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Virtual travel experiences to enjoy now

28 January 2021 • Written by Olivia Michel

Although some countries have reopened their borders, many travellers are still unable to venture out during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. This has forced tourism industries to rethink how they can promote tourist attractions online.

One way of getting tourists to travel abroad from the comfort of their own homes is through virtual reality (VR) technology and 360-degree videography. We round up the best virtual travel tours and online travel experiences that can be enjoyed online right now.

You can enjoy a virtual safari at home with andBeyond safari operator. Image courtesy of the Mango Agency.

Virtual Reality National Parks

For Safari enthusiasts, luxury tour operator andBeyond has been live streaming wildlife footage to viewers at home from its game reserves in South Africa. To raise funds for conservation, andBeyond is also now offering unique virtual experiences such as a private zoom session where viewers can chat to guides who will answer questions, share experiences from recent drives or interpret sightings recorded at the reserves.

The fee from booking a virtual safari session is donated to the Africa Foundation as well as going towards essential habitat maintenance, sustainability and conservation initiatives at the reserves that would normally be funded by eco-tourism. 

Another way to watch Africa's big five animals from home is by tuning in to live cams on, which features live safari streams from South Africa and other regions across the globe. 

Yosemite National Park may be closed, but the views can still be enjoyed via the website's 360-degree videos. Image courtesy of Aniket Deole/Unsplash.

Those wishing to explore the US while borders are closed can explore national parks including Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Everglades with 360-degree videos via google earth. For a truly detailed journey through the beautiful National Park of Yosemite, click here.

On the Google Arts platform, you can also enjoy a detailed virtual journey through another five national parks including Alaska's Kenai Fjords, the volcanoes of Hawai'i or Utah's Bryce Canyon.

In the UK, the National Trust has curated a selection of virtual tours from their most breath-taking vistas and gardens, including the Giant's Causeway and the flower beds of Hidcote House. To embark on your virtual stroll, click here.

The historic Arundel Castle in West Sussex is not planning to reopen until later in 2021, and in the meantime has produced immersive videos such as a highlight of the 2020 tulip festival, allowing visitors to enjoy the collection of 80,000 flowers while staying at home. Another gardening event that has gone virtual is the popular RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Virtual Reality Scuba Diving Tours

For superyacht owners and charterers, one of the best activities available at sea is scuba diving. National Geographic has created 360 degree videos of nature spots and dive sites which, when pared with an Oculus Quest VR headset, can offer users the chance to swim with Humpback Whales in Antarctica or explore Indonesia’s coral reefs.

GoPro, a brand renowned for making the best action cameras, has produced 360 degree videos sure to delight those interested in meeting marine animals.

For more chances to take a virtual dive into the deep sea, head to the National Marine Sanctuaries website, which uses 360 degree photos and videos to educate viewers about life below the surface.

National Geographic has created 360-degree videos that showcase diving sites from around the world. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Virtual Reality Sightseeing Tours

Some tourist boards have gone one step further and created interactive tours of the entire country, highlighting their nation's most popular cultural sites and beauty spots.

A number of capital cities from London to Washington D.C. have been offering comprehensive virtual tours of their famous neighbourhoods, landmarks and gardens. For example, many of Paris’ iconic cultural spots can now be viewed online, from virtual tours of Montmarte's Sacré-Cœur Basilica and the Louvre museum, to a peek inside the Opéra de Paris.

Switzerland's immersive virtual experience allows armchair travellers to enjoy the view from the peaks of St Moritz, sit on the shores of Lake Lugano or peer up at Zurich’s historic cathedrals. All together, tourists can take in 22 lakes, five alpine passes and 12 UNESCO sites all from inside their home.

Thanks to the Switzerland Tourism Grand Tour, you can take a virtual ride on the UNESCO-labelled Rhaetian railway as it passes through the Alps.

Austria is also showcasing the country’s most iconic spots with 360-degree videos. The Ice Caves of Werfen and Mozart’s residence are some of the sites featured, plus users can experience virtual boat tours along the Danube river.

The coastal country of Portugal is famed for its rich and varied cultural heritage. On the tourist board website, you can take look inside some of the country's most beautiful museums or take a virtual train ride through Lisbon.

Highlight's from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way can now be experienced from home. To enjoy a ride on horseback along Streedagh Beach or a surfing session below the Cliffs of Moher, click here.

Portugal is offering a comprehensive virtual tour on the country's tourist board website. Image courtesy of Katia De Juan/Unsplash.

