Find some new travel ideas or take a free virtual trip with Google Maps.
Whether you're not quite keen to get on a plane just yet, wanting to get a look at some locations before booking a trip or your lust for travel exceeds your budget, you can take a mini-trip from home quite easily. Just pull up Google Maps on your PC or phone and start your search. While you can check out maps from everywhere on Earth, the Street View and Photo Sphere tools let you digitally roam virtually anywhere.
To explore on your PC, first make sure you're in satellite mode. Click and drag the little yellow person in the bottom right of the screen to any blue highlighted spot on the map. On your phone, just tap the photo in the bottom left and Maps will "drop" you into your chosen location.
Here are 15 places to explore in Google Maps.
It's unlikely you'll spot any little green men if you drop into Roswell, New Mexico, but who knows? Roswell looks more residential than Area 51 (the actual site, not the tourist spots). Unfortunately, you can only zoom in so far on Area 51, and you can't drop the little yellow person anywhere. It does turn into a UFO when you try, though.
The tragic events that occurred at Chernobyl have had a lot of attention in the last couple years. In 2019, the HBO's miniseries Chernobyl, starring Jared Harris, detailed the 1986 nuclear disaster. After the show premiered, Ukraine made plans to accommodate an influx of tourists, while Craig Mazin, the show's creator, asked tourists visiting the exclusion zone to show respect for the lives lost. The war in Ukraine, which also affected the siteof the disaster, has made real-life tourism impossible, but you can digitally roam the deserted town as it appeared before the war.
Google Maps has dozens of spots you can drop in to view Egypt's pyramids. You can take Street View to walk amongst caravans or gaze up at the Pyramid of Menkaure and Giza. There is an endless amount of history to learn about these massive structures. For example, the Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the three pyramids, but defined as a "true pyramid" due to its smooth sides. Most of the pyramids were built as tombs for the country's pharaohs. King Tutankhamun's tomb, for example, is said to be cursed. Tutankhamun's resting place is almost seven hours from the Giza Necropolis, but on Google Maps, you can tour both far more quickly.
Devon Island might look like a vast, barren, rocky wasteland in the Canadian Arctic… because it is. But don't write it off just yet. In 2019, Google singled out Devon Island and talked to scientists who are using the area as a training ground for future missions to Mars. According to the researchers, Devon Island's terrain is as close to Mars as you can find on Earth.
If you're in need of a breathtaking view, start with Table Mountain in South Africa. The flat-topped mountain looks over the stunning rocky terrain of Table Mountain Nature Reserve all the way out to Cape Town. An 18th-century French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille named a constellation Mons Mensae, which translates to Table Mountain, after the landmark. Lacaille reportedly did so because he spotted the constellation from this location.
Tucked deep in Guatemala's jungles is Tikal National Park. There you'll find Mayan temples and ceremonial ruins dating back to 900 B.C. Tikal is one of the most important complexes left behind by the Maya civilization, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The site includes remnants of palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, living quarters, game courts, terraces, roads and town squares. The monuments are also still decorated with carvings and mural paintings with hieroglyphic inscriptions that detail the people's history.
Calling all horror movie fans: Not only can you digitally traipse the grounds around this 14th-century castle that allegedly inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula, but you can also peek inside a few rooms. I can't guarantee you'll see a vampire (sparkly or otherwise), but the Transylvanian castle has a lot of history. Its stone walls have housed numerous royals, most notably Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad Dracul. Bran Castle was the only castle at the time that matched the description Stoker gave in his book. Dracula, the character, and Vlad Tepes aren't meant to be the same though.
Those with a fear of heights, be warned. You can essentially hike this incredible mountain without leaving your seat. The trail starts out simple enough -- it's high up, but the path is relatively wide, with interesting temples to stop at along the way. On your journey, you'll also encounter narrow stone stairs and a few vertigo-inducing paths. In some places it looks like unstable planks of wood were hammered into the mountainside for people to cross. Gulp!
Aoshima, Ehime, is an island in Japan that's home to more cats than people. In 2016, the fishing village had just over a dozen residents and more than 160 cats, according to CBS News. The cats were originally introduced on the island to solve a mouse problem several decades ago. Drop onto one of the streets and you'll be surrounded by felines, which honestly is a dream come true. Almost anywhere you click, you'll find a cat (or several cats) lounging in the sun, aggressively ignoring the camera. Perusing Cat Island is like a grown-up, extra adorable version of Where's Waldo.
And now we get spooky again… or architectural, depending on how you look at it. The Winchester Mansion is located in San Jose, California and it's more than a bit of a mystery. Consumed with grief after losing her husband and son, Sarah Winchester moved to California and bought a farmhouse. Over 10 years, she transformed the property from a simple farmhouse into a towering seven-story mansion. The great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 did quite a bit of damage to the structure before Sarah passed away in 1922. It was later found out that Sarah had the house built with stairways and doors that went nowhere, windows looking into other rooms and more oddities. The house is said to be haunted. If you don't have any plans to visit California (and don't scare easily), you can take a look around the Winchester Mansion on Google Maps.
The ancient Lycian ruins in Myra are said to date back before the 5th century B.C., according to the Turkish Cultural Foundation. Among the ruins are tombs of rulers and their family members cut into a steep cliff. A few clicks away is a 35-row amphitheater. The structure's former glory is evident in the carved designs you see throughout, even though it is still breathtaking. If you liked Tikal National Park, it's worth a digital trip to the Lycian ruins as well.
The lovable, hammer-wielding, lightning-summoning Avenger didn't have anything to do with this tourist attraction near Cook's Chasm in Oregon. Thor's Well is a sizable hole in the basalt shoreline that Gary Hayes, publisher of Coast Explorer Magazine, theorizes began as a sea cave, but was dug out by waves. The roof eventually collapsed and left openings at the top and bottom for the ocean to surge through.
Loch Ness is a freshwater lake that spans 23 miles in Scotland's highlands. Along with the ruins of Urquhart Castle, people flock to Loch Ness to try to catch a glimpse of the long sought-after Loch Ness Monster. Depending on where you click, you can see images from a boat tour on the lake. I didn't see "Nessie" in the images, but other people claimed they did a few years ago. After the hype around the Area 51 raid event on Facebook in 2019, another event, "Storm Loch Ness" appeared.
The Darvaza Gas Crater is also known as the Door to Hell and the Gates of Hell (not intimidating at all, right?). If you can't handle the heat, you can get up close and personal with this fiery pit on Google Maps. The images almost make it seem like the world's biggest fire pit (imagine the s'mores!). The pit's glow, varying between sinister and cozy, depending on your point of view, emanates from an underground cavern in Derweze. The crater came to be in the 1970s when Soviet geologists began drilling for oil in Karakum. While they found oil, they were also drilling on top of an unstable cavernous pocket of natural gas, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The site collapsed and several craters subsequently opened up. The crater has reportedly been burning for more than 40 years.
Did it get chilly all of a sudden? That's because we're talking about Alaska's ice caves. The Mendenhall Ice Caves in Juneau, to be exact. The first thing I noticed as I panned around the cavern was how many striking shades of blue there were. Alaska Shore Tour's travel experts describe their excursions into the 12-mile Mendenhall Ice Caves as "dreamlike." It might be as close as you can get to Superman's fortress of solitude in real life. The cave, which is actually a glacier, is also pretty tricky to get to outside of a Google Maps tour. You have to kayak to the edge of the ice and climb over the glacier, Atlas Obscura says.