Resources to Keep Traveling, Learning, and Relaxing (From Your Couch)

Posted about 3 years ago by Alexandra Zukas

So you’re homebound.  You’re stuck on your couch, which is fantastic in small amounts but not so appealing now couch potato-ing is your main activity.  Luckily, you live in the age of the internet, so your brain doesn’t have to stay in your living room. Many museums, cultural sites, and even national parks are taking their resources online so that you can keep enjoying them (in your pajamas).  You can now take a virtual tour of the Van Gogh Museum (while eating ice cream out of a tub) or stroll through the gardens of Versailles (without having bathed in days, just like Louis XIV!).  If neither of those strike your fancy, check out the list below–there are tons of activities to keep you learning and traveling, virtually.

Do you like the great outdoors?  Now experience it without mosquitoes!

  • Aerial America is the Smithsonian Channel’s series of aerial travelogues, recently made free to all viewers.  The series covers all 50 states (even Ohio!), and there are some bonus episodes on scenic small towns.  I won’t be binge-watching all of these (sorry, Ohio), but this is still a great way to visit some of my favorite national haunts.
  • The Hidden World of the National Parks lets you explore five of North America’s greatest natural wonders: Alaska’s Kenai Fjords, Hawaiian volcanoes, New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns, Utah’s Bryce Canyon, and Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park.  Each tour is guided by a park ranger and features movable, panoramic video–all the better to peer down glacier crevasses.
  • Do a virtual dive with National Marine Sanctuaries!  They offer both video and image-based dives.  There’s something here for everyone: do you like shipwrecks in Thunder Bay?  Do you enjoy watching goofy sea lions? Cool. National Marine Sanctuaries has you covered.
  • The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma might be a good choice for the botanist or naturalist in your life.  Their virtual hike provides a wealth of information, including guided tours, short videos of some of the prairie’s most stunning sites, and tags naming the plants in view. 
  • Finally get around to visiting Yellowstone National Park!  The map can take you to numerous trails in the park, like the famous Geyser Basin (although I want to know what Fountain Paint Pot is all about).

How about some interesting historic sites, so you can learn some stuff?

  • Click on the “virtual visit” button to tour the creepy-cool Catacombs of Paris, featuring crazy walls built out of skulls and yet more walls built out of skulls!  
  • Take a trip to six sites in Italy, voted “arguably most beautiful place on the planet” by me, the only person within shouting distance!  Google Arts & Culture is really pulling its weight these days, taking you on a whirlwind tour of Pompeii, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Milan Duomo, Pisa, Venetian canals, the Roman Pantheon, and–of course–the Colosseum.  What you will miss out on: really great pasta, which you can possibly get in your kitchen anyway.
  • Yeah, so we’re back for more Italy here with the Vatican–but this is a pretty impressive resource.  It packs in tours of over two dozen museums and archaeological sites, all for your (or your kids’) learning pleasure.
  • Voices of Alabama is actually an oral history project, but one that features videos, timelines, and a map of Alabama’s civil rights sites, like the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church, a site on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.
  • If you want something closer to home, a number of Virginia’s great local sites have set up online exhibits and tours recently, including the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum.

DO YOU LIKE ART MUSEUMS (and I guess other kinds of museums, too)?

  • All six seasons of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s brilliant Artist Project are currently available on its website!  These episodes feature artists discussing some of their favorite pieces at the Met.  Kehinde Wiley, the artist behind the VMFA’s Rumors of War, gives a talk here about John Singer Sargent.
  • The Frick Museum is a mainstay for those of you who love European art.  Their online tour uses a handy and accessible map to get you moving through its galleries, stuffed with Vermeers, Turners, and the Manets.  Check out the Fragonard Room for some eye-wateringly over-the-top interior decor.
  • So you’ve heard of the Louvre, right?  The Louvre offers a few virtual tours of its most recent exhibitions, Egyptian antiquities, and the recently restored Galerie d’Apollon.  You can also walk through the halls of the Petite Galerie, which features some of the museum’s most famous artworks (but sorry, guys, not the Mona Lisa–which apparently has its own room).
  • The British Museum’s digital Museum of the World is a super-fun interactive tool!  It plots artifacts on a timeline that brings together anthropology, archaeology, and art throughout human history.  Have you ever wanted to learn about the drinking flasks of Imperial China? Not especially? Well, this site will make you want to.  Also, please enjoy the little musical chimes as you hit each new point on the timeline.
  • How about some Americana?  The Neon Museum’s YouTube channel hosts numerous videos discussing not only Las Vegas history, but also the history of something quintessentially American: huge neon signs.  
  • The Smithsonian Natural History Museum is so on top of things that they even have virtual tours of past exhibits (there’s one on narwhals!).  You can move through the exhibit rooms and zoom in on the informational placards!  If you want something more up-to-date, they’ve quite helpfully made all current exhibits available, too.

Or do you maybe want to just take a walk somewhere that isn’t your 300 square foot backyard?

  • Ever wanted to go to space?  Now’s your chance. Just in case you’re not feeling claustrophobic enough, Google has photographed the entire International Space Station, which you can now wander (except that you won’t have to wear diapers and will still have gravity, which is a plus).
  • Kyoto’s Zen Buddhist gardens are for those of us who need some serenity in our lives, which is pretty much all of us.  This list features 360-degree image tours of 25 of Kyoto’s absurdly beautiful Buddhist temples.  Check out Koto-in. It’s my favorite.
  • Walk around London’s Waltham Forest, one of London’s greenest boroughs!  I like this tour because it has a variety of nice green spaces, from wetlands to the Vestry House Museum’s manicured gardens.  On a few of the trails, you can even see the tops of London’s skyscrapers peeking at you in the distance.
  • Alternatively, you could just try looking up a random city (or prairie, or island, or landmass) on Google Maps and dropping a pin.  See where it takes you! Today I visited Mexico City and quickly ended up at the Panteón de Dolores, a cemetery whose statues rival Hollywood Cemetery’s!  (But if that’s not your thing, don’t forget: you can virtually go almost anywhere.)