Wheat Field with Cypresses, Van Gogh, 1889. photo from the Met collection available as public domain image

9 of the Best Art Museums that Offer Virtual Tours

In these times of social distancing, when traveling is not advised, non-essential businesses closed and schools moved online, art museums around the world opened their virtual doors to visitors. They teamed up with Google Arts and Culture to bring their galleries and exhibits online.

This comes in especially handy for our school-aged kids. When they are done with their schoolwork, we can let them explore an art museum of their choice. We don’t even need to take them – unless we want to.

I was so excited when I saw this, I actually smiled (yeah, that’s a rare occurrence). I felt I won the lottery, since my high-schooler loves art museums. Her favorite place in Manhattan is the Met. So I rushed over and interrupted her school-work.

“Guess what? You can revisit the Met when you’re done with your schoolwork!” I told her.

Her expression said “mom finally lost it”. We would need to take a five-hour plane ride to even get close to the Met.

“I mean not in person, but you can visit it virtually,” I added.

That was a whole other story; I got her attention. “Oh, I know how that works,” she said. “We did that with the Holocaust museum in school. Can you send me the site?” Realizing that she was in the middle of school-work, I told her we would do it as an after-school activity. “I also found other museums you can visit online,” I said.

So I put together a list of art museums we would start with. Then, if we get through them, we’ll move on to others.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

We have to start with the Met, since it was the catalyst for our new-found museum-visiting adventures. We wandered through its halls together during our last trip to New York. Even after a sleepless night on a plane, the excitement of being among those amazing pieces of art kept us going for hours.

The Great Hall - Greek Exhibit in the Met
Our favorite room in the Met: the ancient Greek wing. photo credit: Karen Fromm

Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or the Met), presents over 5,000 years of art from around the world. And while it is popular for those who get a chance to visit New York City, the museum makes its extensive collection available online, offering its own virtual tour.

Besides presenting part of its collection, the online features of the Met include the Met360 project, a series of six videos worth a look to explore the museum from different perspectives. You get to see the behind-the-scenes happenings at the museum, including footage from the quiet, empty museum, to birds-eye-views of its halls filled with visitors.

If you have younger kids stuck in the house, take them to the virtual and interactive #MetKids for some museum entertainment. The feature is made for kids, by kids, and includes a treasure hunt, leading to fun facts, project ideas and videos.

Relief Depicting Personified Estates from the Tomb of Akhtihotepca. 2575–2551 B.C. Public domain image made available by the Met
Relief Depicting Personified Estates from the Tomb of Akhtihotepca. 2575–2551 B.C. Public domain image made available by the Met

Another way to experience the Met online is through its partnership with Google Arts and Culture. Here, the Met offers a collection of over 200,000 pieces for the virtual viewing. It also includes stories about some of their pieces. Visiting the Met even virtually gives us a glimpse into human creativity across space and time.

The Louvre, Paris

The world’s best known and most visited art museums, the Louvre is a historic monument and central landmark of Paris. Housed in a palace built as a fortress between the 12th and 13th century, the museum is home to some of the most famous pieces of art in the world.

In the Louvre. photo credit: Leanne Fromm
In the Louvre. photo credit: Leanne Fromm

We heard stories about the Louvre from Leanne, who wrote about her visit for me. While we enjoyed her stories and photos, the Louvre online brings the collections closer for us.

Or, we can virtually visit of the Louvre through the Google Arts and Culture site, which I find easier to navigate.

The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia

One of the largest museums in the world, the Hermitage showcases art works representing the Antiquity, Western Europe, Middle East, in addition to Russia. The collections are housed in five buildings, palaces, in the historic center of St Petersburg, built between 1754 and 1851.

The Hermitage - Winter Palace. photo credit: Tatyana Kazakova on Pixabay
The Hermitage – Winter Palace. Photo credit: Tatyana Kazakova (Pixabay)

Growing up in the shadow of Russia, or the USSR, as it was called at the time, I studied the Russian language in school. Naturally, we got to talk about the Hermitage. But until now, I only knew it from books and photos. And while I still haven’t visited St Petersburg (known as Leningrad when I was growing up), I finally have the chance to take a virtual tour of the museum.

