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Photo: Vicky Tao/Unsplash
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Best virtual tours: how to travel the world from home

Hike the Great Wall of China, marvel at the Sistine Chapel and even trek to Mars – all from the comfort of your own home

By Kasey Furutani
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The world is our oyster and all we have to do is hop on an airplane to discover new countries, learn new languages and eat some of the best food. Unfortunately, Covid-19 coronavirus has squashed all of our travel plans for the time being, but at least with the wonderful internet, we can explore the world from the comfort of our own couches.

Virtual reality lets us travel to Sweden to see the iridescent aurora borealis, gaze at the Sistine Chapel and fly over the treetops of the Amazon rainforest – no equipment needed. Settle in, make yourself a DIY cocktail and explore these ten digital destinations to help cure your growing wanderlust.

Recommended: Experience Tokyo and Japan from home

Away we go

bryce canyon usa national park
bryce canyon usa national park
Photo: Ben Turnbull/Unsplash

United States National Parks

Rain or shine, self isolation or not, you can virtually tour some of the most iconic United States National Parks. Marvel at the fjords of Alaska, walk through a Hawaiian lava tube and swim through the coral reefs of Florida, all while accompanied by a park ranger explaining the natural history and wildlife of the parks. 

keukenhof holland tulips
keukenhof holland tulips
Photo: fb.com/visitkeukenhof

Keukenhof Holland

You can’t think of the Netherlands without imagining colourful fields of tulips surrounded by windmills. Unfortunately, Keukenhof Holland, called the Garden of Europe and one of the largest flower fields in the world, is temporarily closed for the year. Instead, take this virtual tour – filmed this year – to see the tulips in bloom and learn about the history of the garden. It’s the perfect introduction; when you finally visit in person, you’ll know exactly where the best flowers are. 

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Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Photo: Vicky Tao/Unsplash

Angkor Wat

Cambodia’s Buddhist temple complex Angkor Wat is a necessary stop for anyone travelling Southeast Asia. These 360-degree simulation videos show ancient life on the temple grounds, long before it became a Unesco World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination. With these videos, you can experience daily life and marvel at the complex before it turned into ruins. Since these educational videos were made for classroom use, you can check out the teaching modules section to learn about the architecture, climate, commerce and trade of the area. 

Sistine chapel
Sistine chapel
Photo: Calvin Craig/Unsplash

The Sistine Chapel

Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, but you can still enjoy a 360-degree video tour of Michaelangelo’s masterpiece. Get a rare people-free version of the room to yourself and take as much time as needed to stare in awe at ‘The Last Judgement’, Michelangelo’s grand ceiling. While you’re in Vatican City, take a look at Raphael’s Rooms for more Renaissance art and the Pio Clementino Museum for classical sculptures. 

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Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Photo: Ayesha Parikh/Unsplash

Machu Picchu

Climb up the Andes Mountains and see the ancient Inca wonders of Machu Picchu, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The multi-day hike is notoriously difficult, but you don’t have to worry about altitude sickness in these VR videos. A tour guide will narrate as you virtually hike up the mountain and learn about the intricate architecture, the history of the Incas and, of course, the alpacas. 

Great wall of china
Great wall of china
Photo: Hanson Lu/Unsplash

The Great Wall of China

One of the new wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China is a bucket list destination like no other. The 21,196km-long wall with a history of over 2,300 years was originally built to protect China from enemy invasions. It is now preserved as a hiking trail as well as a historical and architectural wonder. Try one of the more popular hikes, an 8km trek from Jinshanling to Simatai, and take in the grand views of the winter mountains from watchtowers. 

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northern lights aurora
northern lights aurora
Photo: David Becker/Unsplash

Abisko National Park in Sweden

Grab your jackets because this is a cold one. Gaze at the aurora borealis from Sweden’s Abisko National Park, located in the Laplands of northern Sweden. The 360-degree videos let you see the northern lights from all angles – so just lie down in the snow and let the iridescent lights work their magic. During the daytime, you can try dog and reindeer sledding in the snow-blanketed, pine tree-filled winter wonderland.

Amazon rainforest
Amazon rainforest
Photo: Nathalia Segato/Unsplash

Amazon Rainforest

Tour the wonders of the Amazon rainforest from the treetops to the creature-filled understorey and finally the dirt ground where you’ll meet indigenous locals. The 360-degree video, produced by Conservation International, shows how the rainforest impacts on people’s lives, both for the villagers who use the forest for daily necessities, and for those of us further afield. The video starts with aerial views and slowly pans below so you can see each stage of the forest and its wildlife. 

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Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, red torii gates
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, red torii gates
Photo: David Emrich/Unsplash

Japan

News Transport & Travel

We might be a bit biased, but Japan is one of the best travel destinations for food, culture and sightseeing. See the best of the country in these 360-degree VR videos where you can experience a rowdy Shibuya Halloween, tour through an empty Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, and have a hanami picnic under cherry blossoms. For an off-the-beaten-path experience, take a look at Nagasaki and its western-inspired architecture or visit Hitachi Seaside Park for a sea of flowers.

Mars NASA
Mars NASA
Photo: NASA/Unsplash

Mars

Ever wanted to explore the wonders of outer space? Now you can tour Earth’s nearby neighbour with Access Mars, which follows Nasa’s Curiosity rover as it treks through the red planet. Launched in 2011, the rover has been touring the planet taking pictures for scientific research and for us earthlings to gaze at for the past nine years. Give the rover some much-needed company and explore the vast, red landscape while checking out the occasional satellite picture and learning about the history of Mars exploration. 

More virtual travels

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