Some day—and we hope it's soon—readers who find this page will wonder why a travel publisher would suggest they take virtual tours of some of the world’s greatest sites instead of simply visiting . After all, aren't the places on this list among the enduring reasons we go?
But these aren't normal circumstances. And these virtual experiences are themselves extraordinary—fitting proxies for the real thing, when that real thing is momentarily out of reach.
So join us in indulging our shared wanderlust. If this is the first time you’ve been to some of these places, prepare to have your mind blown. Because here you'll find some of earth’s most impressive treasures: natural wonders; works of art; architectural miracles and much more. They belong on any traveler’s bucket list. And we'll help you make the trip in person—at least once—in the future. But in the meantime, we hope you’ll find as much joy as we have in exploring them from afar.
Studies have found that aquarium-watching helps reduce stress and anxiety—and we're here to tell you the virtual version is no exception. We felt our own mood improve after a few minutes with the sea otter cam —one of several exhibits live-streamed by the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. (For serenity now , proceed directly to the aquarium’s famed Kelp Forest or Moon Jellies .)
The legendary Berlin Philharmonic is essentially playing house concerts with no door charge: Register for free 30-day access to the orchestra's Digital Concert Hall before the end of March, and you can take in hundreds of stunning performances from your couch. If you do nothing else, watch a snippet of the celebrated new maestro's debut last summer: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (aka Ode to Joy ) live at the Brandenburg Gate. In fact, the piece has become something of an anthem in recent weeks, with everyone from the (homebound) Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra to (also homebound) Spanish window musicians chiming in.
The country’s most-visited zoo—with more than 3,500 animals in residence—was a pioneer in the world of open-air habitats (doesn’t open air sound nice right about now?) and remains a leader in conservation science. You can catch a number of the most beloved inhabitants—from koalas to penguins to the new baby orangutan (!) of the Lost Forest —on live streams. Your virtual visit even has an edge over real life: Though mega-celebs Bai Yun Xiao Liwu were repatriated last year , you'll still find great archival footage of them on the Panda Cam .
The hallowed halls (and glass pyramid) of the Louvre may be empty for now, but you can still go in. One of the best exhibits to explore on your own: the remains of the moat —a relic of the museum's days as a medieval fortress, and something you you tend to miss when you're single-mindedly jockeying for position in front of the Mona Lisa. Speaking of, we'd be remiss if we didn't note that the #LouvreChezVous/#MuseumFromHome initiative also lets you get up close and personal with the lady herself. And for a taste of the truly ancient, head to the Egyptian wing, past the imposing sphinx, and see if you can spot the statue of a scribe from 2500 BCE.
The stage may have gone dark for now at Lincoln Center, but not without a ray of light for opera fans: One of New York City’s greatest cultural institutions is streaming free encores of its Live in HD series from the past decade-plus of performances. At the moment, we're mid-Wagner Week—because what's more on point now than a deep dive into strife, hope and rebirth? And next month (as far away as that seems), we have Rossini, Verdi and Bizet to look forward to. Performances are available on the Met's website each night at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be available to stream for 20 hours.
Another of the world's great opera houses—the Wiener Staatsoper—is now streaming not only operas, but also ballets. They're previously recorded, of course, but to keep the experience as authentic as possible, the lineup even mimics the original 2020 schedule. Whether you’re an aficionado or a first-timer, Sunday’s performance of Roméo et Juliette is the one we’d bookmark first.
If you’ve ever been on safari, you know that few experiences rival those adrenaline-fueled rides through unfamiliar terrain in search of the Big 5. But SafariLive comes close. Track lions, leopards and hyenas as you make your way around herds of wildebeest and elephants—all while expert rangers school you on what you're seeing. And if you haven’t yet fulfilled your safari dreams IRL yet, these virtual adventures are the perfect inspiration.
