One morning during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, after I woke up from a dream about going to Target (because I really miss going to Target, but I’m being a socially responsible person and I don’t NEED to go to Target so I’m not), I was cruising around on my phone and made a discovery – Google Arts and Culture is freaking amazing.
You can access it online or you can install the app to scroll around on your phone while you’re tucked into the comfort of your bed.
Maybe you already know about this online resource, but if you don’t, I’m here to give you the rundown of what exactly it is and why it’s worth checking out. It’s worth it anytime, but if you’re reading this article while we’re all hanging out in our houses and social distancing, then it’s especially worth it. Whether you’re looking for a way to engage the kids for a bit, or whether you’re bored and want to learn something new, or whether you fondly remember traveling and want to step back into your memories…well, read on because this app/website has a bit of all of that.
Google Arts and Culture is filled with museum virtual tours, photos of places and people around the world, 360-degree views of cool places, street views, and all kinds of other virtual experiences. And they’re all free and don’t have huge crowds to dodge! Especially if you explore a place you’ve already been, that last part is really nice. Also it kind of makes me want to be one of the people who wear a camera on their head for Google and get to walk around these places while they’re empty.
There are all kinds of places to visit so you can just browse around, but if you want a few awesome ideas of where to start (because there are seriously so many!), here are some of my favorites!
Start with Some Awesome Museums
The museums were the best of Google Arts and Culture from what I found – there are so many where you can “walk” around the insides of the museums as well as see photos of tons of exhibits. Below are some of my favorites and some of the largest museums in the world, but for the full collection, you can explore all the virtual tours here.
I didn’t know anything about this museum when we went about five years ago, but I daresay that I enjoyed it more than the Louvre. I couldn’t even tell you why. The collection includes Medieval art, pieces from Amsterdam’s colonial years, and an amazing selection of Renaissance art, right on up to some more modern exhibits. Look for famous pieces like Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” (which is probably easier to see in a virtual tour than in person because it’s always surrounded by huge crowds) as well as “The Threatened Swan” by Jan Asselijn. Both are close to each other in the Gallery of Honour.
The British Museum is one of my favorite places in the entire world. It’s always free to visit, which is amazing given just how much you can see here. You can’t see every single artifact on the virtual tour, but you get a great overview, from entering into the lobby with its soaring glass ceiling to clicking around Egyptian antiquities to viewing the beautiful, but controversial Elgin Marbles. (Why are they controversial? They were originally located on the Parthenon in Athens’ Acropolis, but they are now in London. There’s a long and complicated history there.)
You may or may not know this, but Berlin is one of the best museum cities in the world. It just has so many (as in, more than 200). But if I had to choose just one for you to tour virtually, I’d pick the Altes Museum. Sure, yeah, I’m a sucker for antiquities, but come on! They’re awesome! If you enjoyed Ancient Egypt at any point in your history classes, you’ll likely see several pieces you’ll recognize.
You Can Visit Really Amazing Places
Of course, you can always hop into Google Street View and cruise around and look at other places. It’s a good way to relax or kill some time. I love visiting places I’ve been that way! But to see someplace new, the Arts and Culture places directory is the way to go. It takes you right to the good stuff. Again, there’s just so many places to go all over the world. Once you start exploring around, you could spend a good long while.
I found this one peachy keen. I’ve been to Paris a few times, but I have yet to go up the Eiffel Tower because EVERYONE goes up the Eiffel Tower and I’d sooner be out exploring than standing in line for five hours. So I’ve never actually seen the view, but now, with the help of my trusty Google, I have! Stand at the top and walk around the platform all by your lonesome and enjoy a virtual view of the Seine and buildings going out into the distance. Most Parisian buildings are all the same height, creating a very uniform look to the city.
This one is really just a 360-view of standing right in between two of the three giant pyramids on the Giza Plateau, but it’s still very cool. You can see people right at the base of the largest pyramid to really give a perspective of just how big these structures are!
I was hoping this virtual tour would go inside this notorious prison, but alas, it just allows you to walk around the outside. Still, to read about what it’s like, Suzi visited Alcatraz with her son and wrote about the experience.
Street View Round Ups
Google has also been kind enough to do a few round-ups of what you can find on Google Maps, so if you have a specific interest, these round ups can be a lot of fun to explore. These are not virtual tours, but cool things that have been captured on street view (and who doesn’t love cruising around on street view? Answer: People who have not yet discovered enough free time to cruise around on street view!) Love Banksy? There are 12 Banksy murals you can view on street view. Likewise, explore street art or public art in the same way.
You can explore Machu Picchu without having to deal with the altitude or hike up (although hiking is the fun part!). You can’t walk through every building or every pathway, but you can explore some. Although, the limits on this one just really make me want to go to Machu Picchu more than I already do…someday when Little Monster can go with us and enjoy the experience.
Generally, if you visit Stonehenge, you take a bus ride out into the middle of rural England and then have to stand at a distance behind some ropes (although, many years ago when I visited, I was able to find a private sunrise tour where we got to stand in the middle of the stones for an hour and it was pretty cool!). However, if you take this virtual tour, you can “stand” right in the center of the circle and walk around inside the circle and outside of it, where you can see outer stones, grooves in the earth, and other coolness.
Places Kids Will Love to See
So I admit a lot of places on this list are places I enjoy zooming around on my phone or computer because I’m housebound and bored, but this site is about families so it’s only fair I include some places for the kids. If you’ve got kids, check out these places.
Maybe you’re one of the unlucky people out there who had to cancel a Disney vacation due to this virus. It pales in comparison to actually visiting, but you can wander around both Disneyland and Walt Disney World with Google Maps. Click-stroll your way past Dole Whip and popcorn stands, crowds with their faces blurred out (just a little creepy, but…like…in a good way), or your favorite rides. It’s especially fun if you’ve been before and want a little dose of nostalgia.
If your kids are a little older, and especially if they’ve read Anne Frank’s diary, taking a virtual tour of the Secret Annex is the next best thing to actually visiting (and in some ways better because I’ve been there, and let me tell you it’s hard to really take in what happened there while you’re shoulder to shoulder with tons of other people trying to take it in). The tour lets you see the house, but also has lots of photos of the Frank family, photos that were on Anne’s walls, and more.
Growing up, this was my favorite museum in Washington DC. We lived nearby and would go to visit the museums a few times a year and when I could talk my dad out of going to the Air and Space Museum, this was inevitably the next stop. There are all kinds of things in the museum’s collection, including gem stones and animals galore, but really what we’re all here for are the dinosaur bones. Brush up on your dino names!
Historical Figures Do your kids like learning about people more than places? There’s a full range of people to learn about complete with photos – from Michelle Obama to Mussolini.