50 of the best virtual trips and educational experiences for families
Virtual art experiences for families
None of us can enjoy wandering through an art gallery or museum at the moment, but we are so fortunate to be able to access the world's best art collections, for free, at the click of a mouse. To find out more about some of the masterpieces you encounter, look through our collection of best art books for children.
Native New Yorker
Take a trip Stateside to Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest in the US and covering over 5,000 years of art from around the world. Founded in 1870, enjoy a virtual walkthrough of this iconic New York institution taking in everything from ancient Egyptian art (including MET mascot, William the Hippo) to exhibitions on 17th century Dutch Master Vermeer and even Coco Chanel.
Tate of the Art
Spanning the UK from Liverpool to St Ives, Tate holds the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day as well as international modern and contemporary art.
With more than 77,000 artworks accessible online including pieces by Constable, Hockney, Emin, Dali and Warhol, you can take a walk through Tate Britain and Tate Modern and enjoy a special kids' section complete with a tour guided by children’s author Jacqueline Wilson.
Explore Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s famous Blue House, as well as her art, in her family home in Coyoacán, Mexico City. Located in one of the oldest and most beautiful areas of the city, the Blue House (or Casa Azul) was made into a museum in 1958, four years after her death. Wander through the brightly painted garden and kitchen to see her personal day to day items, iconic dresses and family photographs alongside her artwork and that of her husband Diego Rivera.
Get arty in Newcastle with the Baltic as it makes moves to put more of its collection online. You can virtually visit their current Abel Rodriguez exhibition with images, information, gallery views and a 16-minute film, then learn about Animalesque – a new exhibition looking at the relationship between humans and nature. Check out the virtual versions of their Level 5 Viewing Box and Level 4 Viewing Terrace and have a go at their Meet & Make family activity, launched this week online.
Check out an art museum with a difference and take a trip to the International Museum of Children’s Art in Oslo, Norway. Opening its doors in 1986, this was the first museum in the world to only feature artwork from children and young people. With painting and pictures from more than 180 countries on display, the galleries showcase brightly-coloured images themed around family, nature and play.
Hit the North
Make tracks for Yorkshire and the Hepworth Wakefield, an award-winning art gallery named after Barbara Hepworth, one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Take a virtual tour around the modern and contemporary art including works by Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron, L.S. Lowry and Henry Moore, and find out more about Barbara Hepworth and the gallery’s history or explore the past exhibit Disobedient Bodies curated by fashion designer JW Anderson.
Ever wondered which famous figure from art history you might look like? Well, with Google’s Art Selfie on its Arts & Culture App, you can find out! After taking a quick selfie, the app matches your specific facial features to the thousands of portraits its stored. Once it’s found a match from its worldwide collections, you can tap on your doppelganger to find out more about them and the artist who painted the portrait.
Virtual music experiences for families
There's never been a better time to introduce your child to classical music. There are always wonderful free resources availble online, but at the moment the world's concert halls and opera houses are welcoming us all in and sharing their work to offer us comfort and relief.
Step into the Digital Concert Hall with the Berlin Philharmonikar and enjoy over 600 orchestral concerts for free. Covering concerts from the last than 10 years, including Dvořák, Mozart and Beethoven (but also look out for a special performance of John Williams’ Star Wars), along with documentaries on the history of the orchestra and portraits of conductors and orchestra members.
During this extraordinary time, New York’s Met Opera aims to brighten the lives of audience members even while their stage is dark. Each day, a different encore presentation from the company’s Live in HD series is being released for free, with each performance available for a period of 20 hours, beginning at 7:30 pm EDT (11.30pm GMT). The schedule will include outstanding complete performances from the past 14 years of opera cinema transmissions, including Bizet’s Carmen, Puccini’s La Bohème and Verdi’s La Traviata.
Top of the Pops
It’s not just classical music making the move online! Pop artists are also streaming special performances, all attached to the Twitter hashtag #TogetherAtHome. First started by Coldplay's Chris Martin when he performed a 30-minute set live on Instagram, he’s been followed by John Legend, Niall Horan (ex-One Direction), Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello – with more artists set to follow.
