Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, museums and cultural institutions across the globe are closing their doors to the public. But while visitors can no longer roam the halls of these institutions, virtual tools and online experiences mean anyone with an internet connection can browse world-class collections from home.
The Smithsonian Institution, of course, has its own array of virtual tours, experiences and educational resources. Among the other experiences on offer: Scroll through an extensive trove of 3-D photographs from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, explore online exhibits from the National Women’s History Museum in Virginia, or admire artistic masterpieces from the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Spain. Additionally, around 2,500 museums and galleries, including the Uffizi Galleries in Florence and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, are offering virtual tours and presenting online collections via the Google Arts and Culture portal.
For those in search of armchair travel inspiration, Smithsonian magazine has compiled a list of ten museums that have found new ways to fulfill their critical mission of cultivating creativity and spreading knowledge.
The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza
Home to the world’s second largest private collection of art, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza owns masterpieces by giants of virtually every art movement—to name just a few, Jan van Eyck, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Picasso and Dalí. To spotlight these artistic treasures, the Madrid museum offers an array of multimedia resources. Users can take a virtual tour of the entire building (or a thematic tour covering such topics as food, sustainability, fashion and even “inclusive love”); browse current and closed exhibits; and watch behind-the-scenes videos featuring interviews, lectures and technical studies.
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea
Committed to offering a culturally rewarding experience since opening its doors in 2013, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (MMCA) has established itself as a prominent cultural platform and leader in Korean art. In collaboration with Google Arts and Culture, the MMCA is now offering a virtual tour of its collections. This experience takes visitors through six floors of modern and contemporary art from Korea and around the world. Those seeking an educational walkthrough can follow along by tuning into curator-led recorded tours.
The Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House, established in cooperation with the famed diarist’s father, Otto, in 1957, strives to inform the public through educational programs and tours of the building where the teenager and her family hid during World War II. To delve deeper into the story detailed in Frank’s diary, online visitors can watch videos about her life; virtually explore the Secret Annex; look around the house where she lived before going into hiding; and view the Google Arts and Culture exhibition “Anne Frank: Her Life, Her Diary, Her Legacy.”
The Vatican Museums
Home to some 70,000 artworks and artifacts spanning centuries, continents and mediums, the 5.5-hectare Vatican Museums are among Italy’s finest cultural institutions. Virtual visitors can tour seven different sections of the sprawling complex, enjoying 360-degree views of the Sistine Chapel, perhaps best known for Michelangelo’s ceiling and Last Judgment fresco; Raphael’s Rooms, where the Renaissance artist’s School of Athens resides; and lesser-known but equally sumptuous locations such as the Pio Clementino Museum, the Niccoline Chapel and the Room of the Chiaroscuri.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
“Since its founding, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has maintained a belief in the transformative powers of art,” reads the Manhattan museum’s website. “In uncertain times such as these, art can provide both solace and inspiration.”
In a nod to this mission, the Guggenheim, a cultural center and educational institution devoted to modern and contemporary art, has opened up its collections to online visitors. The building itself, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is an architectural masterpiece; audiences can listen to an audio guide of its history or journey up its spiral halls via a Google Arts and Culture virtual tour. For those who want to take a deeper dive into the museum’s collections, the Guggenheim’s online database features some 1,700 artworks by more than 625 artists.
The London National Gallery
Take a virtual tour of 18 gallery rooms, enjoy a panoramic view of the museum’s halls and click through a wide collection of artistic masterpieces using the National Gallery’s virtual tools. Based in London, this museum houses more than 2,300 works reflecting the Western European tradition between the 13th and 19th centuries. Collection highlights include Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and J.M.W Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire.
NASA Research Centers
For those fascinated by space exploration, NASA offers online visitors the chance to take a behind-the-scenes look inside its facilities. Visitors can take virtual tours of the organization’s research centers, where aeronautic technology is developed and tested, and learn more about the functions of different facilities. The online tour of Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, covers 16 locations, including the Flight Research Hangar and the Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility. The virtual tour of the Glenn Research Center in Ohio, meanwhile, takes visitors inside facilities such as the Supersonic Wind Tunnel, where high speed flight is researched, and the Zero Gravity Research Facility, where microgravity research is conducted.
The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City
Home to the world’s largest ancient Mexican art collection, in addition to an extensive collection of ethnographic objects, the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City preserves the country’s indigenous legacy and celebrates its cultural heritage. In collaboration with Google Arts and Culture, the museum has made some 140 items available for online visitors to explore from their homes. Among the objects available for viewing are the famous Aztec calendar sun stone and the striking jade death mask of ancient Mayan king Pakal the Great.
San Francisco’s De Young Museum
One of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young Museum’s new copper-clad building in Golden Gate Park combines art with architecture. The collection features a priceless array of American art dating from the 17th to the 21st centuries, as well as artifacts from Africa and Oceania, modern and contemporary art, costumes, and textiles. Through Google Arts and Culture, the de Young offers 11 exhibits, including “Cult of the Machine” and “Ruth Asawa: A Working Life.”
Housed in a large fortress along the banks of Paris’ Seine River, the Louvre regularly tops rankings of the most-visited museums in the world, with millions of visitors flocking to its halls in search of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and other instantly recognizable artworks. Virtual tours offered by the Louvre include a walkthrough of the Egyptian antiquities wing and a view of the museum’s moat, which was built in 1190 to protect Paris from invaders.