Most museums and art galleries may be closed in the time of the pandemic but there are some that offer art aficionados, history buffs or even just the curious access to their impressive collections with free virtual tours.
From ogling the works of the Dutch masters to immersing in the unique and captivating world of Salvador Dali, you can create new experiences while exploring these museums from home without spending for entrance fees and, best of all, no waiting in line for hours.
Some of these virtual tours are interactive and are packed with information about each museum’s pieces of art, while others offer walk-throughs and allow their virtual visitors to see the artworks in detail.
Whether you are seeking inspiration or looking for a form of escape and a bit of adventure, here are some museums that you can virtually visit for free.
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC, US
There is definitely a lot to see at the Smithsonian, with its over 150 million artworks, artifacts and specimens. But its National Museum of Natural History is definitely a sight to behold, where 145 million specimens and artifacts are housed, reportedly the largest natural history collection in the world.
Plants, animals preserved in formaldehyde, rocks, human remains and other artifacts can be found here—and you can view all of them through the museum’s virtual tours.
The free self-guided tours will give you access to permanent, current and past exhibits, the museum support center and research station, narrated virtual tours, and other Smithsonian tours (Library, Enid A. Haupt Garden, Moongate Garden, etc.).
Don’t miss out on the current exhibits like the African Bush Elephant in the Rotunda, African Voices, Objects of Wonder, Sant Ocean Hall, and Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World.
Check out the Smithsonian National Museum of National History virtual tour here.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
One of the must-visits when in Amsterdam is the Rijksmuseum, which saw over two million visitors every year.
The museum has a total of one million objects from the years 1200 to 2000, which include 8,000 objects of art and history. The Rijks is also famous for the works of the Dutch masters it houses.
In its free virtual Masterpieces Tour, you’ll be able to explore the galleries in the museum and have an up-close look at the works of Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer, which comes with a commentary.
Make sure to visit the end of the hall to learn more about Rembrandt’s most famous painting The Night Watch, which is under a massive program with researchers and restorers looking after it.
The virtual tour also comes with a “Key Challenge,” where participants have to find keys by solving puzzles, collecting letters and figuring out the secret word that will lead you to the key.
Click here to visit the Rijks virtually.
The Louvre, Paris, France
The Louvre recently made available almost 500,000 of its art pieces online—from Venus de Milo and the iconic Mona Lisa, to textiles, historical objects pieces of sculpture and jewelry.
Each of the art pieces contains photos and detailed information about it like its history, year and places of discovery and even its location in the museum.
The Louvre also offers virtual tours of its Petite Galerie, where you can explore its exhibits including The Advent of the Artist, Power Plays, The Body in Movement, and Founding Myths: From Hercules to Darth Vader.
Check out the Louvre’s Petite Galerie virtual tour here.
Vatican Museums, Vatican City
The Vatican Museums were founded in the 16th century and have one of the world’s biggest collections of artworks, all about 70,000 pieces, but only 20,000 of them are on display.
The Museums boast a wide range of artworks including paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Caravaggio; Greek and Roman works of art and pieces of sculpture, and even Egyptian antiquities.
You can see these amazing collections with the Vatican Museums’ 360-virtual tour of their 15 stunning areas like Raphael’s Rooms, the Pio Clementino Museum and the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel.
With the tour’s zoom-in feature, you’ll be able to ogle the details of the pieces of art up-close, even the majestic frescoes by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, at your own pace and without the hassle of queuing for hours.
Click here for your virtual visit to the Vatican Museums.
The British Museum, London, United Kingdom
The 267-year-old British Museum has one of the largest and most extensive permanent collections in the world, with a massive eight million objects in it. No wonder over six million people visit it annually pre-pandemic.
The museum offers free self-guided virtual tours for 60 of its galleries, which you can access right at the comfort of your own home.
Also in the site are two virtual galleries that you can explore—Oceania, which houses some of the world’s most important collections of art and artifacts from the region; and Prints and Drawings, with artwork that range from old masters to modern and contemporary artists.
The gallery pages also feature great resources, highlights, family activities and more. And while at it, check out it’s The Museum of the World gallery that shows a musical guide to artifacts all the way to 2,000,000 BC.
Click here to start your virtual visit to the British Museum.
Dali Theatre-Museum, Girona, Spain
There is nowhere else in the world where you can experience the unique and captivating world of the renowned genius, surrealist Salvador Dali, than in the Dali Theatre-Museum.
The Theatre-Museum, designed and planned by Dali himself, is an icon in his hometown of Figueres in Girona. It’s hard to miss the museum, which is considered as the “world’s largest Surrealist object,” with the dome and Torre Galatea bedecked with mannequins, giant eggs and loaves of crusty bread.
Displayed in the museum are Dali’s masterpieces and a range of his works throughout his career.
You can take a tour of the museum and visit its three levels. Each item of interest has a pin that when clicked, will reveal the information about the particular artwork or part of the museum.
Take a virtual journey through the Dali Theatre Museum here.
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
The Art Institute of Chicago is nestled in the city’s Grant Park, in Chicago’s central business district. As one of the oldest and largest art museums in the US, it welcomes about 1.5 million visitors every year.
Its impressive collection features more than 300,000 artworks that range from early Japanese prints to Byzantine Empire art and contemporary American art.
With its virtual tour, you can explore the institute’s 572 pieces, including Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Andy Warhol’s Liz #3, and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
You can also personalize your tour by using its JourneyMaker tool, and check out the site’s interactive features that allow you to take a closer look about all things art like reading a mummy mask, conserving a carousel horse, coin collections, ancient inspirations, and more.
Start your free virtual tour of the institute here.