Supporting traditional touring musicians all over the globe, the Stay At Home Festival aims to support live music, giving musicians an opportunity to make up for cancelled events. Catch live streamed performances from international musicians and groups around the world direct from the individual Instagram accounts of the artists as well on the website.
Opera on demand
For more opera, check out the European Commission-supported OperaVision platform, bringing you the opportunity to watch top-tier performances from the greatest European opera houses, with new shows released weekly on top of a massive back catalogue and with resources for children too.
Sounds like music
The ever-reliable BBC Sounds platform is also a must-listen, available as a mobile app or online and featuring a huge range of content, covering every genre of music including the latest tracks, binge-worthy podcasts, and radio from the BBC’s 18 national and 40 local stations.
There's loads of BBC Proms and BBC Ten Pieces classical music content specifically for children, too – whether you want to listen or make some music yourself, it's well worth exploring.
Whilst unable to perform at the Barbican Centre and other venues around the world, the London Symphony Orchestra will be holding a programme of online events, with two full-length concerts streamed weekly (Sun and Thu) on their YouTube channel, which also includes over 500 videos such as artist interviews and existing recordings from past performances.
Virtual science experiences for families
When it comes to science days out, we're spoilt for choice in the UK – but there's lots to see via your computer screen, too.
Curie and Curiouser
Journey to the Musée Curie in Paris, and the laboratory and office where Marie Curie spent the last 20 years of her life – the last remnants of the former Radium Institute’s unique facilities constructed between 1912 and 1915. You can examine the historic rooms and artefacts including Marie’s lab coat, the 46kg box used to contain one gram of radium, a replica of the instruments used by the Curies to measure radiation, and ‘radium coffeepots’ used to irradiate drinking water (radiation was once thought to be healthy!).
Explore London Science Museum’s world-class collection online – it's an enduring record of scientific and technological advancement from across the globe. Take a virtual tour and browse through over 250,000 iconic objects charting the history of science and technology, ranging from Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive to the Apollo 10 Command Module, then discover the personal histories that lie behind these scientific icons.
Join the Zooniverse, the world’s largest platform for people-powered research, and come together with more than a million people around the world to assist professional researchers in their work. You’ll be able to study images of faraway galaxies, historical records and diaries, or videos of animals in their natural habitats (like tagging penguins in photos from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean), and help contribute to valuable research around the world.
Formed in 1660, The Royal Society in London is the home of British science, with past members including Sir Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin along with more current fellows: Einstein, Hawking, and Tim Berners-Lee. There’s a treasure trove here to explore – Royal Society virtual exhibits, portraits, objects, books and manuscripts, from the story of Darwin’s Origin of Species (complete with his barometer, letters and photographs) to Alan Turing’s papers and discoveries (including a Brian Cox interview and virtual tour of Bletchley Park).
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Discover the mysteries of the Universe and the work of the world's biggest physics laboratory with a virtual trip around CERN in Geneva. At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers probe the fundamental structure of the universe using purpose-built particle accelerators and detectors (among the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments) to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. You can take a look into their laboratories, have a nosy around the 27-km Large Hadron Collider or peer inside the CERN Control Centre and Data Centre.
Out of this World
Home to six astronauts and a huge variety of scientific experiments, the International Space Station, orbiting 253 miles above the Earth, is a cutting-edge research laboratory and the most expensive structure ever built. You can explore every part of the Space Station within an immersive panorama, including links to videos where you can see astronauts explain or demonstrate items and equipment (including, of course, the fabled space toilet), and webpages allowing you to find out more about the station and its purpose.
For a lighter look at science and great for older children, head to The Cosmic Shambles Network for podcasts, digital content and live streaming bringing together the world’s leading scientists, comedians, writers and performers. In the company of Brian Cox, Robin Ince and others you can find out more about the universe through science, art, history, philosophy, music, literature.
Their newly launched Stay at Home Festival will be live streaming once or twice a day for free but small donations are welcome.
