Travel Miscellany

The Virtues of Virtual Tourism

The Virtues of Virtual Tourism

Some in the travel industry fear the emergence of virtual tourism; we're not in that camp. We know that seeing somewhere on a screen - even if you are able to turn your head or move your mouse to see more - is no substitute for the real thing. That said, virtual tours are a great teaser for the sorts of experience we'll be having again one day soon, and at this precise moment in time, they are the best antidote for an acute case of wanderlust. So settle in for a virtual tour (or 'sofari', if you will) of some of the most fascinating places on the planet, all with a healthy dollop of the Original Travel secret sauce: unparalleled destination expertise and a love of the little details that will bring these places even more vividly to life.


Jerusalem, Israel/Palestinian Territories

This 360 tour offers a glimpse of the highlights of Jerusalem Old City (although the commentary is dry as dust) but we believe this fascinating and complex city benefits from an expert guide more than anywhere. We handpick our specialist guides to talk you through the city in much more detail.

'Spanning 3,000 years of history, there's a lot to take in on a walking tour of the Old City,' says our Middle East expert Lucy, 'but my favourite detail is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in Christendom, built over the sites of Jesus's crucifixion and burial. This is visible at 0.34 in the 360 tour, where you can see a small wooden ladder on a ledge above the entrance to the church. The ladder has been there since 1757: the year that the Ottoman sultan who ruled Jerusalem finally grew tired of the squabbling between the six Christian orders who together control the church. He decreed that no-one could rearrange anything in the church without the agreement of all six orders. We're still waiting for unanimous agreement to move the ladder today.'


Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

There's no denying that Angkor Archaeological Park, and particularly the eponymous temple complex of Angkor Wat itself, has become more and more crowded over the last few years, but our Asia expert Holly worked in Cambodia for years, devising cunning plans for avoiding the crowds and exploring the less - or never - visited temples.

'We'll start with one of the more popular parts of the complex,' says our Asia expert Holly, 'the upper terrace of the famous Bayon temple (click on full screen for the full effect). This is currently off limits due to renovations, so a virtual tour is ideal. Then you can admire the famous bas reliefs around the outer walls of the temple, depicting everyday life and battle scenes from around the year 1200 AD. Finally, head to one of my favourite temples in the park - Prasat Kravan - which is rarely visited but has some of the best bas reliefs in all Angkor, portraying Hindu deities Vishnu and Lakshmi.'



We predict there will be a surge in interest in remote destinations once we're out of lockdown, and Antarctica is dictionary definition remote. This short National Geographic video gives a glimpse of a trip aboard a converted icebreaker expedition cruise ship to the 'White Continent'. Americas expert Oliver experienced this two years ago.

'The penguins you see in the video (from 1.18. Look 'down' on to the ice floe!) are Gentoo penguins,' says our Antarctica expert Oliver. 'They are the fastest swimming of all penguins and the only one of Antarctica's penguin species with a growing population. From 1.34 you can see Gentoos preparing to nest near Port Lockroy, one of the historic bases set up by the British during World War II, and which I visited on my trip.'


Sabi Sands, South Africa

Some of the best virtual tours are 'sofaris' (sofa safaris) and we particularly love the 'Rangers in Isolation' series on YouTube from Mala Mala in the Sabi Sands reserve, one of our favourite safari spots in South Africa.

'On the subject of spots,' says Africa expert Matt, a former safari guide himself, 'at 11.42 in this video you'll see a beautiful shot of a young female leopard walking through the thick reeds beside the Sand River. One of the reasons Mala Mala is so special is because it has a long river frontage. Predators and prey alike enjoy the thick foliage on the river banks, even when the river has dried out (hence Sand River). During a stay at Mala Mala, you will likely spend lots of time beside the river, and hopefully enjoy some prime leopard sightings in what is - in our opinion - the leopard capital of the world.'


Vatican City

Last year co-founder Tom took his young family to Rome and they enjoyed a tour of the Vatican with a private guide we specifically work with because she is so good at explaining things to children.

'The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel might be an obvious highlight' says co-founder Tom, 'but my particular favourite is the Chiaramonte Museum, a lovely arched loggia filled with a wonderful collection of classical Roman and Greek busts and statues. Click the arrow three times and you'll find yourself halfway along the gallery. Scroll to the left and there is a superb bust of the Greek goddess Athena. As our guide Maria pointed out, what makes this bust unlike any others in the entire gallery is her painted eyes. When these busts and statues were originally carved, they would have been painted with flesh and clothing coloured paint that would have made them uncannily lifelike, but the paint has disappeared over the centuries. As you can imagine our daughter Athena was suitably impressed.'


Petra, Jordan

Google Street View is a modern marvel, but the addition of 'off street' tours around some of the world's most famous places elevates the service to an even higher plane. One of the best is the 360 tour of the famous 'secret' city of Petra in Jordan.

'As you emerge from the Siq (the narrow gully that was the secret entrance to Petra), you see the showstopping Treasury, but it can be crowded in the mornings,' says Middle East expert Amelia. 'We recommend you and your Bedouin guide stride out and walk to the far end of the site where you climb 850 steps to the Al-Deir Monastery - Petra's other highlight. The climb rewards you with dramatic views at every twist and turn, and if you do this first thing, you will inevitably have the Monastery to yourself. Settle yourself into the comfortable Bedouin cafe opposite the Monastery for a mint 'shay' and enjoy the view. Even better, visit neighbouring Little Petra first and then walk the five miles (it takes between an hour and two hours) to the Monastery from the 'back' of Petra before descending the steps to enjoy the main site in the relative peace of the afternoon.'