Since borders started closing and the first lockdown came into effect in March 2020, many of us have stayed local, unsure of when we might be able to travel again.
Virtual holiday experiences became the salvation, offering a much-needed injection of joy and distraction.
Live streams and virtual museums popped up around the world, giving us a glimpse into the life we’re currently missing. From the confines of our homes, we could be instantly transported to the stunning Sistine Chapel or see the magical Northern Lights.
Over the last year, many of these experiences have developed from video feeds that we simply consume, to interactive and immersive experiences where we can actually taste, smell, and touch.
Here are some of the best virtual holiday experiences to try now:
With European countries still at different stages of lockdown, most virtual tours are conducted from home at the moment, with the help of video clips and images. But there are some tours that actually take you exploring as part of a live broadcast.
- During this interactive tour of Vienna for example, offered through ToursByLocals, your guide Susanne will take you on a walk from the town hall to St. Michael’s Square while exploring the history and culture of the city.
- Alternatively, you can tune into a stroll along the coast of Guernsey with local resident Gill, who will walk you through the history of the island from the Neolithic period all the way to the German occupation. And if you liked the tour, you can tip Gill for her time.
- For something a little different, why not head virtually to Malta? Here, you can get a rare glimpse into the life of the Queen and Prince Philip while they were living on this island between 1949 and 1951.
This is all thanks to Heritage Malta, who have created a 360 degree tour of Villa Guardamangia, the grand home that the couple lived in while resident on the island. It’s a little run down right now – the property is actually currently closed to the public for renovations – but it’s not hard to imagine it in its heyday.
- For keen geographers, a virtual tour offered by the US National Parks Service will now let you see the Grand Canyon in all of its glory without doing any of the hiking.
Featuring 360 degree views of the Grand Canyon at specific points, with video commentary from scientists that helps you gain a real insight into how the last two billion years have shaped this part of the world.
- Sounds can be as important as visuals when it comes to experiencing a destination and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador has come up with a creative audio solution.
Through their Sounds from the Edge project, you can use everyday noises from the region to create your own ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) soundtrack while learning about its 29,000km of coastline or tapping along to the upbeat melody of the accordion.
Australia will likely be off limits until the end of 2021. Thankfully, the country has plenty of virtual experiences to offer until then.
One of the most popular is Live Penguin TV, which is back for a four-week season from 15 February. It’s being broadcasted live across Facebook and Youtube at 10am daily from Phillip Island Nature Parks in Victoria.
During the hour-long streams, you get to see these adorable creatures waddling around on different cameras and ask celebrity wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan questions while you tune in.
There are plenty of live streams from zoos and animal sanctuaries around the world but it’s hard to beat seeing animals in their natural habitats.
Virgin Limited Edition has come up with the next best thing – live game drives from their safari properties on the continent.
- Tune in via Instagram at 3.30pm every Monday to see the animals at rest and play at Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa. The sessions last for an hour or so, and you can ask the guides questions as they take you around the reserve. And at 2pm every Wednesday, you’ll get a glimpse into life at Mahali Mzuri in Kenya, where you might even meet a Masai warrior or two.
- Elsewhere in Africa, responsible travel company Intrepid has partnered with Local Purse, a start up focusing on sustainable online shopping experiences, to create Moroccan Berber rug “shopping trips”.
During the sessions, you can learn about the traditional craft while “meeting” local artisans. You also have the opportunity to haggle and shop for rugs that they will then ship to your home.
The Japanese practice of forest bathing has become incredibly popular in recent years and is a way for people to reconnect with nature, using that experience to calm the noise of everyday life.
You can learn about how the practice works from home through this online experience on Airbnb to the backdrop of the very zen mountains of Kyoto before trying it out on your next walk.
From their base in Colombia, speciality coffee producers San Alberto may just change your mind about what makes a great cup of coffee.
They will ship an ‘experience kit’ to you, featuring a few styles of coffees as well as raw beans, and then guide you through how to identify and taste speciality coffee, just like you might experience at their cafe in Bogota.