Social distancing feels like learning a new language, slowly changing how we feel our way through the world. Our travel plans might have been disrupted, but we haven’t stopped yearning for new journeys. Whether it’s a climbing mountain you miss in Asia, or the simple joy of watching a gorilla chomp leaves somewhere far in Congo—or even your favourite piece of art hung in a museum oceans away in Europe—here’s our ultimate list of live webcams, virtual tours, and performances to watch online. The best part? They’re free.
It sure looks like it’s going to be a while until you can press your nose against cool aquarium glass, watching sharks and manta rays swim by. Or take the kids someplace they can coo at cuddly animal cubs in zoos. But some of these places have come to us—well, at least to our screens, closer than our even the best of friends can be right now.
Cincinnati Zoo, famous for the adorable hippo Fiona, who in 2017 was born at a shockingly low weight of 13 kilos, hosts a Home Safari Facebook Live every weekday at 3 p.m. EDT. The video, which is later uploaded on the zoo’s YouTube channel, features a different animal each time, and a fun activity children can do from home. San Diego Zoo’s live cameras offer a peek into the routines of their koalas, penguins, and polar bears (among other residents), while the shenanigans of giant pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang brighten up 24-hour live cams at Smithsonian Zoo.
In Crocodile Hunter country, conservation organisation Zoos Victoria too has set up live streams from Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo so you can join their cuddly snow leopard cubs and check in with their tree kangaroos and spiny echidnas. You might just find a zookeeper putting up an impromptu performance.
If it’s the blue-green fabric of the ocean that you miss, switch on the Jelly Cam of California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium daily between 8.30 p.m.-7.30 a.m. PT to soak in the hypnotic pulsing of their bells. Tune into Georgia Aquarium’s live cameras to go on an underwater voyage or watch sea otters frolic.
Virtual tours will allow you to unravel the mysteries of Stonehenge’s mythical rocks from your living room. Photo By: Peter Macdiarmid/Staff/Getty images
There will come a time to climb mountains, skydive, to soak in eagle-eye views of lands from a helicopter perhaps. Until then, try these virtual tours that transport us to wherever imagination soars. Delve into AirPano’s vast collection of 360° photos and videos; they take you anywhere from Antarctic ice caps to deep Maldivian waters. History buffs can walk through museums, monuments, even a 3D Titanic, via HistoryView’s virtual tours. Parts of the famous Badaling section of the Great Wall of China might have reopened, but it’ll be a while till Indians can fly there, so settle down with 360° virtual tours of popular stretches. Closer home, view the famous spot at the Taj Mahal where Lady Diana was photographed.
Until you experience your own Sleepless in Seattle moment at NYC’s Empire State Building, tune in to their audio tour , with jaw-dropping visuals from the 86th-floor observatory. Or pretend to be a tourist amid lesser-known landmarks like the Fire Museum or the Green-Wood Cemetery where members of the Clinton and Roosevelt families lie—all on New York Landmarks Conservancy’s video tours. Viewing NYC has photos and videos of the city’s art, food, and culture scene, and a drone clip of how eerily empty NYC is at the moment.
Travel across the pond and unravel the mysteries of Stonehenge’s mythical rocks at English Heritage. Or go a bit further and wander through Frankfurt’s reconstructed Old Town by downloading the Frankfurt Old Town AR app.
If it is the calm and chase of the jungle you miss, turn on the live webcam of a sunset safari in Maasai Mara (top left), or join an audio-visual tour of the Empire State Building (top right) for the rush of the Big Apple. Music lovers can curl up with the London Symphony Orchestra’s (bottom left) online broadcasts, or join art walks at Vienna’s Leopold Museum (bottom right). Photos By: Nick Fox/Shutterstock (Elephants), Hiroyuki Ito/Contributor/Hulton Archive/Getty images (city), TTstudio/Shutterstock (orchestra), Fine Art/Contributor/Corbis Historical/Getty images (painting)
Social distancing might have put bucket-list trips and long-haul flights on pause, but luckily, the great faraway can still tiptoe into our bedrooms. Follow passionate rangers as they tell stories of diving shipwrecks in Florida, walking the lava tubes of Hawai’i, and kayaking through Alaska’s icebergs—all part of Hidden World of National Parks by the U.S.A.’s National Park Service and Google Arts & Culture. Dramatic live footage from Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, Katwai’s grizzlies, the eagles of Channel Islands, and more can be found on the N.P.S. website too.
Trail the wilds of Africa from your couch, from a watering hole in South Africa’s Kruger National Park to pachyderms at Tembe Elephant Park. Online broadcaster, Wild Earth, too broadcasts sunrise and sunset safaris from Kruger and Maasai Mara, complete with walks with seasoned park guides.
Down Under, tag along with Nature Conservatory Australia for dives into the reef at Port Phillip Bay. If you can’t make up your mind, Explore has over 100 live streams from around the world—choose from gorillas chomping leaves in Congo or polar bears in Netherlands, it’s the next best thing to visiting their habitat.