Virtual geography experiences for families
Can't get to your local park or playground? Set your sights a little further afield and take a virtual walk around some of the world's most amazing environments.
Explore the great outdoors with The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks. Featuring five American national parks (Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, and Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida) this immersive digital exhibit allows you to abseil into a crevasse, fly over an active volcano, ride on horseback though a canyon and swim through the world’s third largest coral reef, as well as admire stunning views of these amazing landscapes.
Experience the wonder of the ocean no matter where you are, with 10 live webcams from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. See sharks and tropical fish glide by, watch the African penguins waddle around, delight in the antics of the sea otters or mellow out to the hypnotic drifting jellyfish. (Note: Live cams only available 4pm-4am Pacific time (7pm-7am GMT); archive footage will be shown after hours.)
Although London Zoo may be closed, you can still do some serious animal spotting with Instant Wild from ZSL. Sign up by using the app or go online, then study images and videos from ZSL’s motion-activated cameras by identifying the creatures you see in the picture. You'll be helping scientists keep an eye on animal populations across the world including wildcats in Costa Rica, anteaters in the Amazon rainforest, wolf packs in the Croatian wilderness or even otters in Winchester.
Take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C, which looks after a collection of 145 million specimens and artefacts telling the history of planet Earth. Explore the museum’s exhibits past and present, covering everything from squid to soil and fossils to pharaohs with in-depth 360° images, or even take a peek inside the specimen storage areas off limits to the public.
Visit Explore.org (or download the app) and travel around the world from the comfort of your living room via a mix of live streams, original films and 30,000 photographs. Pick an animal, location or theme and feel like you’re actually embedded with a film crew covering everything from a project to protect wild mountain gorillas in Rwanda, to monitoring the aurora borealis in Manitoba, Canada or even checking up on the pandas in Wolong Grove in Sichuan, China.
Get a truly explosive volcanic experience with this unique 360° photo and video of the eruption of the Plosky Tolbachik volcano in Russia in December 2012. Brilliant for any geography case-study or project, they also offer on-screen access to loads of other volcanoes and geothermal landmarks such as the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, USA, the Valley of Geysers in Kamchatka, Russia and the Bromo caldera in Indonesia.
For quarantined lovers of all things feathery, check out The Self Isolating Bird Club set up by naturalist and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham. Just post up your birding sightings from your window or garden via @siBirdClub to help you reconnect with nature.
You could also take a look at Deadly 60 presenter Steve Backshall’s live streams on YouTube and social media, where he attempts to answer all your wildlife, biology, conservation, geography questions.
Finally, head to BBCEarth.com (or go to the BBC Earth YouTube channel) to relive all those classic David Attenborough documentaries including Blue Planet, Life on Earth and Life, along with new in-depth features, podcasts and quizzes.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Take a whistle-stop tour of the world with Google’s Arts and Culture app and experience crystal-clear views of the Taj Mahal, in India, as well as several other iconic landmarks around the world. For example, you can look down from the top of the Eiffel Tower or relax with a view of the Sydney Opera House, all from the comfort of your sofa.
Virtual history experiences for families
Turn your computer into your own, personal time machine and travel up and down the timeline to catch a glimpse of other eras, cultures and customs. Whether you're headed to Ancient Egypt, off to meet some Aztecs or making a pitstop in the Stone Age, remember to stock up on snacks before you set off!
Best of British
The incredible collections of the British Museum – the world’s first national public museum when it opened in 1759 – span over two million years of human history and culture. Online, you can take a virtual tour and discover a huge range of digital exhibits covering everything from Ancient Egyptian agriculture and the daily life of Iron Age Celts, to the evolution of money and the Battle of Waterloo, as well as an interactive timeline showcasing some of the most important objects in the museum’s collection, including the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.
The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico is one of the most visited museums in the world. For more than five decades, the museum has conserved and exhibited the indigenous heritage of Mexico through archaeological collections spanning hundreds of years of history. On this virtual walkthrough you can see rare golden Aztec artefacts that survived discovery by the Spanish conquistadors, intricately carved sacrificial sacred stones and the 25,000-kilogram ‘Sun Stone’ calendar.
