Flights are grounded, but we can still see the world from our homes. Tom Breathnach presents his guide to armchair tourism
Fancy a little armchair escapism? Virtual travel is one of the current buzzwords in today’s vernacular as holiday hungry travellers seek a culture fix during the tourism lockdown.
Sure, visiting the Alps from your kitchen doesn’t quite beat the real thing, but with many world attractions now offering online tours, wanderlust on the web is encountering something of a surge.
So, whether you’d like to pop out to national park on your lunch break or are a student looking to brush up on on their art history (minus the text books), here are some educational and inspirational offerings to explore from your desk. And maybe even some future ideas for that day when you’re not…
Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is open for business once again and an online visit offers would-be travellers a teaser of the wonder. The experience via thechinaguide.com transports you to three different vantage points along the Jinshanling stretch of the wall, offering a sense of the structure’s colossal scale.
Definition is basic but views are inspiring with the evening light fanning over the Jundu mountains as the wall folds across the horizon like an architectural cavalry (just a pity there’s an actual wheelie bin in the shot).
The experience is not terribly interactive, but I do fancy going there more than ever now — so you could say mission accomplished.
San Diego Zoo
As one of the most renowned zoos in the world, it’s little surprise that San Diego Zoo boasts some serious kit when it comes to virtual visitors. The zoo features a veritable ark load of live webcams throughout its enclosures, many of which are activated by the animals’ actual movements (so you’re not left waiting).
I found the best live action with the curious African penguins while over at the ape enclosure, watching the antics of orangutans Karen and Sutra became my reality TV for the week. Certainly one for the kids given the Fota lockdown.
Yosemite National Park
3D travel can have an element of a spoiler alert, particularly when it’s to a place you’ve always dreamed of travelling to.
However, with Yosemite hot on my wish-list, I still succumbed to giving it a peak. California’s most iconic wildernesses begins with Google Earth-style footage panning over the park’s peaks and valleys before 30 location options appear for discovery.
I gathered my bearings at Yosemite Village before meandering from Yosemite Falls to watching the sunrise over Glacier Point (borrow the 3D glasses from the kids).
All the while during the trip, park ranger Shelton Johnson guides you with short, pop-up videos which provide tips on everything from littering etiquette to bear watching.
Oh, for the camping life again!
Áras an Uachtaráin
If you’ve never been lucky enough to be invited to a Presidential tea party, Áras an Uachtaráin also provide a virtual tour of Ireland’s first house.
Bród and Síoda (the resident Bernese mountain dogs) welcome visitors on the front green with arrows from the front portal ushering you throughout the house. Inside feels a little like wandering the White House meets Castlemartyr Resort with familiar sites including the ornate state drawing room as well as the Franicini Corridor (featuring the busts of all former presidents).
Unsurprisingly, there’s no access to the private living quarters though a guided video tour from Michael D. or Sabina could have added a little more personal panache.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Alaska may be a bucket-list destination for most of us, but a virtual visit to America’s most spectacular wildernesses is always on the table until you make that cruise happen.
Following a rather epic intro video narrated by park ranger Fiona North, users are invited to partake in a number of activities: first up it’s crevassing down a glacier, then kayaking through a lagoon.
There’s also some added neat features like listening to icebergs underwater or watching a humpback whale breach while sounds effects and 360 degree video footage give much of the experience a pretty cool live feeling.
Benevenuti al Vaticano! It’s rare to experience the Holy See without the madding crowds until you take a look at the microstate’s official museum website. Web-tours take you through some of the Vatican’s most exquisite scenes from the Nicotine Chapel to the renaissance wonders of Raphael’s Rooms.
Magnum opus is of course the Sistine Chapel where you can admire uninterrupted views of the iconic frescos before peering up to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.
You can’t climb the Cupola, alas, but you do you get a decent snapshot of the Vaticano experience, short of buying the postage stamp.
Can’t make it to Paris? Pas de problème! You can still get your art fix from the Louvre online. The tour navigates you through several of the museums main galleries, from the Egyptian antiquities hall to the Gallerie d’Apollon.
For art history buffs, a handy zoom feature also offers extra info on the works.
Unfortunately, the Mona Lisa appears impossible to track down and there’s no exteriors shots either but it still makes for an education sojourn minus the school tours. While you’re in virtual Paris, you may as well play the cultural voyeur at France’s most gilded attraction, the Palace of Versailles.
Host Jean-Phillipe guides you through ‘his crib’ with a MTV like presentation, taking your through the paintings, sculptures and famous Hall of Mirrors of this legendary abode. You can also launch the palace’s app for free on Stream VR and don your 3D glasses for added oh-la-la.