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Culture for the Self-Quarantined: Virtual Museums, Historic Landmarks, Concerts, and More

Just because we have to be socially distanced, it doesn’t mean we have to be bored. Many cultural institutions have long offered virtual tours for those who can’t make the trek, and more legendary landmarks are adding those kinds of activities now. Whether you’re an opera buff, a museum aficionado, or a history lover, these online experiences can help satisfy your traveler’s curiosity for now—and give you ideas about spots to visit in person later. Know of any other cool virtual tours to keep us travelers happy? Tell us about them in the comments. And don’t miss our guide to virtual outdoor adventures too.

Historic Landmarks

The best part of all this virtual touring may just be the lack of crowds. Set your alarm for sunrise and head to the Taj Mahal, or into Angkor Archeological Park — you’ll have Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and other temples to yourself. Bonus: no heat and humidity. (That said, there is a way to visit Angkor without the hordes in real life too.)

Machu Picchu’s virtual tour should hold you over until you can get to Peru in real life. Click on the map to get a glimpse of the Inca Trail or of the surrounding mountains from the Intiwatana, an ancient stone structure used as an astronomical clock of sorts.

Stonehenge’s website re-creates the mysterious ring of stones, and if you click on one of the image’s marked hot spots, info cards or videos pop up with deeper information.

Atop the Acropolis in Athens, armchair travelers can scramble over ancient rocks to take in the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and other notable spots, or zoom in on details they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get close to. The 360-degree views alone are worth the “trip.”

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower should also be on your virtual travel list—especially since no stairs are required. You can walk fully around the observation deck and see Paris from on high.


Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre is one of many museums you can tour virtually. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

Google has been teaming up with museums around the world for years to create virtual walk-throughs via its Arts & Culture hub (also available as an app on both Android and iPhone), using the same technology as its “street view” option on Google Maps. By now the options number more than 500. You can climb the famous circular ramp of the Guggenheim, zoom in to admire the artist’s thick brush strokes at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, skip the lines to admire Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, or wander the rich galleries of the Palace of Versailles (if you have a VR headset you can visit Versailles that way too). And since Google’s catalog of partner museums is extensive, you can also discover lesser-known museums and the gems they house, such as South Korea’s Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art and the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum.

Many museums have cool digital features on their own websites too. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has been upping its online game for the past few years by making more and more of its collection visible online, introducing behind-the-scenes videos and creating special stories, themes, and social media projects. The Tate also displays a lot of its collection online and presents multimedia features like video interviews with artists and audio descriptions of notable works. TheLouvrehas its own walk-through tours of various galleries. In Italy, the Vatican Museum offers virtual walk-throughs—and, yes, we know everyone would rather gape at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in person, but at least this way, there’s no stiff neck.

Concerts, Theater, Talks, and Books

NYC’s Metropolitan Opera is presenting videos of its full performances, including Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia

NYC’s Metropolitan Opera is presenting videos of its full performances, including Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Photo: Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera has shut its doors for now, but every night at 7:30 pm, it will stream free performances from its Live in HD series. Just show up at the opera’s homepage at 7:30 pm to see a previously recorded masterpiece (invite some friends; you can Zoom for drinks during intermission). Each show will be available for 23 hours, and the lineup includes Puccini’s La Bohème, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Similarly, the Berlin Philharmonic is making its archive of previously recorded live performances free through March 31. Check the orchestra’s website for instructions on how to use the voucher code BERLINPHIL to register and get complimentary access. For a full list of streaming classical music performances, bookmark this page from WKAR, Michigan State University’s public broadcasting station.

As the global lockdown continues, more and more cultural organizations are offering online diversions. The Vienna State Opera is presenting some of its performances, and the Jewish Museum Vienna has created Spotify playlists of music from the 1920s and 30s

There are plenty of ways to catch shows outside the classical genre too. StageIt is a website that showcases live, intimate performances by artists. Viewers buy tickets (prices are set by the artists), then tune in to watch the musician play from wherever they happen to be—at home, backstage, in the studio.  In the past they have streamed sets by VIPs like Bonnie Raitt and Jimmy Buffet, you’re more likely to discover names that are completely new to you.

New York’s 92nd Street Y is a respected arts and learning destination, known for its classes as well as its top-notch series of talks with artists, writers, thinkers, actors, and musicians. Now man talks from its archives are free online. Highlights include James Gandolfini reading a Maurice Sendak story, Neil deGrasse Tyson in conversation with Bill Nye, plus talks with Kirk Douglas, Malcolm Gladwell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and the Bon Appetite Test Kitchen staff.

Many theaters around the world are also providing online entertainment. For instance, on the Public Theater’s website, you can watch a recording of last summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing, as well as past musical performances from its Joe’s Pub Live series. They’re even issuing fun social media challenges, like asking everyone to record and share their interpretation of Shakespeare passages.

Today Tix, a discount ticket app that operates in many cities, put together great lists of where to stream musicals and how to watch theater around the world, including London’s Royal National Theatre, which is uploading a past performance to YouTube every Thursday and Broadway World’s Living Room Concerts.

Broadway fans can also tune into YouTube for “Stars In The House”, a concert/interview show hosted by theater maven Seth Rudetsky and his producer husband James Wesley. It features a variety of stage stars and airs every day at 2 pm ET and 8 pm ET, a nod to traditional curtain times.

Attention, Andrew Lloyd Webber fans! Every Friday starting April 3,  he is streaming one of his musicals for free on the new YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On! The series starts off with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (starring Donny Osmond and Richard Attenborough)) and, as Weber says in this intro video, will include his flop By Jeeves.

Theater fans can also subscribe to Broadway HD, a Netflix-like subscription service that’s $9/month, with a free seven-day trial. The site’s library includes a mix of recent hits and classics, such as Cats, Kinky Boots, Patrick Stewart’s MacBeth, and Angela Lansbury’s Driving Miss Daisy.

To host your own movie night with friends, you can use NetflixParty It’s an easy-to-install browser extension for Chrome that allows viewers to sync whatever they’re watching and make the night more social. It was developed by an Airbnb engineer back in 2015, and is not surprisingly a lot more popular lately.

If you’re a reader, the Kindle store always has a selection of free classic books.  For more academic types, Cambridge Publishing is offering 700 online editions of books. The free reading period is until the end of May, and includes some Christian and theological works. Audible is offering free kids audio books as long as schools are closed, and some authors of children’s books are reading their works and doing literary activities with kids online.

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