Even if you can't visit these inspiring monuments round the world in person this year, the advent of virtual, 360-degree tours means you can experience the next best thing, from wherever you are in the world, at any time of day, on your smartphone, tablet or PC. Panorama photos are uploaded to the internet, stitched together from multiple, overlapping pictures, resulting in seamless, interactive photos that you can navigate 360 degrees around.
Here's a breakdown of our favourite, most impressive virtual tours of must-see monuments around the world, that will make you feel like you're right there.
1. Ancient wonder: Egyptian monuments
Launched by Google Streetview in 2014, the tour of the pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the Cairo Citadel as well as other fascinating historical landmarks in Egypt allows you to get right up close to these ancient marvels simply by dragging your mouse where you want to go - without having to put up with dust, sand and baking heat.
The tour allows you to explore 360 degrees around each of the monuments and gives interesting historical insight into the sites. Did you know that the Great Pyramid at Giza is the last standing monument of the ancient world?
2. Prehistoric mystery: Stonehenge
Another Google virtual tour, this one of England's most mysterious historical site puts you literally in the centre of the prehistoric circle of stones that were placed there around 3100 BC. Nobody really knows why it was built - theories include human sacrifice and astronomical superstition. A major advantage of using the Google Maps virtual tour is that you won't pay to see Stonehenge, unlike if you went in real life, it doesn't depend on the weather, and it's completely private. If you went IRL, it's doubtful you'd be there without another soul in sight!
3. Eastern architecture: The Great Wall
To truly appreciate the scale of the Great Wall of China, you need to see it from the air - a vantage point that many visitors miss out on (as do astronauts - the myth that it is the only structure that can be seen from space has been busted). When you do this AirPano virtual tour of the Great Wall, you get an amazing aerial view of a portion of the wall, and when you click to go to the next few panoramas, you'll see some of the series of fortifications it's made of. Looking at how tiny the people in the shot are against the backdrop of the mountains and the wall, you'll be thankful that you chose to see it this way, instead of sweating your way up the many thousands of steps.
4. Magnificent mausoleum: The Taj Mahal
The AirPano team who filmed this aerial tour of the Taj Mahal were the first photographers in 15 years to take pictures of India's most recognisable architectural wonder from the air. Built as a mausoleum in the 17th Century and today a major tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal's security is taken very seriously. The team had to appeal to the Indian Embassy in Moscow, who in turn took it up with the Supreme Archaeologist of the Taj Mahal. Eventually, their permit was issued, and they were able to photograph the Taj Mahal for this aerial tour. Enjoy!
5. The angel of Brazil: Christ the Redeemer in Rio
Standing 38 metres tall and with an arm span of 30 metres, the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Hill, overlooking Rio de Janeiro, is a sight to behold. The AirPano team had to obtain written permission from the church to shoot the images for this virtual tour, and it is magnificent. Choose to view it during sunrise or on a foggy morning, and don't miss the view of Rio, Sugar Loaf mountain, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Virtual tours of SA attractions
And don't forget about the sites of local historical significance you can explore from your PC or smartphone. Here are our top picks of South African attractions that offer virtual tours.
1. The Union Buildings
The seat of government, the Union Buildings were built in 1910, when the Union of South Africa was formed. The virtual tour on the 360southafrica website takes you through the beautiful gardens and views across the city. Did you know that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated in these gardens in 1994? You can also check out the Police Memorial, which is on site.
2. The Taal Monument
The sharp spire of the Taal Monument in Paarl is an unmistakable sight in the Cape Winelands. If you're interested in how languages develop, and in particular, the origins of Afrikaans (which borrowed from most indigenous South African languages), take a virtual tour of the Taal Monument, powered by Virtual South Africa.
3. Rhodes Memorial
Cecil John Rhodes, the politician and colonialist who spent much of his life in Cape Town, is a controversial figure in South Africa today, and for good reason. But, love him or hate him, we think the architecture of his memorial site, built by Sir Herbert Baker, is worth visiting for its historical significance and its grandeur.
On the virtual tour of the memorial made by 360 South Africa, you'll see the 49 steps (one for each year of his life) on the massive staircase, flanked by eight bronze lions, leading up to the temple-like U-shaped monument. What's not visible on the tour, though, is the bust of Rhodes, which was vandalised in 2015.
To view virtual tours and 360s like these, you'll need a phone with a great display. Upgrade through Vodacom Online to a flagship smartphone with a breathtakingly crisp display today »