What Is the Grand Tour?

B. Turner

During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries wealthy young men often took what was referred to as the grand tour. These travelers from upper class families would take off on a great adventure, touring some of the most-celebrated cities in the world for a period ranging from several months to several years. During the grand tour, these men would visit spots of historical, cultural, or political significance. This experience was designed to expose wealthy young men to the world and provide them with a broad education while also serving as a form of entertainment. The grand tour has since evolved into modern adventures that allow both men and women to explore the world without the need for a significant financial investment.

Venice was a key stop on the Grand Tour.
Venice was a key stop on the Grand Tour.

During the 17th century, the concept of the grand tour was largely limited to young men from Britain, who would hire a coach and travel throughout the continent. Many relied on a trained guide to help them find their way, and those who could afford it might also take along a team of servants. As the popularity of this trend grew, men from other parts of Europe began to take part. By the 18th century, even men from North and South America were heading off on grand tours of their own. The widespread availability of trains and steamships during the 19th century helped to make travel more accessible, allowing even more people to take part in this tradition of travel.

Paris and Rome were major destinations on a grand tour of Europe.
Paris and Rome were major destinations on a grand tour of Europe.

The grand tour traditionally began in London, and took men throughout Britain before heading to other European cities. Paris, Florence, and Venice were key stops, though other cities and capitals were also included, depending on the individual. Men took this time to learn other languages, take in cultural and historical sites and see famous works of art and architecture. Many also spent the time investing in unique pieces of art of other goods, which they could then bring home to impress friends.

Many men who took a grand tour kept a journal, which they could then publish once they returned home. One of the first of these was written by Thomas Coryat, who released "Coryat's Crudities" in 1611. The 1670 travelogue by Richard Lassels detailing his Italian adventure also helped to inspire others to take the grand tour.

During the 1960s, American hippies and young people from all walks of life began to create their own version of the grand tour. These men and women relied on hitchhiking and cheap buses to carry them throughout Europe and Asia. Today, this tradition has evolved into a gap year, where students take a year off after earning a college or university degree to tour the world.

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