The Best Virtual Tours for Cooped-Up Francophiles

Through virtual tours, photos, and links to videos, online exhibitions, and articles, Google Arts & Culture’s "French Connections: Culture from Calais to Marseille" invites armchair travelers on an odyssey ranging not only geographically from one end of the country to the other, but also chronologically from prehistoric cave paintings to contemporary street art and thematically from braille to ballet. While there are many pleasures to be had in leaping down this rabbit hole, here are a few highlights for those more inclined to stick to an itinerary.
© Tomas Eidsvold

Musée des Arts et Métiers

While the virtual tour of the Musée d’Orsay is an obvious favorite and certainly worth checking out, the lesser-known Musée des Arts et Métiers also merits an online visit. There’s a Street View tour and online exhibits (don’t miss the one on the construction of the Statue of Liberty), but the real fun lies in discovering such varied collection highlights as a 1652 Pascaline, one of nine surviving examples of a mechanical calculator developed by Blaise Pascale ; a truly creepy early 19th-century skull mask used for phantasmagoria shows ; and a cross section of a C6 luxury saloon, the first Citroën automobile with a six-cylinder engine (1928-1932).

© Musée des Arts et Métiers

Château de Chambord

Several exhibits complement the Google Street View tour of this Renaissance jewel, whose construction was launched by King Francis I in 1519. Juxtaposed with a detailed examination of the building’s architecture are works from an on-site show by contemporary artist Philippe Cognée, who uses photographic images as a departure point for crushed encaustic paintings, transforming the familiar into an often-eerie blur.

© Martin Ruegner/Getty Images

Grotte Chauvet

A good pick for the whole family, “Meet Our Ancestors” includes a narrated virtual tour of “the world’s oldest art gallery” that transports viewers back in time, evoking what life might have been like for the people who adorned the walls of the Chauvet Cave with paintings of rhinoceroses, lions, bears, and other animals some 36,000 years ago. Other features include a kid-friendly, cartoon-illustrated series of short quizzes about prehistoric humans (Did they have toys? Did they get sick? How did they speak to each other?).

© Grotte Chauvet – UNESCO World Heritage Site


The most elaborate virtual tour of this selection, “Versailles: The Palace Is Yours” allows viewers to admire the overall grandeur of the rooms as well as specific works of fine and decorative art, thanks to individual photos and 3D models accompanied by easily digestible background information. Sections on such varied subjects as dining, fountains, fashion, and medicine and surgery offer a deeper dive into life at the palace. Among the many fascinating finds here is a video on the restoration of a lifelike wax portrait of Louis XIV, complete with stubble and smallpox scars.

© Sortir à Paris

Bonus Tour: Chez Claude Monet

For a charming virtual tour off the Google path, head over to Monet’s light-filled pink and green house in Giverny. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles here, but the quality is good, and the sunny yellow dining room, blue-and-white-tiled kitchen, and salon-studio filled with paintings are sure to lift anyone’s spirits.

© Claude Monet Foundation, Giverny. All Rights Reserved
Article published in the May 2020 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.