Wednesday, January 25, 2012

List of the Best Virtual Panoramas / Virtual Tours / 360 degrees Views

List of the Best Panoramas / Virtual Tours / 360 degrees Views

Virtual panoramas are the perfect union of excellent locations, brilliant photography and cutting edge technology all of which come together to deliver a very high quality art experience. Panoramas transcend border and immigration lines, they offer a passage into our beautiful and varied world. The thing about panoramas is that they can not be viewed in still images of in books; virtual panoramas are a visual art form which can only be experienced on a computer screen or a television. Ultimately though despite all the technology these panoramas and tours can not replace the actual experience. They are meant to give a glimpse and to introduce, to help one decide to go to the actual site or to help one reminisce. The real experience is not just about that one building or site but about the journey to that place, they people and the culture and one's own but happy existence in that experience. But panoramas are beautiful nonetheless. And I love wasting hours and hours going over them.

Just click on the banner images below to go to the websites for these tours.

Suleymaniye Mosque Virtual Walking Tour Istanbul by Saudi Aramco.  My first virtual panorama and also one of my favourties. The Suleymaniye panorama is actually a part of a virtual tour of the entire mosque complex. Having seen the Suleymaniye in real life I can tell you that this virtual tour is very good and does provide an excellent simulation experience. The Istanbul skyline is so real, I almost felt like being back there.  My favourite scene is definately Scene 5: Minaret 1, for the stupendous Summer afternoon view of the Istanbul skyline all the way down to the Galat bridge and Ayasofya. And for the azaan, the call to prayer, mixed with the bazaar sounds in the background of the scene; so hypnotic for me that I often revisit this virtual walking just to hear that azaan on a never-ending loop. Make sure you check out all of the detailed interior scenes as well. Even while visiting the Suleymaniye I could not access most of the interior sections and certainly not the top of the minarets. I recommend viewing this virtual walking tour in full screen mode. There is a button to activate full screen at the bottom right hand side in every scene.

Some of the best photos of Suleymaniye Jami are to be found here 

Two more virtual walking tours by Saudi Aramaco are:

The Alhambra complex in the city of Granada. A really fantastic tour again but since I have never been there I can not speak of it in the same way as I do of the Suleymaniye tour. It is said to be one of the best historical sites in the world and this walking tour helped me understand why. I must read up more on this.

Site of the maginificent Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem. Possibly my all time favourite mosque and the third holiest site for Islam. Haraam Ash Shareef is where the First and Second Temple were located, supposed site of the near-sacrifice of Ishmael by his father Abraham. Jerusalem has always been very close to my heart though I have never been there. The sweeping views of Jerusalem from atop the mount, the wise angle shots of the Dome of the Rock are fantastic. You can read about the Dome of the Rock and the Haram Ash Shareef here. A virtual panorama I will keep coming back to for the rest of my life.


Oh my God!!! Literally and in the most pious manner possible. This is a great gift by the Vatican to the net citizens of the world. A fantastic high resolution virtual panorama of the Sistine Chapel. Some time back I saw a BBC documentary called Divine Michelangelo in which one gets to see the back(and neck breaking) efforts Michelangelo had to make in order to fulfill his commission of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel given to him by Pope Julius II. My aching cervical tremours in reverence at the mere thought of the years upon years Michelangelo spent painting the ceiling tilt-necked. And so naturally I was greatly intrigued to discover a virtual panorama of this object of power, faith, art, beauty and ever-lasting adoration.

The panorama of the chapel is phenomenal to say the least. It is such a great joy to see all of the paintings from the life of Christ on the walls and the scenes from the Old Testament on the ceiling. For someone like me, who enjoys Renaissance Art, this is a great treat. The level of detail really wins the day. And, I did not know that the floor of the Sistine Chapel was so beautiful. I suppose the floor gets sidelined, crowded out by the magnificence of the paintings on the walls and the ceiling. But then this is what panoramas are about; they let one view and observe the entire scene in complete serenity and patience. Do give it a deko.

