Across Europe, many premier city destinations tout their museums and galleries as their most cherished, unmissable attractions. And most of them remain shut! Fear not – you can enjoy a taste of their treasure-chests without leaving the comfort of your couch. The only downside to virtual viewing museum glories, understandably, is the inability to appreciate the texture of exhibits, whether it be a mighty oil painting or exquisite sculptural work. Nevertheless, here’s a grab-bag of some of the best virtual museum visits from across Europe.
The British Museum in London rather pompously bills themselves as the “Museum of the World.” Then again, it was the first of its kind to open to the public in the world, way back in 1769. You can experience two million years of human history and culture on their website, with more than four million objects on virtual display. The graphics on this tour are rather trippy - think an intergalactic guitar fretboard, spanning the centuries and millennia, with a vast array of subject and geographic areas to dive into. You can even tap through a musical guide to Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania and Europe – and play a little tune along the way. You can also see the majority of the Parthenon Frieze at the British Museum, aka the Elgin Marbles, which were spirited from Athens’ Acropolis back to Blighty, 200 years ago, when the city was under Turkish Ottoman Empire control. https://britishmuseum.withgoogle.com/
Speaking of Athens, the Acropolis Museum has a fine online offering. Just weeks before Europe was thrown into Covid-induced lockdown, the European Parliament in Brussels was drawing up legislation to force Britain to handover the Elgin Marbles to Greece as part of the Brexit settlement. Covid has put that hot potato on ice for now, but as you will see on the virtual tour of the Acropolis Museum, the upper part of the restored Parthenon temple remains conspicuously devoid of its frieze, in hopeful anticipation that their antiquities will one day be repatriated. The interactive virtual tour delivers an absorbing overview of the museum and the adjacent archaeological treasures of the Acropolis site, which have hust re-opened to visitors in the flesh, including the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and Dionysus Theatre. www.acropolisvirtualtour.gr
While you’re “in” Athens, take a virtual wander through ancient Greece with the Benaki Museum’s 360-degree tour. It’s easy to get lost in their unrivalled collection of artefacts – from ancient fertility statues to gilded Byzantine paintings – with some dating back as far as 6500BC. www.benaki.org
If you're in the mood for a bit of artwork, start in London where you'll be spoilt for choice with The National Gallery of Art's online offerings. Take a tour of 18 gallery rooms with over 300 paintings, including works by Titian, Veronese, and Holbein. Captivated by one particular piece? There's also the opportunity to learn more about each of the paintings on view. www.nationalgallery.org.uk
One of my favourite museums in the world is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Boasting the world's largest collection of his artworks, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is an art-lovers dream, supremely curated online. Swoon over 200 of his paintings, 500 drawings and 750 letters. As visitors to the museum will see first-hand, as his life deteriorated and his mental health battles intensified, it’s all vividly reflected in his paintings like a window on his soul, poignantly laid-out like a stroll through his life. artsandculture.google.com/partner/van-gogh-museum
Amsterdam actually touts a bevvy of virtual museum tours, including the Rijksmuseum, Netherlands’ largest. A shrine to the Dutch Golden Age, its collection comprises over a million exhibits, dating from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. If that all sounds like museum overload, just stick to the brilliant Dutch Masters online exhibitions, like the interactive guide to the master of throwing shade, Rembrandt, in the Rijksstudio. www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio
Synonymous with Amsterdam, Anne Frank House. The secret annexe where Anne Frank and her family went into hiding during the Nazi occupation comes to life in digital form, including an all-immersive VR tour. Just download the virtual reality app for free in the Oculus store and you’ll feel like you’re there. The extensive online galleries also pack a punch. www.annefrank.org/en/museum/web-and-digital/
The world’s largest art museum and the most visited, the Louvre, was one of the first big boys to fall to prey to the pandemic, hastily closing two months ago, while thousands of bewildered visitors queued in vain outside. The Louvre has an elaborate set of online galleries and some flavourful virtual tours that serve as a great taster. www.louvre.fr/en/visites-en-ligne
I absolutely adore Musee d’Orsay in Paris, housed in a decommissioned 19th century railway station. This grand museum holds the biggest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the world. The artworks themselves are superb, headlined by Cézanne, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Not only that, but the museum is a former railway station and the virtual tour gives such an amazing sense of space that you can almost imagine what the acoustics of the building must sound like. https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/musee-dorsay-paris
If you want even more virtual musing in the French capital, Paris Musées Collections, is a one-stop shop of 14 other 14 Parisian museums, including the Catacombs, all in one incredible online version! http://parismuseescollections.paris.fr/en
There are numerous Italian museums bursting with virtual eye-candy, but the best in show is Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Fittingly, the birthplace of the Renaissance is home to the most visited art museum in Italy. The all-powerful Medici family gifted their art collection to the city of Florence in the 16th century, and voila - the Uffizi was born. To this day, it continues to specialise in Renaissance painting. Treasured works by Giotto, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, Albrecht Durer, and Rembrandt are all there to be admired. You can scroll through more than 300,000 works in the digital archives. Click on the HyperVisions tab on the Uffizi website for thoughtfully curated virtual tours around themes such as angels, epiphany and ‘intercultural vision.’ Deep. www.uffizi.it/en
Finally, if you want a more unusual museum meander, check out the virtual offerings from the Museum of Broken Relationships. Housed in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, it is where the pangs of heartache and old flames remain unextinguished. They’ve loaded up a comprehensive online gallery of their exhibits – and the stories behind them. From romances that withered and major family break-ups to all-out personal tragedy, this quirky and at times uncomfortable museum explores the mementos left over after a relationship ends. Displayed amid a string of all-white rooms are crowd-sourced exhibits from around the globe, each with a personal story attached. Exhibits range from the hilarious to the heart-wrenching. There’s the toaster someone flogged so their ex could never make toast again, to the devastating suicide note from somebody's mother. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride with the human condition. The online gift store is slightly more upbeat, with a stack of themed merchandise. The bad memories eraser is a top seller. https://brokenships.com/explore
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.