When Google Maps first rolled out the Street View feature in 2007, its collection of images was restricted to destinations within the United States, and mostly urban ones. Since Street View went international in 2008, its portfolio has expanded to include digital postcards of the suburbs, museums, tourist attractions, and natural landmarks in 48 regions and counting. Now anyone with an Internet connection is just a few clicks away from a panoramic view of their dream vacation.
1. Adélie Penguin Rookery – Cape Royds, Antarctica
Leave the double-layered down parka behind; you won’t need it for this quick jaunt to the South Pole, which is much sunnier than you’d expect. Just off the water, this particular Street View doesn’t have much in the way of stoplights, but it does have plenty of penguins. Who doesn’t love penguins?
2. Céide Fields – County Mayo, Ireland
For a coast of a different color, here’s a quietly picturesque view of Ireland’s Céide Fields. The fields comprise an archeological site whose windblown grasses hide a secret from the Stone Age: homes, tombs, and other complex man-made structures dating from nearly 6000 years ago. The visitor centre (pictured) leads tours across the blanket bog covering the ancient civilization’s structures, for which it advises guests to wear sturdy shoes.
3. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona, United States
A screenshot can’t quite capture the breathtaking depths of the Grand Canyon, but the 360-degree digital view from the Bright Angel Trail is a considerable step up from a gift shop postcard. For those prone to vertigo, it’s also a much safer way to peer up and down thousands of feet of rock face.
4. The Colosseum – Rome, Italy
Between gladiator battles to the death and mock sea battles with scaled-down naval vessels, the ancient Romans knew how to put on a spectacle. The Colosseum, custom-built for such purposes, is similarly scaled down here to fit inside a computer screen.
5. Pena National Palace – Sintra, Portugal
The palace on the hill is one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders, and a colorful example of 19th century Romantic architecture. Pictured are the Arches Yard, the bright red brick clock tower, and the chapel. Not visible here are the 200 hectares of parkland that surround the palace, containing exotic varieties of trees from as far as New Zealand and Japan. Some careful zooming will reveal an impressive view of the city in the distance.
6. Stonehenge – Wiltshire, United Kingdom
Stonehenge, the great prehistoric mystery, has been located squarely in the middle of an English field since about 3100 B.C.—not that there was such a concept as England then. Speculation about its purpose have included suggestions that it functioned as a burial site, a religious space, an astronomical observatory, or something else entirely, but no one is really quite sure about why it’s there. Although the Google view of the site is unusually blurry, the monument might best be viewed from afar as an out-of-focus whole, rather than in closer details as just a confusing bunch of rocks.
7. Palace of Versailles – Versailles, France
Google’s cameras aren’t just limited to the great outdoors, as this interior shot of the Palace of Versailles proves. Though at the time, Louis XIV’s opulent redecoration scheme was a slap in the face to his starving French subjects, the grand artistry of such rooms as the Hall of Mirrors survives to dazzle visitors both in person and online.
8. The White House – Washington, D.C., United States
Forget submitting an official request to your designated member of Congress and providing government-issued ID for a tour of the White House. Instead, meander along the virtual path at your own pace, taking in the same sights included on the public walking tour, including paintings of past presidents and plenty of bald eagle-embellished furniture. It’s easier than going through security clearances anyway.
9. Heron Island – Great Barrier Reef, Australia
No need to hold your breath for this one (unless you’re using underwater Wi-Fi). Google’s cameras have done the deep-sea diving so you don’t have to. Yes, that’s a real turtle.
10. Wilson Island – Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The view from above the water is just as nice as from below.
11. Diagon Alley – Leavesden, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
You can visit the Warner Bros. Studio set used to film the back-to-school shopping scenes of the Harry Potter film franchise. Though there’s no option to peek in through the windows of such stores as Ollivanders and Quality Quidditch Supplies, a virtual stroll through the magical business district offers plenty of detail for fans to pore over, from the Puking Pastilles display in the doorway of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to copies of The Daily Prophet announcing Lucius Malfoy’s arrest. Keep an eye out for a suspicious masked figure lurking in the shadows…
12. Crystal Mountain – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, United States
Crystal Mountain is a popular ski destination for obvious reasons. Click around, pan up and down, check all 360 degrees of the view: all you’ll see is snow for days.
13. Times Square – New York City, United States
Sure, the lights and yellow cabs and tourists littering the sidewalks are all there, but without the auditory overload and ever-present danger of being run over while crossing the street, is it really Times Square?
14. Lago Bianco – Bernina-Abula, Switzerland
The white snow-capped mountains in the distance are, of course, the Swiss Alps, with Lago Bianco (“White Lake”) in the foreground. These shots were captured by a camera attached to a train car traveling down the Rhaetian Railway tracks, so this particular composition isn’t one likely to be found on the average mountain hike.
15. Kohala Coast – Hawaii, United States
Hello, perfect beach vacation!
16. Everest Base Camp – Mount Everest, Nepal
For the vast majority of us, this is the closest we’ll ever get to climbing Everest.
All images are courtesy of Google Maps.