I’ve Seen 100+ of Those Virtual Tours—And These Are My 11 Favorite
Don't waste your time on mediocre experiences. These amazing escapes let you travel to a paradise far, far away—with just the click of a button.
The world’s best distractions
The global pandemic brought travel to an abrupt halt. Just like that, meticulously planned trips had to be scrapped, bucket lists had to be tucked away, and traveling suddenly meant a trip to the grocery store. But being on lockdown hasn’t killed wanderlust—if anything, it’s stronger than ever. It’s also given birth to a new term: armchair travel. Instead of actually leaving your home, you can settle into your seat and enjoy the show with a virtual tour.
Now everywhere, these “trips” serve up travel inspiration that can help tide us over until we can pack our bags, as well as give us some ideas on where we might want to go. We can tour museums, aquariums, and luxurious resorts. We can hike, bike, scuba dive, and zip line. We can explore gardens, parks, caves, and more. And I have. In fact, I’ve taken more than 100 online tours, and it’s been wonderful. Hours slipped away, and for a time, the C-word that dominates all of our brains right now didn’t even enter my mind. Here are some of my favorite virtual escapes.
Gaga for gorillas
I’ll admit it—I’ve got a thing for gorillas. I don’t know what it is about them that fascinates me quite so much. Maybe it’s the way they move so thoughtfully, or maybe it’s those eyes, deep pools of expression. They are intense. I’ll never forget seeing them at the Bronx Zoo. But I’m dreaming hard of the day that I get to see them in the wild. This was the trip I should have taken this year. Until 2021, though, I’ll settle for a glimpse of them trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park’s mountain gorillas are endangered, and about 1,000 are left in only two other countries besides Uganda. I love this video from VR Gorilla: Virtual Reality Productions because you’re sucked right into the environment, enraptured by the sounds of the forest, and you can move the camera to follow the gorillas’ every move. See how coronavirus is affecting the world’s endangered animals.
Madeira is beloved for its wines, but there’s so much more to this Portugal gem that’s just a 90-minute flight from Lisbon. The scenery alone is healing—volcanic mountains, forests, vineyards, dramatic coastline, and the bluest sea. And don’t be fooled by its size: It’s just 35 miles long and 13 miles wide, but there’s plenty to do and see, like explore beaches, museums, Monte Palace’s Tropical Gardens, waterfalls, footpaths, nature reserves, and levadas (handmade channels carved into the rock that transport water). For the adventurous, there’s hang gliding, paragliding, canyoning, trekking, and the like. Much is centered around Funchal, the capital city, which has nearly 120,000 residents, about half of the population that calls Madeira home. This Best of Madeira video from Travel Ons showcases a seven-day adventure in Madeira and hits all the highlights. FYI: Madeira is also known for its over-the-top-festive Christmas season.
Yes to Yosemite
It’s shameful to admit as someone who grew up in California, but I’ve never stepped foot in Yosemite. How the heck did that happen? I saw just how much I was missing out on with this slick, interactive virtual tour from Xplorit. You get a mega-dose of nature with views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls as you guide yourself on the tour. Want to hike? No problem. Want to peek at what’s for sale at the gift shop? You can do that, too. You’ll enjoy commandeering the show—and what a show it is. Yosemite is where you’ll find some of the oldest and largest trees on the planet. If you love this, you’ll also enjoy these stunning photos of national parks in full bloom.
Belize’s beautiful Barrier Reef
It’s hard to say what’s more bewitching: the Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world, or the driving reggae beats in this video. You’ll get the full island vibe as you go snorkeling and watch one awesome sea creature after another. There are some 500 species of fish that call the World Heritage Site home, and beyond that, you’ll see sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, and all manner of plant life. If you’re looking for a great trip to plan when it’s safe to travel again, Belize is also one of the best places to travel for your money.
Meet me in St. Louis
Like many Midwestern cities, St. Louis is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. If you haven’t been there in a while, or at all, check out A Day in St. Louis. You’ll find out what the buzz is all about as you glimpse hot spots like the National Blues Museum, numerous music venues, the infamous Gateway Arch, Forest Park, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the much-ballyhooed zoo. The pictures of the BBQ, however, will be reason enough to make your way here. There’s more to the city than you might expect. Here are more of the best American cities for live music.
All about Antarctica
You won’t have to worry about social distancing in Antarctica. Talk about an ideal post-pandemic getaway. Watch this video from Hurtigruten and you’ll see why as you’re transported to the Arctic world. Watch the penguins play. Get goosebumps watching the brave take a dip in the icy sea. Glide along in a kayak. The whales, the glaciers—you’ll have to catch your breath. And the sunsets are so spectacular, you won’t rest until you see one for yourself IRL one day. If this piques your interest, find out what it’s really like to visit Antarctica.
Caving in Salzburg
From the safety of your sofa, you may as well go for an adventure. Why not take a trek through the world’s largest ice cave? You’ll find it in Salzburg, Austria. This 360-degree short video is just enough to make you want to find a headlamp and make your way through the dark to see something amazing. What’s there to be afraid of? Yetis and abominable snowmen are just the stuff of movies, right?
Replenishing your soul on the Yucatán
When you’re ready for a respite from all the madness, the Chablé Resort & Spa in Mexico’s Yucatán awaits. How can you go wrong in the Mayan forest? You’ll also be able to take your pick of one of 38 stand-alone pool villas; after all, the last thing you want is an overcrowded tourist trap. This is about intimacy, serenity, yoga, biking, jungle views, and a spa inside a “cenote.” Ancient culture is ever-present and celebrated from the time you enter the gates. Keep the relaxation vibe going with a drink from the world’s largest private tequila collection. As you walk step by step through the video, your only question will be: When will you be able to go there?
Don’t miss these 15 panoramic webcams that let you travel the world.
Ready, set, go…to Alaska!
Buckle your virtual seat belt and get ready for a thrill! The locale is Fairbanks, Alaska, and you’re on a dog sled thrill ride. Hold on, because the 360-degree virtual tour takes you dashing through the woods—faster and faster. Fairbanks is also a great stop for ice sculpting, skiing, and wildlife viewing. When was the last time you saw a moose? Fairbanks is also one of the best places to see the Northern Lights.
Swimming with sea lions in Australia
When something is rare, you want it more. Take, for instance, Australian sea lions. There’s only one place you can swim with them in the wild: the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Watching this incredible video, you can imagine what it’s like to get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of ducking and diving as they do. As if the sea lions aren’t enough, the Eyre Peninsula is also ideal for whale watching, eating fantastic oysters and assorted seafood, and sampling the area’s legendary wine.
There’s no place like the Holy Land. And the collection of amazing places on this panoramic Holy Land virtual tour will only increase your desire to go. Pick a place—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Wailing Wall, Nativity Church, the Star of Bethlehem, and so many more. Not only do you get incredible views, but the video is also interactive. You can even take photos of places and share them on social media if you want. By the way, Jerusalem is one of the most popular destinations in the Middle East.
For more strategies, including how to stay sane and safe, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.