Bring the world—and maybe some snow monkeys—to you.
We managed to stave off pandemic-era cabin fever through summer road trips and campsite trial-and-error, but as the mercury slowly descends and most borders remain closed, wanderlust is about to set in once again. We still long to go to the zoo, or browse a museum. We miss the smell of jet fuel as much as an island breeze. And while those things might not be in the cards at the moment, virtual travel can at least fill a void. Below you’ll find VR tours of haunted locales, digital days at the beach, and voyages into World Heritage Sites, subterranean caverns, and space. Plus, you’ll be able to tour the Louvre pantsless without getting arrested again.
Tour some of the creepiest places in America
Visiting a place teeming with ghosts and bad energy is cool and all, but you risk bringing home a curse (or worse) as a souvenir. Luckily, some of America’s creepiest places let you peek behind the doors digitally. Keep your eyes peeled for vampires as you digitally peruse the tombs of New Orleans’ Lafayette Cemetery in 360. Purchase an immersive tour of the sprawling Winchester Mystery House that allows access to the maze-like mansion typically reserved ghosts. Keep an eye out for the Grady Twins on a walking tour of Colorado’s Shining-inspiring Stanley Hotel, or slowly freak out on an interactive tour of Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania. You can even peruse the haunted grounds of the Alamo. Just… don’t go in the basement.
MORE: Dive deeper into America’s creepiest places
… or visit the scariest places in the world
Apparently ancient evil has very much upgraded its WiFi and camera technology. There’s a camera trained on Romania’s Bran Castle—home to one Dracula—24/7, its belfries often ominously encircled by bats (or is that just a hallucination?!). Take a stroll through the skull-covered Paris Catacombs or cruise around the abandoned grounds of Chernobyl. There’s a webcam for everything, including some of Japan’s most haunted places… though we’ve seen enough movies about Japanese ghosts haunting technology that we’re not about to click on those.
Take in all the fall colors (without the traffic jams)
In case you haven’t been near a person from New England lately, fall foliage season is upon us. And while there’s nothing quite like hitting the road for some cider and donuts, you can still take in the colors without leaving. Hell, go ahead and order delivery donuts and switch to hard cider while you take in live views from Vermont, Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Lakes… basically, if there’s a leaf to be peeped, there’s a webcam for it.
MORE: Take in even more fall foliage right here
Get a stranger’s-eye-view of the world (at random)
Remember Chat Roulette? This is like that, but with 99.99% less unsolicited nudity and way more scenic views. Click into Window Swap and you’ll be transported to a stranger’s windowsill for up to 10 minutes. Bored of somebody’s panoramic view of London? Click a button and you’ll be warp-zoned somewhere else. In the last 5 minutes alone we’ve been transported from a Singaporean sunrise a view from underneath the Brooklyn Bridge to a Slovakian goat farm, a busy Egyptian street, Greek garden, a rain-soaked Shanghai high-rise, and a the mountains of Tehran. Does this have serious Rear Window potential? Absolutely. But are there cats to spot? Yes. So it’s worth the risk.
MORE: Weird and wonderful live cams you need to peek in on right now
Take a virtual trip across Japan
With the Olympics on hold, check out this 360-degree VR movie from the Japan National Tourism Organization, which takes you on a wide-ranging tour of the country that features everything from bamboo forests to sushi making. Meanwhile, this live feed of Shibuya Crossing, a popular Tokyo “scramble crossing,” provides a look at the relative normalcy of Japan at any given minute. Want to get out of Tokyo to look around? You don’t have access to the bullet train, but you can tune into a live feed of a Tokyo’s railways, then pretend you were transported to Kyoto for a virtual tour of its ancient shrines and geisha district, or to this live feed of a natural mountain hot tub full of snow monkeys.
MORE: Get ahead of your future travels by daydreaming of this 10-day Tokyo dream trip
Step onto the land of giants without worrying about spilling your Guinness. Giant’s Causeway is full of basalt columns, history, and ancient mythology, making it the perfect place to get lost in for a few hours. The hexagonal landscape was formed around 60 million years ago due to slow-cooling lava. Immerse yourself in this world of wonder by starting your virtual tour at the Giant’s Port, then make your way to the hexagon-lined coast of the Grand Causeway.
