Virtual tours of museums while you stay at home

In these strange days of the COVID-19, it is more difficult than ever to travel and enjoy the pleasure of walking the corridors of a museum, while imagining how life has changed over the centuries. Fortunately, for some time now there are museums that provide virtual tours of their exhibitions.

In my opinion, these experiences are still far from being like a real tour, but they are a great help to learn about history and art at any time and from any place. When trying to reproduce exactly a real visit, the movement of the user through the museum can become awkward in some cases. I think the experience should focus on visualizing clearly and faithfully the artworks or archaeological objects, adding audio explanations or short animations to achieve a better understanding. I hope museums keep working on this kind of initiatives to make easier the access to their collections to the public.

Google Arts & Culture

Maybe the best point to start this virtual jorney is the Google Arts & Culture online platform. From its collections section is posible to access more than 2000 partner museums throughout the world. The user can walk through the rooms of the museums just as he walks the streets of a city using Google Street View. I consider even more interesenting the selection of high-resolution images and videos of artworks and cultural artifacts that each museum makes available to the public. Each image is shown together with its corresponding information. As a curiosity, it is possible to open a world map and zoom into an area to see the museums accessible in that area.

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Matterport

Matterport is a technology I have encountered repeatedly while looking for virtual tours. It uses three-dimensional 360º cameras to create highly realistic, fully immersive representations of any location. Viewers can explore the location from a variety of viewpoints. It is also posible to add information tags to have a more interactive experience. Several museums uses Matterport to create virtual spaces that can be viewed on a desktop computer, a mobile device or with a virtual-reality headset for an even more immersive experience.

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Museums and their collections

Virtual tours allows viewers to experience world’s most famous museums from the comfort of their own home. In other cases, museums choose to share image galleries of their collections of objects. It is also posible to find online videos of guided tours. There are many possibilities, and all of them are a great win for students, art lovers and people interested in history.

  • The British Museum has made available to the public high definition images of part of its collection of objects that reflect the history and diversity of different civilizations around the world. It is possible to access almost four and a half million objects in more than two million records. The British Museum, in colaboration with the Google Cultural Institute, has also created an interactive experience called The Museum of the World which allows users to explore objects from across diverse cultures and listen to British Museum curators share their insights.
  • From the website of the Musei Vaticani is possible to start with a 360º view of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel, and continue with virtual tours of the remaining Vatican museums: Pio Clementino Museum, Chiaramonti Museum, New Wing, Raphael’s Rooms, Niccoline Chapel, and Room of the Chiaroscuri.
  • Some of the Smithsonian museums provide really interesting virtual tours, for example the National Museum of Natural History. In addition to that, the Smithsonian Institution, through it Smithsonian Open Access platform, has made available to the public part of its digitized content, including more than 2.8 million images and 2,000 3D models. Each image or model is accompanied by a description, a summary and its history.
  • The Louvre, in Paris, is immense, with 60,500 square meters of floor space and around 35,000 paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts. It is considered one of the world’s most visited museum. From its website, it is possible to visit online some of the museum’s exhibition rooms and galleries. You can also go to YouTube and take a long virtual tour of the Louvre in three high-definition videos (part1, part2, part3).
  • The National Museum of the United States Air Force has a good combination of virtual tour, 360º views from the cockpit of different airplanes, and its own video channel.
  • Thanks to YouTube, it is even possible to walk through the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley guided by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak. During the video Wozniak tells a lot of personal anecdotes related to modern computing history.
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Not only museums

Apart from visits to museums, the technology used to create virtual tours allows people to view many other places without going out of their homes, from the tomb of an ancient pharaoh in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, to the International Space Station in orbit around the Earth.

  • Visit the Pharaoh Ramesses VI Tomb, or walk through any one of the many other places captured by people around the world using Matterport technology.
  • Take an interactive tour of Stonehenge, with 360º views from inside the famous prehistoric monument in England.
  • Explore sites of cultural, historical, and geographic significance, with Google Maps Treks.
  • Travel to the International Space Station and enjoy the explanations of each module given by real astronauts.
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