22 ways to leave home without actually leaving the couch, from virtual zoo exhibits to museum gallery tours

photocritical/Shutterstock; Sean Pavone/Shutterstock; Mark Scott/ShutterstockMonterey Bay Aquarium, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and NASA’s Houston Space Centre all offer free virtual exhibits.
  • Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended gatherings with 50 people or more are cancelled or postponed until May.
  • Experts are urging people to practice social distancing, or avoiding crowds and staying home to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
  • This has led several art institutions, tourist attractions, and theatres to temporarily close.
  • However, many museums, zoos, and theme parks offer free virtual tours and exhibits that are perfect for extra time spent at home while social distancing.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the temporary closure of many tourist attractions, theatres, theme parks, and public event spaces.

Some states are ordering restaurants and bars to shut down, and on Sunday, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention announced its latest recommendation in an attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus: for gatherings of 50 people or more to be cancelled or postponed until May.

As experts urge people to practice social distancing – meaning to stay at home and avoid crowded places – to help “flatten the curve” of the spread of the coronavirus, some people are finding themselves with more time on their hands.

On a positive note, many museums and cultural institutions around the world are inspiring people to stay curious and occupied by offering free virtual tours, exhibits, videos, and performances for people to enjoy from their homes.

For now, while many institutions remain closed for the month of March or the time being in the name of public health, you can still (digitally) take a walk through Main Street in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom or view art from renowned names like Picasso, Dalí, and Vincent van Gogh.

Here’s how to enjoy an afternoon at the museum, the zoo, or theme park all without leaving your couch.

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, you can take a tour of Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland.

John Cogill/APBlarney Castle is famous for a stone that visitors kiss for good luck.

Blarney Castle is known for its mythical stone that visitors have kissed for good luck for hundreds of years. This year was the first time in history that the kissing of the stone was put on hold due to the spread of the coronavirus.

For now, prospective visitors can take in the beautiful sight through a highly detailed virtual tour.

Relax during golden hour by viewing the sunset off the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

ShutterstockThe Cliffs of Moher.

You can take a virtual tour of the famous Irish geological landmark on the Cliffs of Moher website.

Take a guided virtual walking tour through one of five national parks, including the picturesque rainforest of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

George Rose/Getty ImagesThe Thurston Lava Tube is an entrance to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Google’s online Arts & Culture activation includes a program called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” in partnership with the National Parks Services, and it quite literally brings the outdoors inside.

The digital exhibit features five national parks, including Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, and Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.

Transport yourself to some of the world’s most ornate theatres, like Palais Garnier from “Phantom of the Opera” and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Izim M. Gulcuk/ShutterstockVienna State Opera in Wien, Austria.

While many theatres are temporarily closed, you can envision yourself in the Golden Age of cinema or at an architecturally stunning opera house in Europe by taking a digital tour of performing arts centres around the world via Google Arts & Culture.

Speaking of theatre, the famed Metropolitan Opera is hosting nightly live opera streams while they are closed.

Carlo Allegri/ReutersThe Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The renowned opera house is closed to the public through March 31 at the time of writing but will stream a performance starting at 7:30 p.m. EST every night they’re closed. For now, the schedule is published through March 22, but updates will be listed on the Met Opera’s website.

The recordings will be available on the Met Opera homepage for 20 hours after they’re streamed at night.

Disney World and Disneyland are closed for the time being, but fans can still virtually roam the magical theme park.

Associated PressMickey and Walt Disney.

Disney previously launched Google Street View imagery of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Fans dreaming of a day spent in the loveable theme parks can virtually enjoy Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and even Disney World’s global Epcot “countries.”

If a “walk” through Disney isn’t your speed, try going for a virtual rollercoaster ride.

John Raoux/APSlinky Dog Dash ride in Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World.

YouTube is filled with rollercoaster ride recordings that let users envision themselves on attractions at Disney resorts, from the Incredicoaster at Disney’s California Adventure park to the “Frozen” Ever After ride at Walt Disney World.

Monterey Bay Aquarium in California is livestreaming penguins, sea otters, jellyfish, and other creatures.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/APJellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The Monterey, California, aquarium is giving visitors a virtual look at its colourful sea creatures via free live camera streaming. Animal lovers can zen out to jellyfish or watch penguins waddling in their habitat.

The Guggenheim Museum in New York City is offering a free virtual tour of all its galleries.

