For many, visiting a museum or art gallery is a favourite local excursion or an essential part of discovering a new country. When you can't make the journey in person, you can bring arts and culture into your home using a smartphone, tablet or laptop with free online virtual tours. Featuring beautiful photography and videos, virtual reality tours and digital collections can whisk you off to famous places, historic sites and venues at the click of a few buttons. Here are some popular, easy-to-navigate sites in Canada and across the world.
Quirky curated museum tours
At MuseumCrush.org you can explore an ever-changing lineup of compelling objects from U.K. museums like the British Museum, Ryedale Folk Museum and Nostell Priory. Choose from themes that include:
- Military History for archival D-Day photos, WWI soldiers’ art, Napoleonic artifacts.
- Women’s History for the art of Devon lace, suffragette prison letters, the history of pregnancy in paintings.
- Archeology for Chinese oracle bones, Iron Age warrior relics, shipwreck treasures.
- Curious (decorated ostrich eggs from the Bronze Age, 18th-century dollhouses and ships’ figureheads.
Explore Canadian history
Canadian history buffs, this one’s for you. The Virtual Museum of Canada features digital collections from museums from coast to coast to coast including:
- Cape Dorset art from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
- Great moments in sport from Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
- Rock art paintings from the Musée de la civilisation.
- Heritage sites in Newfoundland, and many more.
- In the “Community Stories” section, get a snapshot of a particular slice of historic and contemporary community life, such as the Calgary fire department honour guard or the ice storm of 1998.
Visit famous sites and collections
Organized by theme, the Museum Computer Network links to dozens of online exhibits and virtual tours of historic sites and museums around the world. It includes links from museums ranging from the popular and world-famous to the small and quirky.
- Investigate fashion and power at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
- Look at the UK Postal Museum’s collections with themes like “Wartime” and “Post Office Cats.”
- View medieval manuscripts at the National Library of Scotland’s digital gallery
- Take a virtual tour of everywhere from Mount Vernon to The Hermitage to Westminster Abbey.
Visit the Smithsonian museums
The celebrated group of Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC, are as close as your favourite digital device.
- Explore the renowned National Museum of Natural History at your leisure, with exceptionally clear and well-lit panoramic virtual tours where you can easily zoom in and out to get a closer look at Egyptian artifacts, minerals and gems, insect and mammal displays, etc.
- View collections at the Museum of African American History and Culture, divided into categories such as Civil Rights, Clothing and Dress, Military and Community. Click “Collection Stories” for a closer look at individual artifacts, like Muhammed Ali’s boxing robe, or the violin that belonged to '40s jazz musician Ginger Smock.
- At the National Portrait Gallery, discover collections of portraits of First Ladies, explore the story behind George Washington’s portrait, zoom in on contemporary self-portraits and many more.
- The Smithsonian also has an Open Access site where you can view and download images and data from the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centres, libraries and archives, and the National Zoo. Deepen your knowledge about an existing interest about, say, quilts or astronomy, or dive into something completely new.
Skip the lines at the Vatican
Sit back and enjoy one of many virtual tours offered by the museums of the Vatican. With 360-degree views, clear directions and well-produced videography, you can zoom right up to see the beautiful details of ornate carvings, the Sistine Chapel and inlaid stone. Click on the “Explore” tab to get background info on each location—the Hall of Animals at Pio Clementino, for example, or the art in Raphael’s Rooms.
Discover Google's portal for online arts and culture
For a real treasure trove, don’t miss the well-organized, creative and beautifully presented Google Arts & Culture. This all-encompassing resource brings you more than 2,000 museums and archives.
- See various works by Vincent van Gogh, Manet and other masters at the Musée d’Orsay (plus an exhibit on the historic building, formerly a grand train station).
- Take a peek at stunning libraries around the world.
- Hang a virtual 10 at the Australian National Surfing Museum.
- Explore online exhibits about all things Italian, from cheese to canals.
- Browse through Frida Kahlo’s diary.
- Examine works at India’s National Gallery of Modern Art.
Browse online art galleries
See your favourite paintings, sculptures and art exhibits at your own pace with online collections and tours. Following a particular gallery on social media (generally Instagram, Facebook or Twitter) is another good way to get an informative description or interview about a particular work of art, artist or theme.
- Browse a sampling from the Art Gallery of Ontario’s online collection, using the website’s filter categories to narrow your focus by time period, artist name or the kind of object. You can view paintings by the Group of Seven, intricately beaded Indigenous art, ship models and many other forms of art.
- At the Vancouver Art Gallery, see a curated selection of current and past exhibits, including the work of Emily Carr, the Institute of Asian Art and post-war design. You can also take part in “Art Connects” online seminars on Tuesdays and Fridays, where you can join others in a virtual class to discuss all things art.
- Tour New York’s Guggenheim with an audio guide to the iconic building’s architecture, and view selections from the permanent collection, which includes works by Picasso and Renoir. And, investigate their “Verbal Description” Audio Guide, designed for people who are blind or have low vision, which uses detailed, evocative language to describe selected works of art and put them in historical context.