Home COVID-19 Local + International Museums You Can Virtually Explore From Home

Local + International Museums You Can Virtually Explore From Home

by Yiwei Gu
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Virtual tours for museums are not a new thing. Wanderlust would argue that nothing compares to standing in front of Michelangelo’s David, completely awestruck at what is deemed the perfect human form carved out of gleaming white marble. But during this unique time when borders are closed and non-essential travel is discouraged, museum visits have become a remote luxury from a {not-so} distant past. This does not mean, however, that we should be deprived of art and beauty, which can be a great remedy for any boredom that settles in during the seemingly endless work-from-home days.

Many museums around the world offer virtual tours of galleries on their websites. The Google Arts Project has also partnered with museums around the world to offer virtual tours for anyone to access from the comfort of their home. A visitor can browse a museum’s collection by genre and/or time period, and click into individual works of art to examine its details and read its stories. One can also “walk” around the museum — by clicking and scrolling the computer mouse, we can step back and forth, zoom in and out, the same way we browse street views on Google Maps. 

With that being said, below is a list of museums around the world that are great to explore virtually {and in person, when the time is right}. Read on to find out where to check out masterpieces, re-examine old favorites, and get inspired for your next grand tour.

Hoboken Historical Museum {1301 Hudson Street, Hoboken}

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{Photo credit: @victoriamoyeno}

We’d be remiss not to mention our own local favorite on this list. The Hoboken Historical Museum offers virtual visitors the chance to explore the museum + Hoboken’s history online right from the comfort of their homes. Learn about famous films that were made right here in the Mile Square, all about the role Hoboken played during WWI, and more rich local history.

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Palace Museum {4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng, Beijing, China}

The Forbidden City is a must-go for those who visit China. The palace complex served as both the imperial residence and central government site from the 1400s to the early 1900s, and now houses the sprawling Palace Museum {enter a virtual tour here}. In recent years, the museum has been actively expanding its digital footprint to engage culture lovers of all ages around the world. On the museum’s website {don’t worry, there is an English version}, visitors can virtually explore the hundreds of halls, courtyards, and gardens across this 180-acre space. Don’t be intimidated by the occasional Chinese characters that pop up around the navigation buttons — these work exactly the same way as those on Google street views.

To take a closer look at the thousands of paintings, bronze wares, and other artworks the museum holds, {the most recent audit counted 1.8 million+ pieces of art, but not all of them are on exhibition}, there is also a collections section to explore. The artworks are organized by art form and time period and can be searched easily by drop-down menus and keywords.

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The Vatican Museum {00120 Vatican City}

No, the Vatican Museum is not on Google. Fortunately, the Vatican website has its own virtual tour {enter here} experience that allows visitors to appreciate its thousands of pieces of art collections. No matter how many times one has visited the Vatican, it’s hard to not feel awestruck by the epic scenes in Raphael’s Rooms. One can also examine the Book of Genesis scenes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel frame-by-frame, without suffering from a neck ache from looking up for too long. Also make sure to check out some masterpieces that are often neglected by busy and tired tourists, such as Aldobrandini Wedding, an ancient Roman painting depicting a very emotionally nuanced scene.

Dunhuang Grottoes {Jiuquan, Gansu, China} 

The Dunhuang Grottoes {enter virtual tours here} a group of five hundred rock-cut temples in the Gobi Desert, are located in an oasis at a religious and cultural crossroads. The 400+ caves house some of the most brilliant Buddhist art spanning a period of a 1,000 years starting from 400 A.D. Since the 2000s, the museum, together with a group of research institutions around the world, has been working hard on an ambitious project to create a digital archive of the site, partly to mitigate the dangers that the heavy tourist volume imposes on the fragile thousand-year-old frescos, especially from the build-up of humidity and carbon dioxide. This is not the typical take-a-picture-of-the-painting type of digitalization virtual tour, either. The project uses billion-pixel-resolution cameras, and it takes 20 minutes to record a 9-square-meter-area. Now on the project’s website, people around the world can appreciate the 4,400 square meters of frescos in 30 caves that are already digitized — a tiny fraction of the total amount of art. You can virtually “walk” into each cave, look around, and appreciate the dazzling colors, intricate brushstrokes, and elegant portraits covering the entire ceiling and walls. The site also has close-ups of the frescoes that enable visitors to observe the details of these paintings.

