Travel in Virtual Reality: The Best Photorealistic Destinations
Update as of January 27, 2022:
- Complete overhaul
- Added for Meta Quest (2):
- Blueplanet VR Explore
- Brink Traveler
With virtual reality, you can effortlessly visit places around the world. Here’s a list of the most impressive VR destinations.
Note: If you own a Meta Quest (2), you can watch the PC VR apps via PC VR streaming, provided you have a fast computer.
Less than 50 people visited the legendary cave system under the Swabian Alb. With the VR app of the same name, you can safely enter and explore the underground vaults.
Blautopf VR is an adventure game: You take on the role of a cave explorer who has to find a missing colleague. As if that wasn’t enough, a mystical creature seems to dwell down there.
Blueplanet VR Explore
Platforms: Meta Quest (2), PC VR
Blueplanet VR Explore is a treasure trove of digitized landmarks, offering the most extensive and comprehensive collection of virtual locations to date: You can currently visit more than 40 locations scattered around the world in Blueplanet VR.
Among the sights are cultural sites on the one hand, and natural locations on the other.
If you are unsure about the purchase price, you can get a free demo with three destinations on Steam to get a taste of the VR app.
The PC VR version and the Quest version are practically identical regarding interface and content.
Platforms: Meta Quest (2), PC VR
The most outstanding feature of Brink Traveler is the polish of the travel app. This applies to the visual perfection of the 3D reconstruction, as well as the interface and the way it takes VR users by hand.
Combined with Meta Quest 2, visiting unique places on this planet in virtual reality has never been so easy and beautiful. Extensive hikes are not possible, but the VR app is perfect for relaxation or meditation.
Brink Traveler offers 12 destinations at launch. Hopefully, the studio will provide a regular supply of travel destinations and bring more international sights to virtual reality. The developers promise three new destinations for January 2022.
Chernobyl VR Project
Platforms: PC VR, Playstation VR
This Polish project captures parts of the nuclear power plant and the ghost town of Pripyat using a variety of techniques. In addition to 360-degree shots, there are free-roaming environments created using photogrammetry, including an abandoned worker’s apartment, the vacant Elementary School 3, and the ruins of the local hospital.
For the 3D scans, the team, equipped with a Geiger counter, went into the danger zone several times. “These places are falling apart and will eventually disappear. The VR experience is meant to preserve them and their history for posterity,” the developers said.
Platforms: PC VR, Playstation VR
Hardly any people will take on the rigors of climbing Mount Everest in their lifetime. With virtual reality, you get a rough idea of what climbers can expect: You climb a rickety ladder over a crevasse, scramble up an ice wall in a snowstorm, or spend a night in a tent in the freezing cold.
Mount Everest and the surrounding Himalayan mountains have been digitally reconstructed in great detail. More than 300,000 high-resolution images of the mountain massif were sewn into a three-dimensional model using photogrammetry. The result is a razor-sharp, true-to-life reproduction of the roof of the world.
Il Divino: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR
In Virtual Reality, you can visit the Sistine Chapel for as long as you like – without long queues and the smell of sweat.
The developers used historical drawings and documents, as well as photogrammetry, to create an accurate reconstruction of the vault, including a true-color, high-resolution reproduction of the frescoes. The result is impressive.
The app offers a guided tour as well as a free exploration mode. If you want, you can climb onto Michelangelo’s wooden construct, on which “the divine” painted the ceiling fresco. This will give you a sense of the conditions under which Michelangelo worked, and you’ll learn about his painting technique.
More than a hundred segments of the ceiling and wall painting can be clicked on. You will then hear an art historian talk about the respective motif.
The Last Goodbye
At the side of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter you visit the former concentration camp Majdanek. Gutter and his family were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to the concentration camp in 1943. His parents and sister were murdered, only he survived the camp.
Gutter takes viewers to well-preserved key locations of the camp such as the shower room and disinfection bath, the barracks, the gas chamber, and the cremation ovens. The rooms have been digitally reconstructed with photogrammetry at a high technical level so that you can look around and move freely in the photo-realistic rooms as if you were actually there. Gutter has also been digitized and stands impressively real in the room as he recounts his camp experiences.
Nefertari: Journey to Eternity
This journey takes you to Egypt, more precisely: to the burial chamber of Queen Nefertari. The team around Simon Che de Boer worked for several years on the millimeter-precise reconstruction of this important testimony of ancient Egyptian culture.
In VR, you can experience up close the patience, dedication, and manual dexterity with which the burial chamber was decorated. Even elevations, the finest textures, and flaws can be seen in the light of the virtual flashlight. Some frescoes can be clicked on to learn more about their meaning. The developers used AI technology for the impressive image quality.
