• Leslie

Travel the World For Free: the Best Online Sites For Culture Vultures

Updated: May 13


view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris


Here's my wanderlusty guide to the best online travel and cultural sites you can explore from the comfort of your couch or computer. Everyone can use a virtual vacation, am I right?


Lately, the farthest I seem to travel is from my desk to the fridge. I exchange coffee for wine as day merges with night. I only wear sweat pants. And I groan at the thought of cancelled and lost trips. I need my geographical cures. I'm a travel blogger who can't travel right now.


But I've also discovered that there's a whole different world awaiting me -- DIY armchair travel and culture. You can discover amazing cities in Europe (and the world) from the comfort of your couch, computer, or balcony. Preferably with a suitably chilled beverage.


Armchair travel isn't nearly as glamorous as the real thing, of course. Not many things are. But you can still wear your jammies and take your time admiring the goods without queues and crowds.



the iconic gold clock at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris


The Best Online Travel and Culture Sites To Get Your Culture Fix and Treat Cabin Fever


So, here's my list of the very best travel and cultural things to experience virtually

-- museums, operas, art masterpieces, historic landmarks, broadway shows, TV, and books. Social distancing doesn't have to mean cultural distancing. Let's travel the world for free and take a virtual vacation.



1. World Class Virtual Museums


My favorite way to explore world culture is through museums. Many world class museums have excellent virtual tours and online collections. Some have collaborated with Google Arts & Culture to bring their masterpieces to you in high resolution or present thematic tours.


I won't belabor the point. I've written an exhaustive guide with a huge (and ever expanding) list of 50 amazing museums with virtual tours from around the world. There's something for everyone on this list -- modern art, Renaissance art, Dutch art, ancient artifacts, sculpture, etc.


Take a gander. You can spend a day at a museum from home.


You can also tour more than 2 million artworks in 120 venues on the Smartify app. This app -- dubbed "Shazam for art" -- is a virtual tour guide. It's making all its audio guides free through the end of 2020. You can browse museums or tune in for short snippets on a specific work.



the beautiful Capodimonte Museum in Naples Italy


2. Virtual Italian Museums


Bella Italia! Italy is one of the most popular countries on earth -- with a rich ancient and Renaissance culture, museums galore, and some of the world's most iconic landmarks. Not to mention the delectable pasta and gelato.


If you can't explore Italy in person (my May vacation was cancelled), you can now do it online. From ancient Roman ruins to the Renaissance masterpieces, you can visit premiere collections in Italy via the internet.


Here's my complete guide to the best virtual museums and online collections in Italy. If you want to explore or investigate the best ruins in Rome, I've got a guide for that too. And many of those sites archaeological can also be explored virtually.



the Sacre Coeur in Paris' Montmartre neighborhood -- you can take a virtual tour


3. Virtual Paris Tours: How To Tour Paris From Home


Who doesn't love and dream about the City of Light? If you're missing Paris or need some destination or cultural inspiration (who doesn't?), there's a fix. Now, you can virtually tour many of Paris' must see sites, landmarks, and museums right from your couch.


If you fancy a trip to Paris, I won't repeat myself. Here's my guide to the 18 best virtual tours to transport you to the ever fascinating Paris, with all its myriad attractions. If you want to plan a future visit to Paris, here's my 5 day itinerary and travel guide.



the iconic Trafalgar Square in London England


4. Virtual London Tours: How To Tour London From Home


As with Paris, there are scads of virtual tours you can take of London. I've written a compete guide on how to tour London online from home. But I'll give you the highlights here.


The best place to start is the 360 virtual tour of the city. With an interactive map, this site takes you to London's iconic landmarks -- Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and so much more.


You can also take a virtual 360 tour of the Houses of Parliament. If you want to delve more deeply into British history, you can take a virtual 360 tour of one of my favorite London landmarks, the Tower of London. If you want to relive WWII and the rousing speeches of the politician Winston Churchill, you can also virtually tour the Churchill War Rooms.


Here's my complete guide to the Churchill War Rooms (which I adored) and my guide to 10 amazing museums in London, which are on Google Arts & Culture. Just use the search engine to find them. If you want to plan a future trip to London, here's my 5 day itinerary and travel guide.



the Pantheon and the Fountain of the Pantheon, built by Emperor Hadrian


5. Virtual Rome Tours: How To Tour Rome From Home


There are many fantastic virtual tours of Rome as well. Here's my complete guide to 25 virtual tours of Rome. Among them are some of Rome's must see sites, landmarks, ruins, museums, and secret subterranean sites.


