In the wake of COVID-19, culture-starved Americans have been increasingly turning toward their screens to enjoy experiences they’d normally have in person. From museums to concerts to travel and beyond, virtual experiences have become more common as they’ve become more necessary.
Are they more fun, too? Let’s be honest: A virtual tour of the Louvre will never beat the real deal for most people—although there’s something to be said for not going elbow to elbow with what sometimes seems like half of Paris. Still, we find that many virtual experiences can be extremely fun and engaging—some even offer behind-the-scenes access! And of course, if you’ve got health-related concerns, virtual may be your best way to go these days.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled some of our favorite online events, tours and other experiences to help you live a richer and fuller virtual best life!*
The virtual trend
When COVID-19 first hit, closures and lockdowns made virtual resources the only way to see certain sites—drawing in viewers to virtual zoo tours and the like. According to data from Google Keyword Planner, the number of searches for the term “virtual tour” soared from 1,300 in February 2020 to nearly 10,000 the following month, when cities and countries began locking down.
But even though many more places and businesses are now open to the public in some form or another, it seems that virtual experiences may have staying power.
Example: In one survey conducted by A Different View in conjunction with Panelbase, 64 percent of people said they will continue to watch or participate in online experiences even after the reopening of attractions. Nearly half (48 percent) said they will continue to watch or participate in at least one of the listed online activities in preference to going out after lockdowns are lifted.
So let’s look at some of our options!**
That trip to Europe on hold? You can still see plenty of the old continent from your couch. Some of the more interesting visits that caught our eye include:
- The Palace of Versailles. This virtual look of the Sun King’s jaw-dropping home and grounds is among the more comprehensive tours we found. There are video tours, VR-based experiences to have using a virtual reality headset, 360-degree walk-throughs of the Hall of Mirrors and other rooms, stunning 3D views of priceless art and artifacts, and more. artsandculture.google.com/project/versailles
- The Paris catacombs. Since you’re already near Paris, check out one of the City of Light’s most macabre tourist destinations. The famous catacombs are a network of subterranean tunnels that house the remains of more than six million people. The virtual tour practically makes you feel like you’re there. catacombes.paris.fr/visite-virtuelle
Google has partnered with more than 2,500 museums and galleries to offer virtual tours of their artwork (artsandculture.google.com). You could spend days exploring all the options here—in fact, we encourage it—but here are a few we really enjoyed:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City). You can view more than 200,000 individual items from the Met’s collection along with 26 online exhibits—including behind-the-scenes looks at how the Met does what it does so well. You can even explore individual rooms of the museum, which gives you a sense of being in the building itself (artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-metropolitan-museum-of-art).
- The Uffizi Gallery (Firenze, Italy). Wander the halls of this famed museum that is home to some of the most important and revered Italian Renaissance art ever created—including Botticelli’s iconic The Birth of Venus. (artsandculture.google.com/partner/uffizi-gallery)
Virtual eating and drinking
Getting to our favorite restaurants has proven challenging, and occasionally impossible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have gourmet experiences. Foodies and oenophiles can consider whetting their appetites with options like:
Interactive wine tastings. As of this writing, several wineries and wine makers—such as California’s Frog’s Leap (frogsleap.com) and St. Supery (stsupery.com)—are running online tasting sessions during which they talk about various featured bottles. Just purchase the specific wines in advance and sign up to get schooled by the very people responsible for the juice in your glass. Some wineries will even put together private online tasting sessions for you and a small group of friends, so you get extra attention.
Cooking classes. Restaurants have struggled mightily during the pandemic, prompting some to go online and share their chefs’ secrets and techniques with the rest of us. One example that got our attention: virtual cooking classes held by Mei Mei—two-time winner of Boston’s best dumplings (meimeiboston.com). And if you’re an American Express card member, you can access exclusive “curated digital dining experiences” with top chefs from around the world—such as three-Michelin starred Chef Massimo Bottura. Each experience includes an interactive cooking demonstration and Q&A with each chef, as well as a special gift (resy.com/cities/ny/american-express-global-dining-collection-virtual-cooking-experiences).
Zoos across the country have set up live cams and other ways to experience the animals from afar. Some of these cameras were in place long before the pandemic, but they’ve become especially in demand these days. Check out these animals on view:
- Beluga whale (Georgia Aquarium: georgiaaquarium.org/webcam/ocean-voyager)
- Penguins (Shedd Aquarium:sheddaquarium.org/experiences/virtual-penguin-encounter)
- Fiona the hippo (Cincinnati Zoo:facebook.com/cincinnatizoo)
- Tigers, elephants, giraffes and more (San Diego Zoo:zoo.sandiegozoo.org/live-cams)
Or if you’ve got amateur spelunkers in the house, point them to the virtual tour of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns. The 360-degree tour is narrated by a park ranger, who takes you into The Big Room—a stunning cave structure that’s 4,000 feet long and as tall as 255 feet. Oh, and you’ll also get to experience what it’s like to fly like a bat (artsandculture.withgoogle.com/en-us/national-parks-service/carlsbad-caverns/natural-entrance-tour).
There are loads of live camera sites that will immediately transport you to a specific spot in the natural world to see … whatever is going on there at the moment!
One example: Explore.org (explore.org/livecams) has cameras stationed in natural habitats far and wide—which as of this writing include a busy osprey nest in Montana, Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska (where hungry black bears chase after a fish dinner) and Olifants West Game Reserve in South Africa, home to wild lions, tigers and elephants. (If your tastes run more tame, the site shows live cams in dog and cat shelters, too.)
If you don’t want to chance it that you won’t see something interesting on a live cam, you can head north for 360-degree videos of activities in and around Fairbanks, Alaska—including a stunning Northern Lights display and a sled-dog ride that puts you right in the action. explorefairbanks.com/explore-the-area/360
Don’t forget to keep that brain and body healthy, too. By now, you may have blown through all the so-called binge-worthy TV you can take. The good news: There are loads of online learning resources that have been made available lately. For example:
- Airbnb experiences. Last spring, Airbnb brought its in-person Experiences offerings—a mix of classes, tours, lessons and more—online. The move was a huge hit, and now you can engage in online experiences that run the gamut (airbnb.com/s/experiences). Among the huge range of options, you can learn to:
- Cook Moroccan food
- Cultivate an optimistic attitude
- Create Hollywood-style sound effects in your home
- Dance the flamenco
- Ivy League classes. You can access free online courses from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale through Class Central (classcentral. com/collection/ivy-league-moocs). Among the most popular courses from these elite institutions of higher learning:
- The Science of Well-Being from Yale University
- CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science from Harvard University
- Machine Learning from Stanford University
- Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies from Harvard University
- Financial Markets from Yale University
- Introduction to Psychology from Yale University
Let’s face it: The “in real life” world tops the virtual one almost every time. But online experiences can often be extremely engaging and fun—and sometimes, they may be the only options we’ve got. So get familiar and comfortable with the roster of virtual experiences available to you—you might just find them to be surprisingly cool.
*These options were in effect as of the writing of this report. Check with each provider or resource to see whether they are still in effect.
**Some of the options listed in this report are free, while others may require a fee.
Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/ SIPC. Financial Planning offered through M Financial Planning Services, a registered investment advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial. VFO Inner Circle and AES Nation, LLC are not affiliated with LPL Financial.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This article was published by the VFO Inner Circle, a global financial concierge group working with affluent individuals and families and is distributed with its permission. Copyright 2020 by AES Nation, LLC.
This report is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute a solicitation to purchase any security or advisory services. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. An investment in any security involves significant risks and any investment may lose value. Refer to all risk disclosures related to each security product carefully before investing.