royal academy of arts london
royal academy of arts london

Virtual exhibitions: explore the world’s best museums without leaving your house

24 Mar 2020 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 | By Ellen Millard

Don’t let social-distancing get in the way of your cultural fix — museums and galleries across the globe are providing virtual tours of their collections

There are a number of exciting new exhibitions in the pipeline for 2021, but until COVID-19 restrictions ease, the capital’s cultural institutions remain firmly closed. Happily, this needn’t put a stop to your cultural pursuits. While physical visits are off the table, a number of museums and galleries across the globe are offering virtual tours of the world’s greatest art collections, which you can explore from the comfort of your very own home — no queueing required. Read on for our pick of the best.

National Gallery, London

©National Gallery, London

The National Gallery has been offering virtual tours of its fabled halls since 2011, with 18 gallery rooms and more than 300 paintings available to view. Discover the museum’s collection of Renaissance masterpieces from Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, with works by Titian, Veronese and Holbein. The tour is embedded with information links — simply click on your favourite painting and you’ll be taken to a page detailing key facts and an in-depth analysis of the work.

The British Museum, London

Get lost in the British Museum’s interactive timeline of the world, featuring some of the most fascinating objects in human history. Created in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, the virtual experience brings the museum’s diverse collection online, spanning pre-history to the present day and featuring audio insights from the British Museum’s curators.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery at the V&A, 2019

With an eclectic collection of objects and exhibitions ranging from Margaret Thatcher’s handbags to the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, one could easily spend an entire lifetime at the V&A museum. Sadly, that won’t be happening anytime soon; on a positive note, the museum’s online database is open to browse through 1,236,380 objects and 830,196 images. If you don’t know where to start, the museum’s curators have helpfully organised 5,000 years of human creativity through periods and styles, materials, exhibitions and artists so whether it’s Bowie or Dior that piques your interest, you won’t be disappointed by the wealth of information at your fingertips.

Tate Modern, London

Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, image courtesy of Tom Eversley/

The Tate group has an extensive online archive of more than 77,000 images from more than 4,000 artists. Scroll through to see works by Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Pablo Picasso, to name a few. While you’re there, take a look at the video section, which has a host of short films, podcasts and ‘how to’ guides to keep you occupied during lockdown, from interviews with artists such as Zanele Muholi and Franz Erhard Walther to tips on how to create a pot à la Grayson Perry.

The Royal Academy of Arts, London

The Royal Academy of Arts, ©Willy Barton/Shutterstock

Like much of the world’s cultural institutions, the Royal Academy of Arts has had to reschedule a number of its exhibitions and events throughout the past year. Among them is the annual Summer Exhibition, which opened in October as the renamed Winter Exhibition, before closing its doors again thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. For those who didn’t get a chance to see the show, you’re in luck — the gallery is providing a free, virtual tour of the exhibit on its website, showcasing the myriad works by household names and emerging artists that were on display in 2020. While you’re there, why not virtually revisit the inspiring Antony Gormley exhibition from 2019, or watch a preview of the upcoming show Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul? The artist herself fronts the video, guiding you through her highly personal exhibition of 25 works.

Whitechapel Gallery, London

Nalini Malani: Can You Hear Me? at Whitechapel Gallery

While the pandemic prevents people from walking through its doors, Whitechapel Gallery is showcasing a preview of its exhibitions online. Currently showing is an installation by Nalani Malani, an Indian social activist and video artist whose series of 88 hand-drawn iPad animations have been projected onto the gallery’s brick walls, creating the effect of moving graffiti. Made between 2017 and 2020, the clips depict India’s reaction to the violent death of a child, using humour, horror and satire to address global issues of social injustice. A video presented by curator Emily Butler gives a preview of what to expect when Whitechapel finally reopens.

The Courtauld Gallery, London

The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, photography by Benedict Johnson

The Courtauld Gallery has been closed longer than most, having (rather fortuitously) shut its doors in September 2018 ahead of an extensive renovation. COVID-19 restrictions permitting, it will be unveiling its transformation in late 2021, but until then you can scroll through each room of the gallery as it was before it temporarily closed. The virtual tour uses a new photographic technique that allows you to experience the artworks in exceptional close-up quality; zoom in to admire the collection of masterpieces by the likes of Monet, van Gogh and Cézanne.

Victoria Miro, London

Paula Rego, The Birthday Party, 2010

In partnership with human rights organisation Reprieve, Victoria Miro is one of a number of contemporary galleries staging an exhibition on the virtual reality app Vortic Collect this January. Launched on 10 December (a.k.a Human Rights Day), the Reprieve Collective is raising funds and awareness for the charity’s global human rights initiatives. For Victoria Miro’s exhibition, the gallery has curated works by Hernan Bas, Kedzanai-Violet Hwami, Doron Langberg, Grayson Perry and Paula Rego.

Until 31 January,

Unreal City, London

The biggest public festival of augmented reality art, Unreal City, has been extended and made virtual to allow art fans to view and interact with the event from the comfort of their homes. With 36 virtual sculptures located in 24 sites, the festival was originally designed as an artistic walking tour along the River Thames, with each of the artworks viewable through the app Acute Art. In light of recent COVID-19 restrictions, the artworks are now available for you to view without stepping beyond your front door, as the festival and app have launched a lockdown-friendly version of the event. Simply download Acute Art to bring the creations of leading artists Nina Chanel Abney, Olafur Eliasson and Cao Fei, to name a few, into your home.

Until 9 February,

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889, ©The Museum of Modern Art, New York, photography by Jonathan Muzikar

You can browse 129 works from MoMA’s collection on Google Arts & Culture, which offers the chance to view them via Street View or as a single image, each complete with information on the piece’s background, provenance and style. Look out for works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne and Keith Haring. If you’re feeling inspired, the museum is offering a series of free online courses on subjects such as photography, modern art and museum teaching strategies for the classroom.

The Louvre Museum, Paris

The Louvre Museum, ©Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock

If, like us, you had no idea the Louvre Museum harboured the remains of a medieval moat in its cellars, don’t miss the gallery’s trio of virtual tours. Originally created as a fortress for the French king Philippe Auguste, the Louvre is home to some impressive stonework, and you are welcome to peruse the perimeters of the original moat, along with the piers that once supported the building’s drawbridge, on the museum’s website. If art’s more your thing, there are tours of the gallery’s Egyptian Antiquities collection and its striking Galerie d’Apollon.

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Home to some of Italy’s most important priceless artworks, many of which were donated by the ancient ruling house of Medici, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has an online archive detailing more than 300,000 works of art. Featuring paintings located not just in the museum itself, but in the likes of the Academia Gallery Museum, the Museum of San Marco and the Medici Villas, the archive includes favourites by Canaletto and Botticelli, among others. A separate HyperVisions page gives thought-provoking insight into the Uffizi’s masterpieces.

Musee D’Orsay, Paris

A fascinating click-through exhibition explaining the Musee D’Orsay’s transformation from a railway station to one of the world’s most impressive art galleries can be found on Google Arts & Culture, which also provides access to 278 of the museum’s masterpieces. Street View will drop you right in front of Van Gogh’s Self Portrait — no queueing required.

The Belvedere, Vienna

The Belvedere, ©Lukas Schaller

The most visited museum in Vienna, with works by Monet and van Gogh, The Belvedere may be lacking in guests right now, but its team is still bringing the wonders of its impressive art collection to the world through the medium of augmented reality. Eight works by the Austrian painter Egon Schiele have been digitally enhanced to allow you to see the secrets behind the artworks, with spectacular x-ray, infared and macro images that have been developed by Belvedere’s restoration department. Using the Artvive app, simply hold up your phone camera to the screen to discover the hidden wonders of the works.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

With more than 1,000 works on display spanning the 13th century to the late 20th century, Madrid’s Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza has an extraordinary collection of predominantly European works. Virtually visit the museum’s permanent collection, where you can walk through the terracotta halls to marvel at paintings in more than 50 different rooms. There’s also a separate cyber exhibition of works by Rembrandt, complete with a video tour with curator Norbert E. Middelkoop.

Read more: The ultimate guide to culture in London in 2021