You can admire Raphael frescos at the Villa Farnesina. You can visit Nero's Palaces, the well-preserved Trajan's Markets, the beautiful Pantheon, the Altar of Peace, the Castle Sant'Angleo, and the Italian House of the Presidency, the Quirinal Palace.


If you want to plan a future trip to Rome, here's my 3 day itinerary and travel guide. Though 3 days isn't enough, I warn you. I was just there again for a week and I couldn't get enough. I'm already plotting a return trip.



the UNESCO-listed Park Guell in Barcelona Spain


6. Virtual Barcelona Tours: How To Tour Barcelona From

Home


If you want to visit Barcelona from home, now's good time. Barcelona is a visual feast, a popular city with boundless culture and fairytale architecture.


Barcelona has museums galore, some of the world's most iconic landmarks, and chic and funky neighborhoods to explore. Not to mention the delectable tapas. If you're stuck at home or can't explore Barcelona in person, you can travel to Barcelona online.


Here's my guide to DIY virtual tours of Barcelona's fabulous must see sites. Sip on sangria or nibble on some jamón ibérico as we cyber experience some Spanish culture. If you'd like to visit museums in Barcelona and Spain, here's my guide to accessing Spanish culture.



St. Peter's Square in Vatican City


7. Virtual Vatican Tour: How To Tour the Vatican From

Home


Ever wanted to visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel? The Vatican Museums hold some of the best works of art on the planet. They're invaluable crowning glories of Western art, telling stories of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the history of the Catholic Church, and the birth of the Renaissance.


On the Vatican's website, you can take an online virtual tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, the Pio Clementino Museum, and the Raphael Rooms. You can also tour Vatican City on Google Arts & Culture, check out 360 views of St. Peter's Basilica, and listen to National Geographic's audio tour of the basilica.


I've also written a lengthy piece on 18 of the the Vatican's must see masterpieces. And a piece on Michelangelo's Last Judgment, which is on the Sistine Chapel altar wall.





8. Virtual Tours of Ireland: How To Tour Ireland From Home


Were you planning an Irish idylll? Happily, you can explore myriad sites in both Ireland and Northern Ireland via Virtual Visit Tours. With online 360 tours of castles, historic sites, and churches, this site is a one-stop-shop for virtual tours of Ireland.


My favorite site in Ireland is the Ciffs of Moher. It’s hard to capture the sheer scale and outright majesty of the cliffs. But the virtual tour on the official website comes close.



the eerie and glamorous facade of Casa Batlló in Barcelona


9. Virtual Tours of Spain: How To Tour Spain From Home


Hop across the Mediterranean to sunny Spain to continue your virtual tour of Europe. In Barcelona, you can explore the Modernista architecture of Antoni Gaudí  at Park GuellCasa Mila, and of course, La Sagrada Familia. I've written about many Gaudi sites. If you want to know more, check out my Barcelona page. And don’t forget to stop at the peaceful Park Ciutadella.


Continue west to Madrid and explore Plaza Mayor at the city’s center. Then, dedicate some time to the arts as you admire the collections of Velázquez, Goya and more at the Prado Museum. The Prado also has a 360 virtual tour of its Rubens exhibition and an impressive online collection.


If you want more Spain in your life, I've got you covered. Here's my guide to visiting the Prado, my guide to the best virtual museums in Spain, my guide to all Antoni Gaudi's UNESCO-listed sites in Barcelona, and my guide to virtual tours in Barcelona.



the Vienna State Opera in Vienna Austria


10. Online Opera Performances In Europe


If you love opera, the Metropolitan Opera has just announced they will stream operas for free for a month. It will host “Nightly Met Opera Streams” in a Live HD series on its official website. Here's the streaming schedule.


The Royal Opera House in London also has a YouTube channel with a selection of famous operas and ballets, just a click away. And, if you can't be in elegant Vienna Austria to see opera, the Vienna State Opera has some selections on their website.





11. Online Andrew Lloyd Webber Musicals


Calling all music lovers. Andrew Lloyd Webber will be streaming his musicals for free online in a new series for West End and Broadway fans. Entitled "The Shows Must Go On," the series will start with the 2000 rendition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.


Dates for some of Webber's most notable shows, Evita, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera, haven't yet been announced. But music fans can see an orchestra from London’s West End perform “All I Ask of You." Webber recently tweeted himself playing the song.


