Virtual Museum Tours are steadily becoming more and more common. VR has the power to transport users to places they might never be able to visit in real life so welcoming digital visitors into the museums of the world is a natural fit. It’s also a huge win for students across the globe as they get to explore some amazing pieces of world history with unprecedented access and ease.
This really strikes a chord with me as an international educator, working in a British curriculum school in the Middle East. Access to museums here is limited and exhibits tend to focus on Middle Eastern history. There’s nothing wrong with this of course – there’s some amazing artefacts to be seen – but our curriculum goes much further. Take for example when I was working in Year 3 when I first moved here in 2008. Much like the Year 3 students I had been teaching in London, the pupils in Dubai worked on an Ancient Egypt project. Of course the students back home got to visit the British Museum to see some of the world’s most famous Egyptian relics. No such luck for the students here (though I did visit the museum during a trip back home with a camcorder and record them a little walkaround tour.)
Some museums opt for virtual tours in the form of interactive online maps. Others choose to share image galleries or banks of 3D scans of their artefacts. VR offers the most immersive experience though and here I’d like to share ten of my favourite virtual museum tours. I’ve tried to choose from a range of platforms to highlight the variety on offer.
1. National Museum of Natural History
PLATFORM: Web VR
This famous museum in Washington has several virtual tours integrated directly onto the web. Using Web VR means that virtual visitors can utilise any headset, provided a Web VR enabled browser it used. The tours include both permanent and past exhibitions with the core tour offering dozens of panoramic images that can be navigated via an on-screen map or interactive arrows. What the tour lacks in supporting content (there’s no additional multimedia for the exhibits) it certainly makes up for in scope and range, with dinosaurs, sea life, geology and more in focus.
2. Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum
PLATFORM: Wonder 360 app (iOS/Android)
Created with InstaVR (a platform I’ve been exploring myself recently), this virtual tour from The Smithsonian presents the Renwick Gallery in interactive form. Nine leading contemporary artists created site-specific, gallery-sized installations and you can navigate through the halls of the museum to explore them. Multimedia tags can be selected to bring up additional information, videos and more.
3. National Museum of Iraq
PLATFORM: Google Expeditions (iOS/Android)
There are several museum tours available within Expeditions. I chose this one of the National Museum of Iraq as I felt it was a great example of a museum that many people may never visit due to its location. The great thing about accessing them this way is that a teacher can guide the students through a shared virtual tour, directing their focus and using the integrated information to explain more about what they are seeing.
4. Hintze Hall, NHM London
PLATFORM: SketchFab (any device)
Thomas Flynn is the Cultural Heritage Lead at Sketchfab and has produced some outstanding models for their Heritage and History wing. This 3D scan of the Hintze Hall in London’s Natural History Museum is an excellent example. With multiple focus points, the VR visitor can quickly get up close to some of the amazing exhibits, each accompanied by annotations to share more information. These short text overviews are accompanied by hyperlinks to additional detail about the chosen focal point from the museum’s website. It’s not the biggest, most complete or even most polished museum tour on the list but it does herald a future where more and more visitors will capture their own 360 scans and build VR tours for themselves.
5. The Louvre
PLATFORM: YouVisit (Web VR/iOS/Android)
YouVisit has really been gathering steam lately within higher education circles with their university campus tours. Here they offered a guided tour through the Louvre in Paris which can be accessed via the web or directly within their free VR app. The tour begins outside and moves through ten areas of the museum. Each location offers additional images, videos clips and information about the exhibits.
6. The British Museum
PLATFORM: Boulevard (Oculus Rift/Gear)
The Boulevard app (formerly called Woofbert) offers multiple immersive VR museum experiences including this latest from The British Museum itself. Available free on the Rift and Gear, with other platforms in development including the HoloLens, it is fast becoming into one of best places to look for virtual museum tours.
The British Museum is also working on a dedicated VR experience with Oculus which is due to launch shortly. For a taste, click here
7. Metropolitan Museum of Art
PLATFORM: YouTube 360
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a dedicated VR tour project called Met 360⁰ which takes the form of a series of 360 videos from within the museum. The clips are hosted on YouTube and each is accompanied by a short description of the content. The series allows viewers to explore The Met as never before through unique camera angles and the removal of protective covers on certain exhibits.
8. The Museum of Natural Sciences
PLATFORM: Google Street View (web/iOS/Android)
Google Street View is another platform that has multiple virtual museum tours on offer. This is one of the more professional tours, released through Google’s Cultural Institute and it boasts a huge collection of panoramas from within this science museum in Belgium. Each location is accompanied by a high-res image with some additional details.
9. The National Museum of Computing
PLATFORM: Matterport (any device)
Matterport came to my attention through the work being done by the HistoryView VR team. Their 3D cameras produce the most stunningly detailed 3D environments. This tour of the UK’s Museum of Computing includes two main rooms full of exhibits along with embedded information points that explain them in more detail. Whilst the tour only covers part of the museum, it does include the world's oldest working computer and a lot of other fascinating artefacts from the field.
10 The VR Museum of Fine Art
Medium: HTC Vive
This final example could be considered either cheating or simple genius. The VR Museum of Fine Art on the Vive is not a real museum. Instead this free app collates some of the world’s most famous works of art from the annals of history into one fully immersive space. The Statue of David welcomes you as you enter and shares space with the likes of the Mona Lisa, the Terracota Army and many more. The paintings are incredibly detailed and you can get so close you can see the texture of the paint. Truly stunning and in my opinion a sign of things to come. Pretty soon users will collate their own personalised collections in VR I’m sure and specialists will be able to collate “super-collections” on certain themes e.g. all of the world’s Ancient Egyptian relics in one place for the first time. Now that would be something!
Here’s a clip I recorded inside the Fine Art Museum experience: