How to Hang Out with Your Friends from Afar: 13 Fun Video Chat Parties to Try

From museum tours and jam sessions, to trivia nights and cooking classes.

Photo via Getty Images/Tatyana Bezrukova

We can’t go to the movies or the mall and our friends are all stowed away in their own homes, but for some of us, this may be the most social we’ve ever been. During these increasingly isolated days and weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are turning to video chatting as a way to keep up with friends and family. From FaceTime, to Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, HouseParty, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and more, there’s no shortage of software to send your face down the block or across an ocean, onto the screens of your loved ones. But if the low angles of your chin and idle conversation about not doing much of anything are growing stale, here are 13 virtual hangouts to try instead.

Host Your Own Happy Hour

This one is probably obvious. After canned beans, frozen produce, and toilet paper, many of us probably stocked up on enough wine to last a month. But why not break out a rocks glass and go for something a little fancier? Pick the cocktail that most piques your interest from this list of local recipes—and thank the Boston bar team that supplied it with a Venmo tip—then log onto a group video chat to quench your thirst with your friends.

Enjoy a Mimosa Brunch

If your cooking chops are more microwave meal than Top Chef, turn to some of the easiest and most comforting food of all: breakfast. Scramble some eggs, crumble some tofu, or flip some flapjacks, and most importantly fill up a flute with a citrus juice of your choice—champagne optional. Then clink virtual glasses over video chat and catch up on the week’s goings on with friends as you usually would. If you can, try to limit coronavirus conversation to the first 15 minutes or so, then set aside those anxieties for some bubbly-enabled laughs.

Try a Trivia Night with Curbside Beer

The appeal of bar trivia was never the straining to hear the questions over the slightly too-loud din (though to be honest, now that we can’t go out we do miss that part, too)—it was the good beer and better company. So, arrange to pick up your favorite local brew or have it delivered right to your curb, then gather the gang online for a good old trivia night. You can either download one of the many quiz apps, Google some trivia questions and choose a moderator (the host can rotate each week, if you choose to make a habit of it), or get creative and come up with trivia questions about yourselves, two-truths-and-a-lie-style.

Laugh Out Loud at a Comedy Night

We all need a laugh right about now. And not a hysterical, what is going on cackle, but a genuine guffaw induced by a solid comedy special. If laughing alone in your living room is sadder than it is funny right now, round up your pals on Zoom for an evening of comedy. Pick a stand-up special from your chosen streaming service, or dive into The Office for some quotable chuckles courtesy of Massachusetts-raised Steve Carell. You can try to sync up your playtimes (“1, 2, 3, play”), but with video chat delays, you might be better off using a software like Netflix Party to do the work for you.

Tune in to a Storytime

Whether you’re a parent trying to homeschool your kids, or an adult looking for some childhood nostalgia in these confusing days, a read aloud is an all around soothing activity. You might have noticed dozens of celebrities reading children’s books on Instagram as part of initiatives such as #savewithstories, a collaboration during the coronavirus outbreak by Save the Children and No Kid Hungry to provide food to those who rely on school for nourishment. Check out the savewithstories Instagram account for videos from celebs ranging from Constance Wu and Kerry Washington to Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner. Newton-born actor B.J. Novak will also be reciting his bestseller The Book with No Pictures on Facebook Live this Friday, and author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds, who lives in Dedham, is doing daily storytimes on his Facebook page. Round up the kids and listen to the same tale, then share your favorite parts after, or practice reading your own book as a group.

Take a Workout Class

If walking from the fridge, to your makeshift standing desk, to your couch and then bed has been the extent of your movement for the last week or two, your muscles would probably love a little extra stretching. Motivation can be hard to find within the confines of our apartments and homes, but following a virtual workout class with friends can be incredibly encouraging and, dare we say, fun. Get your friends to pick from this roundup of live yoga, weight lifting, and cardio sessions happening throughout the week. Be sure to leave the video chat running for a post-cool down chat to catch up with your workout buddies.

