The Geiger Counter: How to take a vacation without leaving your couch |

The Geiger Counter: How to take a vacation without leaving your couch

A man walks near the entrance of the Louvre Museum, in Paris on March 13. The Louvre and Versailles Palace both said that they are closing "until further notice" amid the French government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, both can be toured virtually along with other cultural sites.
Thibault Camus / AP

Don’t know what to do this weekend? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Pull up a seat to the counter, and I’ll tell you about everything that’s hot and happening.

It can be hard to scratch that nomadic itch when folks are told to stay indoors as much as possible. I’m not as big of a globetrotter as some of my friends, and even I’m starting to feel a bit cooped up.  

The good news is that digital services like the Google Arts & Culture platform — which entered the zeitgeist a few years ago when masses of people took selfies to see what paintings they resembled — are here to help. With a few mouse clicks you can earn your miles and jet set around famous vacation destinations, museums, parks and other worthwhile locales all without setting foot outside your house.

There are thousands of cultural institutions online, and I’ve compiled my picks for the top virtual tours. Google produces almost all of them, but those that are made by someone else will be noted.


I feel like museums have always been undervalued, so now is the perfect time to show them some love, especially when ones like the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands had a Vincent van Gogh work stolen earlier this week. 

Naturally, people should explore the Louvre in Paris, and they can do so via the museum’s website. It’s one of the quintessential museums for a reason: quantity. It’s practically impossible to see the miles of artwork in a day, so take your time online as you browse the Venus de Milo, Nike of Samothrace and “Mona Lisa.”

This is also your chance to feel like you’re a part of a Ben Stiller movie with The National Museum of Natural History’s own exhibit tours. Along with viewing current visiting and permanent pieces, you can travel back in time to see past exhibits. Dinosaur bones, Lucy, the Hope Diamond and Neanderthal fossils can all be found there.

I think the biggest boon of virtual tours is the ability to see artwork you missed during a physical visit. When I was in Amsterdam in college, the famous Rijksmuseum was under renovation, so I never got the chance to see its collection of Dutch art in person. Now I can see Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” or Vermeer’s “Milkmaid” whenever I want.

Cultural sites

Those museums probably wouldn’t exist unless our ancestors decided to paint the walls of the Chauvet Cave in France 36,000 years ago. The two-dimensional scenes of horses, mammoths and other animals are usually closed to the public but can be viewed in a browser or with augmented or virtual reality technology.

Like the Louvre, the Vatican is a top destination for any European vacation. Go to the holy city’s website to tour the legendary Sistine Chapel or other hallowed halls.

Another missed opportunity of my month abroad is spending time in Paris but not making time to head to Versailles. But now a few keystrokes can put me up close and personal with royal portraits, fancy decor that’s out of my budget and the famous Hall of Mirrors.


Who said all tours have to be indoors? The coronavirus has canceled cherry blossom celebrations, but Google Earth has collected 10 sites of cherry blossoms blooming — from Japan to Washington, D.C. — for all to see.

Additionally, the National Park Service and Google have partnered to bring the exotic Kenai Fjords, Hawai’i Volcanoes, Carlsbad Caverns, Bryce Canyon and Dry Tortugas to life. More than just a Street View walking tour, these are fully interactive videos with audio narration that are compatible with virtual reality headsets.

If scoping out Dry Tortugas makes you long for the ocean, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has uploaded virtual dives of places like Monterey Bay and the Florida Keys, allowing you to explore the waters while staying dry on land.

What I’m Playing


You’re likely familiar with the story. A genius, funny kid from Queens, New York, gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a masked superhero fighting criminals such as Kingpin, Rhino, Vulture, Electro and more.

But what makes Insomniac Games’ “Spider-Man” 2018 adaptation stand out from other titles is that it focuses on all facets of Parker in a fresh tale. You solve puzzles to help Dr. Otto Octavius’ research and have relationships with Mary Jane Watson and Miles Morales in addition to saving the day.

The game’s setting — and Spidey’s signature web-slinging traversal methods — shine. It captures all the real landmarks of New York like the Chrysler Building and Madison Square Garden along with the fictional Wakandan Embassy and Avengers Tower as you freely roam about, making it great escapism in times like these. You can take snapshots of these places to unlock upgrades, but there’s also a personal photo mode that allows you to craft postcards for a theoretical vacation.

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