What Are the Best Online Museum Tours?

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If quarantine and travel restrictions have you wishing you could be somewhere else, there’s one thing you can do to bring the world into your own home. Virtual online tours can offer at least some of the joys of travel, and museums in particular are great for remote exploration. From Vincent van Gogh to ancient dinosaurs, there’s no shortage of things to discover and learn about through online museum tours.

The British Museum

Over more than 200 years, the British Museum has gathered around 8 million objects of cultural, historical scientific value, making it one of the largest and most expensive museum collections ever. The first public museum in the world, it boasts priceless artifacts that comprehensively documents human culture from its beginnings right to the present day.

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There are numerous ways to explore the British Museum online. Virtual galleries are open 24/7 on the museum’s website, while Google’s Instant Street View lets you remotely walk around the galleries and examine popular exhibits, like the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies. Other methods of exploration and edification include museum podcasts, audio tours and the museum’s YouTube channel and Google Arts & Culture pages.

The Louvre

If visiting Paris is on your bucket list, then it wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that the Louvre might also be something you’d like to see. Sitting on nearly 800,000 square feet of floor space, this iconic institution is the largest art museum in the world. With more than 9 million visitors in 2019, it’s likewise the world’s most visited museum.

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Through the museum’s many virtual tours, you can examine many of the most popular exhibits up close, including Egyptian artifacts, paintings by the old masters, modern art, the remains of the Louvre’s moat (which used to be a fortress) and more. The virtual galleries also allow visitors to explore the galleries as if they were there — sans the usual crush of tourists.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

History offers a different experience, with exhibits that focus on the sciences (for the most part). Exotic plants, animals, minerals, meteorites, human remains and human cultural artifacts can all be seen — even an impressive selection of skeletons from dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.

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On average, the museum welcomes 7 million visitors each year, making it the most visited natural history museum in the world. Like the British Museum, the National Museum of Natural History has partnered with the Google Cultural Institute to make virtual tours of the museum possible via Google Arts & Culture. You can also proceed directly to the museum’s website, where you can find links to even more virtual tours and exhibits.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or simply The Met, is the largest museum in the western hemisphere. Sitting in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, The Met is home to more than 2 million museum pieces distributed among 17 curatorial departments. Its collection comes from across the ages as well as the world.

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Virtual tours of The Met will take you through the most popular exhibits, including the Temple of Dendur, the Arms and Armor Galleries, and of course, the museum’s priceless collections of artwork, from European masters to works from America itself.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum, or the Getty, as it’s commonly known, is Los Angeles’ answer to The Met. While not as old as The Met, the Getty still boasts a valuable collection of paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and more. Among the must-see pieces are “Irises” by Vincent Van Gogh and “Rembrandt Laughing” by — who else? — Rembrandt.

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The museum’s virtual tours include an outdoor sculpture collection, the Center for Photographs Gallery and other outdoor attractions. The Getty has also partnered with Google to make the museum accessible via Google Arts & Culture as well as the museum’s official website.