MORE: Start daydreaming about a future Irish escape here
Hike the Great Wall of China
Walking along the Great Wall has been at the top of many “vacation goals” lists for centuries before hashtags were invented. Now, you can take a virtual hike in lieu of actually exerting physical effort. This virtual tour spans six and a half miles of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai, a stretch known for having some of the most quintessential views in China. Lots of handy educational material to accompany the view, too.
Explore the natural wonders of Chile
Download Chile 360, a free app that will help you virtually explore wonders from the Torres del Paine to the Atacama Desert to Easter Island. The National Historic Museum of Chile is offering virtual tours, too. And in very excellent news, you can enjoy the European Southern Observatory’s virtual tour of the famed astronomical observatory in Santiago. If you happen to have a VR headset, there’s a whole other world of experience open to you there, but those of us doing this from our cell phones should jump to this link and choose from the VR options that follow — for soothing views of the brightly colored galaxy above, start with La Silla.
MORE: Chile just opened a national park 3x the size of Switzerland
Tour dozens of World Heritage Sites
Google Earth is offering 3D virtual tours of 30 iconic World Heritage Sites. Taj Mahal? Yes. Sphinx? Yup. Stonehenge? Why not! Choose your own adventure. You’ll start with a zoomed-out view of planet Earth, from whence you can click on any of the flagged locations and zoom in from a space-station view to a bird’s-eye one. Or, you can scroll through the list of sites that appears on the right side of your screen — the first one you’ll see is the Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt. Boom, there you are, on the street at the Great Pyramid’s base, right next to the mule carts and tourists.
MORE: Move beyond the pyramids with this Egyptian travelogue
Explore the world’s best beaches
Until we can lay out on the white sands of our favorite beaches again, we can imagine we’re there through 360-degree virtual tours. Float in the crystal clear waters of the Maldives or admire the mountain ranges surrounding Myrtos Beach in Greece. Each beach offers breathtaking views that may just make you forget you’re not actually there soaking up the sun.
MORE: These underrated American beaches offer socially distant sunbathing
Plus all your favorite national parks
Google Earth is also offering 3D virtual tours of many national parks, from Acadia to Zion.The process here is similar to the way you explore World Heritage Sites, although for this one the flagged locations you’ll see from “space” do have nice lil photos of the respective parks instead of just that orange dropped-pin thing. Choose from there or from the list on the righthand side of the screen, and you’ll be promptly zoomed down into the park of your choice like one of those 3D IMAX movies. And if you’re inspired, you’re in luck: All the national parks are now open again in real life, too.
MORE: The 25 most popular national parks, ranked
Aaaand the world’s most celebrated art museums
Check out these Google Arts & Culture tours of museums like the Van Gogh Museum, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and the Louvre, finally representing a chance to see the Mona Lisa up close and personal without getting bumped around by throngs of fellow tourists. Each tour is a little different — try using Google Street View to explore a luxuriously empty Guggenheim, or scroll your way through a digital timeline of events at the British Museum.
Dive deep into the world’s most mysterious caverns
There are so many attractions and sights to see around the world above ground, but a trip underground can be just as rewarding. And as a bonus, now you can do it without fear of being mauled by bats. Explore ancient caves like the Carlsbad Caverns, Luray Caverns, and Chauvet Cave, which has Daisy Ridley as your tour guide. May the Force be with you.
MORE: Next, pretend you’re floating around in these surreal cenotes
See Mount Everest from a helicopter
Getting up close and personal with the world’s tallest mountain generally involves a lifetime of training, and that’s before you factor getting there. This tour, courtesy of Discovery, takes you on the journey of helicopter rescue pilots through Mount Everest, making for the most low-stakes way to take the dangerous trek imaginable.
