Travel

Armchair Travel Experiences That Let You Explore the World From Your Living Room

Bring the world-and maybe some snow monkeys-to you.

Andreas Stutz/Unsplash
Andreas Stutz/Unsplash
Andreas Stutz/Unsplash

We managed to stave off pandemic-era cabin fever through summer road trips and campsite trial-and-error, but as the mercury continues to dip and most borders remain closed, wanderlust has become a way of life. We still long to go to the zoo, or browse a museum. We miss the smell of jet fuel as much as an island breeze. And while those things might not be in the for most of us cards at the moment, virtual travel can at least fill a void until we can finally resume globetrotting.

Below you’ll find VR tours of haunted locales, digital days at the beach, and voyages into World Heritage Sites, subterranean caverns, and space. Plus, you’ll be able to tour the Louvre pantsless without getting arrested (again).

Dive deep into a new world

Mark our words: Underwater tourism is the future of socially distant travel. Start planning now by taking a digital diving tour. Explore the Great Barrier Reef or the Palmyra Coral Coral Garden. Swim with sharks without the danger of peeing your wetsuit. Dive into a centuries-old shipwreck and convince yourself you didn’t see the ghost of an ancient mariner in the background. Then maybe get scuba-certified: you’ll need it if we’re right (we are).

Get a stranger’s-eye-view of the world (at random)

Remember Chat Roulette? This is like that, but with 99.99% less unsolicited nudity and way more scenic views. Click into Window Swap and you’ll be transported to a stranger’s windowsill for up to 10 minutes. Bored of somebody’s panoramic view of London? Click a button and you’ll be warp-zoned somewhere else. In the last 5 minutes alone we’ve been transported from a Singaporean sunrise a view from underneath the Brooklyn Bridge to a Slovakian goat farm, a busy Egyptian street,  Greek garden, a rain-soaked Shanghai high-rise, and a the mountains of Tehran. Does this have serious Rear Window potential? Absolutely. But are there cats to spot? Yes. So it’s worth the risk. 

Visit somewhere cold without wearing a coat

One way to seriously counteract the bone-chilling effects of winter is to metal put yourself somewhere much colder. Game the system with a 360-degree tour of Antarctica’s ice caves with legendary explorer Sam Baugey. Or venture up to the North Pole, where you can take an interactive trip above and below the ice with Poseidon Adventures. If you prefer your frozen experiences more whimsical, you can also catch a live cam of Bergen, Norway, which inspired the town Frozen and is also very, very cold. 

Skip the lines at your favorite amusement park

Citizens of The YOLO State may have their run of Disney World and Universal Studios, but the majority of the country is going through theme-park withdrawal. But those longing for OG’s Disneyland’s wholesome/terrifying thrills (lookin’ at you, Mr. Toad’s Wild DUI Simulator) can still get them in VR form. In fact, amusement-park junkies are in luck: There are virtual rides on some of the best roller coasters in the world, plus tours of such parks as Legoland, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Dollywood. Sure, it’s not the same as coming across the park’s hologram of the country legend in person, but even a little Dolly is always a balm. 

Take a virtual trip across Japan

The Olympics are uncertain and the borders are closed, but this 360-degree VR movie from the Japan National Tourism Organization is here to tide anyone who wishes to visit the country over with glimpses of everything from bamboo forests to sushi making. Meanwhile, this live feed of Shibuya Crossing, a popular Tokyo “scramble crossing,” provides a look at the relative normalcy of Japan at any given minute. Want to get out of Tokyo to look around? You don’t have access to the bullet train, but you can tune into a live feed of a Tokyo’s railways, then pretend you were transported to Kyoto for a virtual tour of its ancient shrines and geisha district, or to this live feed of a natural mountain hot tub full of snow monkeys

Explore the coasts of Northern Ireland

Step onto the land of giants without worrying about spilling your Guinness. Giant’s Causeway is full of basalt columns, history, and ancient mythology, making it the perfect place to get lost in for a few hours. The hexagonal landscape was formed around 60 million years ago due to slow-cooling lava. Immerse yourself in this world of wonder by starting your virtual tour at the Giant’s Port, then make your way to the hexagon-lined coast of the Grand Causeway

Hike the Great Wall of China

Walking along the Great Wall has been at the top of many “vacation goals” lists for centuries before hashtags were invented. Now, you can take a virtual hike in lieu of actually exerting physical effort. This virtual tour spans six and a half miles of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai, a stretch known for having some of the most quintessential views in China. Lots of handy educational material to accompany the view, too.

