6 Virtual Travel Experiences to Enjoy While You're Home-Bound
How to explore the world from Yellowstone to the Palace of Versailles
by Aaron Kassraie, AARP, April 7, 2020|Comments: 0
En español | So you're stuck at home during the coronavirus outbreak, vacation plans on hold. But you can still take virtual trips to many iconic places — including national parks, New York City shows and at least one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Google Arts and Culture
America's National Parks
Many National Parks are closing or already closed, but you can visit five of them through Google Arts & Culture. An especially awe-inspiring one features Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can see videos of Kilauea erupting, go inside a lava tube and see a 360-degree view of a rainforest, all guided by a park ranger. The series also includes explorations within Dry Tortugas in Florida, Alaska's Kenai Fjords, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Bryce Canyon in Utah.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy english-heritage.org
See this prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, through a variety of lenses on this Skyscape site created by English Heritage. That includes what the burial ground looked like before construction of Stonehenge began about 5,000 years ago and its evolution through the millennia, as well as a skyscape that explains how the sun, moon and planets were aligned with the stones. During the virtual tour, select the circular “hotspots” to watch a video about each tagged area. An interactive map provides an aerial view of the grounds, allowing you to learn the histories of different locations from above. You'll also find lots of written information about this unique landmark.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Virtual NYC
New York City
Although the streets of the Big Apple are quiet these days, there are loads of attractions and performances in the city that you can experience through your computer screen. Virtual NYC is packed with experiences curated by the city's tourist board to give would-be visitors (or quarantined New Yorkers, for that matter) “ways to explore the five boroughs while socially distancing.” You can sort through more than 130 online options by categories to find free recorded performances, such as last summer's Shakespeare in the Park presentation of Much Ado About Nothing; virtual tours, including an hour-long exploration of Grand Central Terminal; live-streamed comedy shows; and other forms of multimedia immersion.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Road Scholar
Around the world
These aren't really virtual vacations, but they're a taste of what you'd experience on a trip with Road Scholar, the nonprofit educational tour company for travelers 50 and older. They've started a series of free live online “virtual learning” sessions focused on different sites around the globe: The first include discussions of the history of the French Vikings in Normandy with Belgian scholar Nettah Yoeli-Rimmer, and the history of Native American cuisine with Lois Ellen Frank, a Santa Fe chef and Native American food historian. The lecturers, the same experts that travelers might hear on a Road Scholar trip to France or the American Southwest, for instance, take questions in a Q&A session following their talks (which are available to stream after the live event, too).
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Google Arts and Culture
Palace of Versailles Hall of Mirors
The Palace of Versailles, France
Bring the home of Louis XIV into yours as you tour the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Opera and royal residences at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris. You navigate the way you'd use Google street view (this is another Google offering), using arrows to move around rooms and get closer to paintings, such as the gorgeous 1683 ceiling fresco “Figure of the Royal Magnificence, Immortality and Progress in the Fine Arts” by René Antoine Houasse. If you click on the info tags, you can learn a little more about each highlighted object. It's a little wonky using the controls, and you certainly don't get the feeling of opulence and grandeur that you'd get in person, but it's a nice next-best kind of visit for housebound Francophiles.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy AirPano
Taj Mahal, India
Due to strict security measures, it took months of paperwork and pleading with Indian authorities for photographers affiliated with AirPano, a Moscow-based photography group, to gain access and capture these aerial images of the Taj Mahal. These breathtaking views from the grounds of the iconic mausoleum have only been witnessed by the birds who flew over it — until now. Listen to Indian music while you use your cursor for a click-and-drag exploration of the massive structure. To move to another bird's-eye view, sift through the pictures on the right side or click through the circles on the bottom of the viewer. You can also read details about the photographers’ long quest for access to this Wonder of the World. The site also has cool, relaxing videos of gorgeous spots like the Matterhorn in Switzerland and a flight above Tokyo at night.