For the homebound traveler, wanderlust can be satiated (or elevated) within the vast, digital menagerie that is the internet. Virtual sightseeing adventures online and across social media can provide inspiration for your next holiday—or provide the closest thing to the desired experience if you are unable to make the journey in person. We’ve curated some of the best interactive travel explorations, all accessible from the comfort of your couch. Bon (virtual) voyage.
U.S. NATIONAL PARKS
No need to lace up your hiking boots for these walks into the wilderness, although the virtual experience may inspire you to plan the real deal.
- Google Earth has rolled out a series of stunning 3D virtual tours of 31 U.S. National Parks, including Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone.
- Google Arts & Culture offers a spectacular virtual series of five U.S. National Parks. It features documentary-style VR videography and narration by park rangers who guide you into epic adventures. Kayak through icebergs in Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska). Take a helicopter ride above an active volcano in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Dive an old shipwreck in Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida). And do it all in the same day without leaving your bed.
- VR Photographer Scott Highton has put together a wonderful interactive tour of one of America’s most beloved parks with Virtual Yosemite. It includes more than 200 different locations and features breath-taking 360-degree panoramas.
DISNEY WORLD & UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
Explore top theme parks with a trip to YouTube, where stealth videographers have uploaded hundreds of videos that put YOU in the front seat of top attractions. You could spend an entire day riding theme park rides without waiting in any lines.
- At Disney, enjoy rides such as Slinky Dog Dash, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Splash Mountain.
- At Universal, buckle up for thrill rides such as Jurassic World The Ride, the Incredible Hulk Rollercoaster, and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Adventure.
Access animals in the wild from the safety of your sofa.
- Elephants, hippos and, gorillas abound on Explore.org, where 12 livestream cameras feature game reserves and watering holes across Kenya, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- WildEarth broadcasts twice-daily live safaris on interactive streaming platform Twitch, where knowledgeable safari guides give viewers a chance to spot the Big Five from a private game reserve in South Africa. Catch the daily live sunset safari at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
Take an instant Caribbean vacation aboard one of Carnival Cruise Line’s ships. Its 360-degree interactive video on YouTube will transport you to setting where it’s always Happy Hour. Use your computer mouse to explore white-sand beaches, glide down the ship’s massive waterslide, and sip cocktails from the top deck at sunset.
ICONIC WORLD LANDMARKS
Check off these bucket list sites from your bed.
- The Sistine Chapel: Admire Michelangelo’s masterpiece without the crowds.
- Versailles: Stroll the grounds of the home of France’s King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette.
- Stonehenge: Take a 360-degree interactive tour from inside the stones.
- The Great Wall of China: Walk a landmark that’s survived some 2,000 years of history and spans more than 3,000 miles.
- Taj Mahal: Experience different vantage points of this legendary mausoleum from a bird’s eye view.
- Great Pyramids of Giza: Use your computer mouse to soar above and around this last surviving wonder of the ancient world.
BroadwayHD is offering a seven-day free—yes, free—trial for its streaming service, which features classics such as “The Sound of Music,” “Cats,” and “The King and I.” It also hosts performances from London’s West End and other elite venues around the world.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
CirqueConnect features awe-inspiring specials, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks and unique experiences via its virtual reality app that put you onstage and into the heart of Cirque du Soleil’s most thrilling spectacles.
No stinky zoo smells on these tours. The San Diego Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo (Chicago), both world-famous and respected zoos for their respective conservation and education efforts, are among the best at offering intimate access to their animals online and across social media platforms, where interactive field trips hosted by zookeepers have grown in popularity.
- Tour the San Diego Zoo with its 11 live webcams, which feature tigers, pandas, koalas, butterflies, and more.
- The Brookfield Zoo’s “Bringing the Zoo to You” is an interactive zookeeper chat hosted on Facebook Live, where animals such as giraffes, sloths, and snakes are introduced and questions from those watching online are answered in real-time.
Spy on penguins, sea otters, jellyfish, sharks, and more by virtually visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Georgia Aquarium. Each world-renowned aquarium offers a collection of livestreams showcasing the in-the-moment antics of animals in their aquarium habitat.
Meander the most famous museum in the world with the virtual tours offered by the Louvre. More than 2,500 other museums around the world—from the MoMA to Musée d'Orsay, Paris—have partnered with Google Arts & Culture to provide free interactive museum tours, as well.
GUIDED TOURS OF ITALY
Vroom, vroom. Take a Vespa ride through Rome with your own personal tour guide. Walks of Italy has a robust YouTube page that features 360-degree virtual guided walking tours to iconic sites across Rome, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, and Tuscany.
TOURISM BOARD INSPIRATION
If there’s somewhere you’ve been longing to travel, visit the website, Instagram or Facebook page for that destination’s tourism board. These digital homes are usually full of inspiring photos, videos, livestreams, and interactive experiences that’ll make you FEEL as if you’re already there. For instance, Discover Puerto Rico boasts an eight-part series hosted by award-winning actor, composer, and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who takes armchair travelers on a very special tour of the Caribbean nation.
Finally, if you don’t know WHERE you want to go, have fun with Google Earth. Its “I’m feeling lucky” button is addictive: Each time you press it, you’ll find yourself zooming around the globe to land in a new destination. You might bounce from Guide Falls in Australia to Mount Naeba in Japan to the glacial Lac de Gérardmer in France. Roll the dice and see where you go!