Earthscape/ShutterstockThe outside of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

Google Arts & Culture is offering a free digital tour of the Guggenheim Museum through its Street View feature.

The Guggenheim is known for its collection of contemporary art, as well as for its unique architecture, and the experience of roaming the signature curved building is still captured by the Google Street View digital tour.

Transport yourself to a world landmark, like the Taj Mahal.

Matt King/Getty ImagesGoogle Street View offers a 360-degree look at many famous destinations.

Google’s Arts & Culture section has crystal-clear views of the Taj Mahal in New Dehli, India, as well as several other renowned spots around the world. For example, you can look down from the top of the Eiffel Tower or relax with a view of the Sydney Opera House, all while not actually travelling.

Several exhibits in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, can be toured virtually.

Carolyn Kaster/APA fossil exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

From dinosaurs to ocean creatures, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History offers in-depth 360-degree views of its exhibits.

The San Diego Zoo has live and archived videos of pandas, polar bears, giraffes, and other zoo animals.

KPG_Payless/ShutterstockA panda at the San Diego Zoo.

The California zoo has pre-recorded and live video streams showing koalas, apes, pandas, penguins, and other creatures that offer endless hours of entertainment and fascination.

History buffs can explore an interactive tour from the British Museum in London.

Piotr Wawrzyniuk/ShutterstockInside the British Museum in London.

The museum has a free interactive timeline that lets users explore artifacts from ancient civilizations around the world. The virtual exhibit lets people focus on different topics and themes, like “living and dying,” “power and identity,” and “trade and conflict,” all from different continents and eras.

The Museum of Modern Art has a library of photos from its permanent collections, featuring works by van Gogh and other contemporary artists.

Google Art ProjectThe MoMA is home to Vincent van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night.’

Also in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, the MoMA offers one free virtual “walk-through” exhibit, plus select photos of its permanent artwork collections.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a series of videos set to calming music showing stunning views of its buildings.

Diego Grandi/ShutterstockInside the Met in New York City.

Anyone who appreciates architecture will likely enjoy The Met’s series of YouTube videos that show its most famous buildings and exhibit spaces in a 360-degree format. As a bonus, the videos also feature relaxing instrumental music soundtracks.

Take a deep breath and take a virtual stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO-recognised site in Kew, London.

Kamira/ShutterstockThe Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, England.

Some very kind visitors to the Royal Botanic Gardens captured panoramic shots of the stunning landscape, and they’re available to view on Google’s Street View feature.

Fans of surrealism can virtually step inside The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Sean Pavone/ShutterstockThe Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, has an extensive collection of Dalí’s artwork.

The Dalí Museum lets visitors virtually explore its courtyard, architecture, and even inside some of its gallery areas, which houses more than 2,400 works of art by Salvador Dalí.

NASA’s free mobile app lets space-enthusiasts virtually step into mission control.

Michael Wyke/APNASA Johnson Space Centre in Houston in 2019.

NASA’s free Space Centre Houston app lets people explore virtual reality experiences, take astronaut selfies, and follow along through an audio tour of its educational space centre.

The Picasso Museum has a virtual tour of its historic courtyard, plus an interactive map of Barcelona.

Popova Valeriya / ShutterstockPablo Picasso spent many of his formative years as an artist in Barcelona.

The Picasso Museum offers virtual tours of its courtyards, discussing the architecture in relation to the history of Barcelona.The museum also has an interactive map depicting Picasso’s Barcelona, showing a timeline of his upbringing, his first studios, and bars and galleries frequented by the famed artist.

There are a couple of ways to virtually tour the Louvre.

Thierry Thorel/NurPhoto via Getty ImagesFrance’s Louvre Museum announced it would not open on Sunday due to fears of the coronavirus.

The Louvre’s official website offers a few virtual exhibits of its own, and a separate site, YouVisit, has a realistic 360-degree tour of several parts of the Paris museum.

The Acropolis Museum lets users take in stunning views of Athens, Greece, from their couch.

jpbarcelos/ShutterstockA view from the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece.

In partnership with Google Arts & Culture, the Acropolis Museum has digitised many of its ancient artifacts, from statues to marble murals. Virtual visitors can also take in panoramic views of Athens via the Street View feature.

The National Portrait Gallery has digitised versions of its famous paintings.

Jacquelyn Martin/APPortraits of Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice by Mickalene Thomas.

Online guests can explore several exhibits from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, from “First Ladies” to “Eye to I: Self-portraits from 1900 to today.”

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