Take a virtual London tour from the comfort of your armchair
Why do you travel?
For some people, it’s an opportunity to decompress, perhaps in a warm climate with a good book as a companion. Others seek out new experiences, including sampling local cuisine. But for many, travel is an opportunity to learn more about the place, its people, its culture and history.
With travel currently curtailed, curling up with a bestseller on the beach or hiking across a mountain range may be off the cards for the foreseeable future. However, anyone with an internet connection can continue to explore and learn about places and cultures as a virtual traveller.
Extend your horizons beyond your living room by taking a virtual tour of London’s iconic landmarks and flagship attractions. Here are the best of the bunch.
Best Virtual London Tours: Museums & Art Galleries
Explore the British Museum from home
The British Museum is one of my favourite places to visit in London. But just because you may not be able to visit it doesn’t mean that you can’t dive into its vast collection.
Its online collection is outstanding, allowing visitors to search over four million object records online or to explore collection highlights and stories. Many of the museum’s objects have more than one image.
Podcasts are also available.
For a different virtual experience, you can take a virtual museum tour with Google Street View, including the hugely popular – and usually rammed – Egyptian Gallery.
Take a virtual tour of the National Gallery
Google has also created 360-degree tours of the National Gallery, including seven rooms as well as its Central Hall. This virtual collection includes Renaissance masterpieces from the likes of Titian and Holbein.
And like the British Museum, you can search the gallery’s vast collection with almost 2,500 of its works available to view online.
Find out more about the Wallace Collection’s masterpieces
The Wallace Collection is one of those slightly off-the-main-radar art galleries in London. Built over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, this collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture, arms and armour and porcelain. it was bequeathed to the British nation in 1897.
And The Wallace Collection has an impressive online presence. Watch a three-minute introductory video and then explore the Wallace Collection highlights.
Want to know more about Frans Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier? Then you are in luck. Where this virtual collection is head and shoulders over its neighbours is the depth of information offered on exhibits, even to the extent of providing suggestions for further reading.
Tour the Courtauld Collection from your armchair
The Courtauld Gallery is receiving a makeover and has been closed since 2018. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not able to view its collections (it’s one of my favourite galleries in London).
Take a virtual tour of the gallery’s awesome collection, which includes Van Gough’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, in readiness for its reopening later in 2021.
Tour the Churchill War Rooms
I confess that as a Londoner, I’ve never visited the Churchill War Rooms, although it has been on my London bucket list for some time.
But with this sophisticated Churchill War Rooms virtual tour, perhaps I don’t need to physically visit. Just hit play and this slick tour will take you through the highlights of the Government’s secret bomb shelter and command hub during WWII.
You can just imagine Churchill’s ministers and military strategists thrashing out the allied strategy in smoke-filled rooms.
Best Virtual Tours of London: Seats of Power
Take a tour of the Houses of Parliament
Explore the nooks and crannies of the home of UK democracy on a Houses of Parliament 360-degree virtual tour.
Starting at the central lobby, walk through the labyrinthine corridors of power to the House of Commons. Embrace your inner historian by clicking on the information icons on the ‘hotspots’ along the way.
There is also a separate Woman and Parliament Virtual Tour which traces the role of the gentler sex in UK Government, including the Suffrage movement.
Drop in to 10 Downing Street
Let’s stay with UK politics. It’s not as if many people will get an opportunity to enter Downing Street, one of the most famous streets in London and the location of the Prime Minister’s home. But you can take a peek inside courtesy of a virtual tour of 10 Downing Street.
I really like this London virtual tour. The image quality is superb and you can explore 10 Downing Street inside and out.
Start with the iconic staircase, lined with photographs of past Prime Ministers and then venture to the Cabinet Room with its elegant Corinthian columns. Complete your visit by checking out the Prime Minister’s office and the elegant Pillared Room.
Go full-screen for the best experience.
Best London Virtual Tours: Royal Palaces
Walk in the footsteps of royalty in Buckingham Palace
Don’t stop at seeing where the PM conducts his business. Take a sneaky peek at HM The Queen’s official London residence with an armchair tour of Buckingham Palace.
This London virtual tour allows you to explore the opulent White Drawing Room, Throne Room and the Grand Staircase.
Stalk the corridors of Hampton Court Palace
Anyone who has read Hilary Mantel’s books will be familiar with the magnificent 16th Century Hampton Court Palace which was once the home of Henry VIII. One of the most beautiful royal palaces in Europe, this is a fantastic place to visit, albeit pricey, but – you guessed it – you can now take a virtual tour of Hampton Court Palace
This 8-minute video, narrated by a ‘Yeoman of the Guard’, starts in the courtyard before moving to rooms inside the Palace. A free online course on the history of royal fashion is also available.
Take a narrated tour of the Tower of London
Where some of the London virtual tours fall short is that they lack a narrative. Not so with the virtual tour of the Tower of London.
This highly informative virtual tour included a detailed commentary on the Tower of London, The Crown Jewels and more.
London Virtual Tours: The Verdict
Just because you may not be able to visit a destination, doesn’t mean that we cannot indulge in virtual travel.
These virtual tours of London’s top sights vary hugely in their quality and in the depth of information provided. As might be expected, most of these are very visual experiences at the expense of contextual information about what you are looking at.
However, the advantage of experiencing London’s key attractions from the comfort of your own sofa is that you can go at your own pace and don’t have to battle with the crowds. A virtual London tour also provides an opportunity to view spaces normally closed to the public, such as 10 Downing Street.
So pause Netflix and just do it.