ou’re not alone. Planes are grounded, borders closed and billions of people all over the planet are now restricting their movements, or on outright lockdown, as countries battle the spread of Covid-19.
Even if you can’t travel, however, you can still escape… virtually at least. Here, we round up 10 of the best virtual experiences in Ireland and overseas for (temporary) armchair travellers.
Who knows, they may even inspire a future trip…
1. A layover at the Louvre
As the most-visited museum on the planet, the Louvre was no stranger to overcrowding… until a few weeks ago, at least. With France in lockdown, however, the world’s largest collection of art and antiquities now sits behind closed doors. Virtual visitors can delve into three of the gallery’s treasures, including the recently restored Galerie d’Apollon, or walk around the remains of its medieval moat. Click here to visit.
Alternatively, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum offers the chance to see 11 of its exhibits online, including interactive close-ups of works by Dutch masters Vermeer and Rembrandt so detailed, you’ll see every crack in the oil paint. Click here to visit.
2. ‘Appy days
The ‘Teleport’ button is the first thing you’ll notice when you launch the Ascape VR app (ascape.com), and it’s as much a promise as a cri de coeur for the times we find ourselves living in. Available on both Android and iOS, the app gives you access to downloadable videos which transport you, for instance, to the sweat-inducing, impenetrable jungles of Uganda on the trail of mountain gorillas. Google Earth is also highly recommended: it’s packed with informative commentaries and practical information, and you (or kids starved for stuff to do) can soar over cities, landmarks and landscapes in stunning 3D. Click to visit here.
3. The Sistine Chapel in solitude
How else could you be the sole visitor in the Sistine Chapel? In real life, having this place to yourself is impossible. The Vatican Museums’ virtual 360-degree tour allows you wander freely without the jostling crowds, however – admiring intricate mosaic floors and the ornate frescoes lining the walls by Renaissance master Botticelli and his ilk at your leisure. The crowning glory is, of course, the ceiling by Michelangelo, whose brushstrokes you can admire in vivid detail without sustaining neck strains or sharp elbows in your sides. Click here to visit.
4. Go to the Guggenheim
Who could pass up spending a lazy afternoon ambling through airy gallery spaces? Much like the Rijksmuseum, New York’s Guggenheim is one of 500 galleries who have partnered with Google Arts & Culture to digitise their collections. Through Google’s Streetview function, the gallery is allowing virtual art lovers to explore all six of the museum’s spiralling floors, on whose uniquely designed ramp galleries hang many celebrated artworks by Cézanne, Kandinsky, Léger and Chagall. An afternoon on the couch well spent, wouldn’t you say? Click to visit here, and see the StreetView here.
5. Lights, Camera, Action!
Forget Netflix binges… for a few hours, at least. The Irish Film Institute is just one of 14 collections from Irish museums, galleries and libraries on the Google Arts & Culture platform – including Trinity College, the National Library of Ireland and the Abbey Theatre. It’s a treasure trove of fascinating black-and-white films (including old public-safety videos) and newsreels. Forgotten snapshots of a bygone era are captured forever on film, and time digesting the collection is well spent for any film buff. Click to visit here.
6. Wondrous National Parks
As woolly clouds scrape along the top of towering granite monoliths and a breeze whips small ripples on the surface of a lake, you’ll feel like you’re at the heart of one of America’s best-loved national parks with Virtual Yosemite. A groundbreaking virtual 360-degree tour, it comes with audio that helps bring every inch of the wooded valley to life (wear headphones for the best experience). In Scotland, the Great Trossachs Forest boasts some of the UK’s most captivating landscapes. Through bold 360-degree panoramas staged at various vantage points across the park, you can track the changes of the rugged terrain as it succumbs to each season in turn. Click to visit here.
7. Virtual visits in Ireland
There’s nowhere like home. And Ireland has lots to offer virtual travellers itching to organise their next staycation. The Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare are rendered in dazzling colour thanks to a 360-degree virtual sunset tour along the cliff tops, for one – you can almost taste the salt and feel the bracing sea breeze if you try hard enough. Wexford’s 800-year-old Hook Lighthouse also offers 360-degree tours, including balcony views out over the surrounding storm-battered peninsula. Or did you know you can take a virtual tour of Áras an Uachtaráin. Find lots more panoramic and immersive photos in one place on virtualvisittours.com, a website compiled by pro photographers.
8. Feeding time at the zoo
Tune in between 10.30am and 12.30pm, when Dublin Zoo’s Asian elephants usually come into view on their enclosure’s webcam. One of three live streams at the zoo, it gives you a sporting chance to see Dublin’s youngest calf, Kabir. Look closely and you might also spy some of the green-clad zookeepers as they tend to the needs of the animals while the zoo is shuttered. Home to over 650 different species, San Diego Zoo has been voted the best in the world. Its webcams give you access to 10 species, including polar bears, tigers and giraffes, as well as offering a chance to spy the zoo’s newest addition, a baby siamang called Selamat. Click to visit here.
9. Awesome aquatic life
Live streaming is really coming into its own as a means of bringing the world to us as we temporarily retreat from it. Boston’s New England Aquarium, for example, is using Facebook Live to great effect, allowing children to tune in at 3pm GMT for daily feedings, including with Myrtle the green sea turtle, and presentations led by the aquarium’s expert handlers. One recent highlight was a live vet check-up for Thomas, the aquarium’s green moray eel. Click to visit here.
10. Yearning on YouTube
It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole watching videos on YouTube. Maybe that’s the secret to its success as an invaluable source of inspiration for future travel plans. From the comfort of your sofa, climb aboard the Rocky Mountaineer train (above) and sit back as the evergreen forests, cascading rivers and snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies hurtle past with Travel Alberta’s 360-degree video. Or better still, get close enough to a Kodiak bear in the Alaskan wilds to see the whites of its eyes with the immersive Discovery VR wildlife watching series (click to watch here).