The best VR apps for travel

Travel the Earth from your easy chair with these 11 VR apps and sites

best VR apps for travel vr headset
Virtual reality is transforming travel and hospitality. What started as nascent technology is poised to become, in business, a tool for promotions and advertising. For consumers, it’s a new way to plan: Imagine walking through a hotel room before you book, or exploring a location’s sights and sounds as you narrow down a shortlist of vacation destinations, all from inside your home and using your phone.

This isn’t a far-off technology, either. There are several virtual travel apps already available, and companies such as Qantas, British Airways, and Marriott have already started experimenting with it as a marketing tool. On the consumption end, YouTube and Facebook are just a handful of the major sites that now support 360-degree content.

But even if you have no plans to physically go anywhere, VR is a fantastic video-based medium for armchair wanderlust. It takes the Google Street View approach of dragging your mouse around 360-degree photos, and transforms it into an immersive experience in which you can explore those environments in greater detail. You can travel to places you may never be able to go (or want to), including destinations that are off-limits to tourists or simply dangerous. And when you add narration from a tour guide to those videos, the experience becomes that much greater.

While video resolution quality isn’t there yet — depending on the production quality, viewing through VR goggles and headsets can be nauseating — it’s getting better. As we experienced back in 2015 with Marriott’s “VRoom Service,” using the Samsung Gear VR, the audio-visual “sensory experience” did make us feel as if we’re there (pardon the cliché). Expect to see more content uploaded in the near future, including a mix of professional, high-quality videos and those shot by consumers on their phones or cameras.

So if you’ve purchased a VR headset with your new Galaxy phone, or were sent a cardboard viewer as part of a promotion, here are a few sites and apps that will give you a taste of virtual travel.

Google Earth VR

Have you ever wanted to fly around the world? Google Earth’s VR app for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive does that and so much more — virtually, of course. Google Earth VR starts you off in space, but you can zoom in on any part of the globe and, within seconds, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the locale in question. With a simple long press and drag of your controller, you can fly from the top of the Eiffel Tower to the inside of Disney World — and it happens quicker than you might expect.

If you need inspiration for your next adventure, Google provides tours of famous landmarks, along with themed destinations. You can even go from day to night — just point to the sky and swipe. You can also type in an address and Google Earth VR will transport you to said destination, where you can capture and save snapshots of what you see.

Download now from:

Oculus

Boulevard

In Boulevard (formerly WoofbertVR), you can explore 3D renderings of various museums and cultural sites located throughout England and San Francisco. However, the app allows you to do more than merely look around. You can access a virtual tablet with the tap of a button, which will provide you with textual information on what you are looking at and allow you to to take a brief audio tour. It can even show you which exhibits you can further engage with.

For instance, if you tap on Édouard Manet’s famous 19th century painting, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, you’ll be transported beyond the frame and into an animated reimagining of the events depicted in the painting. Or, if you tap on a 1969 photo of painter Helen Frankenthaler, you’ll be able to walk around a 3D rendering of her minimalist workspace, giving you the feeling you just stepped into a memory. If you’re looking to indulge in fine art on your next trip abroad, Boulevard might be right up your ally.

Download now from:

Oculus

Gala360

Virtual reality has turned photo galleries into 3D experiences. Gala360 consists of a collection of shots culled from professional photographers, all of which allow you to examine events, museums, landmarks, and different locales with a mere swipe of your finger.

You can walk around and explore the cavernous lava tubes of Hawaii, for example, or take in the breathtaking views of Yosemite National Park. Certain experiences even have audio commentary, providing you further context about what you’re seeing as you scroll through the app’s various photos. Many of these experiences are free, though, premium content will cost you a $1 a month.

Download now from:

Oculus Google Play

Lufthansa #TravelCompass

For its YouTube page, German airliner Lufthansa created several 360-degree on-location videos in Beijing, Hong Kong, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Each 46-minute clip lets you pan around a notable area in each of those cities, such as Wan Chai Street Market in Hong Kong or Lombard Street in San Francisco. You don’t need a VR viewer, although it’s more immersive if you use the YouTube Android app with Google Cardboard viewer.

Download now from:

Google Play

GoPro

Action cam maker GoPro is getting into the VR game in a big way. Its Odyssey uses 16 Hero4 Black cameras to capture an 8K panoramic video, and its consumer-friendly 360 camera, the Fusion, is coming soon. Of course, GoPro’s videos are short of amazing, and its 360-degree ones are no exception. From surfing in Tahiti to riding a BMW bike on the rooftops of Gran Canaria and inside an Indycar over the Golden Gate Bridge. Check out the personal New York City tour with photographer and Instagrammer, Neil Britto. GoPro won’t be the only big camera company getting into VR: SamsungNikon, and Ricoh all have 360 cameras, and we can expect to see content from them. The New York Times, for example, has a series of 360-degree videos created using the Samsung Gear 360.

Download now from:

Google Play iTunes

NASA

Chances are, most of us will never experience space travel in our lifetime, let alone journey to Mars. Thanks to thousands of images that have been transmitted back to Earth from its Sojourner and Curiosity rovers, NASA was able to put together 360-degree videos and images of what walking on Mars would be like. The most recent panorama comes from the Curiosity Mars Rover, from a site known as Ogunquit Beach.