Have a snoop inside the great royal residences – Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse – with these high resolution panoramas which allow you to enter the Throne Room, ascend the Grand Staircase or sit at a State Banquet while finding more about the rooms and the objects inside them. You can also explore the digitised Royal Collection, one of the world’s largest art collections, to browse over 250,000 works of art and learn about the stories behind them.
Set off for Salisbury Plain and explore a 360° panorama of Stonehenge, featuring informative videos and text boxes that can tell you more about how one of the world’s best known prehistoric monuments was constructed, what the precise alignments of the stones signify and how the site may have been used over four thousand years ago.
House of Secrets
Take a virtual stroll through the Secret Annex, the hiding place in Amsterdam where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary. In these rooms, hidden behind a rotating bookcase within the offices of a jam company, eight people – the Frank and Van Pels families, and their friend Fritz Pfeffer – managed to escape detection by the Nazis for over two years before their arrest. You can find out more about their daily lives and relationships, and explore the house where Anne and her family lived before they went into hiding.
To the Point
Take a journey through time and explore one of the most famous archaeological sites on earth: the Giza Necropolis. Using Google Street View you can take a self-guided virtual tour of the three immense pyramids, and find out how the last standing ancient wonder of the world has preserved the history of ancient Egypt, how and why the monuments may have been built, and the mysteries that still surround them to this day.
Virtual theatre experiences for families
Going to the theatre is a wonderful (but very rare!) treat for most of us. Geographical and financial restrictions are no impediments at the moment, but remember to donate to support the livelihoods of our artists and performers if you can before you binge on some of the world's best performances from London's West End, Broadway and outstanding regional theatres worldwide.
Led by classical actor and director Robert Myles, The Show Must Go Online brings the words of the Bard to life with live readings of Shakespeare's works provided by top-notch actors who would otherwise be twiddling their thumbs. Readings kicked off on 20 March with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, with the complete works of Shakespeare set to follow week by week.
Meet Toad, Ratty and Mole on the West End stage for free as the Wind in the Willows musical goes online. Based on the classic children's story by Kenneth Grahame, the musical, which opened in June 2017, starred Rufus Hound as Toad, Denise Welch as Mrs Otter and Gary Wilmot as Badger and follows the various characters of the book as they follow Toad's insatiable need for speed.
Performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in November 2013 and available for free on YouTube, First Encounter: King Lear is a specially edited version of Shakespeare’s tragic tale, designed for younger audiences. The play focuses on the story of Cordelia, the youngest daughter of the titular character, who fails his test of love at the start of the play, resulting in fighting, uprisings and ultimately tragedy.
The Play’s the Thing
Go backstage at the National Theatre in London and you’ll find the show still goes on, as you listen to their talks, podcasts and discover collections of informative videos on Shakespeare, Greek Theatre and other subjects (also available via the National Theatre YouTube channel). You can also visit National Theatre digital exhibits though Google Arts & Culture which cover topics including the impact of black actors and directors, how children’s stories are adapted for stage, and costume design.
Plus National Theatre at Home allows audiences to enjoy world-class theatre while the theatre is closed – much-loved productions will be streamed on YouTube for free every Thursday and available on catch-up.
Until 1 May 2020, join world-renowned street dance group Diversity as they grant access to their online dance studio 20dv free of charge. Whether you’re an experienced dancer or just starting out in your bedroom, 20dv offers easy to learn dance classes uploaded weekly and ranging from beginner to advanced. Learn at your own pace and watch the routine from different angles and in slow motion to master each move!
Take your pick of stellar performances, with free trials of performance streaming services. On Marquee TV you can view full recordings of acclaimed dance, opera and theatre productions on demand, featuring companies such as Sadler’s Wells, The Bolshoi, Teatro Real, Royal Shakespeare Company, Opera Zurich and more. BroadwayHD offers streaming of recent plays and musicals from the US.
