The Best (Virtual) London Tour to Avoid Tourists
The doors to London’s most popular museums, galleries and places of cultural significance have all closed, but in much better news, our favourites have all thrown open their virtual doors.
As telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell’s famous saying goes: when one door closes, another one opens. Bell was - unfortunately for this article - born in Edinburgh and not London, but there really isn’t another saying quite like it (we’ve looked). As you’re likely already aware, the doors to London’s most popular museums, galleries and places of cultural significance have all closed, but in much better news, our favourites have all thrown open their virtual doors. Yes, you can now devour London’s art, architecture, or whatever it is you’re craving from the comfort of your beloved armchair. So there’s no need to shower first, you can leave guilt-free whenever you like and, most importantly, you can be damn sure no one else will be there to get in your way.
We’ve tested the lot and included our best finds for your London tour below.
Each summer half a million people snoop around Buckingham Palace pretending they’re looking for more than a glimpse of The Queen. This year needn’t be any different thanks to a collection of virtual palace tours, including the Grand Staircase and the Throne Room. Spoiler: there’s no sign of her.
Begin my virtual tour of Buckingham Palace.
Houses of Parliament
The Palace of Westminster sits alongside Big Ben on the north bank of the River Thames which, unfortunately for anyone working there, hasn’t gone unnoticed by tourists. While it’s difficult to enjoy this landmark up-close (thanks to said tourists), some tech wizards have produced a free 360 degree virtual tour of the much-less-stressful inside for you to enjoy from home.
Begin my 360 degree tour of the Houses of Parliament.
Natural History Museum
Full disclosure: these virtual tours aren’t
very good the most polished on the list. Having said that, these videos are the closest you’re going to get to this masterpiece of a museum, for, well – indefinitely, so it’s significantly better than nothing. Ooh, and one of them is narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
Take me to the one narrated by David Attenborough, please.
The Courtauld Gallery
A lesser-known cultural hotspot – the Courtauld Gallery should be on your (virtual) London tour if you enjoy showing-off. Officially closed for major redevelopment back in 2018, the gallery set up a progressive, high quality digital tour long before lockdown was announced. The result? You can get close enough to Vincent van Gogh’s self-Portraits to count the brushstrokes in his hair, if you’ve got the time.
I have the time, show me the van Gogh.
ZSL London Zoo
An iconic London landmark? Arguably not, but 1.25 million of you visit the London Zoo each year, and that’s a lot of potential clicks to this London tour article. As expected, there’s something for all the family here – from Zookeeper diaries to a cutesy video of some dwarf mongoose pups. Yes, you read that right.
I want to visit the London Zoo (virtually).
The National Gallery
Three virtual tours to choose from and no one to block your view. You can also read up on all your favourite works thanks to the clever curators who integrated every single one of the collection information pages (thanks). “Go full-screen for the best experience” – we did as we were told and advise you to do the same.
I want to go full-screen at the National Gallery.
Royal Academy of Arts
You can still experience one particular exhibition online while the (absolutely massive) RA doors are closed: the virtual tour of Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert. Us neither, but it is nice to have a look around the place.
Take me to the Royal Academy, please.
Tower of London
Your tour guide is ready and waiting to walk you through the Tower of London. Stephen, or whatever you decide to name yours, provides almost too much information on the site’s history and ends with an inappropriate joke about the Crown Jewels (probably). You can also hop up to Tower Bridge for a 360 degree look at the Engine Rooms, if you’re that way inclined.
Begin my virtual tour of the Tower of London.
Royal Albert Hall
London’s beloved concert hall has created a tour of its auditorium using Google Street View’s 360-degree panoramic imagery and there’s not much more we can say about that.
Start my virtual tour of the Royal Albert Hall.
Total honesty: this one’s a cheat. The National Theatre hasn’t got a virtual South Bank tour, but they are uploading free, full-length performances to their YouTube page every Thursday for the foreseeable future. At the time of writing Tamsin Greig and Benedict Cumberbatch were both up for grabs (in Twelfth Night and Frankenstein, respectively).
Watch the latest performances here.
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