One of Italy’s most visited sites is available for your virtual viewing pleasure through this 360-degree tour. The 186-foot tall structure is currently closed, but this tour does a great job of simulating the experience of visiting it in person, including the massive crowds.
Hit the ski slopes of Canada
Ski season is here, and while international travel restrictions mean the famous Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta, Canada isn’t an option, you can take a trip down powdery slopes from the comfort of your home. Travel Alberta offers a 360 tour featuring breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains and trees. Make sure you watch in 4k for the best quality, and feel free to watch next to an open freezer for maximum effect.
MORE: The best slopes on Banff’s Powder Trial
Stand at the front of a full-steam-ahead steam train in Norway
Look at this thing go! If you have 15 minutes to spare, which I know a lot of you do, I very much encourage you to spend them watching the conductors-eye-view of this steam train barrel through the highest-elevation station on the Norwegian rail network.
Get a close-up view of Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is one of the most visited natural wonders in North America, but usually getting close to them involves wading through a sea of tourists wearing garbage-bag ponchos… and that’s after you’ve traversed the tourist trap-laden streets to get there. A digital experience means you skip the crowds and it guarantees you get the best views, whether you’re gazing at them from a cruise ship, or while virtually ziplining alongside the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls.
MORE: While you’re there, take a look at why Buffalo, New York should be on your to-do list
If your deepest desire is to climb Mt. Rushmore without the fear of coming into contact with Smash Mouth fans, today’s your lucky day, you very specific person. CyArk partnered with the National Park Service to give you the opportunity to admire it in all its glory through this virtual tour. After getting acquainted with the details of former presidents’ faces, mosey on down to the Presidential Trail and get your virtual leg day on, or continue on to a virtual tour of the Badlands and make it a virtual SoDak road trip.
MORE: While you’re here, take a peek inside America’s ultimate roadside attraction
Get an astronaut’s-eye view of Earth
Cue up the Bowie and get ready for lift off with actual astronauts in National Geographic’s first ever 3D virtual reality experience filmed in space. You’ll see Earth how you’ve probably never seen it before, all while zipping around it at 17,000 miles per hour. If you get a little spacesick, adjust your view and get a cool look at what an actual spaceship looks like.
Journey through a South African safari in Kruger National Park
Offering a rare chance to get close to lions, and tigers, and bears without those pesky mosquito nets or Netflix documentary crews trying to get you to admit to killing your spouse, this experience brings a full-blown safari into your home. Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest animal reserves and without having to book a flight, you can ride through it and observe rhinos, giraffes, and antelopes here.
Take the scenic route through Switzerland
Do a brief scroll through any travel account on Instagram and it’s likely you’ll see at least one photo of Switzerland’s striking mountain ranges and distinct architecture. With this virtual Grand Train tour of Switzerland, you may even be able to feel the crispness of the air at higher altitudes.
Just keep swimming with aquatic animals
There’s something so calming about watching animals casually mind their business and interact with each other. If you need to forget that you’re a human for a little while, many aquariums have livestreams and pre-recorded streams available. Monterey Bay Aquarium in California currently offers live cams of critters like turtles, sharks, penguins, and sea otters, while the Seattle Aquarium has you covered with their Harbor Seal Cams. The National Aquarium in Baltimore also offers live streams of exhibits featuring sea creatures such as jellyfish and stingrays. Then hit up Seamless for a little sushi, in case you’re being morbid/want a theme for the day.
Live vicariously through YouTube’s best travel channels
YouTube offers so much more than videos of people getting hit in the crotch and/or opening boxes. In fact, it’s practically bursting at the digital seams with excellent travel shows. Want to vicariously live a life at sea with a young adventurous family? There’s a channel for that. Want to follow a young Brit as he tries to visit every single country? Take a peek behind the former Iron Curtain to see what’s poppin’ in post-Soviet Europe? Just chill on a beach while folks tell you what to eat when you can finally visit yourself? YouTube is basically the world’s most robust digital travelogue library. Start your digital journey and dream big with our favorite channels here.