The end of the year is just around the corner. Whether you’re planning to pack your bags and board a plane, or spend the holiday season closer to home, we’ve pulled together some of the most popular sites on the Google Cultural Institute to inspire your travel planning or help you explore the world from the comfort of your couch. From World Wonders to artifacts and artworks, get ready to go on an armchair adventure beginning in the heart of Europe, crossing over to the U.S. and ending up in a historical center of Southeast Asia.

1. Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most viewed artists on the Cultural Institute, and this rendition of “Starry Night” housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris attracts some of the greatest attention. In September 1888, Van Gogh wrote: "Often it seems to me night is even more richly coloured than day", and within the month, he realized this masterpiece.

2. 1900-2013: From station to the renovated Musée d’Orsay

Staying in Paris, Musée d’Orsay is home to the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. If Monet, Manet, and Rembrandt weren’t enough to draw a crowd, the history of the building attracts attention on its own. This beautifully curated exhibit entitled “1900-2013: From station to the renovated Musée d’Orsay”, takes you behind the scenes from its construction as a railway station at the end of the 19th century, to its days as a mailing center, before being converted into a museum in the 1980s.

3. Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Heading south to Italy, the crowds take us to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Gradually make your way through the first floor galleries, before heading to the exhibit’s prized Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli on the second level. You won’t need to worry about the queue of people that’s typically waiting to stand before this landmark of 15th century Italian painting. The Cultural Institute allows you to zoom in and examine every crack and detail without getting elbowed aside.

4. Grand Canyon in Arizona

Jumping across the Atlantic Ocean takes us to the spectacular Grand Canyon in the U.S. state of Arizona. There are over 2,200 items in the Cultural Institute featuring one of the world’s most dramatic geological formations. Explore the trails on Street View, or fly across the vast national park in a helicopter with a famous nature photographer.

5. Nanyue King Mausoleum Museum in Guangzhou

Returning to Asia now, our first stop is the Nanyue King Mausoleum Museum in Guangzhou in Southern China. The museum was built at the site of the 2,000 year-old tomb of the Nanyue King Zhao Mo, the excavation of which uncovered thousands of relics in a 17,000 square meter area. Among the most prized artifacts are hundreds of delicate porcelain pillows from the Tang, Yuan and Ming Dynasties (618–1644 AD).

6. Claude Monet at The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo

Next to Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet is one of the Cultural Institute’s most viewed artists. You don’t have to go all the way to Paris to see his works; the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo houses a number of his paintings, twelve of which are on the Cultural Institute including one of his famous Waterlilies. The museum is Japan's only national institution devoted to western art, with pieces dating from the Renaissance to the early 20th century.

7. The Taj Mahal in Agra

There are few armchair travelers who aren’t already familiar with the Taj Mahal. But did you know that the Taj Mahal complex consists of more than just the white marble mausoleum? Explore the rest of the grounds on Street View within the Cultural Institute, including Darwaza-i rauza, or the Great Gate, and dive into the history and architecture of the complex in "The Wonder that is Taj" exhibit.

8. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap

Our last stop on this round-the-world trip takes us to the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It’s not easy to visualize what this 400 square kilometer archeological site looks like. So what better way to get a feel for it than through 3D images and animations from Monash University’s "Visualizing Angkor" project? Circle around a model of the temple grounds and its environs in the 13th century before diving into the history of the civilization of Angkor, which dominated mainland Southeast Asia for over 500 years.

Posted by Amit Sood, Director, Google Cultural Institute

In a recent post, we saw that consumers in Asia Pacific have leapfrogged the desktop internet and entered a mobile-first world. For anyone who lives in the region, this has wide-ranging implications both online and offline. Let’s take a look at just one area: shopping.

In Asia, shopping starts on smartphones
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Source: The Consumer Barometer, 2014

In Asia, shopping starts on smartphones; shoppers use smartphones when deciding what to buy. Almost half (49%) of Korean web shoppers do this. Other countries, including developing markets like Vietnam and Malaysia, are in the 40% range. Compare this to the ~20% figures seen in the West and you can see a clear Asian trend towards smartphone shopping research.

Let’s go a little deeper and look at how consumers use their smartphones for researching products. Taking just one example, home appliances — things like ovens, fridges or kettles — this is the picture that emerges:

Mobile even brings the web inside home appliance shops
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Source: The Consumer Barometer, 2014

This chart illustrates the phenomenon sometimes called ‘showrooming’ — where shoppers who are standing in a shop check their phones to make sure they are getting the best deal. What this means for businesses is that the Internet is even in brick-and-mortar shops.

What stands out for me here is that this trend isn’t happening just in ultra-connected South Korea, it’s happening right across Asia — with (for home appliances at least) an emerging country like Vietnam out in front.

We’ve looked at the stages leading up to a sale, but what about people who actually purchase on their smartphones? This is not yet a firmly established global trend, but as with everything mobile, a few Asian countries are already leading the way:

In some Asian countries, shopping ends on smartphones, too
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Source: The Consumer Barometer, 2014
With the proliferation of devices out there, the paths consumers take from first thinking about what to buy to parting with their cash are complex. But what’s clear from this research is that, especially in Asia, mobile is an essential part of the journey.

A note on the research:
For more insights like these, head to where you can explore the results of our survey carried out by Taylor Nelson Sofres and Google across 46 countries covering device usage and online access, how people shop and watch and the role of digital in the path-to-purchase.

