Even with restrictions on travel starting to lift, many families won't be going anywhere for a while. They can, however, take advantage of the many virtual tours available online, allowing kids to travel to places that both entertain and educate them. Some tours are super professional, while others are more informal, created by tourists themselves. The range can be overwhelming (where do you even start?) and some don’t necessarily work so well for kids, or are much better with equipment such as VR headsets. Here are some of the best virtual tours for families, and tips for how to make the most of them.

Three kids are silhouetted against the backdrop of a lit-up aquarium tank, with colorful fish and rays
There's plenty to learn from a digital visit to an aquarium © Rudy Mareel / Shutterstock

Visit a virtual aquarium

Aquariums lend themselves well to the virtual experience as static cameras can capture tanks and large pools well. Follow in the footsteps of a visitor to the Georgia Aquarium, or for something shorter check out the live webcams on the penguins, otters and "secret reef" at the Tennessee Aquarium. If marine life interests your kids, we love these Sea Curious clips too.

Take an online trip to a theme park

Perhaps less educational but definitely a huge ton of fun is taking a trip to a theme or water park while on lockdown. If Disney is your thing, check out the best virtual tours from Disney parks around the world, or fans of little plastic bricks can take a 360-degree view of Legoland Windsor’s Miniland. But just a simple YouTube search of water parks or roller-coasters will also allow you and your kids to experience the thrill of waiting at the top of a huge aqua slide or sitting at the front of a ride as it starts chugging upwards… 

A lioness lies on the ground with two cubs nestled between her paws
You can spot some amazing wildlife on a virtual safari © Dave Pusey / Shutterstock

Go on a digital safari

If your children love learning about wild animals there are, of course, plenty of nature programs for them to devour, but for a more bite-sized piece of escapism take a look at the WildwatchLive program from the sustainable travel company &Beyond. Using YouTube, Facebook Live and Instagram Live you can follow (and interact with) expert guides on game drives on reserves in South Africa. It’s really quite something to watch a live rhino sighting with your kids. 

See some street art from afar

Street art can be accessible and interesting to children, as well as an interesting way to teach them about social history and political commentary. This tour of Buenos Aires on StreetArt with Google provides short segments with useful audio. It is also easy to navigate around the neighborhood so there’s no chance of those with limited attention spans getting bored.

Take an online tour of an art gallery

Some of the world’s most famous art galleries were offering interactive experiences and virtual content for kids well ahead of lockdown. You could start with the MetKids dedicated site or MoMA’s audio guides for kids on various paintings in its care. Focusing on one painting or artist can be a good way for kids to access art, so why not enjoy a children’s virtual tour of the famous Night Watch, or go to the Warhol exhibition currently at Tate Modern in London, and round it off with a kid's perspective on Pop Art via TateKids.

See nature without going out

When lockdown is limiting our kids’ access to the natural world, spending some time exploring it virtually is better than nothing. For a nose around pretty much anywhere in the world (perhaps pick somewhere related to a topic in their school work), Google’s Street View feature is a good place to start, but we also recommend the tours of five US national parks. By keeping them short and using personal narrative, supplementary clips and sound bites, alongside some stunning footage, these tours are really accessible to children.

A large temple complex with five domed towers is reflected in a lake
The temples of Angkor can be explored digitally © Terry Cluley / 500px

Explore some of the wonders of the world

Google has done some great work in making some of the most well-known attractions in the world digitally accessible. With its trek experiences you can walk through the Great Pyramids of Giza, visit the temples of Angkor, explore the canals of Venice and much more – and all with bite-sized shots of information, short clips and footage that makes you want to click on. Perfect for kids. If you want to make it even more discussion provoking, its Heritage on the Edge series looks at how people around the world are protecting five different cultural sites from climate change.

Blast into space

If you want to take virtual travel to the next level then it’s time to visit some of the fascinating space-related sites online. Start with NASA’s short and sweet 360-degree tours, download the Space Center Houston’s app which will give your kids, among other things, a space selfie, and then finish up exploring Mars with the Curiosity rover (and Google).

Visit a museum's online collection

Many of the world’s famous museums have put their collections online. While you can’t replicate the experience of learning from something firsthand, children may gain more from a briefer and more focused virtual visit without the crowds, the lines and onset of museum legs. To name but a few, your kids can see the Rosetta stone at the British Museum, dive into the wonderful world of Roald Dahl or learn about female adventurers at the US National Women’s History Museum.

Young boy using a virtual reality headset at home
Make sure you've got all the right gear and software © Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

Top tips for happy virtual touring

If you are not sure where to start, think about places your kids like visiting and any major museums or attractions that they have particularly enjoyed. Revisiting familiar places virtually is a good way to get used to the medium as well as tapping into (hopefully) positive memories.

Set your expectations. It’s unlikely that you are going to keep your kids engaged for hours with a virtual tour. Be ready for it to be a fairly quick visit, but use it as a vehicle to discuss what you’ve seen and whether you might like to go IRL. 

We all know that wi-fi issues and lacking the correct software or tech can create tension points so if you can, check out how the tour works before starting it with your kids, especially if its key USP is virtual reality. 

You might also like:

These virtual tours are a great way to explore the world without leaving your home  
9 ways to teach your kids about the world without leaving home  
An expert's safety checklist if you need to travel now

Need new and interesting ways to entertain the kids? Check out our line of children's books.

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