A quick dash around the world’s metropolises, a daring flight through the Grand Canyon, finished with an orbit or two of the globe – all in a single afternoon? The virtual reality version of Google Earth delivers all this to your doorstep (and sofa). The application is one of the most impressive virtual reality apps currently on the market.

More or less a decade after introducing Google Earth, Google has launched a free virtual reality version of its software. Now, the US tech giant promises to provide access to any place on our planet – putting 197 million square miles on the map.

Woman sees the earth with Google VR
The world at your fingertips.

Google Earth VR is currently available for the standalone virtual reality systems HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – the combo of headset and controller costs around 900 euros. With Google Earth VR, users can traverse major metropolises like Paris or New York City by drag & drop – or follow in Godzilla’s footsteps to scale Tokyo’s skyscrapers.

A stunning experience thanks to virtual reality

Virtual visits of sightseeing highlights like the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge are surprisingly stunning. The app works just like Google Earth – with the huge difference of wrapping us in an immersive 3-D view.

“There’s a world of difference between reading a description of walking the streets of Paris, watching a video of Paris and actually visiting Paris,” states Google’s Head of VR, Clay Bavor, in an interview with the magazine Popular Science. “In my mind VR enables people to more directly experience things and have much greater access to that type of information.”

Curated tours

Confused by all the options on offer? Those looking for a place to start – or simply a great virtual destination – can choose from a range of curated tours available on Google Earth VR. Armchair tourists can, for example, explore the historic Florence cathedral, join the fray on bustling Shibuya Crossing, or marvel at the majesty of the Swiss Alps. In future, the app might even gain a new dimension or two through user interactions: Virtual travelers could not only explore the world, but also save their own tours and share them with friends.

Google Earth VR landingpage
Curated tours for globetrotters.

At the same time, the app does not replace a real round-the-world trip: Users “glide” through deserts, rock formations, or skyscrapers at a fairly fast clip. So, to get a general grasp of the sheer size and diversity of our planet, Google Earth VR is an excellent choice – but to really experience the aura of a place, it’s still best to take it in with all our senses – and our very own eyes.

First impressions of Google Earth VR:

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The Google Earth VR app is currently available for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift systems. For more information on the app and service, visit the Google Earth VR website.