Paris 26 Gigapixels by the triumvirate of Kolor, Arnaud Frich and Martin Loyer. It's a bright sunny day in Paris and there are plenty of sights to see. There is the Seine, the Sacre-Coeur, Notre Dame, L'Arc de Triomphe and a torrential rainstorm of painful memories of having repeated failed at le langue de francais. This is a very clean, purposeful and highly interactive panorma, though it is not a true-drum-barrel-back to where you started from kind of panorama as there are hard stops at either ends of the panorama and one has to make one's way back in the direction one came from rather than just keep moving in 360 degree circles. Nevertheless it is not a major flaw and does not distract from the delights of this grand French madame. The photographer responsible for the Paris 26 Gigapixels panorama has many of his own extremely beautiful panoramas here. Arnaud Frich actually discusses how to make photographic panoramas on his blog here

London 80 Gigapixels by Jeffrey Martin. Be sure to click on the show landmarks button at the bottom right to really enjoy the panorama.
Battersea power station, Tate Modern, Tower Bridge, Hyde Park, St. John's Park and Buckingham Palace, the Gerkin, St. Paul's, Shakespeare's Globe, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben (can't seem Cromwell's statue though,oh well), and Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square and the little eat on the corner where I had some fantastic sandwiches and coffee.Even Piccadilly Circus can be found with some effort and next to it can be seen the HMV store from where I bought my coy of the Jewel in The Crown.

Next to the show landmarks button is a take the tour button which seems like a good idea as well.

Can't see the Beehive, the mayor's office, HMS Belfast, the floating museum. No information has been given about what one is looking at unlike the much more interactive Paris 26 Gigapixel tour.
The weather is overcast, as it should be. Of course.

The natural beauty of the American continent is so appealing to me. From Alaska to Baja California Don Bain has captured it all and made good looking panoramas out of all of them.

Don Bain's focus is not on just presenting picture-prefect-postcard virtual panoramas but to communicate the impression of a whole region. Considering that Don has over 8000 fantastic virtual panoramas I'd say he's communicated the impressions of a lotta regions in their entirety. Hence the use of the term" Virtual Guidebook" by Don for his kind of coverage. It is overkill? Perhaps for some. Am I drooling over the prospect of exploring the Oregon Trail, the Wild West, the Pacific coast line littoral and the heartland of the American-Indian lore in Canada and the USA? You betcha bottom Dollar bill I am.

The man's effort has to be applauded. He has brought together his skill, experience and passion and made the best use of oppourtunity (the launch of Apple's Quick Time viewer for example) to serve a superbly delectable multi-course gourmet meal of the wondrous sights of the Western half of North America. Yummm. Don Bain has my unequivocal respect. Highly recommended.

UNESCO and J M Kaplan Fund have come together to prepare a database of major UNESCO identified sites across our planet. I visited just a few of the sites. Sana'a in Yemen is one of my favourites. I love the shades of Brown and White of Sana'a's ancient multistory houses. And of course that brings to mind the spice markets and the great Quran horde of Sana'a. It's a great endevour and I wish them the best.

Budapest 70 Gigapixels by 360 degrees is also a very good effort. Initially it gives a sense of too much hot air and no real action as most of the 360 degrees view is full of trees and foliage and the city of Budapest is just a few tiny buildings vomitted out somewhere on the horizon. The vantage point seems to be a hill in a forest nnear Budapest. However if one clicks on the photos of the landmarks given just below the panorama one immediately sees what the fuss is all about. The panorama zooms into those distant tiny buildings of Budapest and suddenly they don't look so tiny anymore. The photo resolution is really quite large and all the landmarks are clearly visible. Even atom sized churches built atop hills on the horizon become quite big once zoomed into. Budapest is really beautiful, the architecture is a love child of Ottoman and Austrian which has been brought up in an environment of classy aesthetics and art supreme. This panorama has succeeded at its purpose. I must visit Budapest.

The New 7 Wonders of the World by 
VR (Virtual Reality) Panorama tours of the New 7 Wonders of the World. My favourite ones are of the Great Wall of China, Petra, Colosseum and Christ Reeder Rio. does have some really nice 360 degree panoramas including one of the Great Mosque at Cordoba, the Eiffel Tower, Mount Everest, Sydney Opera House and scores of others. One of my favourites is the series on 4 Danish and Swedish churches from the middle ages which can be seen here  One can zoom in and see all the details of the murals, paintings, church ornaments, liturgical objects and of course of the interior architecture itself. It's as close as one can get to actually being inside these churches. Very well executed job.