Download now from:

Google Play iTunes

Ascape

As its name would suggest, Ascape is a VR app that’s dedicated entirely to travel. Available as an app for both Android or iOS, and viewable on a phone or VR viewer, Ascape has a bunch of 360-degree video and photo tours — from the Star Wars parade at Disneyland Hong Kong to reindeer racing in Norway — and are neatly categorized (called “collections”). You will need to download each experience, which could take up a chunk of space on your phone.

Download now from:

Google Play iTunes

Littlstar

Littlstar is a VR “cinema network” hosting a variety of 360-degree photos and videos, available on the web or via its app for Android or iOS. Its aerial and travel categories contain numerous content from around the world, including videos from Discovery and National Geographic. When you’re looked through all the travel videos, check out the many others, including tech, sports, cars, and fashion.

Download now from:

Google Play iTunes

YouVisit

Like Littlstar, YouVisit lets you experience its content on the web (through a web browser or the Oculus Rift) or with a VR headset via its app for iPhone or Android. YouVisit has a variety of interesting travel-related 360-degree photos and videos, from the Ayautthaya temples of Thailand to the Louvre Museum in Paris and helicopter ride over New York City. You can even get onboard the Carnival Breeze and explore the different parts of the cruise ship.

Download now from:

Google Play iTunes

Wild Within

Destination B.C., an agency that promotes tourism in Canada’s British Columbia, launched a virtual reality experience called “Wild Within,” which explores the natural areas of this western province. In the videos, the viewer travels through the Broughton Archipelago of the Great Bear Rainforest, but has the option of taking one of two paths — the coastline or up a mountain. Wild Within was first developed for the Oculus Rift on a desktop, but it’s now available as an app for iOS or Android.

Download now from:

Google Play iTunes

Discovery

Discovery is one of the major media companies to dive into virtual reality. Last August, it launched its Discovery VR initiative that lets users experience TV shows like Gold Rush, Survivorman, Puppy Bowl, and MythBusters, in an immersive manner. Besides exploring the exotic locales, you can swim with sharks, ski downhill with Bode Miller, or learn to forage for food, for example. Discovery VR content can be watched online, but it’s best via a phone and Google Cardboard or similar viewer, or Samsung Gear VR (via Oculus store).

Download now from:

Google Play iTunes Oculus

Update: Added Boulevard, Gala360, and Google Earth VR.

Mobile

Google is making it easier for students to run lab tests in virtual reality

Google and Labster announced a partnership to bring more than 30 virtual science labs to Google Daydream, allowing students and others interested in science to spend time in a lab or out in the field.
Mobile

The best weather apps for Android will keep you dry no matter where you go

You may not be able to change the weather, but you can at least be prepared for it. Check out our guide to the best weather apps for Android, so you'll always know what to expect when you step out the front door.
Gaming

Dive head first into the best experiences available now on the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift brought back virtual reality and put a modern twist to it. Grab your Touch Controllers, put on your VR headset, and jump into the fun with some of the best Oculus Rift games available now.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Photography

Lensless cameras could turn windows into sensors, even pointed the ‘wrong’ way

A research group at the University of Utah is rethinking cameras for machines and not humans. The result? A lensless camera pointed at the edge of a piece of glass, instead of looking through the glass.
Android Army

IFA 2018 Complete Coverage

CES may be the largest consumer electronics show in the U.S., but IFA owns bragging rights as the largest CE show outside the states. In 2018, the show runs Aug. 31 to Sept. 5, and because of its timing (just in time for buyers to place…
Computing

Apple acquires yet another startup as the release of its AR glasses draws near

Apple AR glasses may be closer to reality than we thought. Here is everything we know so far about the augmented reality system, including the rumored specifications of Apple's Project Mirrorshades.
Product Review

Embrace the dark side with Kylo Ren's lightsaber for 'Star Wars: Jedi Challenges'

Want to be a Jedi? Disney and Lenovo have teamed up to create an augmented reality headset that lets you wield a lightsaber. You can deflect blaster shots, play Holochess, fight or be Kylo Ren in ‘Star Wars: Jedi Challenges.’
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Emerging Tech

This cockpit-style simulator will make your VR experiences more immersive

Do you want a cockpit-style VR gaming chair that looks like something a Star Trek captain would sit in? If so, this new 3 Degree of Freedom Motion Simulator Kickstarter may be for you.
Product Review

Oculus Touch buoys the Rift, but there's still work to be done

Oculus inspired the new generation of virtual reality headsets with its incredibly successful Kickstarter. Is the original the standard, or have its imitators surpassed it? Let's take a look at how the Rift stacks up.
Web

Firefox Reality wants to bring the ‘whimsical web’ to VR

Mozilla launched a VR-powered web browser today called Firefox Reality. But just what does browsing the web in VR feel like? We went hands-on with this new browser to see how Mozilla imagines the future of virtual reality content.
Computing

Facebook appears set on crafting custom silicon for augmented reality devices

Facebook's latest job postings are seeking engineers and developers for custom augmented reality chipsets, and seem to support speculation that the company is looking to produce AR glasses.