Even if you've never been to Sydney Harbor, you know those soaring white sails—they top one of the world's most photographed venues, after all—and now’s your chance to take a peek inside. Accompanied by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, cellist Benjamin Schwartz and soprano Nicole Car (if you can't quite place the music: Verdi's Luisa Miller ), you'll wander through a day in the life of the site, from early morning, before the performers arrive, to stolen moments between acts. And if you’re anything like us, you'll be dreaming up your next (or first) trip dreaming Down Under before the video's done.
Instilling a sense of wonder in everyone who enters, the 15th century Sistine Chapel is most renowned for Michelangelo's ceiling frescos. You'll have them (and the rest of the place) to yourself if you visit virtually , before making your way through a whole series of Vatican Museums—not least, Raphael’s Room and the New Wing .
One of the world's most visited museums for good reason, this branch of the Smithsonian is magic at keeping kids of all ages entertained and learning. If your household could use some of that right now, head on in and start exploring the fossils, ocean life—even the insect zoo. And for pure eye candy, hit the Gems and Minerals Wing—or the Butterfly Pavilion.
Home to no fewer than 8,000,000 works, this venerable collection is one of the world's largest. But even the tiniest objects hold their own on its virtual tours: We love that you can view individual pieces, play audio to learn more—and search for related works. There's also a scrolling capability that lets you go back thousands of years.
Volcanoes National Park
Built by a 17th-century Mughal emperor in memory of his favorite wife, who died during childbirth, the Taj Mahal is one of the most lavish—and romantic—architectural tributes on earth. For perspective on how the marble exterior shade-shifts throughout the day, from early-morning pinks to dusky blues, check out this video . The persistent thrum of tour groups makes the scene that much more realistic—this UNESCO World Heritage Site can see as many as 8 million visitors a year.
This art world institution reopened to much fanfare last year with more space and all new galleries. To preview the redesign before your next trip to the Big Apple, visit these in-depth online galleries —and t ake advantage of the ability to zoom way in on the likes of Georges Seurat's The Channel at Gravelines, Evening (the term “pointillism” will make a lot of sense) or Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night . Or check out the newest, coolest exhibit on one of abstractionism’s unsung heroes, Sophie Taeuber-Arp—excellent fodder for your next FaceTime cocktail party.
If going to your happy place ordinarily involves a regulator, mask, BCD, wetsuit, plane ticket and possible live-aboard reservations—NOAA is willing to take you there gear- and cost-free: You can do a series of virtual dives through our National Marine Sanctuaries , whether you want to peace out to the waters around American Samoa (don’t miss Big Momma), the Florida Keys (have a look at the Aquarius Reef Base research center) or any of several spots in between.
Anyone else’s home feeling a bit...cozy? There’s a virtual tour for that. Escape to the gilded (and expansive) palace of Versailles, home to French King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette—before the small matter of a revolution, at least. Explore their extravagant (separate) bed chambers, saunter through the Hall of Mirrors, gaze at the pastel ceiling of the Royal Opera House and follow the gravel paths of the renowned royal gardens.
The traditional version of Norther Lights chasing goes something like this: 1. Pile on 147 layers. 2. Waddle out into some gorgeous but still undeniably bone-chilling expanse. 3. Wait patiently. 4. Run inside to warm up. 5. Emerge to learn you’ve just missed the show. 6. Repeat until your luck changes. Of course, the spectacle is totally worth the effort, but one advantage of watching from home—as you can do thanks to Manitoba’s Churchill Northern Studies Center—is that you eliminate steps 1-5 and cut straight to “ nature’s most amazing light show .” And late winter into early spring (i.e., now) happens to be among the best times to be tuning in.
Of the Great Wall's 4,000 total miles, 3000 or so are walkable. To start doing reconnaissance for your own trek across this New Wonder of the World—without wearing out the tread on your gym shoes— visit virtually instead. And soon enough, you'll be experiencing the real thing. (The oldest sections have been there for about 2000 years, after all, so in Great Wall Time, this waiting period is the tiniest of blips.)