17 Immersive VR Travel Experiences That Let You See the Sights and Save on Airfare
From the top of Mount Everest to the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef.
Winter is in full swing, and the idea of leaving the comfort of our well-heated homes—let alone embarking on an adventure—might not seem so appealing at the moment. But as the mercury continues to dip, wanderlust remains high. 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 cards, virtual travel can at least fill that void until it’s warm enough to resume globetrotting.
To help you beat those January blues, we scoured the internet for the best armchair travel experiences, from VR tours of haunted locales and digital days at the beach to voyages into World Heritage Sites and subterranean caverns.
Dive deep into a new world
If you’re not quite ready to commit to the whole underwater tourism thing, test the waters with 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.
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 five minutes alone, we’ve been transported from a Singaporean sunrise and the busy streets of Egypt to a Slovakian goat farm and rain-soaked Shanghai highrise. 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 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 of 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. 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 enthusiasts are in luck: There are virtual rides on some of the best roller coasters in the world, plus tours of in-demand parks like Legoland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Take a virtual trip across Japan
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, Tokyo's popular “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 natural mountain hot spring full of snow monkeys. Not a bad deal.
Explore the coasts of Northern Ireland
Step onto the land of giants without worrying about spilling your Bushmills. Giant’s Causeway is full of basalt columns, history, and ancient mythology, making it the perfect place to get (virtually) lost for a few hours. The rugged 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 hexagonal 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 6.5 miles between Jinshanling and Simatai, a stretch known for having some of the most quintessential views in China. And there's lots of handy educational material to accompany the sights, too.
Explore Chile's natural splendor
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 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.
Drop into some of 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, 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 France's ornate Musée des Beaux-arts or soak up the unseasonably leafy vibes at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
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 Luray Caverns and Chauvet Cave, which has Daisy Ridley as your tour guide. May the Force be with you.
See Mount Everest from a sky-high helicopter
Getting within spitting distance with the world's tallest mountain generally involves a lifetime of training—and that's before you factor in getting there. This tour, courtesy of Discovery, lets you ride along as helicopter rescue pilots navigate through Mount Everest, making for the most low-stakes way to take the dangerous trek imaginable.
Hit the slopes in Canada
Lean into ski season without investing all that equipment by taking a trip down the powdery slopes of Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta, Canada from the comfort of your pajamas. Travel Alberta offers a 360-degree tour featuring breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains and soaring pine trees. Make sure you stream 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 it involves wading through a sea of tourists wearing garbage-bag ponchos… and that's after you've traversed the tourist trap-laden streets leading up to the thundering waterfall. A digital experience means skipping the crowds and guaranteeing the best views, whether you’re gazing at them from a cruise ship, or while virtually ziplining alongside the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls.
Introduce yourself to Mount Rushmore
If your deepest desire is to climb Mount 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.
Embark on a safari through South Africa's 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 elbowing you out of the way to get the perfect shot, this experience brings a full-blown safari into your home. Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest animal reserves and now you can cruise through it observing rhinos, giraffes, and antelopes without even booking a flight.
Take the scenic route through Switzerland
A brief scroll through any travel influencer's Instagram account is more than likely to shore up at least one photo of Switzerland's striking mountain ranges and distinct architecture. And you can play along with this virtual Grand Train tour of Switzerland, which is so realistic that you may even be able to feel the crisp alpine air through your screen.
Splash around 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, and penguins, while the Seattle Aquarium has you covered with their sea otter cams. The National Aquarium in Baltimore also offers live streams of exhibits featuring sea creatures like jellyfish and stingrays.