessible as Neptune, but Lights Over Lapland brings the stunning northernmost parts of Finland right into your laptop. Check out virtual tours of the shoreline of Lake Torneträsk, look through the Icehotel, and make friends with some reindeer before gazing at the lights themselves.
Jerusalem’s Old City
If you’ve ever considered a pilgrimage to Jersualem’s Old City, here’s your chance to get an incredible preview of what you could one day experience in person. Samsung’s XR service has a bunch of cameras mounted with views of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the Stone of Anointing, Dome of the Rock & Al-Aqsa Mosque, and several others. You can pause the video and navigate around each site for a 360-view, making you feel like you’re part of the crowd.
With about four miles of basalt columns trailing up the coast of Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway is a geological marvel, but it’s also deeply entrenched in Irish lore. Legend says this UNESCO World Heritage Site was actually built by Finn MacCool, an Irish giant who was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant named Benandonner. You can read the story for yourself or accept the more scientific explanation that involves a clash between streams of lava and the sea some 50 to 60 million years ago. Either way, you have to see the jaw-dropping parade of 40,000 or so stone pillars to really understand the majesty. Check out these two options:
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
The Smithsonian has all of its museums in Washington D.C. and NYC due to COVID-19, but you can explore the vast majority of the Museum of Natural History’s exhibits on line using the Smithsonian’s virtual tours. All tours are self-guided, so you can go at your own pace and even zoom in on objects you find particularly interesting, plus they’ve taking great pains to ensure the presentations work on a variety of operation systems, including desktops like Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as iPhones, iPads, and Android mobile devices.
Hang Sơn Đoòng
Head to Vietnam and you can explore the world’s largest cave. The vast cavern was only discovered in 1991, when a local man named Ho Khanh stumbled across the site in Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park, but scientists didn’t make their way there until 2009. Now National Geographic is trying to preserve images of the cave while it’s still untainted by tourism. The result is Sơn Đoòng 360, a virtual tour complete with explanations of each scene for an experience that’s both educational and entertaining.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
It takes the average person about four days and roughly $500 to hike the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu, and you’ll also need a permit (there are only 500 permits issued per day, including porters and guides, and they’re all released in January). Or, you can follow the entire journey in just an hour thanks to this video that takes viewers on the 26-mile jaunt up mountain trails, past some ruins and some of the most ethereal panoramas you’ll ever see, and up to the Lost City of the Incas.
The Great Barrier Reef
Deep-sea divers and aspiring ocean explorers can get their fix in virtual, interactive form with David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef. This collection of videos takes participants through several key reef sites and tracks the journey with custom statistics like distance travelled and sailing time. It also monitors the amount of reef lost during your trek, data that serves as a reminder of the natural wonder’s fragile state.
The Tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses VI
Ramesses VI Nebmaatre-Meryamun, also known as Amenherkhepshef C, ruled around the middle to later part of the 12 century BC as the fifth pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty of Egypt. His tomb, KV 9, is known as one of the most spectacular of its king, which eye-catching hieroglyphs and paintings lining the long corridors. The virtual tour of the tomb takes you down the long shaft that serves as the entryway, every surface covered with depictions of the pharaoh with various deities as well as images from the Book of Day, the Book of Night, and the Book of Earth, into the tomb itself.
It’s one of the most mind-blowing tours on the list, not just because of the site’s age, but also because it was built by hand, to honor the pharaoh, without benefit of modern tools. A true marvel.