All the World’s a Stage
If you’re in the mood for some more onstage action, you can follow the adventures of Eugene, Janey and Feris as they find their inner superhero in the musical Eugenius!, published in full on the producers’ Facebook page. The musical follows Eugene, a teenage boy whose dreams of a distant world of heroes and villains give him an opportunity to create his own Hollywood blockbuster – but first, he and his best friends must save the world from an alien supervillain!
Calling all ballet lovers! Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of English National Ballet, is offering livestreamed ballet classes on the company’s Facebook page, inviting professionals and the ballet curious alike to have a go. The streams will then be archived on the English National Ballet YouTube channel, alongside a huge selection of interviews, clips and music from their past productions and other content.
You can also join Sadler's Wells online on their Digital Stage for free full-length dance performances and workshops online, to keep you entertained and connected through dance.
The Royal Opera House will also be offering a free programme of curated online broadcasts including Royal Ballet performances.
Virtual literature experiences for families
As soon as school closures were announced our amazing authors, librarians, publishers and book sellers sprang into action, putting together some amazing literary experiences for bookworms of all ages to enjoy from home.
Looking for something to keep your kids entertained? The Book Trust’s online Home Time resources include something for everyone: enjoy storytime with free online books and videos, play interactive games, test your knowledge in book-themed quizzes, or even learn how to draw some of your favourite characters. Plus, the Scottish Book Trust's fab Authors Live on demand archive offers a wide selection of talks by well-known children’s authors including Anthony Horowitz, Julia Donaldson, Cressida Cowell, David Almond and Jacqueline Wilson – it’s basically a kids' book festival online!
The doors of London’s National Poetry Library may be shut but there’s tons to explore online from largest public collection of modern poetry in the world. Opened in 1953 by poets T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read, there’s a large collection of brilliant, moving, funny and groundbreaking poems that you can read online, as well as a quote-finding service. Browse through for inspiration or filter by theme and medium – audio, image, text or video. You can also join the library for free and download a wide selection of ebooks.
Everything’s Coming up Rosen
The dedicated 'Kids Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen' YouTube channel run by Rosen’s son Joe is a treasure trove for wordy fun for all ages. Not just hundreds of great poems, but also interviews, writing tips, reviews and stories – and it’s currently sitting at 70 million views...
Potter fans rejoice: the British Library has brought back the online content of its exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic, celebrating both the wizarding world of Harry Potter and magic in global culture and literature. Explore the history behind the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone and see some of the strangest items from the library’s vast archive, including a metre-long bird book and the earliest ever atlas of the night sky. There’s plenty of other digital content too, including the recently released Discovering Children’s Books exhibition, which explores enduring themes in children’s writing and illustration.
The Write Stuff
With tons of online resources in a dedicated new Family Zone, the Literacy Trust is a good port of call for reading and writing resources. You can find ideas for easy activities that will engage your children at home, along with access to a selection of free reading and writing resources, audiobooks, videos, and reading challenges.
What’s the story?
Don’t forget to check out what your favourite author or illustrator is up to during quarantine, as many have have been popping up and hosting their own online activities (thank you!).
- Frank Cottrell Boyce has been reading his book The Amazing Broccoli Boy on Instagram.
- Oliver Jeffers has been reading and discussing one of his stories daily at 6pm, archiving previous videos on his website.
- Rob Biddulph has been creating ‘#DrawWithRob’ draw-along videos featuring characters from his books
- David Walliams is reading stories from his books on his website
BookTrust have produced a complete list of all the bookish things happening online for kids and Toppsta have a daily authors and illustrators schedule so you can plan them into your schedule.
Much Ado about Puffin
Puffin Virtually Live is a series of great free webcasts featuring publisher Puffin’s bestselling authors, with episodes available on demand via its YouTube playlist. Watch Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday celebration, get an in-depth look at well-loved books and series including The Gruffalo, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Fault in Our Stars, Percy Jackson and Wonder, or pick up some essential creative writing and illustration tips from the professionals.