Explore the natural wonders of Chile

Download Chile 360, a free app 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. If you happen to have a VR headset, there’s a whole other world of experience open to you there, but those of us doing this from our cell phones should jump to this link and choose from the VR options that follow-for soothing views of the brightly colored galaxy above, start with La Silla.

Tour dozens of World Heritage Sites

Google Earth is offering 3D virtual tours of 30 iconic World Heritage Sites. Taj Mahal? Yes. Sphinx? Yup. Stonehenge? Why not! Choose your own adventure. You’ll start with a zoomed-out view of planet Earth, from whence you can click on any of the flagged locations and zoom in from a space-station view to a bird’s-eye one. Or, you can scroll through the list of sites that appears on the right side of your screen-the first one you’ll see is the Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt. Boom, there you are, on the street at the Great Pyramid’s base, right next to the mule carts and tourists.

Explore the world’s best beaches

Until we can lay out on the white sands of our favorite beaches again, we can imagine we’re there through 360-degree virtual tours. Float in the crystal clear waters of the Maldives or admire the mountain ranges surrounding Myrtos Beach in Greece. Each beach offers breathtaking views that may just make you forget you’re not actually there soaking up the sun.  

Plus all your favorite national parks

Google Earth is also offering 3D virtual tours of many national parks, from Acadia to Zion.The process here is similar to the way you explore World Heritage Sites, although for this one the flagged locations you’ll see from “space” do have nice lil photos of the respective parks instead of just that orange dropped-pin thing. Choose from there or from the list on the righthand side of the screen, and you’ll be promptly zoomed down into the park of your choice like one of those 3D IMAX movies. And if you’re inspired, you’re in luck: Most of the national parks are now open again in real life, too. 

Aaaand the world’s most celebrated art museums

Check out these Google Arts & Culture tours of museums like the Van Gogh Museum, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and the Louvre, finally representing a chance to see the Mona Lisa up close and personal without getting bumped around by throngs of fellow tourists. Each tour is a little different-try using Google Street View to explore a luxuriously empty Guggenheim, or scroll your way through a digital timeline of events at the British Museum.

Dive deep into the world’s most mysterious caverns

There are so many attractions and sights to see around the world above ground, but a trip underground can be just as rewarding. And as a bonus, now you can do it without fear of being mauled by bats. Explore ancient caves like the Carlsbad Caverns, Luray Caverns, and Chauvet Cave, which has Daisy Ridley as your tour guide. May the Force be with you. 

See Mount Everest from a helicopter  

Getting up close and personal with the world’s tallest mountain generally involves a lifetime of training, and that’s before you factor getting there. This tour, courtesy of Discovery, takes you on the journey of helicopter rescue pilots through Mount Everest, making for the most low-stakes way to take the dangerous trek imaginable.

Tilt your head to look at the Leaning Tower of Pisa 

One of Italy’s most visited sites is available for your virtual viewing pleasure through this 360-degree tour. The 186-foot tall structure is currently closed, but this tour does a great job of simulating the experience of visiting it in person, including the massive crowds. 

Hit the ski slopes of Canada

Ski season is here, and while international travel restrictions mean the famous Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta, Canada isn’t an option, you can take a trip down powdery slopes from the comfort of your home. Travel Alberta offers a 360 tour featuring breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains and trees. Make sure you watch in 4k for the best quality, and feel free to watch next to an open freezer for maximum effect. 

