While the world is experiencing a never-before level of stasis due to lockdown regulations and similar pandemic precautions, those of us who love travelling have been left wanting, yearning for the days in which we will be able to once again walk through a packed airport with a spring in our step. Until then, we can at least let our eyes wander, thanks to the many wonderful virtual tours now available online. 

Cultural venues around the world have opened their doors to curious digital visitors, but the choice is so vast that sometimes it might be hard to know where to go first. This is why we compiled a brief list of our personal favourites. Hold on to your armchair and cup of tea (or wine, if today is that sort of day) and come with us on a whirlwind tour around the globe.

 

1Sydney, Australia

Here's a good reason not to hate Mondays any longer: every week on this day Sydney Opera House offers semi-live interactive digital tours via Zoom, where a guide will connect with you in real time and accompany you while watching a video that brings you around the iconic venue. You need to book in advance and the tour lasts for about 45 minutes. Although it's the only one on our list that is not free – it cost AU$18 (about £10) – you only need one ticket per device, so your whole family can have a peek at who might be rehearsing on stage or ask as many questions as you want as the tour goes on. 

2Beijing, China

The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City is housed in what was once the Emperor's most sacred home, at the very heart of the Chinese capital. Their free virtual tours collection gives you a chance to see those rooms and gardens that were once only for selected few. Once you click on your tour of choice, a 360 panoramic picture will open up on your screen, and you can move your mouse across it to turn in whichever direction you prefer. Arrows in strategic positions on the screen will lead you into different rooms and corridors, that you can explore at your own pace. More options are on the bottom bar, where you can skip directly to the next step or even activate your VR set. Our personal favourite must be the Treasure Gallery – just for the sheer amount of gorgeous artefacts that you can see right up and close, thanks to handy magnifying lens buttons. On the walls there are signs in English, but pop-up descriptions are mostly in Chinese; they are not very long, though, so it's nothing that a separate Google Translate tab cannot handle.

3Rome, Italy

No world tour could be complete without a stop in the Eternal City. Choosing between the many historical and cultural landmarks is an impossible task, however if we have to, our pick must be the Sistine Chapel. Since its completion in 1483, Michelangelo's masterpiece has inspired endless artists and composers, from Palestrina to Mozart. Head to the Musei Vaticani website for a photographic tour of this splendid chamber. By clicking on the screen, you can move in every direction and admire the work at a far closer range than you would if you were to be there in person: you can actually zoom in all the way to the ceiling to admire the beauty of the intricate details. If you want to see more of the museums, the site offers more than ten different free virtual tours for you to enjoy.

4Madrid, Spain

The eclectic Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum offers many free virtual tours and video content, but opera lovers might enjoy two exhibitions in particular. The first one explores the world of Carmen through 20 works from their Spanish collections. A pdf document explains the exhibition in detail, and you can see the artworks in the space through a panoramic image. The tour itself might not be amongst the most interactive on this list, but seeing the pieces in the gallery surely adds an extra level of immersion to the curators' work. The second exhibition – which had been originally organised to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the first performance of Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the Teatro Real –  showcases over 40 works of art exploring the interest in Japanese fashion that grabbed the West in the late 19th century. The virtual tour consists of panoramic photos that can be navigated in every direction, and some magnifying buttons allow you to see selected art pieces up close. Among the art on display are photographs of geishas used for the design of the sets and props for Puccini's premiere, as well as the original costume designs by Joaquín Xaudaró.

5Paris, France

The iconic Louvre Museum in Paris has a healthy selection of free virtual tours available, to explore highlights from their collection, but dance lovers might particularly enjoy "The Body in Movement" exhibition. The tour is available in both English and French and you can move through the panoramic pictures of the galleries by using the arrows on the screen. Information buttons next to selected pieces open up explanation cards offering interesting insight into the artwork on display. Just make sure to click on the bottom bar of the screen and select the language of your choice before clicking to find out more, though, or the information will be in French by default. Our favourite piece? Degas' little bronze dancer, of course. 

6Hamburg, Germany

The Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle might be closed to visitors for the time being, but thanks to a series of 28 short videos, chaperoned by expert guides and subtitled in English, you can still experience the breathtaking architecture, sweeping views over the city and even enjoy a few behind the scenes peeks in places not normally open to the public, such as the artists' dressing rooms. You can even get a look at the Elbphilharmonie's toilets, which are just as aesthetically curated as everything else in this stunning venue. 

7London, United Kingdom

The National Gallery offers two virtual tours of their rooms at the moment, and one of them, the Sainsbury Wing tour, has an extra layer of immersion to it because it can be enjoyed also by using a VR set. The museum partnered with virtual reality firm Oculus to allow visitors to use their own headset to wander around the rooms as they would do normally (just make sure to mind your pets and potted plants!) Even if you don't own such technology, the tour is one of the most interactive and detailed we have seen. A plethora of information buttons and maps allow you to spend as much time as you wish enjoying each piece. The visit – at whatever level of interaction you feel comfortable with – includes over 270 masterpieces from Early Renaissance painters, spread over 16 rooms. 

8New York, United States of America

We could not skip a visit to Carnegie Hall, especially when there are such interesting videos to be enjoyed that bring you right into the middle of the action. This performance of "Cool", from West Side Story might look like any other Youtube video you have ever seen, but it's actually a fully interactive one: just tap or drag your mouse on the video itself to turn your visual around in any direction and enjoy whichever side of this performance you might be more curious about. Not your cup of tea? Then you can head on stage with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin performing Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt Suite no. 1. Once again, don't forget to tap or click your way around to feel truly as you were there as one of the orchestra.

9Alexandria, United States of America

8th March is International Women's Day, so that's one more reason to pay a visit to the National Women's History Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. This interesting museum offers a series of online resources – including oral history in the form of audio interviews – to learn about trailblazing women of the past and the present. Of particular interest is the virtual exhibition about the life and career of Maria Tallchief, considered by many as America's first major Prima Ballerina. She was also the first Native American in this role and her contributions to ballet have been hailed as revolutionary. 

10São Paulo, Brazil

To finish our world tour with a veritable art binge, we decided to head to the Google Arts and Culture portal for the MASP – Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand. All you have to do is click on the little human icon on the top right of the screen and you will be instantly teleported into a room with artworks as far as the eye can go. Clicking on selected pieces – featured at the bottom of the screen – will open up individual information cards. Our personal favourite? It must be the Picasso portrait of Swiss-American musician Suzanne Bloch, a pioneer of the revival of Early Music during the 20th century.

This was only a brief dip into the ocean of virtual cultural experiences currently available online, but we hope to have inspired you to look for more in your spare time. We might all be staying put to help the healing of the world, but as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “I know but one freedom, and that is the freedom of the mind.” Let's let our mind wander the four corners of the world then, and let's take heart in the knowledge that the day in which our feet will follow is not too far away.