Take a break, sit back, and relax with the below virtual architecture tour, where the admission is free, the lines are nonexistent, and bathing is completely optional.
1. The Remains of the (Ancient Greek) Day
The cultural contributions of ancient Greece read like a veritable top 10 of the arts and sciences: The Greeks were giants of math and science, literature and theater, philosophy and pedagogy. Oh, and they invented democracy, too. Symbolizing all that goodness is the Acropolis, the sprawling complex of temples and gates that stands high above Athens. The star of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, its Doric-style columns familiar to anyone who’s ever cracked a schoolbook, but the site’s other buildings are stunning examples of classical architecture, as well. Fun fact: Although white marble is synonymous with ancient Greece, the Parthenon was once brilliant in shades of red, green, and blue. Take the tour.
2. India’s—and the World’s—Most Stunning Tomb
“The moon hid its face in shame before her,” court poets said of Mumtaz Mahal, who is remembered spectacularly in the ultimate monument to love, the Taj Mahal. The mausoleum was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631 to honor his wife, who died after giving birth to their 14th child. More than 20,000 artisans and laborers—and 1,000 elephants—worked on the two-decade construction project, a blend of Islamic, Persian, and Indian design. With its meticulous symmetry, the Taj Mahal is one of the most serene sights in the world, its balance broken only by Jahan’s west-of-center gravesite. (Mahal’s coffin is placed in the exact center of the palace crypt.) Fun fact: During British rule in India, the grounds were landscaped to resemble an English garden. Take the tour.
3. Discover the “Lost City” of Petra
Forget that final scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: There’s no Holy Grail in Petra, Jordan. But visitors to this ancient city will still find treasures galore, including the Al-Khazneh, the elaborately carved, Greek-architecture-inspired building featured in the Steven Spielberg film. Established around 312 BCE by the Nabataeans—a wealthy, desert-dwelling Middle Eastern people—Petra is known for its beautiful stone-cut architecture: At sunrise and sunset, the Rose City’s monuments, temples, and tombs glow with a red-pink hue. The Nabataeans were also sun worshippers, designing many of their sacred spaces to align with solstices and other solar events. Fun fact: The ruins of Petra were discovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812, but 85% of the ancient city remains untouched and underground. Take the tour.
4. From Station to Museum
Paris’s Musée d’Orsay boasts the world’s largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, but the building that houses these masterpieces is a work of art itself. The museum is installed in the former Gare d’Orsay train station, an immense Beaux-Arts structure with a soaring arched glass roof. Built in 1900, Gare d’Orsay was the first station designed for electrically powered trains and included modern innovations such as elevators and ramps, but by the end of the 1930s, it was rendered obsolete by new railway developments. The building was slated for demolition in the 1970s, but, fortunately, saner minds prevailed, and the museum debuted in 1986—the first time an industrial building had been restored to accommodate a major museum. Fun fact: Gare d’Orsay inspired the original Penn Station in New York City. Take the tour.
5. Architects Explore the Sensory Essence of Space
Art exhibits are typically “do-not-touch” affairs, but visitors to Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined were encouraged to do just the opposite. The exhibit, held at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, featured immersive installations by seven international architects that engaged the senses of smell and touch. Visitors were invited to weave plastic colored straws into a tunnel made of honeycomb panels, walk through a hall of intricate bamboo structures infused with Japanese cedar and tatami, and view the gallery’s ornamental ceiling via a set of spiral staircases. The 10-week exhibit closed in 2014 but lives on in a virtual tour. The only thing missing? A scratch-and-sniff card. Fun fact: Cult film director John Waters created scratch-and-sniff Odorama cards to accompany the release of his 1981 film Polyester. Take the tour.
6. Step Inside the Designs of One of America’s Greatest Architects
One of the most influential—and prolific—architects of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright designed more than 1,000 buildings throughout his 70-year career, yet only 532 of them were completed. While it’s tempting to mourn the designs you’ll never see, the body of finished work he did leave behind—from the Guggenheim to Fallingwater to the Usonian Houses—is staggering. Although many of the 59 public Wright sites throughout the United States are temporarily closed, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, in partnership with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, is offering virtual visits every Thursday. Fun fact: Wright’s mother believed he was born to build; she decorated his nursery with engravings of Gothic cathedrals. To learn about the weekly video tours, follow this list of Wright social-media sites.