10 Best Virtual Museum Tours to Take from Home
With roughly 20% of the world currently in some state of lockdown, cultural organizations like museums and galleries were some of the first to close their doors for the safety of the public. Although many are becoming acquainted with online exhibitions and tours for the first time, museums have been digitizing their collections and developing digital experiences for many years.
For nearly twenty years, tech giant Google has been working on an astonishingly ambitious project, partnering with over 2,000 leading museums and archives all over the world. By downloading the Google Arts & Culture app for iOS or Android or by visiting artsandculture.google.com, you can access thousands of works of art and antiquity right from your smartphone. These include digitized museum collections, curated exhibitions and 360° views of beautiful architecture – all from the comfort of your sofa, and most importantly, without the crowds. But looking beyond Google, many museums have created their own digital experiences. And with more museums turning to digital solutions, this may be the time to step back and consider exactly what it means to be a museum in 2020.
To help flex your cultural muscle virtually, our editors have selected some of the best museum and cultural experiences from across the world — both from well known and loved institutions, as well as some lesser-known hidden gems.
1. The Natural History Museum
Location: London, United Kingdom
The Natural History Museum is one of the most popular museums in the UK, as well as one of the most developed and richest experiences on Google Arts & Culture. Their interactive experience of the natural history of the world, narrated by historians who work at the museum, is well worth a look.
2. The Guggenheim Bilbao
Location: Bilbao, Spain
Renowned as much for its Frank Gehry building as it is for the artwork it houses, The Guggenheim Bilbao has become a global destination since it opened in 1997. Google Arts and Culture’s introduction to the museum includes Bending Gravity, a short film that showcases a freerunner’s exploration of the museum.
3. The Vatican Museum
Location: Vatican City
On a typical day at the Sistine Chapel, the space is crowded; requiring timed admission and often offering an elbow-to-elbow viewing experience. Instead, enjoy 360° views (and a solo tour) of the masterful artistic achievement, which includes none other than Michelangelo’s iconic masterpiece, The Last Judgment (1535–1541), available on the museum’s website.
4. Kyoto National Museum
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto National Museum is one of the largest and oldest museums in Japan. Google Arts & Culture’s museum experience features both temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection and the narrative experience created by the museum gives an in-depth understanding of the various tropes of Japanese art and antiquarian objects.
5. State Hermitage Museum
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
Located in St Petersburg, Russa’s State Hermitage Museum is the second-largest art museum in the world. Although the museum is currently closed, you can take a cinematic journey through the museum on YouTube. The digital experience, set to music by contemporary composers and brought to life by ballet dancers, explores 588 masterpieces. You can also explore works of art from the museum in detail through Google Arts & Culture, but only a small portion of the museum’s vast collection has been uploaded to-date.
6. The Broad Museum
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Location: Los Angeles, California (United States)
The Broad Museum, one of several contemporary art museums based in Los Angeles, has approached the lockdown by curating unique digital experiences on Instagram that marry sound with specific pieces from their collection. A series called Infinite Drone accompanies time spent in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room with music from contemporary composers. Another series, called Interplay: Poetry and Art, pairs works of art from the museum’s collection with spoken word.
7. The Louvre Museum
Location: Paris, France
The Louvre Museum’s proprietary digital experience allows people to navigate much of the museum, from corridors and entrance ways through to exhibition halls. Perhaps you’ll navigate your way straight to a crowd-free Rembrandt in the Petite Galerie, or maybe your digital wandering will allow you to discover a hidden treasure? This unique opportunity to experience the halls of the Louvre solo is one to take advantage of.
8. National Palace Museum, Taiwan
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei City’s National Palace Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of Chinese artifacts and artworks. The museum digitized 70,000 images from its collections back in 2017, and now you can also walk the premises of the museum (virtually).
9. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Location: Seoul, South Korea
This well-documented museum on Google Arts & Culture features an immersive digital experience covering both current exhibitions and archive collection material. It also offers 360° views of its architecture.
10. Cliffs of Moher
Location: County Clare, Ireland
Many people are missing their dose of culture, but hopefully this wildcard entry on our list will sate another aspect of many people’s lives that has been missing lately: crashing waves, great heights, and one breathtakingly expansive vista. Thankfully, experiencing the grandeur and natural wonder of the Ireland’s iconic Cliffs of Moher has been captured in stunning detail online — complete with a 360° view. And, if you happen to have a set of VR goggles, you can find yourself fully immersed in the atmosphere of the gusty cliffs.
There is a science-backed link between experiencing art and its ability to lift mood and positively change human emotion. Thankfully, during this period of lockdown, the power of digital has made an indelible impact on the wellness of audiences around the world, helping people to discover culture at their fingertips. But along with the exciting developments in technology that allow physical spaces to transcend the digital sphere, some of the world’s newest and most exciting museums are purely digital museums. Some of those worth a look include the Women of Kazakhstan, a museum that exists only on social media and affectionately documents the important role of women in Kazakh society, and the Museum of Broken Relationships, into which anybody can submit an object that represents a failed relationship, accompanied by its story.