Another fantastic one by is the Grand Canyon panorama.

Check out their complete list of VR 360 degrees panoramas here

Library on Strahov Monastery Prague by 360 degrees.
This panorama holds the record for the largest indoor photo in the world.3000 individual photos, totaling up to a colossal 40,000 megapixels, were arranged and stitched together to achieve this feat. As a photographer I can appreciate how supremely difficult it must have been to manage to shot 3000 high quality shots in low light conditions. A great accomplishment.
Take a peek into a library going back hundreds of years, zoom in and read the titles of the books arranged in the shelves, marvel at the exquisitely executed art on the paneling and the ceiling and of course the fantastic wooden furniture. A bibliophile's delight.

Not one panorama but rather a series of 36 panoramas of the city of Bruges which provide an indept "visit Bruges" experience. The canals runnings through the city look really lovely and the lights reflecting in them with the dark Blue sky above make for some fantastic viewing.

Tallinn Virtual Panorama by 360 degrees. The port city of Tallinn is the largest city of Estonia in the Baltic littoral. This set of virtual panoramas is in the same vein as the previous one on Bruges. Excellent views from scores of vantages points all over the city and many of them aerial shots from atop towers and domes.

Alexander's own land: Macedonia. Again a series of very touristy virtual panoramas which showcase the best of the country. The site is rife with panoramas of ancient hilltops, idyllic islands, Orthodox churches, heroes from the Aegean (Alexander's the main man of course).

Sample this virtual panorama of a fantastic ancient Greek theatre here.

This appears to be a Russian site which encourages people to upload their own virtual panormas.Naturally most of the virtual panoramas listed are of places from within the erstwhile Soviet Union. My favourite one is called "In a cockpit at an abandoned airfield" which has the vantage point from within a decrepit MIG 21 (?)   fighter jet 's cockpit. It's just so tragic. Reminded me of a story I once read in a Granada magazine on an abandonned Soviet-era "science city". The virtual panorama can viewed here.

Arounder; now here's a website I love to love. is full of scores of really well made virtual panoramas of many major tourist attractions (including 2 space-tourism destinations: Mars and Moon, keeping a firm eye on the future aren't we). I think I would love to see each and every one of these virtual panoramas, not even one week panorama here; for not only are these really well done technically, the choice of destinations is also quite well thought out. In fact on the problem is one of plenty; it's not what to select out of the lot and see, but what to, sadly, leave unexplored in order to give attention to the greater "to see" group. Monaco, Ibiza, Tahiti here I come.

A nice community based website which acts a showcase platform for high quality virtual panoramas made by the members of the community. Though not all of these panoramas are not those of very famous landmarks but they do give an insight into the ordinary life and environment of others and as there is nothing ordinary about life or nature I find these panoramas very fascinating. I was especially curious about the Curious Cows of Bavaria.

Virtual Tours in Google Earth
360 Cities has teamed up with Google Earth to provide virtual panoramas and tours of hundreds of places all over our world. Google Earth is a software which lets one visit any coordinates on our planet. Though it is not browser based but it is a supremely powerful tool. And it is open to the user community for adding 3D models of buildings, photos of places, landmarks and virtual tours.

The 360 Cities virtual tours on Google Earth are sometimes made of photos and sometimes of CAD models. They start-off as these circular bubbles which one has to zoom in to. There are hundreds and hundreds of virtual tours on Google Earth which one can enter and walk-around in. They range from tours of cities such as London and Shiraz to tours of Tour De France and cycling venues in the alps to volcanoes in the Pacific to anything and everything. To more about Google Earth go here. Google Earth is one of my favourite softwares.

Go here to know more about 360 Cities tours in Google Earth.

There are many really great virtual panoramas on the web and I haven't listed them out here though they are in no way lesser than the ones already listed above. The ones I have mentioned are merely indicative of the fantastic world of virtual panoramas.

Make your own panoramas