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Fed up staring at the same four walls? Use these apps to bring nature indoors

There’s a reason people refer to ‘the great outdoors’ – because it’s great, with amazing sights and sounds that can reinvigorate and energize even the most grumpy of curmudgeons.

That’s not much use when you’re stuck inside. Whether holed up because of lockdown, trapped in a dreary office, or lying on a sofa while rain pelts down, dreaming of sunnier climes, apps can help.

So try these top picks for bringing the outside inside, whether you want to gawp at beautiful scenes, explore the world, or listen to summer crickets and ocean waves – at any time of year.

Portal: Escape Into Nature (free or $35/£30 per year)

Best for immersing yourself in nature

This app takes you to beautiful, relaxing faraway places. Inform Portal whether you want to focus, sleep or escape, and it will serve up example scenes to swipe through. Tap one to enter its portal.

On visiting a location, you’re treated to a full-screen video loop, from the subtle sounds of a barley field to the awe-inspiring sight of Mt. Fuji towering above Lake Kawaguchi.

Beyond visual and aural bliss, Portal adds features including an optional clock, alarms and timers, and deep breathing exercises. Should you wish to use it for audio alone, a scene’s sounds can continue as you go about other tasks.

For free, you get access to six portals. For the rest, you’ll need to pay up – but it’s worth the outlay if you want the best virtual escape app on the App Store.

Get Portal: Escape Into Nature

Webcams – EarthCam (free or $5/£5)

Best for live scenes of the great outdoors

Portal is undoubtedly beautiful, but you might want to broaden your horizons – and also see what’s going on outside of your confines right now. Webcams – EarthCam provides access to a network of 175 cameras dotted around the globe.

Launch the app and you’ll see a number of featured webcams. Tap one to see that location’s live view, time and weather conditions, and a series of recent stills. Flip your iPhone into landscape mode and the live video fills the screen. Alas, these being webcams, there’s no audio.

A one-off payment opens up the rest of the app’s feature set, including unlocking all current and future webcams. (Check out the map under the rightmost tab to spot where they all are.) But even the free tier gives you enough windows to the world to afford you brief escapes.

Get Webcams – EarthCam

Google Earth (free)

Best for exploring the world

Although a navigational aid, Google Maps does a good line in armchair tourism by way of Street View. This – along with fancy 3D smarts in major cities – is baked into Google Earth, which adds the ability to navigate the globe with a flick of a finger.

There’s a playfulness to the app, with a dice button sending you to a random location, and the Voyager feature’s brisk guided tours. But if you’ve somewhere specific in mind, perform a search and you can manually explore exotic coastal roads, trek along the Grand Canyon, or stand before the Eiffel Tower.

The experience is, broadly speaking, a slideshow and akin to time travel, since images have often been shot a year or more ago. But when you feel stuck and fancy nosing around somewhere specific, it’s a great app to have installed.

Get Google Earth

White Noise+ (free or $5/£5)

Best for bringing outside sounds inside

Should your idea of bringing the outside in be more to do with sound than vision, get White Noise+ on to your iPhone. For free, it offers a small selection of sounds, but a one-off IAP unlocks the rest, at which point the app fully comes alive.

To create a mix, you drag icons to the grid. Vertical placement defines volume (higher up is louder) and horizontal placement is about complexity – more complex loops being toward the right. There are 80 sounds in all, affording limitless possibilities. Bespoke set-ups can be saved for later playback.

As a focus aid, sleep system, or just a means to close your eyes and move your mind somewhere else for a few minutes, it’s ideal. And built-in timers and alarms will ensure you don’t miss anything important in the real world either.

Get White Noise+

Also consider…

White Noise ($1/£1): A simpler, cheaper take on ambient outdoor noises, which is good for compiling custom mixes from multiple loops.

Everything by Franz Bruckhoff (from free): Audio experiences from an ambient sounds app master, who marries 3D soundscapes with parallax painterly images.

Wildfulness 2 (free or $4/£4): Minimalist art meets soothing nature soundscapes. Guided breathing exercises emphasize the relaxation goals of this app.

Live Webcam (free): An oddball interface hides a whopping 70,000 live webcams that you can dig into when your mind needs to be somewhere else.

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