Here's the YouTube channel for The Shows Must Go On.



the National Theater in London England


12. Online Theater in London


If you'd like to attend a theater performance virtually, the National Theater in London has you covered.


As part of the National Theater at Home program, full length productions of plays are uploaded to the National Theater YouTube channel every Thursday at 2:00 pm EST.


Shakespeare's Globe Theater has entered the streaming age as well. Tune in to the theater's YouTube channel to see a Shakespeare performance. Right now, Romeo and Juliet is streaming until the end of May. After that, other classics will follow.


The Globe dropped the paywall to stream some of its productions through the theater’s on-demand streaming service starting April 6. You can explore the Globe Theater on Google Arts & Culture too.

Claude Monet, Detail of The Water Lilies: Morning With Wllows


13. Google Arts & Culture Virtual Tours


Google Arts & Culture is a fantastic online app. It gathers together information from museums across the world. There are over 2500 virtual tours on Google Arts & Culture. Now you can roam around empty museums.


Google Arts & Culture is chock full of high resolution photographs of art, stories about culture, and bits of historic intrigue.


If you want to have a little fun, there's a feature that allows you to snap a selfie and find your fine art twin from their archived masterpieces. When I tried out this nifty option, I got Young Woman Reading a Book from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. At least I was "young."



Young Woman Reading Book from the Rijksmuseum


Google Arts & Culture also has a feature called Art Zoom. It's a blog with docents analyzing and explaining classic masterpieces in art history. The close up look at the details of the painting is intense and incredible. The most recent offering is a look at Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh.


You can also explore UNESCO heritage sites on Google Arts & Culture. There are scholarly articles, 3D tours, and articles about conservation efforts to save and preserve these sites.



you can tour the Eiffel Tower on Google Street View


14. Google Street View Virtual Tours


Google Arts & Culture also has scads of Google Street View options. Street View, by Google Maps, lets you get outside. It's a virtual representation of our surroundings on Google Maps. It consists of millions of panoramic 360 images.


If you like to snoop and spy, Google Street View is for you. You can spy on your neighbors, check out your childhood home, travel to Europe, or scout out the filming locations of your favorite shows.


You can check out thousands of museums, landmarks, and cultural sites here. For example, the Eiffel Tower is here. You can even visit 6 now closed art exhibitions on Google Street View here.



a Banksy piece depicting Queen Elizabeth as David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust persona in London


15. Street Art Virtual Tours


Are you a fan of street art? I know I am. If so, you have some options.


You can explore street murals by London artist Banksy on Google Arts & Culture. The Google Cultural Institute also offers "stories behind the art," featuring tales of street art across the world. And you can virtually explore 9 amazing street art murals in New York City.



the hypogeum (basement) of he Colosseum on Secret Door, which was the first image I saw when I clicked on the door


16. Secret Door Virtual Tours


Secret Door is a site where you open a virtual door and it transports you to one of the world's landmarks or hidden gems via Google Street View.


To my shock, the first time I opened the door I was staring at the hypogeum (basement) of the Colosseum in Rome, where I had just stood a month ago on my latest geographical cure. The next time I landed in Bali.


The site is a bit glitchy and slow. You may have to reload it to open the door again. But I still thought it was pretty interesting, with the element of surprise and crystal clear images.



Yellowstone National Park


17. National Parks Virtual Tours


The documentary National Parks Adventure is a great introduction to the National Park System in the United States. It was created to celebrate NPS' 100th birthday. The film features some of the nation's most popular parks -- Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Redwood National Park, etc.


You can also virtually tour 33 national parks on Google Earth. And Google Arts & Culture has an interactive exhibit entitled The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks. In the video experience, a park ranger guides you through each park. On the site, you can use Google Street View to take 360 virtual tours of the 113 national parks and monuments.



18. YouTube Travel Vloggers


YouTube gives you access to the world. You can take virtual walking tours of cities, tour important monuments, or get history lessons just by searching the site. I like the ProWalks, GeoBeat, Rick Steves' Europe, and Smarthistory channels. But here's a complete list of excellent travel vloggers.



Call My Agent, a charming dramedy on Netflix about agents and temperamental film stars


19. Wanderlusty TV Shows and Films


Another excellent way to travel vicariously, and swoon over drop dead beautiful locations, is via TV. If you've exhausted Netflix already, right now you can sign up for one month free of Amazon Prime.


Here are some of my favorite TV shows and movies that are travel related, take you to far off places, or use beautiful real life filming locations.