Get a close-up view of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is one of the most visited natural wonders in North America, but usually getting close to them involves wading through a sea of tourists wearing garbage-bag ponchos… and that’s after you’ve traversed the tourist trap-laden streets to get there. A digital experience means you skip the crowds and it guarantees you get the best views, whether you’re gazing at them from a cruise ship, or while virtually ziplining alongside the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Get up close and personal with Mount Rushmore

If your deepest desire is to climb Mt. Rushmore without the fear of coming into contact with Smash Mouth fans, today’s your lucky day, you very specific person. CyArk partnered with the National Park Service to give you the opportunity to admire it in all its glory through this virtual tour. After getting acquainted with the details of former presidents’ faces, mosey on down to the Presidential Trail and get your virtual leg day on, or continue on to a virtual tour of the Badlands and make it a virtual SoDak road trip. 

Get an astronaut’s-eye view of Earth

Cue up the Bowie and get ready for lift off with actual astronauts in National Geographic’s first ever 3D virtual reality experience filmed in space. You’ll see Earth how you’ve probably never seen it before, all while zipping around it at 17,000 miles per hour. If you get a little spacesick, adjust your view and get a cool look at what an actual spaceship looks like. 
 

Journey through a South African safari in Kruger National Park 

Offering a rare chance to get close to lions, and tigers, and bears without those pesky mosquito nets or Netflix documentary crews trying to get you to admit to killing your spouse, this experience brings a full-blown safari into your home. Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest animal reserves and without having to book a flight, you can ride through it and observe rhinos, giraffes, and antelopes here

Take the scenic route through Switzerland

Do a brief scroll through any travel account on Instagram and it’s likely you’ll see at least one photo of Switzerland’s striking mountain ranges and distinct architecture. With this virtual Grand Train tour of Switzerland, you may even be able to feel the crispness of the air at higher altitudes. 

Just keep swimming with aquatic animals

There’s something so calming about watching animals casually mind their business and interact with each other. If you need to forget that you’re a human for a little while, many aquariums have livestreams and pre-recorded streams available. Monterey Bay Aquarium in California currently offers live cams of critters like turtles, sharks, penguins, and sea otters, while the Seattle Aquarium has you covered with their Harbor Seal Cams. The National Aquarium in Baltimore also offers live streams of exhibits featuring sea creatures such as jellyfish and stingrays. Then hit up Seamless for a little sushi, in case you’re being morbid/want a theme for the day.

Live vicariously through YouTube’s best travel channels

YouTube offers so much more than videos of people getting hit in the crotch and/or opening boxes. In fact, it’s practically bursting at the digital seams with excellent travel shows. Want to vicariously live a life at sea with a young adventurous family? There’s a channel for that. Want to follow a young Brit as he tries to visit every single country? Take a peek behind the former Iron Curtain to see what’s poppin’ in post-Soviet Europe? Just chill on a beach while folks tell you what to eat when you can finally visit yourself? YouTube is basically the world’s most robust digital travelogue library. Start your digital journey and dream big with our favorite channels here. 

Kastalia Medrano is a New York-based journalist and avid traveler. Follow her @kastaliamedrano.

Kristen Adaway, Kastalia Medrano, and Andy Kryza scoured the internet to make this list. 

Travel

Find Volcanoes, Wine Islands, and Thrills in Auckland

One minute you're on a ferry to wine island, the next you could be bungy jumping off of New Zealand's tallest tower.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

The city of Auckland is a free spirit. It is easily the most geographically blessed city in New Zealand. Within an hour, you could be tasting wines on an island, chasing more than 50 volcanoes, or leaving footprints on a black sand beach. Keep in mind, that Auckland is the country’s most populous city but certainly doesn’t feel cramped.

Instead, the city is buzzing with trendy eateries, boutique shops, quiet streets, and expansive green parks. Around every corner, you’re never too far from something beautiful to see.