Platforms: Meta Quest (2)
Othersight is the third app for Meta Quest 1 & 2 after Blueplanet VR Explore and Brink Traveler, promising great VR travels.
At launch, the VR app offers four destinations: the studio of Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla, the back alleys of Tokyo, the interior of the Santes Creus Abbey Church, and a street in Havana. More are to follow in the coming months.
The VR app focuses on cultural landmarks rather than natural landscapes, and strives to help VR travelers understand the history and background of a place. Thus, in Tokyo alleys, a young Japanese woman appears here and there as a tour guide to highlight local features, and in the abbey church, we meet a knight from the past who talks about the artifacts of this historic setting.
The Berlin-based startup of the same name, Realities, specializes in VR travel and offers a wide range of high-quality 3D scans from around the world. Due to the considerable file sizes, you have to download the VR excursions individually as free DLCs.
Realities offers photo-realistic excursions to the nature of Canada, Cologne Cathedral, Death Valley, the ruins of the Beelitz Heilstätten, and Germany’s last coal mine Prosper Haniel, among others.
The Homestead is the most elaborate and accurate 3D recreation of a real place to date. Here you visit the Wallace Arts Centre, an art gallery housed in the Pah Homestead in Auckland, New Zealand.
In the paintings, you can easily see the artist’s painting technique as well as individual brushstrokes. Even thickly applied blobs of acrylic paint stand out in relief in virtual reality, so that you almost think you can touch them.
A practical feature is that most of the artworks are accompanied by an audio commentary that starts automatically when you approach them. This allows you to view the works and learn something about their meaning at the same time.
Platforms: PC VR, Playstation VR
In Titanic VR, you dive down to the ocean floor in a claustrophobic research submarine and explore the wreck of the legendary passenger ship on your own. Using a mini-robot, you can climb through small openings and explore the ship’s interior.
The real remains of the Titanic were neither scanned nor photographed for this VR experience, but the digital reconstruction is supposed to be very close to the original.
In the largest photogrammetry project of the Palace of Versailles to date, a team scanned a total of 21 rooms and approximately 36,000 square meters of the palace complex.
The rooms and the objects in them were digitized using photo scans, including many sculptures and paintings. Accompanying texts explain the history and significance of the artifacts. In total, over four terabytes of data were processed and more than 15 billion pixels were generated.
The tour takes you through the monarch’s private chambers, his private opera, the chapel, and the Hall of Mirrors, among other places. At the push of a button, you can switch to night mode and explore the villa in the pale moonlight – in reality, you’d probably have to break in for that.
Zen Universe is a prime example of VR travel. What makes the app special is its technical brilliance, for one thing. Never has one seen such a large gapless 3D reconstruction of a real place as that of the Belogradchik Fortress in Bulgaria.
For another, Zen Universe adds game mechanics and narrative elements to virtual travel to make the excursions more exciting than would be possible in reality. Thus, one not only explores Olympus, but has to find Pandora’s Box on behalf of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and answer Zeus’ trivia questions.
Zen Universe is in Early Access and offers two VR journeys, with two more trips to the Caribbean to follow before release.
The SteamVR Workshop features a number of high-quality 3D environments created by platform owner Valve and SteamVR users in their spare time. Below you will find a list of destinations worth seeing.
Follow these steps to download and install them:
- Launch the Steam app and open the Destinations website on your computer.
- Log in to both places.
- Now click on the links in the list and click on the green “Subscribe” button in each case. The destination should then be downloaded automatically.
- Now you just have to go to the SteamVR Home via VR headset and you can access the environments there.
|Cadillac Mountain, Maine, USA||1.2 GB|
|Concrete Ruins at Harborough Rocks, Derbyshire, UK||0,9 GB|
|Country Lane, Derbyshire, UK||0.9 GB|
|English Church||0.9 GB|
|Gottfried Keller Lookout – Switzerland||1,9 GB|
|Lost Places (2 of 2): Metal Foundry Ground Floor||1,9 GB|
|Lost Places (1 of 2): Metal Foundry||1,7 GB|
|Mount Rainier||0,6 GB|
|My Weeb Room Mk II||0.6 GB|
|Old Attic||0,9 GB|
|Tower Bridge||0.8 GB|
|Small House Interior (Nagano, Japan)||0,7 GB|
|South Corsica||1,9 GB|
|Thingvellir National Park, Iceland||0,7 GB|
|Valve Lobby||0,8 GB|
Cover Image: MIXED / Google / Château de Versailles