Posted by Simon Kahn, Chief Marketing Officer, Google Asia Pacific

Google is a member of the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a grouping of Internet companies set up in 2010 to promote the understanding of Internet policy issues in Asia Pacific.

The AIC created this video to highlight how restrictions on data flowing freely across borders impact businesses of every size. It features Pearlyn who runs a small business with customers all over the world. Like many of her peers, much of Pearlyn's business operation is built on global online platforms. However, when her government introduced rules limiting international data transfers, she was prevented from using these platforms and her business now faces a number of challenges. Take a look at the video to learn more.

Posted by William Fitzgerald, Policy Manager, Public Policy & Government Affairs, Google Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa & Russia

Cross-posted from the Google Australia blog 

From the snow-capped summit of Mount Kosciuszko, to the beaches at Bondi and the seafloor of the Great Barrier Reef, every person can explore our country’s most beautiful locations on Google Maps.

To celebrate the once-in-a-decade IUCN World Parks Congress that’s taking place in Sydney this week, we’ve partnered with New South Wales National Parks and Catlin Seaview Survey to bring 21 parks and 27 underwater locations across Australia to Street View.

Beyond Mount Kosciuszko, bushwalkers can take a virtual hike through Fort Denison, Dorrigo National Park, Ku-ring-gai Chase, Cape Byron lighthouse and 16 other parks across New South Wales.
At the summit of Mount Kosciuszko
At the summit of Mount Kosciuszko
Looking over the cannons at Fort Denison
Looking over the cannons at Fort Denison
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West Head Lookout at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
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The view over Dorrigo National Park
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Dolphins off Myrmidon Reef

From the depths of Sydney Harbour to the iconic Bondi Beach and all along the Great Barrier Reef, we hope you enjoy exploring these locations from a whole new perspective.
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Beneath the waves at Bondi Beach

We hope this new Street View imagery not only inspires adventure, but that it also helps people to learn more about the delicate ecology of our parks and underwater worlds. 

India’s rich culture and landscapes have inspired many artists, and today, we’re proud to display an Indian student’s homage to an especially beautiful part of our country on Kids participating in this year’s Doodle4Google contest were encouraged to let their imagination run wild and submit a doodle inspired by a place in India they’d like to visit.

Our winner is 9th grader Vaidehi Reddy, from the Army Public School in Pune. She chose to depict the northeastern state of Assam, “because it is rich in both natural beauty and culture. Its music and rich folk arts are also very good.” Here’s her winning doodle, featuring Assam’s renowned tea, wildlife, and indigenous art:
final winner.jpg
And here are the doodles by the winners of each of the class groups:
Clockwise from top left:
Class 1 - 3 winner: “God's own country Kerala” by Sarvagjna Miriyala of DAV Public School, Panvel, Mumbai;
Class 4 - 6 winner: “Ooty's Beauty” by V Sai Latha Rani of Sri Prakash Vidyaniketan, Vizag;
Class 7 - 10 winner: “Heritage Glorified - Hampi” by Y Sai Greeshma of Sri Prakash Vidyaniketan, Vizag
Finalists of the 2014 Doodle4Google competition in India

Posted by Sandeep Menon, Country Marketing Manager, Google India

Yesterday in Dhaka our Google Bus began a twelve month journey of over 500 college and university campuses in 35 locations across Bangladesh.
The specially retrofitted bus with 3G Internet will hopefully help give half a million undergraduates a better sense of the power and utility of the Internet, and show them how to plan and collaborate in new ways. Following Dhaka, the bus will make its way to schools in and around major cities including Chittagong, Khulna, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Barisal. Stay informed about the Google Bus’ upcoming stops and keep in touch with other students who’ve taken part in the workshops on the Google Bus Bangladesh Community page.

We hope this program equips the country’s next generation of entrepreneurs with the digital tools that will empower them to start and grow their own projects and businesses online.

Posted by James McClure, Country Manager, Emerging Markets, Google Asia Pacific

Just three years in, participants in our “Global K-Startup” initiative to help expand the business scope of promising Korean startups are flourishing. According to the Korean Internet & Security Agency, the eleven startups that went through the five-month program in 2012 and 2013 have attracted investments worth a total of US$15 million.

The winners of the 2014 Global K-Startup program have returned from a two week trip to Silicon Valley and New York, where they participated in workshops, met potential investors and built relationships with entrepreneurs, and got tips from YouTube founder Steve Chen.
Top: Global K-Startup winners with YouTube founder Steve Chen;
Bottom: Workshops with 500 Startups, accelerators and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley

Here are the six winners that were selected among 568 teams, ranging from e-commerce to health care service providers. Keep an eye out for them as they make waves in the startup community—in Korea and overseas.

  • Snapshop makes cross-border e-commerce easier and faster, offering customers a simplified payment, shipping and delivery experience
  • Genoplan offers a genetic analysis toolkit and service to extract DNA from saliva to provide personalized health care treatments
  • Let’s Fold is a mobile app that reimagines the art of origami (the tradition of paper folding), enabling players to compete, share and connect with their friends over social platforms
  • Notivo keeps track of information and events happening online around the world, and sends automatic notifications to users
  • Gamchen enables gamers to broadcast their games to their friends and other users in realtime
  • FromDL is a private social network aimed at supportting carers of children with nevus

The 2014 Global K-Startup Award ceremony in Seoul

Posted by Lois Kim, Head of Communications and Jae-Hoon Chung, Senior Public Policy Counsel, Google Korea