Leisure travel has been put on the backburner for the better part of two years – we miss it terribly, save for the endless crowds that one has to contend with at some of the world’s hottest tourist spots (think Beijing’s Forbidden City, or the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City). On the flipside, some of these spots don’t boast a ridiculous crowd – if only because of how difficult or dangerous it is to get to.
These are our pick of virtual tours that cater to ardent nomads regardless of sensibilities – danger-free, digital walkthroughs that are worth spending a couple of hours on, if only to get a glimpse of a destination that wouldn’t make the cut in most travel itineraries.
The decongested tourist spot
The Netherlands’ famed tulip garden squeezed 1.5 million visitors in 2019 during the annual peak season from March to May (that’s around 26,000 a day within the 32 ha park). Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Flower Exhibit has gone virtual for two years running. The best part? You can view the sea of tulip bulbs – more than 800 varietals can be found in Keukenhof – anytime of the year.
The world’s first-ever virtual walking tour of Machu Picchu – a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s one of the seven wonders of the world – is set to be unveiled in the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida. Captured in high-resolution by drones and reproduced as a virtual-reality experience, it’s proves that virtual tours are more than gimmicks for the travel-starved. Instead, it opens new doors into hitherto unexplored territory – including heritage sites that are difficult to get to, even in the best of times.
Unlike the others on this list though, the virtual tour is only available at the physical exhibit in the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which also features the largest Andrean gold collection to travel the world.
The Great Barrier Reef
Visiting the world’s largest coral reef system is a contradiction in itself, since it almost invariably contributes to the global warming that’s putting the reef in danger in the first place. The Great Barrier Reef virtual tour (that was actually released back in 2015 as a primer to a BBC series by the same name) sees celebrated natural historian Sir David Attenborough as he brings you through an interactive experience through the 2,300 km long system that’s home to more than 1,500 species of fish.
Various cities and countries
Tourist hotspots aren’t the only places worth visiting virtually – sometimes, the cities and countries themselves are worth the price of admission. That might be the historical metropolis that is London, or the capital of the United States of America. Other European nations, like Switzerland and Austria, have also come up with their own virtual tours.
The downright dangerous
Climbing Mount Everest is – probably – on any self-respecting adrenaline junkie’s bucket list, even if they know that they’ll never have the years of conditioning and mountaineering experience necessary to make the trip (and survive). Though Everest VR is more of a fully-fledged virtual gaming experience than tour, it’s about as close as you’re going to get to the world’s highest mountain in all its awe-inspiring, terrifying splendour.
The Catacombs of Paris
Not for the faint of heart, or claustrophobic. The Catacombs of Paris date back to the 18th century and are best known for an ossuary containing hundreds of thousands of neatly-stacked bones. Though tours to the ossuary only last around an hour (access to the rest of the expansive tunnel network has since long been restricted for members of the public), a far safer option would be a virtual tour, since respite is just a click away.
The Amazon Rainforest
Visiting the so-called “lungs of the Earth” is no mean feat in the best of times. Explore the Amazon Rainforest in all its glory as part of a virtual tour conducted by Conservation International, a non-profit working to protect said forest against the ills of deforestation and therefore, impending climate disaster (they accept donations in aid of their cause via their website as well).