Van Gogh Museum {Museumplein 6 1071 DJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands}

What makes Van Gogh Museum virtual experience {enter here} unique is that in addition to a large collection of Van Gogh painting, including some of the most iconic ones such as “The Bedroom,” it offers amazingly detailed images of more than 160 artworks, which allows visitors to really zoom in and wonder at the free-flow brushstrokes and the masterful use of color. Some highlights include The Potato Eaters, the iris and sunflower series, and the wide canvas paintings {many done during the last few years of his life} such as The Wheat Field with Crows, which, taken together, offers a glimpse into how the painter’s style and mentality evolved at various stages of his life

Musée de l’Orangerie {Jardin Tuileries, 75001, Paris, France} 

Musée de l’Orangerie {enter virtual tour here} is known for its small but exquisite impressionism art collection. The best of the virtual experience, however, is to see the rooms housing Monet’s water lilies. Eight huge panels, each two meters high and 90 meters long, are arranged in two natural-light-filled oval rooms forming the shape of an infinity sign. The dreamy colors, flowing light, and lofty space can make your mind wander, even through a screen. 

The British Museum {Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London, United Kingdom}

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The collection at The British Museum {enter virtual tour here} is so large that visitors can easily be overwhelmed by the offers. Using the museum’s beautifully designed, futurist looking, and extremely fun virtual tour page, visitors can easily explore what’s good in each time period on every continent, and dive into the pieces that intrigue them. Take a look at the original Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles {once part of the Parthenon, now in London}, and more.

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Uffizi Galleries {Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze, Florence, Italy}

Make sure to take a virtual tour of Uffizi {enter here}, even if you have been, even after the travel bans are lifted, because, well, it’s Uffizi, the arguably the best museum for Renaissance art. The collection is so big, the building so sprawling, and, during the busy seasons, the space can be so crowded, that visitors barely have time to stand in front of a painting and closely examine its details. The digital collection enables visitors to take up-close looks at some of the most stunning works of Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, and, particularly, Botticelli, whose best works can be found at the museum. Other than these most famous artworks, the digital museum also has a very interesting collection of the sketches and studies by Federico Barocci, another Renaissance painter, which gives visitors a sense of the process of making art.

Pergamonmuseum {Bodestraße 1-3, 10178, Berlin, Germany}

The most unique experience at Berlin’s Pergamonmuseum {enter virtual tour here} is to see the ancient monumental buildings such as the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and the Market Gate of Miletus. These grand ancient monuments, some dating back to as early as the 5th century B.C., were initially erected by old civilizations in Anatolia or Mesopotamia. They were then destroyed over centuries of war, natural disasters, and social turmoil. In the 19th century, waves of historians, explorers, and archeologists went to ancient sites. They excavated the original bricks, shipped them to Berlin, and reassembled these monuments piece by piece to restore their original grandeur. Visitors can walk around the floor, and get a sense of the breathtaking scales of these ancient structures using a virtual tour. Additionally, through curated “stories” such as “What happened in Pergamon,” you can get a sweeping, quick overview of the histories of these monuments, and take a close look at the intricate details of the sculptures on them. 

Museu de Arte de São Paulo {Av. Paulista, 1578 – Bela Vista, São Paulo, Brazil}

This is Brazil’s first modern museum {enter virtual tour here}. The interior design is unique in itself. The artworks are displayed in rows of glass panels in the middle of a spacious hall, creating a dreamlike experience for visitors as if they are traveling through the wide span of time and geography the collection covers. The exhibition features works from the middle ages to the 20th century and includes the works of international artists such as Renoir and Gauguin. What’s more interesting is that there are also a large number of masterpieces by Latin American artists, which gives visitors a taste of how the styles and subjects of the old and new world influenced each other over the past several hundred years.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum {1660 Park Avenue, San Jose, California}

Ancient Egypt, with its perfectly preserved temples and tombs, along with its enigmatic language and art has never failed to fascinate us. It’s a pity that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo barely has any digital presence, even with Google Art. Surprisingly, California’s Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum {enter virtual tour here}, a small education and research institution, offers an exceptional virtual experience that matches in quality any virtual tours offered by any more famous establishments. The museum has a proprietary virtual platform that allows visitors to wander around its exhibition galleries and zoom in on the treasures that we have been reading about since grade school. The most interesting part of the virtual tour, however, is the ancient tomb with its amazingly colorful murals.  

Guggenheim Museum {1071 5th Avenue, New York City, New York}

The Guggenheim {enter virtual tour here} is a bit pricey to enter on any given day. A full-price ticket to enter costs a hefty $25 and during busy hours, the visit can feel rushed. Using Google’s tool, you can not only “walk” up and down Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous spiral ramp, but also look at it from “weird” angles that cannot be reached at the actual site. Of course, visitors can also browse the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions featuring work from the impressionist, post-impressionist, and contemporary periods.

Which of these museums will you be virtually exploring this weekend? Let us know in the comments!


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