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Take a virtual holiday with Google's World Wonders

Planning your next family holiday, but strapped for cash? Consider Google, instead.

The Web giant's new World Wonders project brings the sandy beaches of Australia's Shark Bay or the ruins of the Temple of Hercules in Italy to your fingertips. Through Google's Street View application, Web surfers can tour famous historic sites using Google Maps, directly from the climate-controlled comfort of their home.

Part of the Google Art expansion, the site now offers virtual tours of 132 famous sites in 18 countries. The World Wonders Project allows exploration by location or theme, like archaeological sites, monuments and memorials, or places of worship. Or just flick through the homepage photo carousel or drop your mouse on a random spot on the globe to begin your tour.

Sites are grouped geographically, including every continent except Africa and Antarctica.

All of the historic sites filed away by Google are listed in the Street View gallery, which includes tours beyond the new European additions.

Google's project is meant to support the preservation of historic places around the world, the company said during its launch in Madrid. The Web mogul hopes to bring these famous landmarks to a wider audience, the project site said.

Google has spent plenty of time running around the world, capturing famous places for various ventures. Last year, the company shared views of spaces like New York's High Line Park, London's Kensington Gardens, and Tokyo's Koganei Park.

"Street View has already proved a real hit for tourists and avid virtual explorers", the World Wonders site said. This new project is being marketed as a valuable resource for students and scholars as well.

Google employees took an unorthodox approach to filming the 'non-street' Street View venues. Bucking the traditional camera-equipped cars, Google outfitted a three-wheel pedi-cab with camera equipment and a rider who traveled around the world to those hard-to-reach locales.

Google partnered with the World Monuments Fund and UNESCO, which has offered its World Heritage List of famous landmarks to the Street View gallery.

World travelers are welcome to submit pictures to Google via photo-sharing site Panoramio, which may eventually appear in the World Wonders Project photo gallery.