During the late 16th century, a cultural phenomenon emerged among Europe’s elite: the Grand Tour.


Essentially a long excursion around the continent’s ancient locations, the Grand Tour would endure for over three centuries and become a rite of passage for (typically) young male aristocrats, capping off an education steeped in reverence for the Classical world.

Its zenith was during the 18th century, whereupon it gradually waned throughout the 19th century.

How did the Grand Tour get its name?

Richard Lassels, a Roman Catholic priest, coined the term ‘Grand Tour’ in his 1670 travelogue, The Voyage of Italy – although the tradition began decades earlier.

Who went on the Grand Tour?

The archetypal Grand Tourist was a young man of means and leisure, well-versed in Greek and Latin literature and possessing a keen interest in art.

Accompanied by a tutor, British Grand Tourists often travelled by horse-drawn coach for days, before arriving in Dover and waiting for favourable weather conditions in which to cross the English Channel.

Inigo Jones, the celebrated architect, embarked on one of the earliest recorded tours in 1613–14. His experiences in Italy influenced his aesthetic, evident in projects like the Queen’s House in Greenwich, and revolutionised the trajectory of British architecture.

Inigo Jones, English architect
Inigo Jones, English architect, was one of the earliest known people to take a Grand Tour – even though he wouldn't have called it that at the time (Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Cities of the Grand Tour: what was the route?

Alighting at Le Havre in France, Grand Tourists usually converged with their peers from other countries in Paris.

The onward journey south would either entail traversing the alpine Mount Cenis Pass or going via the sea from Marseilles.

Italy, with its rich artistic and architectural heritage, was the ultimate destination. Cities like Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples captivated visitors with their famed histories, artistic treasures and ancient ruins.

Itineraries could vary, with destinations evolving over time to include places like Herculaneum, Pompeii, Sicily and Athens.

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What did Grand Tourists hope to gain from the experience?

As the odyssey unfolded, the impressionable travellers – in many cases, the future governing class of their respective homelands – were also expected to acquire a knowledge of Europe’s political, philosophical and economic trends.

But the Grand Tour was not only a scholarly undertaking: it was also an assertion of independence and status. Stopovers like Venice, with its gambling houses and revelry, dazzled pleasure seekers.

Guides, known as ‘cicerones’, accompanied many Grand Tourists, offering both cultural insights and chaperoning, while popular artworks by the likes of Canaletto and Piranesi were snapped up as desirable souvenirs of the Continent’s resonant vistas and landmarks.

For many young Europeans, the Grand Tour was more than an excursion; it was a mission undertaken in pursuit of national service, so as to enrich their country’s culture and standing.

Surviving letters and diaries provide invaluable glimpses into the experiences of Grand Tourists, revealing their impression of European culture – something that was often reflected in the lasting impact it had on the design of their estates back home.

When did the Grand Tour decline?

By the late 18th century, the tradition of the Grand Tour was interrupted by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, only to resume following Napoleon’s downfall in 1815.


The advent of railways in the mid-19th century began to democratise travel as a leisure pursuit, making it more accessible and marketable to the burgeoning middle class, bringing the era of the Grand Tour to an end.


Danny BirdStaff Writer, BBC History Magazine

Danny Bird is the Staff Writer at BBC History Magazine. Danny Bird is the Staff Writer at BBC History Magazine and previously held the same role on BBC History Revealed. He joined the brand in 2022. Fascinated with the past since childhood, Danny completed his History BA at the University of Sheffield, developing a special interest in the Spanish Civil War and the Paris Commune. He subsequently gained his History MA from University College London, studying at its School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)