One of the good things to come out of the COVID pandemic and social distancing was the rise of virtual tourism. From the comfort of your home, you can travel the world for free through your TV, your phone, or your computer, as these amazing virtual tour apps show.
With the growing demand for virtual travel, tour makers have gotten more creative too. You’ll find walking tours, driving tours, and even drone tours now, with add-ons like a local radio station playing in the background or a chance to interact with tour guides and your “co-travelers”.
1. Heygo (Web): Live Virtual Tours to Interact With Tour Guides and Cowatchers
Heygo gets as close as virtually possible to the real experience of sightseeing with a tour guide. The website hosts live virtual tours from around the globe, hosted by a guide, which anyone can join for free. All you need for access is to register on the site.
As a registered user, you can join one live tour at a time, played out on full screen on your computer. The guides live-stream their tour and speak into the camera just like it would be in real life. You can also chat with fellow watchers, and interact with the tour guide to ask questions or request them to change angles or stay at a spot long enough so you can “take photos” in the form of a screenshot. In the end, you can also tip the tour guide to support them directly.
Apart from live tours, Heygo also stores all previous virtual tours for you to browse. You can find them by categories (history, architecture, culture, museums, etc.) or location, and check the most popular Heygo tours too. The calendar lists upcoming live tours in case you want to plan it as an activity and join for what is truly one of the best free virtual travel experiences.
If you’ve got a big-screen 4K TV at home, then these YouTube channels have a treat for you. All three channels shoot 4K videos of walking tours through major cities and tourist destinations, all available for free.
These offer a great leanback experience of slow virtual tourism. You could even create a playlist and set it as background viewing, while you go about your day.
- 4K Walk shoots slow-walking tours through real cities, and uploads the full video unedited and without cuts.
- 4K Urban Life mixes things up in the shooting experience. While there are some walking tours, you’ll also find driving tours, full-city exploring guides, and videos where a camera is placed in a couple of busy spots of a city to observe its life, switching between these three.
- ProWalk Tours is the most professional “tour” experience of these, offering 4K videos of walking tours, drone tours, and scooter tours. In several videos, you’ll also find captions to read about the city while the tour captures its sights and sounds. On a big screen, it’s an excellent virtual travel experience to enjoy with your family.
Two virtual tour apps are trying something creative to enhance the feel of local travel by adding a local radio station as the background sound. It’s a novel idea that adds a charm.
Walk With Feel is a walking tour through major cities in the world, while Drive & Listen puts you in a car’s view as it travels through a city. The latter also includes a map of the city to show where and how you are moving. The local radio adds to the feel, as that’s what you would do in a car.
In both apps, you can control the speed of walking and car by choosing between 1x, 1.5x, and 2x. You can also switch street noise on and off, depending on how much you’re enjoying the feel of the radio. Once you’ve chosen your settings, look for the tiny icon to switch off the menu overlay and enjoy the full-screen experience.
4. Tab WIth a View (Chrome): Virtual Travel Inspiration in New Tab
With Tab With a View, every time you open a new tab in Chrome, you’ll be greeted by a photo or video of a gorgeous place that you should travel to. Sometimes, you’ll also find live streaming webcams from real people’s windows, which is one of the coolest ways to virtually travel the world.
For every location, Tab With a View gives you additional information. You’ll see whether a virtual tour is available on Google Maps, and if a drone view is available on Google Earth. It also marks whether you need a visa to visit that place, and what the trip would cost. If you like something, add it to your wishlist so that you don’t lose it.
Tab With a View also focuses on productivity and isn’t just trying to distract you. You can add a google search bar, your most visited websites, and your bookmarks bar into the app’s dashboard interface so that you don’t miss the conveniences of the default New Tab page in Chrome.
Download: Tab With a View for Chrome (Free)
5. Gez.la and Virtouroso (Web): Directories of Matterport and Other Virtual Tours
Gez.la and Virtouroso curate the best free online virtual tours you can go on. This includes virtual museums you can visit from home, nature trails, zoos, historical places, and live webcams of interesting spots or animals.
Virtouroso’s interface has five dropdown columns to choose from museums, historical sites, nature and science, land animal cams, and sea animal cams. Gez.La hosts a directory listing 152 interesting places to travel to virtually, which you can filter by type (aquarium, historical, museum, nature, theme park, zoo) and country. You can also browse pins on the world map.
A large number of these virtual tours are made by Matterport and will work on the Matterport mobile app too. For those who don’t know, Matterport is one of the best apps to create virtual tours and is used extensively by some of the top travel video makers.
Physical Travel or Virtual Tourism? It’s Not a Choice
As you can see, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the buffer of virtual tours available for free. But you might hear a voice saying, “Well, it’s not like the real thing.” And that’s true, physical travel still remains a more immersive experience.
But the folly is in thinking it’s a choice between physical travel and virtual tourism. It’s not. You can do both, and enjoy both differently for what they represent. Even if virtual travel isn’t as good as the real-world experience, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad experience. Try it out, and you might find a new hobby and a way to explore the world, especially when you have to avoid crowds.
Feeling cooped up and missing being out in nature? Take a step towards them with virtual hike websites and natural tourism apps.
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