From world-class wines to kickass thrills, here’s where to find what you’re looking for in Auckland.

things to do auckland

Seek the thrills

If you thought Queenstown was the home of the adrenaline rush, wait until you see Auckland. In the middle of the city, you can jump off a sky tower or a bridge, zip through the jungle, and scream on a high-octane jet boat ride. The Sky Tower, which can be seen from every corner of Auckland is more than just a landmark. Take a ride to the top and sign up for a Skywalk, where you can wander around the platform, which just so happens to be 192 metres above the ground. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, you can always jump off it. It’s New Zealand’s highest jump, and can only be described as just like being a movie stuntman, or a superhero. 

The other iconic place to jump off of is the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Unlike the Sky Jump, this one will have thrill seekers dipping their hands and head in the ocean. It’s a 40-metre Bungy, and a great experience. Although, if you’d rather still take advantage of the bridge views, book a climb, which takes you right to the top for sweeping views of the city.

Another way to take in the city is via Auckland Adventure Jet, which takes passengers for spins and tricks on the water.

Just a 35-minute boat ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island, where thrill-seekers will find Eco Zip Adventures. Across three separate lines, you will zip high above a working vineyard and lush, ancient forest canopies, soaking up incredible views back to the city and beyond.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Sip wine on Waiheke Island

Whether you want to spend a weekend or a day, Waiheke Island is a must-visit. It’s around a 35-minute ferry ride to the island from Auckland, and once there you can hop from winery to winery. The island is quite large and the terrain is rugged, so trust the experts and book a tour with Ananda Tours. The small, family-run business is owned by Jenny who has been on the island since before the vines were planted and she’s the best person to seek out when getting the Waiheke Island experience. You can book a private tour or group tour, and they can be catered to your preferences and tastes. A few standout stops include Kennedy Point, where they produce fully certified organic Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay wines. You can also state estate-grown olive oils, which the island has plenty of. Enjoy a tasting on the deck with views of Kennedy Bay, or enjoy a picnic under the olive grove.

For the best views on the island, head to Batch Vineyard. As the highest vineyard on Waiheke, you will be treated to panoramic views of the rolling hills, blue waters, and even Auckland city. Their sparkling wine, Blanc de Blancs is a must-try.

When it comes to lunch, there are two spots to choose from. The first is Stonyridge, which is also where you can taste premium award-winning wines, including a Cabernet blend Larose‚ÄĒNew Zealand’s cult wine. The second is Mudbrick, a romantic spot, set amongst beautiful gardens with even more spectacular views, and a bar and bistro serving up some of the best dishes on the island.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Eat your way through the city

Auckland’s dining scene isn’t pretentious, but the food quality is good enough to rival the best restaurants in New York‚ÄĒbut the city doesn’t like to brag. Instead, it celebrates good food in every setting, from waterside restaurants to trendy Mexican eateries in a shopping centre.

Inca, is helmed by critically acclaimed chef, Nic Watt. Inspired by Watt’s travels to Peru, diners can expect to find Nikkei cuisine, including spicy chicken karaage, hand-pressed corn tacos filled with pork cheek and spicy tuna. You wouldn’t expect to find such a good restaurant in a shopping centre, but there it is.

Another great trendy restaurant is Hello Beasty, which is home to the famous, prawn and crab toast. This work of art starts with a slice of crispy deep-fried bread, smothered with prawn and crab mousse. On top, there are slices of wagyu, drizzled with a sweet and sour sauce. Although, there are plenty of other great dishes on the menu, including a Sichuan tuna tartare, Korean fried cauliflower, and potstickers swimming in chilli oil. Try the yuzu mandarin soda if you’re looking for something fizzy to go with dinner or lunch.

Deli De Bossi is a recent opening and already becoming a favourite breakfast spot. Apart from coffee, you can get all kinds of toasted sandwiches, filled with everything from mushrooms to hams and salamis.

Another iconic eat-hit list is Parade in Ponsonby. Here, the burgers are served in a pretzel bun and filled with chicken or beef.

