While regular travel may be out of the plan in the meantime, virtual escapism is open to everyone with an internet connection. From east to west, you can experience the world’s most epic landmarks without the epic crowds and fellow tourists. Some of the world’s leading landscapes out there are all just a few clicks away. We bring you a selection of the best virtual travel experiences to keep you sane during the lockdown.
Spend a night under the northern lights
The aurora borealis is a dazzling natural phenomenon caused by Earth’s magnetic field interacting with electrically charged particles from the sun. The lights are visible from countries at high northern latitudes, such as those of Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland, Greenland and Canada. The Norwegian Lights over Lapland project takes travellers on a five-minute journey through a series of 360-degree videos. The virtual travel trip starts in the Icehotel in Abisko national park, northern Sweden, heads into the wilderness on a reindeer sleigh, passing Lake Torneträsk and an Arctic birch forest on the way to a cosy wooden Sami hut at the base of Mount Noulja. A series of time-lapse videos then show the lights dancing overhead in vibrant streaks and arcs of rippling green.
Get into the active Ambrym volcano, Vanuatu
Ambrym volcano is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. This virtual travel tour ventures down into it just a few metres from a churning 1,200C lava lake. It follows adventurers Ulla Lohmann and Sebastian Hoffmann, a couple who make documentary films, along with volcanologist Thomas Boyer, who descend together to the third terrace of Benbow, one of the main vents of the Ambrym volcano, on the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. The short interactive film joins the team as they prepare for the expedition, travel to base camp, up to the rim beyond the jungle, into the ash plain, and abseil down into the crevice, sitting just 60m away from the lava. The documentary, Spitting Distance – The Descent Into a Raging Volcano, is also available online.
Go up to Mount Everest
Known in Nepali as Sagarmatha and Tibetan as Chomolungma, the world’s highest peak sits on the border between Nepal and China. Explore Everest’s south base camp in Nepal, at an altitude of 5,380 metres, with interactive 360-degree views of snowy peaks and colourful prayer flags. Via an interactive map, and a 3D rotating viewer, you can gaze at the 8,848-metre summit, plus other Himalayan peaks stretching west into Pakistan and east to Bhutan. Clicking the human-shaped icon on this page highlights all the points around the mountain range that can be explored further at ground level. Views from other peaks, including over the Imja River and mountain villages, are visible in these 360-degree images. There’s also shot of a busier south base camp – it sees about 35,000 visitors a year, after all.
Discover the natural wonders of Chile
Chile 360, a free app you can now download that will help you virtually explore wonders from the Torres del Paine to the Atacama Desert to Easter Island. The National Historic Museum of Chile is offering virtual tours, too. And in very excellent news, you can enjoy the European Southern Observatory’s virtual tour of the famed astronomical observatory in Santiago. There’s a whole other world of experience open to you if you have a VR headset, but those of us doing this from our cell phones should jump to this link and choose from the VR options that follow.
Explore The Grand Canyon in the USA
At 277 miles in length, 18 miles across at its widest, and a maximum 1,857 metres deep, this vast Arizona landmark is grand in nature as well as name. Around 40 sedimentary layers are visible in its steep cliffs, with the oldest basement rocks formed around two billion years ago. Hike the canyon’s Bright Angel Trail via a Google Street View Trek. One of the most popular long-distance routes in the national park (9.3 miles), it zigzags up from the Colorado River to the south rim. Like with other entries in the list, wider exploration is on offer with Google Earth view, which lets users zoom in and out and click into points of interest.
See the fascinating Hang Sơn Đoòng, Vietnam
The world’s largest cave, Hang Sơn Đoòng in central Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park, was explored by scientists for the first time in 2009, after a local man, Ho Khanh, discovered it in 1991, but did not locate it again until many years later. Sơn Đoòng 360 is a project by National Geographic aiming to preserve the cave in digital form before it becomes subject to extensive tourism development. It’s simply a trek – created from 360-degree images and atmospheric sound effects – heads through light-filled caverns, passing a 70 metre-tall stalagmite called Hand of Dog, and huge sinkhole jungles.
Take a tour in Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland
This fantastical section of County Antrim’s Atlantic coastline is made up of more than 40,000 interlocking, geometric (mostly hexagonal) basalt columns. Legend has it that the unusual rock formations are the remains of a stepping-stone causeway path to Scotland, built by giants. Scientists believe they were in fact formed by lava flowing into the sea, as molten basalt erupted through chalk beds 50 to 60 million years ago. The National Trust has created a series of virtual travel tours, with views from Aird Snout headland and by the water’s edge in the bay of Port Noffer at different times of the day. There are also sweeping views from above to explore elsewhere, including the Carrick A Rede trail and the rope bridge.
Watch the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a spring celebration in Washington, D.C., commemorating the March 27, 1912, gift of Japanese cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City to the city of Washington, D.C. Festival organizers are making this year’s festival a virtual one. Through April 12, you can take a virtual tour of the blossoms with a park ranger as your guide, watch videos of what the artists booked for the festival had intended to perform live, and, of course, calm your nerves via a 24/7 cherry blossom cam.