The 10 Best Historical Virtual Tours from Museums to Ghost Towns

Stuck at home? No problem. These virtual tours from around the world have you covered.

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  • Photo Credit: Julian Yu / Unsplash

It can be a struggle to engage with history and culture when the world feels especially distant and closed off. Travel and school are on hold and the summers months which once spread out with possibility have been stopped in their tracks. But if you’re yearning for connection right now, there is no shortage of ways to immerse yourself in the global community.

Life may look a lot different after this, but that doesn’t mean we can no longer travel and learn. Here are 10 historical virtual tours that you can take right from the comfort of your own home, from Ukraine to the USA.

Chernobyl

On April 26th, 1986, the worst nuclear disaster in history occurred at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, best known as Chernobyl. The result of human error and unstable conditions in the core, the explosion of Nuclear Reactor No. 4 led to disaster at Chernobyl and for the nearby town of Pripyat, Ukraine. Radioactive waste flooded the area and a 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone was established, forcing thousands from their homes indefinitely.

The official Soviet death count stands virtually unchanged at 31, but it is unlikely we will ever know the true toll the Chernobyl disaster has taken on the world.

Related: Visiting Pripyat, Chernobyl's Frozen Ghost Town

Now, as Ukraine eases its restrictions and encourages tourism into the area, a wide array of videos, photographs, and drone footage allows you to explore the abandoned Pripyat and Chernobyl without harm. In this tour video of the Exclusion Zone from Veritasium, check out where Chernobyl stands 30 years after the accident.

Stonehenge

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  • Photo Credit: Momentum Dash / Flickr (CC)

In Wiltshire, England stands a ring of ominous stones. Thought to have been constructed around 3000-1520 BC, Stonehenge is one of the oldest surviving prehistoric monuments. For years, archaeologists have puzzled over what Stonehenge was meant to represent or be used for, and speculation continues to abound.

Some have suggested that it was used as a temple or memorial, but there is evidence that at least one of its functions was as a burial site. However, what has really baffled historians for centuries is its construction. With some stones originating from hundreds of miles away, it remains forever unclear exactly how Stonehenge came to be.

Now, English Heritage offers up the chance to visit Stonehenge virtually. Visit the site below to enjoy a live view, zoom in and out of individual stones or structures, and imagine your view from within the ring. You’ll feel like you’re really there.

Terracotta Warriors

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 1974, outside Xi’an, China, unsuspecting farmers stumbled across a life-sized terracotta warrior. After continuing to find terracotta pieces in surrounding areas, archaeologists stepped in and discovered the largest pottery figurine group ever found. Buried near the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, the figures were constructed to protect him in the afterlife.

The main collection includes three pits and numbers over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses. It was buried close to the Emperor’s mausoleum, but the entire necropolis it resides in is extensive.

Related: The Best Travel Memoirs and History Books to Read Before (or During) Your Next Trip

In 2017, a Chinese company constructed a virtual experience that allows visitors to enter the tomb and “walk” among the soldiers. Visit the site below to experience the individual warriors and observe their facial expressions, painted details, and the breadth and depth of the imposing terracotta army. This is one tour you could never replicate in person.

Pyramiden, A Soviet-Era Ghost Town

On an archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, the northernmost permanent settlement in the world stands virtually abandoned. Only six people reside full-time in this ghost town, which used to serve as a Soviet-era outpost.

Deserted over a period of time, the town seems frozen: sheets are left folded on the bed, tools wait to be picked up the next morning for work, and plants sit dead on windowsills. Pyramiden is stuck forever as an unwitting ode to the USSR.

Related: 10 Fascinating Ghost Towns Around the World You Can Visit

Though visitors can explore the island themselves, National Geographic met up with Pyramiden’s resident tour guide to explore the town and learn about life at the edge of the world. Check out the video below to see what near-desertion looks and feels like.

Anne Frank House

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With travel on hold for the foreseeable future, it’s unlikely most of us can make our way to Amsterdam any time soon. However, the Anne Frank House is offering virtual tours of the House and its Secret Annex where Frank and her family hid during the Holocaust. And, with the aid of Virtual Reality glasses, you can walk the House as though you were there in real-time.

The virtual layer between us and the House does not diminish the impact of seeing and learning more about the horrors of the Holocaust through Frank’s eyes and her enlightening, powerful words. Visit the website below for a special, solemn look at a life of fear and captivity.

NASA

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  • Photo Credit: Mat Hampson / Flickr (CC)

We can’t all be astronauts, but thanks to the interactive virtual tours NASA provides, now we can pretend for a moment that we are.

Access has been provided to much of NASA’s historical archives, allowing visitors to dig into intergalactic missions and imagine themselves walking on the moon. A number of facilities at the Glenn Research Center have been technologically opened to the public, offering us all a chance to experience Zero Gravity, a Supersonic Wind Tunnel, and a Ballistics Impact Lab.

The final frontier is now online.

Related: 8 Books About the History of Space Exploration

The Acropolis

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Once the center of life in Ancient Greece, the Acropolis in Athens now stands in ruins. The history, culture, and political systems of Ancient Greece continue to wield great influence over our modern society. Now, as a new kind of history unfolds before us, we can revisit and remember the old.

YouGoCulture gives you the chance to tour the Acropolis and check out each individual landmark. From the Parthenon to the Theatre of Dionysus, nothing is off-limits. And when you’re done with Athens, don’t forget to check out all the many other Greek cities and islands site tours offered via the site.

Taj Mahal

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Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal is widely considered one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the world. Built to house the tomb of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the grand mausoleum draws in nearly eight million visitors a year.

Related: 15 Historical Places You Need to See in Your Lifetime

Though travel restrictions remain in place, even greater numbers of visitors can now explore the site on a virtual tour. Visitors can discover over 20 different areas of both the tomb and the gardens through 360° panoramas, maps, and info guides. Check out the page below, because you won’t want to miss out on this unique and unfettered access.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

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The newest Smithsonian museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors in 2016. And for a while, it was exceedingly difficult to even get a ticket.

Now, thanks to the Smithsonian’s Open Access Initiative, anyone, anywhere can peruse the museum’s extensive Collection. From exhibits on slavery to the Civil Rights Era, from information on music and literature to an exploration of family and religious life, no story has been forgotten.

And we promise, there’s no line for this tour.

Related: 12 Essential Books About Slavery in America

Hashima Island

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Off the coast of southern Japan sits Hashima Island, or “Battleship Island”, home to the world’s largest abandoned city. Once the site of a booming undersea coal mining industry, the depletion of the coal reserves in the mid-1970s led to a closing of the mine and an abandonment of the island. Interest in the island spiked in the early 2000s, namely due to its undisturbed historic ruins, and in 2009, Hashima Island was officially re-opened to tourists.

In 2013, Google Street View provided brand-new, interactive photos of the island and its slow return to nature. Visit the site below to explore Hashima Island undisturbed, and make sure to walk the infamous “Stairway to Hell”.

Featured photo: Julian Yu / Unsplash

Published on 16 Jun 2020