Missing spring? Don’t worry, Washington’s National Cherry Blossom Festival has a 24-hour live #BloomCam that lets you view the city’s blush-hued flowers. Photo By: Chip Somodevilla/Staff/Getty images
Stopping to smell the flowers may have to wait, but you can definitely rev up your quarantine scenery and admire spring blooms from home. The sakura or cherry blossom is blooming in Japan and around the world. While Google Local Guides’ Cherry Blossoms Around the World virtual tour takes you to popular viewing websites, the Japanese channel Weather News has released videos of the spectacle on their YouTube channel (search for Sakura VR). Washington’s National Cherry Blossom Festival has a 24-hour live #BloomCam that lets you view the city’s blush-hued flowers, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s tour of their Cherry Esplanade can be the finale of your virtual hanami.
In Netherlands, it is the season of tulips in the gardens of Keukenhof, a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam. They aren’t open this season, but a recently-released video promises a virtual series of the vibrant blooms. Move on to England and stroll 500 acres of woodlands and stunning gardens, or let the kids learn about the journey of a seed through stunning photographs and videos of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew.
If your travel itinerary is one that always has time for a visit to the museum, the trending hashtag, #MuseumFromHome, is made for you. Virtual tours of Washington’s Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum are encylopaedic when it comes to Apollo 11 and reliving its launch. A similar tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History lets you scroll and stroll through every nook of the space, pausing beside whatever catches your fancy—be it Henry, the 11-tonne taxidermic African elephant or million-year-old fossils of sea monsters. Car and bike geeks have treats waiting at live streams from L.A.’s Peterson Automotive Museum.
Museum of the World, an interactive timeline feature developed by The British Museum and Google lets you travel through time, unfolding the world one event at a time. Google Art and Culture has also partnered with over 1,200 organisations from around the world for a collection of virtual tours and exhibits, including from some of India’s best museums such as Mumbai’s Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
Discover treasures from your backyard through the impressive virtual exhibits of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalayaa, Delhi’s National Museum, and Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial Hall. Lose yourself in the music of the land (and beyond) through the audio-visual gems of the Virtual Museum of Images and Sounds, or witness the struggle of Partition refugees in over 9,000 stories from the collections of the 1947 Partition Archive.
Lastly, if your head is reeling with all the stimulation, bring out your colours and visit the New York Academy of Medicine’s #ColorOurCollections site. Launched in 2016, the initiative offers free, downloadable black-and-white colouring books from prints and illustrations of museums, libraries, universities, medical schools and botanical gardens.
Google Art and Culture will allow you to take a virtual tour through thousands of museums, which includes the various exhibits at Leopold Museum in Vienna. Photo By: Milan Gonda/Shutterstock
Paintings are potent enough to tide us through the toughest of times. Marvel at collections from over 2,500 museums and galleries through Google Art and Culture, including those from Vienna’s Leopold Museum, New York’s Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, and Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online features are a treasure chest—from a virtual tour through the Met 360° Project, to sections discussing art that truly changed the world, and #MetKids, where art is joyfully decoded for children.
The Louvre’s own virtual collections let you explore Egyptian antiquities and the Galerie d’Apollon. Its recently concluded retrospective on Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th death anniversary last year has inspired the online multimedia exhibition curated by the French Beaux Arts Magazine, which is also offering its digital content for free until April 15. Madrid’s Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza is offering its now-closed “Rembrandt and Portraiture in Amsterdam, 1590-1670” collection virtually, along with its permanent collection.
In Frankfurt, the Schrin Kunsthalle has made its current exhibition, “Fantastic Women,” digitally available, highlighting the works of 34 women artists and their contributions to Surrealism including Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, and Dora Maar. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam too is “bring(ing) Vincent to you” through a series of excellent virtual tours excellent virtual tours and digital content from what is the largest collection of the Dutch icon’s paintings in the world. In Stockholm, the Moderna Museet, which exhibits modern and contemporary art, is hosting live-streamed guided tours or Sofa Tours to brings some of its 1,30,000 works to people’s homes. For a daily dose of art look for #MuseumMomentofZen on social media, where museums are showcasing one soul-pleasing work of art every day.
The Old Faithful geyser (bottom left) at Yellowstone National Park in U.S.A., the blooms in Kew (top) and dives in the Channel Islands (bottom right) can now come home thanks to an array of live webcams made available in this time of social distancing. Photos By: Oli Scarff/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty images (garden), Susanne Pommer/Shutterstock (geyser), Photo Courtesy: NPS/Brett Seymour (diver)
In the face of mass cancellations of shows, artistes and companies have banded together to bring the stage to your home. From New York City, Metropolitan Opera’s Nightly Opera Stream will stream one dazzling performance every day at 7.30 p.m. EDT for a straight 23 hours. Watch free recorded operas in English, French and German, including “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly” on Opera Vision, an initiative supported by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme. Leave behind the trials of the gentry and groundlings, and witness the Bard’s classics unfold on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe through paid shows streamed on Globeplayer. The London Symphony Orchestra has launched “Always Playing,” a series of concerts which will be broadcasted online twice a week at the orchestra’s usual performance time.
If you’re less classically inclined, New York Live Arts centre will stream dance performances every Thursday. Broadway lovers: Check out Broadway Cares YouTube channel for videos from Broadway Backwards, the annual celebration where men sing female numbers and vice versa.
New York-based 24 Hour Plays that produces musicals and plays conceptualised and performed in 24 hours, is doing a mini-version called #24ViralMonologues on Instagram, with actors performing from home.
is former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Her favourite kind of travel involves food, literature, dance and forests. She travels not just to discover new destinations but also aspects of herself.
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