  1. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

  2. The World's Most Extraordinary Homes

  3. Departures

  4. Eat Pray Love

  5. Amelie

  6. Call My Agent

  7. Midnight in Paris

  8. Crazy Rich Asians

  9. Doc Martin

  10. Versailles

  11. Killing Eve

  12. Outlander

  13. Casino Royale

  14. Game of Thrones

  15. Street Food


If you want to focus on live streaming shows, here's my complete guide to my 22 favorite travel related TV shows to treat wanderlust and cabin fever. I also have a popular guide to the 30 best movies for art and culture lovers. If you love to investigate true crime intrigues, here's my guide to the best true crime documentaries.



Place Vendome in Paris, a filming location for the BBC show Killing Eve


20. Thematic Filming Locations Guides


Do you like filming location guides? I've got some to offer. Personally, I love to travel with a theme and track down real life locations that have inspired me online or in books.


If you're intrigued by the grandeur of the French king Louis XIV, here's my guide to filming locations for the Versailles series. If you prefer England and want to be transported to bucolic Cornwall, here's my guide to filming locations for Doc Martin.


If you're obsessed with the badass assassin Villanelle in Killing Eve (guilty!), I've written filming locations guides for the show for Europe and Paris. Season 3 starts soon and Killing Eve will travel to Barcelona, among other European hotspots.


If you're rewatching Game of Thrones, I've got a guide for all the filming locations the producers used in sunny Andalusia Spain. And a guide for all the real life castles used to film the show.



my current stash of books about Paris


21. Travel Books


Maybe you prefer to put your nose in a book rather than watch TV? I'm a bookworm myself. If so, I have a list of my 20 favorite books about Paris, all of which I just adored. They're guaranteed to get you in the mood for your next trip to France.


Here are some other travel books I've enjoyed that will allow you to experience or relive a destination from your own couch:


  1. Circe, Madeline Miller

  2. Masters of Rome, Colleen McCullough

  3. Vagabonding, An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Ralph Potts

  4. In a Sun Burned Country, Bill Bryson

  5. The Alchemist, Paul Coehlo

  6. A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

  7. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, Mark Adams

  8. Under the Tuscan Sun, Francis Mayes

  9. London, Edward Rutherford

  10. The Dharma Bus, Jack Kerouac



the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum in Boston, which was the subject of a huge art heist discussed in the Last Seen podcast


22. Travel and Culture Podcasts


I've been going on a a lot of long walks lately. And that means podcasts to keep my mind occupied.


Here are some of my favorites:


  1. Join Us in France

  2. What You Missed in History Class

  3. Roads and Kingdoms

  4. Travel with Rick Steves

  5. Art Curious

  6. Women Who Travel

  7. Code Switch

  8. Cultural Gabfest

  9. The Week in Art

  10. Last Seen


If you like arty podcasts, here's my complete guide to filling your ears with art.



Gordon Ramsey teaches cooking on MasterClass


23. MasterClass, Online Cultural Education


One cool thing to do if you're stuck at home is take a master class. MasterClass is a new online education platform. The world’s most successful people -- global leaders, creators, sport stars, political experts, and celebrities -- lecture and teach about how they became successful. These are busy people; this is information you

can't get elsewhere.


Masterclass isn't a free platform. Check here for the fees, which come in the form of an all access annual subscription like Netflix. But, if you're looking for inspiration and interested in the creative arts, it seems reasonable. Almost like a library card. You can learn writing from Margaret Atwood, photography from Annie Leibowitz, or cooking from Gordon Ramsey.





24. Take an Italian Cooking Class


If you're stuck at home, you might as well brush up on your cooking skills. If you love Italian food (who doesn't?) but can't get to Italy for a master class, you can now take one online with Nonna Nerina.


Nonna Nerina is an adorable 84 year old who's now the face of old fashioned Italian pasta. She's become an online sensation with her 2 hour cooking class. If you want to learn her secrets for the perfect pasta, sign up for her class on Nonna Nerina Live! You’ll even be emailed a list of necessary ingredients and equipment that you'll need.



the Alhambra in Granada Spain


25. Check out the UNESCO Sites


UNESCO is a United National agency dedicated to preserving the world's cultural and historic heritage. Right now, there are 981 sites considered to be "of outstanding universal value."


Many of these cultural sites -- like the Taj Mahal in India, the Alhambra in Spain, Machu Picchu in Peru, or the Palace of Versailles in France -- have online virtual tours.


Here's my guide to 40 of my favorite UNESCO sites in Europe that you can also tour virtually.


If you'd like to visit the best online travel and culture sites, pin it for later.








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