Five Virtual Museum Tours: See Our Museums From Home

For as long as there has been VR technology, there have been half-excited, half-scaremongering think pieces proclaiming that a new age of tourism has begun. Physical tourism is out, and “virtual tourism” is in. Well, we haven’t quite reached the stage where a vacation mean a trip to the living room. We haven’t given up on visiting museums in favour of touring them with only a VR headset.

But, since we’re all more or less marooned at home at the moment, it is useful to know that museums have, apparently, been preparing for the apocalypse all along. From basic functions allowing you to explore museum collections online using their websites to fully-fledged virtual museum tours, there is a way to see all five of our museums online, from the comfort of your own home.

Virtual Museum Tours for our London Museums

At THATMuse, we operate treasure hunts in three of the top five most visited museums in the UK: the British Museum, V&A, and Natural History Museum. Happily, you can visit all three of our London museums in one way or another, without leaving your sofa.

Explore the British Museum From Home

There are actually several ways to experience the British Museum collection from home. Firstly, did you know that the British Museum is the largest indoor area covered entirely on Google Street View? Begin at the magnificent Great Court, remembering to look up at that famous glass ceiling, designed by architect Norman Foster. Then, simply click around to explore! If you want to see the most popular galleries and treasures, there are helpful highlights at the bottom of the screen.

The British Museum also has two podcasts. The imaginatively named British Museum Podcast offers interesting and engaging episodes about the history of the museum and its collection, with help from experts at the museum. The British Museum Membercast (which, like the British Museum Podcast, is free to listen to without being a member) is presented by comedian Iszi Lawrence. The podcast expertly weaves together snippets from the museum’s exclusive programme of member lectures with interviews and musings.

Both podcasts are a great way to experience the British Museum from home. Feeling up for a technological challenge? Try navigating to the appropriate sections of the museum on Google Street View while you listen. 

The highlight of the British Museum’s range of interactive experiences though, is a project called The Museum of the World. This is a collaborative project between the British Museum and the Google Cultural Institute. It calls itself “an interactive experience through time, continents and cultures”. The result is a somewhat bizarre interface which looks like a space-age guitar fretboard. Click your way along, exploring objects from the British Museum’s collection from pre-history to the present day, playing a tune along the way (yes, it really is a digital fretboard, for some reason).

If it sounds like I’m describing a hazy dream, you’ll just have to go and check it out for yourself!

A screenshot from the British Museum's alternative to a virtual museum tour: image shows an interactive, stylised guitar fret-board, with icons that can be clicked to explore the museum's collection.
A screenshot from the British Museum’s bizarre-looking digital interface, Museum of the World

See the V&A Without Leaving Your Sofa

The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design. It’s also one of the museums that has been very active on social media encouraging people to #MuseumFromHome. So how can you experience the V&A without breaking lockdown? The From the Collection section of their website is where you can find most of their online content. It includes articles, video and audio about the items in the museum’s collection.

You can also search for and read about some 5,000 of these items over on Google Arts & Culture. Here, you’ll also find eight online exhibits. Indian textiles, the politics of fashion, and medieval English embroidery are just a few of the topics you could explore!

3 people look at a printed document, surrounded by statues in the V&A museum
A team on a treasure hunt at the V&A Museum. Photo credit: Chris Orange

Over on Youtube, the V&A post plenty of videos showing what goes on behind the scenes at the museum. Or for a real deep-dive, check out the 6-part BBC series, Secrets of the Museum, available on BBC iPlayer. Prefer your museum content in audio format? The V&A also post excerpts from their Lunchtime Lectures series on Soundcloud.

Annoyingly, the V&A website isn’t all that easy to navigate, but there are video virtual tours available if you know where to look – like this one on the Phaeno Science Centre, and this one on the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries

A video on the V&A Museum Instagram page showing the highlights of the Cast Courts, where you can find copies of famous art and architecture from around the world.

Visit the Natural History Museum From Home

London’s Natural History Museum is the fourth most visited museum in the UK (and ninth in the world!). It’s also a museum that has fascinated both children and adults alike for over a century. It’s hardly surprising then, that the Natural History Museum has an impressive online presence too.

Thanks to Google Arts and Culture, you can view almost three thousand items from the museum’s collection online. Of course, this is a mere drop in the ocean of the 80 million or so items that the museum has in its collection – but impressive nonetheless!  

The museum also has a whole 14 online exhibits. These cover subjects from the forgotten women of natural history, to dinosaurs and rocks and minerals. The exhibits are well put together and include a good balance of image and text (so you’ll learn something without feeling like you’re at school).

Interior shot of Hintze Hall, at the Natural History Museum: one of the areas which can be explored with a virtual museum tour. The image shows vaulted ceilings and staircases
Hintze Hall, one of the areas of the Natural History Museum which can be explored in 360° with the museum’s virtual tour.

