I was supposed to be packing for Britain right now.
Almost a year ago, I made plans for the family to visit England and Scotland. I bought tickets. I booked places to stay. I renewed my dusty passport, which still included a picture of me when I had hair. Even when the coronavirus hit, I didn’t think much about it interfering with the trip. Surely, it’ll be all over by then, I naively thought.
We may still figure out a way to make that trip happen: just a little later than we’d hoped. But for now—much like many of you, I’d imagine—we’re pressing pause on our vacation plans.
Ironically, for many of us in cities and states with hefty lockdown guidelines, just going to the mall would almost feel like a nice getaway for many of us. Let’s face it: We could all use a vacation.
The Internet tells me we can take one, too—without even getting off the couch.
The fam and I were going to spend the majority of our time in London: We wanted to see Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the British Museum and the countless other attractions the city has to offer. Well, turns out, we can see most of those sites virtually.
Visit London offers some cool, 360-degree looks of the city’s most famous landmarks. And the British Museum—which, for our museum-loving family, might’ve been a multiple-day stop—offers some in-depth examinations of its most significant artifacts. And if you’re nostalgic for a really big sporting event, you can stop by Twickenham rugby stadium and see it filled with people.
Our other planned stop, Scotland’s beautiful city of Edinburgh, offers its own barrage of virtual tours. You can check out the interior of St. Gile’s Cathedral, courtesy spinoo.uk. The University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity offers its own tour of its gobsmackingly picturesque campus. You can stop by the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence when she’s in town), too.
Want to expand beyond the British Isles? Travel & Leisure just updated its list of virtual castle tours, which includes pixelated trips to France’s Versailles, Russia’s Catherine Palace and Austria’s Schönbrunn Palace, not to mention Buckingham Palace and the Castle of Edinburgh. It has a list of museums you can stop by while not stopping by, too: You can check out the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam or loiter in Mexico City’s sprawling National Museum of Anthropology.
Of course, who wants to be cooped up inside (virtually speaking) when you’ve got the great outdoors to explore (through your screen of choice)? The National Parks Service offers a bunch of virtual tours in a variety of National Parks, from Oregon’s Crater Lake to the Virgin Islands. If you want something a bit more immersive, you can always listen to the National Parks Service’s Library of Park Sounds and cue up the sound of bull elks rutting, blackbirds singing or thunder clouds thundering while taking a virtual hike.
And if you want to really get away—like far, far away—check out NASA’s own clever virtual tours of exoplanets. You can explore the surface of Kepler 186f (with or without life-sustaining atmosphere) or check out the rocky terrain of Trappist 1d (great if you’re looking for a beach with lots of sand and little pesky water to worry about). You can even print off a souvenir travel poster if you’re so inclined.
Are any of these virtual tours as cool as touring the park/museum/palace/planet in person? Of course not. But they are significantly cheaper. And for those suffering from cabin fever, these screen-based trips just might be the way to … go.