The Uffizzi Gallery, Florence, Italy

The Uffizzi Gallery. photo credit: Flickr
The Uffizzi Gallery. photo credit: Flickr

The building of the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence dates from 1560, designed by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo de Medici. Originally it housed the Granducal Magistratures of Tuscany, but soon the top floor became an exhibition of the dynasty’s collection of art.

Even if you can’t go to Italy, you can virtually wander through the Uffizzi’s Galleries using Google’s Arts and Culture App and enjoy the museum’s extensive collection of Renaissance and Baroque art.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Founded in 1929, the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan was the first museum dedicated exclusively to modern art.

Though we visited the MoMa together, both my girls and I, they were younger and don’t remember much of it. But I was excited to share it with them, since it was my favorite place in New York City during my earliest days in the country.

The entrance of the MoMa. Photo credit: Flickr
The entrance of the MoMa. Photo credit: Flickr

We’d love to return, but since we can’t go to New York now, a virtual visit is a great way for us to enjoy some of its art pieces. The tour presents a collection of 129 art pieces, with description and history. It includes works like Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Gustav Klimt’s Hope, II, or Gaugain’s The Moon and the Earth, among many others. These are a few of my favorites but you can pick your own.

Musée D’Orsay, Paris

Another museum I would love to see is the Musée D’Orsay in Paris for its large collection of modern art, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

Interior of the Musée D'Orsay. Photo credit: Guy Dugas on Pixabay
Interior of the Musée D’Orsay. Photo credit: Guy Dugas on Pixabay

The museum is housed in the building of the Orsay railway station, built in 1900 and displays art dating from between 1848 and 1914. You can visit its galleries, and enjoy famous works from its collection that includes Monet’s Blue Waterlilies, Degas’ The Ballet Class, Van Gogh’s famous Self Portrait among many others.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

One of the largest art museums in the world, the Kunsthistorische Museum of Vienna is home to art works spanning from Ancient Egypt to the late 18th century. Their collection of Baroque and Renaissance art is their most impressive, housed in their main building on Ringstrasse. The museum’s virtual exhibit showcases some of their best paintings.

Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna. photo credit: Leonhard Niederwimmer from Pixabay
Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna. photo credit: Leonhard Niederwimmer from Pixabay

Though we didn’t spend enough time in Vienna to have a chance to visit the main building of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, we’ve seen parts of the collection. While the main building has most of the artwork, some of it is housed in the Schönnbrunn Palace, where we spent time during our visit to the city.

The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

I admit I haven’t heard of the Rijksmuseum Museum until I started researching art museums that offer virtual tours. Home to works of some of the most famous artists from the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt and Vermeer, this museum became one I would love to visit.

Rijksmuseum Museum. photo credit: kirkandmimi on Pixabay
Rijksmuseum Museum. photo credit: kirkandmimi on Pixabay

For those of us who can’t travel to the Netherlands, the museum created its own app for a virtual tour. Exploring the collection is only one of the things they offer though. You can play their digital family game and solve mysteries in the museum, enjoying about an hour of entertainment (and learning) with your online-schooled child(ren).

The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Szépművészeti Múzeum - Museum of Fine Arts - Budapest. Photo credit: Vadaro - Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

It’s been years since I last visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (Szépművészeti Museum). Housed in a building dating from 1906 in the Heroes’ Square, the museum is home to one of the most important collections of European art of all periods.

So it is no wonder that it is included in the list of museums that offer virtual tours. Though they don’t have their full collection available online, you can virtually visit their Baroque and Renaissance collections, including works of Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and many more.

Explore More Virtual Galleries from Around the World

When I look at the extensive collection of museums with virtual visit possibilities, I don’t feel so bad being stuck at home with school-age kids. Personally, as an introvert, social distancing comes easier for me than social interaction.

But I am excited to find activities for my child stuck at home. Fortunately, she loves art and exploring art museums. I’m sure she will find other online collections she might tell me about. Google Arts and Culture alone has 808 collections, and this is beyond the museums themselves offering virtual tours. And if we want to explore local culture without leaving the house, we can join the virtual tour of our own Museum of Art in Phoenix.

Couchsurfing is getting a whole new meaning now. And using it to virtually visit art museums during these times of social distancing is one of the best things we can do with it.


Virtual Visits to World-Class Art Museums. photo of Rubens, his wife Helena and their son Frans, cca 1635. Paul Rubens. on view at the Met Fifth Ave. public domain image made available by the Met

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