Try the next best thing with a free online tour. How to stroll the world’s greatest museums in your slippers.
Museums everywhere are responding to the pandemic by making their collections available online. But the sheer volume of all this content can be overwhelming. We’ve sifted through a myriad of offerings to select free virtual tours that are truly worth your time. Like what you see? It’s never too early to plan your next trip.
Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Almost every major museum now participates with the Google Arts and Culture platform. One virtual tour that truly stands out is the Hermitage Museum. Every nook and cranny of this former palace of the Czars of Russia is dripping with gold, marble, inlaid patterns or some other form of fabulous. Cruise the mind-boggling interiors without even stopping to look at the art (but that would be a shame). We could (and did!) spend hours without ever leaving the couch.
Metropolitan Museum, New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates its 150 anniversary this year with a host of new programs. The signature event is Making the Met, 1870-2020, an immersive tour narrated by a buoyant Steve Martin. Find out how this beloved New York institution became one of the world’s leading encyclopedic museums, with a collection spanning over 5,000 years of human history. Another Met series uses spherical 360-degree technology to travel through the museum in empty galleries after hours.
The Orangerie, Paris
Monet fans make a Orangerie pilgrimage to marvel at his Waterlilies, the large-scale murals that were the culmination of the artist’s life. In this online tour, Street View allows you walk through the galleries, experiencing the eight paintings as if each were a moment in Monet’s own garden at Giverny. Augmented Reality lets you zoom in to see every expressive stroke, and discover how abstract these radical paintings really are. It occurred to us that Monet created an immersive experience— “as if” you were in his garden—long before virtual was even a thing. When you’re able, see Monet’s paintings in person with us on a private tour.
Art Institute of Chicago
The AIC Essentials Tours is a series of brief videos featuring curators discussing iconic works from their vast collection, one delicious object at a time. Get to know masterpieces such as Caillebotte’s Paris Street: Rainy Day or van Gogh’s The Bedroom. We especially liked the detailed explanation of the symbols in Chagall’s stained-glass tribute to America’s cultural and religious freedoms.
Benaki Museum, Athens
The Benaki Museum in Athens, featuring Greek art and material culture from pre-history to today, is entirely accessible online with commentary in no less than six languages. In Close Ups, curators explain exquisite works—from a 19th-century sketch of the Acropolis or an Ottoman sprinkler—in 3-5 minutes. This beautifully-shot short film, where angelic children seem to have the run of the place, tells the story of Antonis Benaki and what inspired him to donate his home and collection to the nation, founding this emblematic institution of Greek culture.
Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Getty Museum has created a treasure trove of essays, podcasts and videos to help you sharpen your art smarts. Perhaps not surprisingly, since this digitally-savvy LA institution started Off the Walls, the global social media phenomenon that got stir-crazy people (and sometimes their pets) recreating famous paintings. We especially liked their online exhibit An Enduring Icon: Notre Dame Cathedral, which lets you navigate architectural details while the cathedral remains closed for massive repairs.
Mauritshuis, The Hague
The Mauritshuis is home to the best of the Dutch Golden Age, a collection featured in 18 online exhibitions for Google Arts and Culture. Our favorite explores Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. Zoom in to see surface details impossible to notice in person. Discover how that famous earring consists of only two masterful strokes of paint. These insights into Vermeer’s technique will help you appreciate the poetry of his painting even more.
The Prado Museum, Madrid
The Prado Museum offers an online database of no less than 10,000 works featuring zoomable images with an extraordinary level of detail. Click on the headphone icon in the lower right to hear commentary (in English). We enjoyed the short video that gets up close and personal with Hieronymus Bosch’s weird and wacky Garden of Earthly Delights.
The Brooklyn Museum, New York
Calling all fashionistas! The Brooklyn Museum has teamed up with Netflix to create a virtual exhibition of outfits worn by the leading ladies in two hit series: The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit. The Queen and The Crown lets you get up close to digitally-rendered, interactive 360-degree views of the costume designs, complete with clips from the show where the outfits appear.