Go to the Museum of Fine Arts

Yes, the MFA may be closed for now, but thanks to Google Arts and Culture, you can still tour many of its exhibits, and even “walk” through some of its halls. Take a closer look at some of their oil paintings, learn all about Fashion Through the Ages, and enrich the virtual visit even more by watching some of the in-depth lectures featured on the MFA’s YouTube channel. And, though we’re all staying in place for the time being, you can travel far outside the city limits by touring a bevy of other collections via Google Arts and Culture, including the Van Gogh Museum, the Guggenheim, and the National Gallery of Art. Get the group chat to visit the same site, and you can share the experience in real time.

Unleash Your Inner Artist with a Paint Night

Feeling inspired by that visit to the MFA? You don’t have to be artistic for this one—unlike public paint nights, where your canvas is on display for all other bargoers to scrutinize your brush strokes, a DIY paint night means the only ones critiquing your masterpiece are the friends you invite to the video hangout. Send a painting tutorial link to your group chat (there are hundreds on YouTube—you can’t go wrong with a serene landscape from Bob Ross), then try to recreate the finished piece together.

Meet with a Makeshift Book Club

Talking about books can be a grounding pastime in the middle of this pandemic, where circumstances change by the day. There’s something reassuring about discussing fully formed characters with pre-written stories, especially over a cup of tea, with a few friends on FaceTime. And thankfully, the Boston area has bred plenty of fodder for such book clubs: Pore over Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and then stream the television show adaptation on Hulu; finally read (or re-read) Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and then rent Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film version; or read one of Mindy Kaling’s two hilarious memoirs, and then catch her writing again in movies like Late Night, and shows such as The Mindy Project, Champions, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and of course, The Office. Use the video chat to share all of your latest recommendations, too.

Have a Jam Session

If boredom breeds creativity, who knows when any of us might compose the next great hit. Call up your bandmates, musically-inclined pals, or karaoke night companions and improvise some melodies. If anything good comes out of it, great! Either way, you can exercise those vocal cords and spend time with friends or family (calling all Partridge Family fans) in a creative way. Check out this truly lovely video of a Berklee virtual orchestra performing “What the World Needs Now” for inspiration. Or, if you’re really missing Boston sports culture right about now, try singing “Sweet Caroline” in rounds—baritones take the ba, ba, ba’s and altos handle the so good’s.

Take a Group Cooking Class

Feeling envious of everyone’s perfectly crusty sourdough photos on Instagram? You too can know the joy of freshly baked bread, thanks to Clover founder Ayr Muir. Well, you can soon—in his first episode “In Ayr’s Kitchen,” Muir says that he plans to put up a video by next week detailing how to make the baked good, even without yeast. For now, you can dig into his brownie tutorial, which he makes with his kids in his enviably organized kitchen. Cue up the video, then call up your friends, follow along, and sink your teeth into the still-warm brownies at the same time. Missing a few ingredients? Place an order at one of these locally owned markets.

Attend a Dinner Party

Either whip up the same meal and enjoy at your separate dining tables as a group, or ditch the cooking entirely and order in from the Boston restaurant you miss most. To really feel like you’re attending a dinner party, dress up a little (re: change out of the sweats you’ve been wearing for six days). Now’s the perfect time to put on that colorful outfit you haven’t been quite bold enough to wear out in public yet. And while you relish in your delivered eats, you might want to buy a gift card from the restaurants you want to help stay open, or even send a Venmo to help out the staff, if your budget allows.

Gaze at the Boston Skyline

Not really sure why you’d want to do this for any length of time but…you can! Some cameras livestream vistas from the Charles River, Zakim Bridge, and Boston Harbor, which have now grown eerily still. It’s not a bad backdrop for calling up a friend and talking about how things are pretty weird right now. It’s okay to acknowledge it—therapeutic, even! So go ahead, talk about the things you miss, your anxiety of the day, your best coping mechanisms, and everything in between. We may have to hang out from afar for now, but as we become increasingly conscientious about checking in with friends and family from all over, in some ways we’re as close as we ever have been.