But this is just the beginning of the interactive experiences available online from the Natural History Museum. The museum has put together a collection of natural history stories, voiced by experts and researchers from the museum, in an interactive experience, Making Natural History.

There are also two interactive museum views (powered by Google Street View) of the inside of the Natural History Museum. You explore the collections from your computer. But if you use the Google Arts & Culture app (available from the Apple Store or Google Play) to access these inside views of the museum, you can enjoy a 360-degree experience using only your phone! Perhaps the age of “virtual tourism” is here after all…

And as if that’s not enough, the app also allows you to take two virtual reality tours of the museum! All you need is a basic cardboard viewer to attach to your phone, like this one.

Virtual Museum Tours for our Paris Museums

Many moons ago, THATMuse launched its first treasure hunt in the Louvre. And just a year later, the company spread its wings and flew across the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay. We’re sad not to be able to visit our favourite museums in Paris (or anywhere!). But thankfully, with the help of online museum collections and virtual museum tours, there are ways to experience our Paris museums from home.

Explore the Louvre Without Travelling to Paris

The Louvre is the largest museum in the world, with a collection of over 35,000 items on display (which is just 10% of the museum’s full collection). But is there a way to see this magnificent museum’s treasures online? Well, there are a few.

Sadly, the Louvre has not (yet?) joined the British Museum, Musée d’Orsay and other museums whose galleries can be explored on Google Street View. You can get inside the museum’s adjoining shopping mall, the Carousel du Louvre, where you’ll see the famous inverted pyramid. And of course, you could spend hours just exploring the outdoor courtyards of the Louvre. The larger Cour Napoléon, which contains I.M. Pei’s famous glass pyramid, and the smaller, quieter, Cour Carrée, can both be explored on Google Street View.

The large courtyard at the Louvre Museum on a busy day. Three glass pyramids are visible, as well as the exterior of the Richelieu wing.
The exterior courtyards of the Louvre, as well as the underground shopping mall including the inverted pyramid, can both be explored on Google Street View

But of course, while the museum building is beautiful, it’s the Louvre’s collection that we’re interested in. You can view a selection of works from the Louvre’s most famous and most important collections online. Search for specific pieces, or make your way through the various selections they’ve made available. Each work or object is accompanied by text explaining a little about the piece and its historical context.

This is a good place to start if you’re simply starved for art. However, much more interesting are the seven online tours which are also available on the Louvre’s website. With titles such as Power Plays and Founding Myths: From Hercules to Darth Vader, these fascinating tours allow you to navigate around certain galleries and click on pieces to read about them.

The tours are well-thought-out, and it’s wonderful to be “inside” the Louvre, even if only virtually. However, the tours are a little glitchy, and not as well put together as those made by other museums.

Edit: As pointed out in the comments, there’s another great way to experience the Louvre at home: their VR Mona Lisa app, which you can download for free on Android and Apple. You can immerse yourself in a 360° video, or get a cardboard viewer for the full VR experience.

Experience the Musée d’Orsay at Home

Thanks to Google Arts and Culture, there are three ways to experience the treasures of the Musée d’Orsay from home.

Firstly, you could spend some time exploring the almost 300 items from the museum’s collection which are photographed and catalogued on the Google Arts and Culture website. Each piece has an accompanying text, not only giving useful biographical information about the artwork and artist, but pulling out relevant themes, and adding historical context. You can organise the works by period, popularity, and even colour!

One of the Musée d’Orsay’s famous clocks, which can be viewed with the interactive museum view tool. Photo credit: Betsey Darley

But, while looking at pictures and reading about art is just fine, it’s no substitute for wandering around a museum. Thankfully, there’s also an interactive museum view tool powered by Google Street View, which allows you to actually navigate around the museum for a virtual gallery tour.

It’s a great tool, which even shows pop-ups whenever you come across one of the pieces of art which is profiled on the website, so you can read about it. Similarly, if you’re looking through the collection you can click “see in street view” to see the piece you’ve been reading about on display in the museum.

Lastly, the museum has only one online exhibit on Google Arts and Culture, but it’s a good one. The exhibit, From Station to the Renovated Musée d’Orsay takes you through the fascinating history of the building that now houses the museum. Complete with fascinating historical photos and diagrams, follow the story of the building from its inauguration as a train station in 1900, through its near destruction in the 1970s, to its remodelling and unveiling as a museum in 1986. Did you know the museum now holds the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world?

Bonus: THATMuse blog!

Of course, there’s another place you learn about the collections of our museums: right here, on this blog! Sadly, we don’t have the budget for fancy virtual museum tours. But we do write plenty of posts on our museums and their collections. Just use the category links to view posts related to each museum.

And, if you’d like to get our posts direct to your inbox, why not sign up to our mailing list?

Photo credit for lead photo: Chris Orange

4 Comments on “Five Virtual Museum Tours: See Our Museums From Home

  1. Another great way to experience some of the objects in the British Museum’s collection is to listen to the podcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” Fascinating!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: