Although lockdown means we can’t visit in person, take advantage of these great virtual tours
If you’re a culture vulture or an art lover, you’re no doubt missing the museums and art galleries that make up the cultural fabric of the UK. Handily, Britain’s museums have embraced the digital landscape, and thanks to apps like Google Arts and Culture, it’s easier than ever to explore your favourite spots.
The British Museum is considered the first true “National Museum” – setting a standard that museums across the world followed. Here you’ll find some of the highlights of history, from the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles and a three-and-a-half-ton head from the statue of Amenhotep III.
You’ll be able to take a walkthrough tour as if you were in the museum yourself thanks to the Museum’s partnership with Google – allowing you to visit every floor, room, and even marvel at the glass roof of the Great Court – covered with 3,212 panes of glass, no two of which match.
Natural History Museum
The world-famous Museum of Natural History in Kensington is a mecca for all enthusiasts of the natural world. Especially famous for its extensive collections of fossils, including “Dippy” the diplodocus – who until 2017 graced the spectacular Hintze Hall. Nowadays it’s occupied by the equally impressive Hope, the skeleton of a Blue Whale who hangs suspended in mid-air.
Online you’ll find a virtual self-guided tour of the galleries, an interactive experience about Hope the blue whale (you can even see the skeleton in augmented reality thanks to Google Arts and Culture) and audio guides narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
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National Gallery & National Portrait Gallery
The British National Gallery is unusual in not being a collection solely of artists from their home nation (for that, head to the Tate Britain below). Instead, the National Gallery in London prides itself on an almost encyclopaedic collection of art, with most major developments in western painting represented by an important work on display.
Visitors to the National Gallery during lockdown will find a virtual tour of the gallery available allowing you to explore the vast Renaissance collection, as well as a virtual reality tour of the Sainsbury Wing. Members of the National Gallery can also access a tour of the exhibition “Artemisia” – detailing the works of female Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, and led by Letizia Treves, Curator of the exhibition.
The National Portrait Gallery closed in July 2020 as part of a refurbishment program but made significant portions of their collection available online as part of their virtual tour series. You can explore portraits through time periods from the Tudors to the twentieth century, across a number of subjects from LGBT+ to royalty.
One of the more unusual locations to explore, this exhibition-led cultural centre offers visitors an experience of the best and latest from Japan – and one of only three in the world (the other two are in Los Angeles and São Paolo). Even the most knowledgeable guests will find something new to discover on every visit, as the exhibitions change regularly.
Currently you’ll find the delightful Architecture for Dogs exhibition available to explore online – complete with a frame designed to be climbed by dachshunds, and an interactive house created to provide stimulating environments for beagles.
Tate Britain & Tate Modern
Showcasing some of the most important pieces of British art, the Tate Britain houses the most comprehensive collection of its kind anywhere in the world. The Tate Britain in particular holds a large part of the collection of J. M. W. Turner (who bequeathed all of his own collection to the nation) and organises the annual Turner Prize named after him.
Visitors can explore the Tate’s collection in their Walk Through British Art – 13 rooms dedicated to showcasing the most important periods and developments in artwork in the UK between 1540 and 1960. There’s also an audio highlight tour of the online exhibition where you can listen to artists, curators and conservators talk about the key artwork that defined Britain.
From its imposing position on the banks of the River Thames, looking directly at St Paul’s Cathedral over the Millenium Bridge, the Tate Modern is home to some of the most though-provoking art in Britain. Visiting the Tate Modern’s collection online is easy though – with 3D galleries of each room that take you through all of the major exhibits.
The Roman Baths
The thermae in Bath were constructed between 60 and 70CE – within a few decades of the Roman colonisation of Britain. Designed for public bathing, the baths there were used for more than 400 years until the end of Roman rule, before being redeveloped in the twelfth century. Nowadays, the water is off-limits to visitors, but the museum itself documents Roman life in the town of Aquae Sulis in incredible detail.
You’ll be able to discover the entire museum in the virtual tour available online – complete with notes and helpful information about each part of the museum – learning about the temple that once stood on the site and the people that built and lived in the town.
The Tank Museum
Ever a favourite with youngsters into heavy machinery, the tank museum boasts the largest collection of tanks in the world. Vehicles from 26 different countries can be found here, including one of the few World War I tanks still in working order, and the only example of a working Tiger I tank.
While you can explore a large part of the museum through Google Maps, the real joy here is the massive Tank Museum YouTube channel, which holds hours of footage about the exhibits, behind the scenes, as well as seeing them in action at TankFest.
Sitting on the banks of the Basingstoke Canal, The Lightbox hosts more than 20 exhibitions each year. In the past they’ve included John Constable, Andy Warhol and August Renoir, amongst other famous names – meaning you’ll often find names far bigger than the gallery’s reputation suggest!
The Lightbox has embraced the digital world during lockdown, putting together Create at Home ideas for the family, regular talks about artistic subjects, and a virtual walkthrough with Google Maps.
Windsor Guildhall and Museum
With a history that dates back to the seventeenth century, the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum started their collection in 1951 as part of an exhibition for the Festival of Britain. Now a permanent addition to the Royal Borough, the museum tells the history of the borough and its residents and carries one of the best oral history collections in the south east of England.
A daily online program covers podcasts exploring the Windsor, tours of the museum, interviews with local residents, and family activities to keep the kids busy while you’re at home.
Heading to the museum is something we’re all looking forward to when lockdown gets lifted, but for now, you should only travel to work if it’s essential or for other legally permitted reasons. When you can travel again, make sure to check our latest coronavirus travel information to help keep yourself and others safe.