Most of these restaurants are casual, but if you’re looking for something a little fancy, book a table at Kingi. Taking cues from Sydney’s own Josh Niland, the dishes at Kingi focus on sustainable seafood, caught locally by local fishermen. The blue cod wings are a must. They’re covered in burnt lime and served with a ranch sauce for dipping. The stracciatella with feijoa is also a standout dish, that’s light and a great start to a meal. Inside, the dining room is cosy with bench seats, fire heaters, and exploded brick walls.

After dinner, walk down the street and grab dessert from Miann. The flavour of the day is always chocolate, and they serve up seriously good desserts. Try the tasting platter for a piece of each pastry on the menu of the day, or pick one that is most desirable to you. Although, the tasting platter is only $23 and you’d be missing out on tasting a little of everything they offer if you didn’t get it.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Discover art, culture, and movie magic

One of the best ways to learn about a city or country is by visiting its top museums and galleries. The Auckland War Memorial Museum sits atop a hill in Auckland’s Domain, which also happens to be the city’s oldest volcano. This museum is one of the most important as it tells the story of New Zealand’s natural and military history. Take a self-guided walking tour to explore at your own pace. There are plenty of interactive features for the kids and adults. The museum also hosts exhibitions. An ancient Greek exhibition is currently on display and is one of the largest exhibitions the British Museum has ever loaned to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Art lovers, spend a few hours wandering around the Auckland Art Gallery, Toi O TńĀmaki. You will find artworks from around the world, including a Picasso or two. Although, the exhibitions are a real treat. Yona Lee’s, An Arrangement of Five Rooms is an incredible installation, spanning multiple rooms, which you can sit on and touch‚ÄĒto immerse yourself in the artwork. Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, is another must-see exhibition exploring the most pressing issues of our times: climate change and resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice.

While art and history museums are insightful and a great way to educate a visitor, there are some other museum types that can be a lot of fun and interactive. Weta Workshop Unleashed is a new Auckland attraction and an incredible experience you don’t want to miss. Step into the world of filmmaking, explore how horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films are made and at times feel as if you’re in a movie. Comedic tour guides will introduce you to movies that are in production and explain every aspect, from prop making to effects, and more. There are even mysteries to be solved, making it fun for the whole family. It’s truly an unmissable experience in Auckland, and one of the best, unique tours you might ever experience.

things to do auckland
Photo: @sidwithlens

Walk on a volcano

Erupting over 100,000 years ago, Pukekawa is one of Auckland’s oldest and most popular volcanoes. Today, the Domain parkland is the remains of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of Pukekawa. Most days you will see people running around the park, families picnicking on the weekend, and tourists snapping photos by the pond or under a magnificent tree, grown from an experiment conducted by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society. Enter from one end, enjoy a picturesque walk, and exit through the historic Parnell shopping and restaurant area. On a sunny day, the atmosphere is charged with romance, but even in the rain, it’s a moody, beautiful sight to see. The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s large neo-Greek architecture is also a standout, commanding top-of-the-mountain views.

where to stay in auckland

Where to stay in Auckland

If you’re looking to sleep on top of the world, you can’t beat a room in Cordis Auckland’s new Pinnacle Tower. From the pillowy-cloud-like beds, guests have sweeping views of the city from the Sky Tower to Rangitoto and Mount Eden. Enjoy a breakfast buffet in the Eight restaurant downstairs, and canapes and drinks in the Cordis Club lounge on the 14th floor. There’s also a health club, spa, and swimming pool. The hotel is within walking distance to some of the best eateries in Auckland, making it a prime option.

Although, if you’re looking to stay in the heart of Britomart, Auckland’s hub of shopping, eating, and drinking, then The Hotel Britomart is where you want to be. From its exterior of hand-made bricks to its beautifully timber-lined rooms, The Hotel Britomart does detail like nobody else. Plus, the best of downtown waterfront Auckland is just outside your front door. With 5 Green Star Design and Build ratings from the NZ Green Building Council, The Hotel Britomart is the country‚Äôs ONLY 5 Green Star hotel, and has sustainability built in from the ground up.¬†

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