Google Maps have used their technology to present tours of a number of beauty spots across to globe. Click here for a chance to meet Polar Bears in Canada, Trek along Nepal's Khumbu mountains or roam the romantic canals of Venice.

With the help of virtual effects, those who have wondered what the Cambodian site of Angkor Wat looked like in it's prime can uncover it's history by clicking here. To see what the temples look like today, click here.

Want to visit the Seven Wonders of the World without leaving your home? All of them are available online. You can now peer out from Machu Picchu without making the climb, explore Petra of Jordan with a helpful audio guide or virtually walk along the Great Wall of China.

With Google Maps you can roam around sites like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, from inside your own home. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Those missing out on sampling the best champagnes during vineyard visits can now enjoy a 360-degree virtual tour of the hillsides, houses and cellars of France's Champagne region and get a behind-the-scenes look at the production process of the famous bubbly. If watching that makes you thirsty, take a look at our roundup of the best wine delivery services.

Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer has also suggested interactive ways to experience the city’s highlights, inspired by the five senses. For a taste of the Principality, resident chefs have shared their signature dishes here so that viewers can bring hotel cuisine to their own home. To listen to the sounds of Monte-Carlo’s nightclub scene, you can tune into the online playlists from COYA with Spotify. Click here to listen.

To take in Monaco’s famous sights, the Société has recommended adding some James Bond movies to you quarantine movie watchlist. The Bond films GoldenEye and Never Say Never Again are both back-dropped by the famous Monte-Carlo Casino and the French Riviera beachfront.

Multi-sensory media helps home-bound travellers experience Monte-Carlo from their own home. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

A Hotel Experience at Home

Alongside joining the fight against COVID-19 with charitable donations, some luxury hotels are also offering experiences that can be enjoyed at home. While some are sharing their chefs' recipes or mixology masterclasses, others are live-streaming yoga classes or uploading tours of resort grounds.

Examples include the Jamaica Inn hotel in Ocho Rios, from which you can enjoy cookery, yoga, 360 degree tours and live music here, as well as wellness classes broadcast from the two Chablé Hotels in Mexico, available here.

Some hotels are now streaming yoga and culinary classes online. Image courtesy of Jamaica Inn.

Virtual Reality Museum Tours

For those missing out on the cultural delights of museums and theatre, the wonders of technology have come to the rescue. The British Museum was already ahead of the curve when it launched its Hold the World VR experience in collaboration with Sir David Attenborough back in 2018. The Sky TV app, when used together with a VR headset, allows users to handle the museum's collection and have a one-on-one lesson from Attenborough. To find out more, click here.

If you want to see Vatican City's Sistine Chapel, the archaeological wonders inside Athen's Acropolis Museum or study the extensive collection at The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, simply head to the Google Arts platform and step inside virtually.

Other museums have created more personalised tours, available on their own websites. The VR tour of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is particularly impressive, and the Uffizi gallery in Florence also uses virtual reality to get viewers up-close with the art. Over in New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a collection of 360-degree videos that you can watch.

With the Grammy Museum in LA closed, music fans can enjoy virtual offerings from regularly scheduled music history lessons to curated spotify playlists.

And for something truly out of this world, head to the NASA website for a virtual tour of its space stations and telescopes.

The Met, the Louvre and the Uffizi galleries have made their art collections accessible online. Image courtesy of Pexels.

Online Theatre Performances

Other cultural experiences now accessible online include a number of live-streamed theatre performances. 

Glastonbury Festival has announced that it will be not be going ahead in 2021, although it is likely that the organisers will be arranging some virtual entertainment as they did last summer. 

To watch some Shakespearean plays in their original performance space, head to the website of London's Globe theatre. Another London institution also streaming it's performances of opera and ballet is The Royal Opera House.

For additional performances of operas by Puccini, Verdi and Mozart, head to the Opera Vision website. The Metropolitan has also started streaming performances by the world's greatest opera singers.

Tired of Netflix? Tune into some live-streamed ballet instead. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Want to bring a bit of Broadway home? If you've been waiting for a chance to watch Hamilton! you can now enjoy it via the Disney+ subscription service. And If you're a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, you can watch your favourites on youtube via The Shows Must Go On! Youtube channel. Click here to tune in.

Even if it can’t compare to a real life experience, VR technology is still allowing us to get a little closer to the world’s greatest wonders. At the very least, these platforms might help travellers plan their next superyacht holiday or city break once the lockdown has been lifted.