I'm a sucker for a live feed. After returning home from a trip to Spain, I discovered a website linking to a camera in Galicia that shows a sweep of rocky cliff, churning surf, and deserted green fields, refreshed every two seconds. For weeks, I'd sneak a quick peek from my work computer to recapture that blissful vacation feeling.
But besides a nostalgic, post-trip glimpse backwards, webcams and live feeds provide useful (and mesmerizing) information for trip planning—which beach has the best surf, the actual slope coverage the ski resort's website may be fluffing, the traffic downtown (should you rent a car?), the lines at fast food restaurants or for ferries to the San Juan Islands. Here are a few favorites:
- To promote wildlife-viewing trips, a regional Finnish tourism bureau has set up webcams to capture images of brown bears emerging from hibernation in the lonesome and beautiful taiga forest on the Russian border. The live cam, facing a serene pond in a clearing of birch trees and conifers, can admittedly be less than action-packed during the day. But at night, the operator promises bear-sightings 95% of the nights between April and August (I saw one!). June is when the females and babies wake up, so stay tuned…
- JFK Airport Monitor shows air traffic approaching the JFK from the user's choice of map radii from 5 to 80 miles. Check it out with the distance set to 80 miles and develop a fear of flying or, at least, more respect for air traffic controllers.
- Kolkatta traffic cam reveals a scene as frantic as you may expect, but try tracking the bikes and pedestrians to ratchet up the goosebumps.
- The PandaCam at Washington D.C.'s National Zoo has proven so popular that web-viewing is limited to 15-minute sessions and the zoo has added ottercams, lioncams, and even naked mole rats on a live cam, if you're into that sort of thing.
- Starwood Hotels offers SeeHawaiiLive.com, with multiple live webcams around the island. Coolest part? You control the cameras! Pan right, zoom in, and see if you can find shells or an empty chaise from the other side of the continent.
- Shake Shack, the wildly popular burger stand in NYC's Madison Square Park, has a webcam trained on the perpetual line so visitors can schedule their cravings for downtime.
Do you have any favorites to share?
Ann Shields is an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.