Explore some world wonders from the comfort of your sofa
It looks as if most of us aren’t going to get much travelling done in the next few months. If you’re lucky enough to be in the position to travel internationally it can be frustrating to have your wings clipped and be stuck on your home turf. But this needn’t stop you exploring altogether. Thanks to the ever-improving power of digital photography, online tours allow us to pay visits to some of the world’s greatest and most fascinating locations without leaving the house. They offer an eco-friendly alternative that lets us abide by all the necessary rules we’re now living under. Take these tours for what they are, and you can get a lot out of them. If you’re still feeling shut-in, maybe see them as inspiration for your next trip, whenever that might end up being. Here are just some of the many wonders you can discover.
For many of us it is a lifetime ambition to walk the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu (it’s certainly on my bucket list). Over 1 million people visit every year, so you’re unlikely to have the place to yourself! Located 2340 metres up a mountain, the citadel was built by the Inca in the 15th century. Its incredible buildings are constructed without concrete or mortar, making their smooth joins particularly impressive. It is estimated that as many as 750 people lived there during its heyday, but it is thought to have only been inhabited for around 80 years. Unlike many other Inca sites it seems to have never been discovered by the Spanish invaders. But they may have been responsible for its downfall anyway, as it is posited that Machu Picchu’s citizens were wiped out by smallpox, introduced to the country by the Conquistadors.
Immerse yourself in the pleasingly high-quality Google Street View. An online visit is never going to give you quite the thrill of being there in person, and especially not the sense of reward at the end of a tough trail. But it does give you an idea of the impressive scale of the place. Perhaps a wander around its digital twin will be just the motivation you need to keep up your training and finally book a trip when this all settles down?
The only place on this list that I’ve actually visited, I can attest that in some ways you’re actually getting a better view on Google. Built in stages beginning about 2500 years ago, Stonehenge is an impressive and enigmatic monument in the heart of Wiltshire. There is considerable speculation about its purpose, and research and archaeological surveys continue. After centuries of being open to all comers, you can now only get up close to the giant sarsen and smaller blue stones on special occasions. The site is a focal point for present-day Druids, who hold excitable but entirely peaceful gatherings there on summer and winter solstices.
You have two options for visiting the site, with a Google Street View which lets you walk around the stones, and an English Heritage tour which positions you right in the middle, and gives you some videos about different aspects of its history and creation.
This incredible site is one few of us will ever have the chance to explore. Known as the ‘Terra Nova Hut’, it was constructed on the north shore of Cape Evans, on Antarctica’s Ross Island, in 1911 by Robert Falcon Scott and his crew on their ill-fated expedition. Attempting to be the first to reach the geographic South Pole, Scott and four companions reached the pole on 17 January 1912, only to discover that their Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen had beaten them by 34 days. Scott and his companions never made it back to the hut, freezing to death on their return journey. They left behind photographs and journals, which were discovered alongside their bodies by a search party months later. The Terra Nova Hut, named after the expedition’s supply ship, is a fascinating time capsule, its content almost perfectly preserved. Constructed to house the 25 men (and of course they were all men) who made up the expedition crew, it was used until 1917, and then only rediscovered in 1956. Sporadic preservation attempts have taken place since then, but a major project was carried out in 2016, and the site is now listed as a world monument.
It is quite moving to step through the hut, seeing items both scientific and personal left as they were all those years ago. Cakes, gloves, and even photographer Herbert Pointing’s dark room and its chemicals are untouched, exactly as they were. They could have just left. It is a strange testament to the domineering British spirit that would have such dire consequences for much of the world in the broader context of the British Empire. The determination for everything to keep going as normal, social structure, dining table and all, is apparent throughout the hut. There is nothing to reveal the unusual location, bar the complete penguin carcass and the seal blubber. The expedition made important scientific discoveries, but its reputation was overshadowed by Scott’s death, and later questions about his leadership. Some might suggest that it is exactly the stiff-upper-lipped-ness of carrying on as usual that gave the expedition its disadvantage compared to Amundsen’s knowledgeable and respectful approach to the conditions he encountered.
This incredible 3D tour will give you a sobering and moving reminder of what humans can achieve when they put their minds to it, but also of the eternal importance of adaptation and respect for one’s surroundings.
Palace of Versailles
From one extreme to the other! No one who glimpses inside the literally gilded halls of Versailles could fail to understand why France was driven to revolution. Begun in the reign of Louis XIV, it served as the primary royal residence of France until the Revolution in 1789. It saw an exceptional number of expansions and level of aggrandisement over the reigns of Louis XIV and XV, before being seized during the Revolution. It has been a site of tourism for longer than most places, as tours of the grand but empty rooms began as early as 1793. Now nearly 8 million people are estimated to visit each year.
The most famous room in the Palace, and arguably one of the most famous in the world, is the Hall of Mirrors. The excessively lavish room connects the apartments of the king and queen. At 70 metres long, you could get a reasonable day’s exercise pacing its length, admiring yourself along the way in its 17 mirrors, which reflect views out to the garden. Thanks to Google, you can now explore the Hall of Mirrors alongside other rooms in the palace, in a quiet seclusion it has probably rarely known. It perhaps offers a good chance to reflect on the modern day equivalents of Versailles, whatever they may be.
The Old Library, Trinity College Dublin
An intellectual note to end on. The Long Room of Trinity College Dublin’s Old Library has to be one of the greatest libraries in the world. Nearly as long as the Hall of Mirrors at 65m, it holds some 200,000 books. Built between 1712 and 1732 to designs by architect Thomas Burgh, it was expanded in 1860, as they had begun to run out of space. Trinity College Dublin became a copyright library in 1801 (and still is), meaning that a copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland must be deposited in it, so it is no wonder the shelves were filling up. The Old Library is home to some of the great treasures of Irish history, including one of the last copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read by Patrick Pearse at the start of the 1916 Easter Rising, and the harp upon which the emblem of Ireland is based.
Your own bookshelves may seem humble by comparison, but even the grandest of libraries serve to remind us that is it not what houses the books, but the stories and knowledge that the books themselves house that really matter.
Which was your favourite of the sites we looked at? I have to say that Machu Picchu is probably mine, it’s just so breathtaking, and the idea of getting to hike there some day is thrilling! Have you discovered any other great online tours? Please do share in the comments!