5 Writers' houses that offer virtual museum tours: the best of the best
Updated: May 22
For those who love travel (including literary travel), staying at home during the COVID-19 lockdown was all the more punishing because of lost travel time. However, one bright side to lockdown was the surge of virtual travelling opportunities. One that I took full advantage of were all the virtual museum tours, especially those of various writers' houses.
Although lockdowns are behind us, book lovers everywhere can still take advantage of the option to visit many author houses virtually, from the Jane Austen house and the Charles Dickens Museum in England to the homes of many of the greatest American novelists like Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe.
If you've been around my blog for a while, you might have picked up on the fact that I love visiting literary destinations, including writers' houses and independent bookshops. On every trip I take, I try to incorporate some literary travel sites (like the Charles Dickens Museum, Hamlet's Castle, or finding Shakespeare in Virginia).
While many of these are free virtual museum tours, keep in mind that sites like author's houses barely survive financially in the best of times. Most are struggling to keep the lights on now more than ever, after having to close so often for COVID lockdowns. If you can, please consider either buying tickets to the virtual museum tours or, if they are free, donating to any of these (and many other) writers' houses. If we all give a little, it can help ensure that these important parts of history are preserved for many years to come.
So, here's a list of 5 writers' houses that still offer virtual museum tours, so you can engage in some armchair travel without the actual cost of travel.
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The Mark Twain House: A Virtual Museum Tour
Cost: free, but donations appreciated
The Mark Twain house is opened once again for in-person tours in Hartford, Connecticut, but if you're not planning to visit the Hartford area any time soon, you still have the option to scratch that literary travel itch and take a virtual museum tour of the Mark Twain House.
While not a scheduled, live tour with commentary like some of the others on this list, the 3-D, self-guided virtual tour of Mark Twain's home is well-done and worth peeking at. You can virtually visit any room of the 11,500 sq. ft. estate. Once virtually inside, you can click on yellow and blue dots to learn more about items in the home or the lives of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain's real name) and his wife, Olivia Clemens. As with most writers' houses I visit, the library is always my favorite to see.
You won't be able to ask questions of a tour guide and receive the immediate gratification of an answer, but each room of the house does include a link to a google form for submitting a question, which will be answered by email.
Literary travel fans should absolutely check out the free Mark Twain house virtual tours, and consider making a donation if you have the means, as author homes are struggling more than ever.
Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore, MD
Edgar Allan Poe, also considered one of the greatest American novelists, lived all over the east coast of the United States during his rather nomadic life. Still, the claim of Edgar Allan Poe's career centering in Baltimore, MD can certainly be argued. It did, after all, both start and end there (cue ominous music).
The Edgar Allan Poe house in Baltimore, MD is one of many Edgar Allan Poe museums that literary travel fans can visit, but it's the only one to my knowledge that offers virtual museum tours. You can sign up for a 1.5-hour live Zoom tour to visit the Edgar Allan Poe house virtually.
The tour begins with a pre-recorded GoPro walk-through of the house while a museum docent talks about the significance of each room in Poe's life. After the virtual walkthrough, the docent hosts a discussion about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe's death (in case you need a refresher, Edgar Allan Poe was found unconscious in a gutter in Baltimore, wearing someone else's clothes. He died after being transported to a nearby hospital).
All in all, this virtual museum tour is a great way to delve into the strange, creative life of one of America's classic authors.
Post-COVID update: You can either join an existing, scheduled tour or schedule your own private group tour of the Edgar Allan Poe House. Since COVID lockdowns have ended and the museum has reopened, there are fewer scheduled virtual tours, so booking a group tour is the best way to go for most visitors.
Jane Austen House in Chawton, UK
The Jane Austen House virtual tour is honestly one of the most delightful virtual museum tours I've taken. I signed up for a virtual tour of Jane Austen's house during a COVID lockdown and have been really excited to share my experience of it with you.
Like the Edgar Allan Poe house tour, the tour of Jane Austen's house is a live tour on Zoom led by a museum docent. It also begins with a virtual 3-D walkthrough while the docent explains each room, its renovations over time, and its importance in Jane Austen's life. Most notably, enjoy seeing the breakfast room where more than breakfasting happened: a small, unobtrusive spindle table in the corner is the very table on which Austen penned Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park, hiding away the pages any time she heard someone coming.
The Jane Austen House docent for my tour was knowledgeable and clearly excited to share what she knows about Austen and the special items in the house. Throughout the tour, she positively beamed with a love for Austen that was infectious. Her answers to the many participant questions were well-researched, nuanced, and fun.
Even though I've studied Austen and read all of her novels, I learned so much about the regency writer and had a really enjoyable time taking a virtual tour of the Jane Austen House. The tour was scheduled for 45 minutes, but there were so many questions and great discussions that we ran to 1 hr 15 minutes (and all could have happily kept going).
For any Jane Austen fans, or anyone interested in literary travel, I can't recommend the Jane Austen House tour highly enough. Find upcoming virtual tour times at their website here.
If you can't join for a scheduled virtual tour of the Jane Austen House, you can still check out a 3-D walk through of the museum at any time online.
Jack London Wolf House in California
60 miles north of San Francisco, Jack London and his wife Charmaine built their 15,000 sq. ft. dream home over a hundred years ago. In a stroke of terrible luck, a fire broke out just before the home's completion, and their "Wolf House" burned to the ground in only 6 hours.
Although London vowed to rebuild, he died only three years later before he could do so.
Now, visitors are able to visit Jack London State Park and take guided tours of the overgrown, haunting ruins of the Jack London Wolf House, either in-person or virtually.
For those at home, you can watch a 2 minute pre-recorded tour to learn more about the Jack London Wolf House, its unfortunate end, and the author who built it.
Related: If you're traveling in Northern California, make sure you check out these Beat Generation sites in San Francisco.
Charles Dickens Museum in London, UK
In case you missed it, I posted a few weeks ago about visiting Charles Dickens Museum in person. It's one of my favorite literary sites in London and one I hope any lover of classic literature or literary travel will visit.
With the Charles Dickens Museum subject to London COVID lockdowns, there's still ways you can visit this amazing literary site from home. You can take a free 3-D interactive tour of the Charles Dickens Museum at any point from home. Make your own way through the many rooms of the Dickens household, and hover your mouse over blue circles to learn more about items on display and how the Dickens lived in this home.
The Charles Dickens Museum has also been regularly hosting themed live virtual tours with museum docents. Keep checking their "what's on" page to find upcoming tours, and book quickly, as they sell out fast.
Post-COVID lockdowns update: With lockdowns behind us, the Charles Dickens Museum has not been offering as many themed virtual museum tours. Keep an eye out on their website, as they still pop up, particularly around Christmas time.
Tell me, literary travel lovers, what virtual writers' house tours have I missed in my list?
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