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What was the 18th century "Grand Tour"?

What was the Grand Tour

Johann Zoffany's 'Tribuna of the Uffizi', c. 1772-1777. The painting is considered by many to be the most encyclopedic record of the Grand Tour ever completed: Zoffany ventured to Florence to paint the Uffizi gallery, which was an essential highlight of the Grand Tour for many travellers.

Image Credit: Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

When and what?

From the 16th century to the end of the 18th century (with a peek in the middle of the 18th century) young, mostly British, privileged graduates pioneered a trend wherein they traveled across the continent in search of art and cultural experiences upon their graduation. This practice, which grew to be wildly popular, became known as the "Grand Tour".

Specialty guidebooks, tour guides, and other aspects of the tourist industry were developed during this time to meet the needs of wealthy 20-something male and female travelers and their tutors as they explored the European continent.

These young, classically-educated Tourists were affluent enough to fund multiple years abroad for themselves and they took full advantage of this.

The Grand Tour, which didn't come to an end until the close of the 18th century, began in the 16th century and gained popularity during the 17th century.


The Grand Tour was extremely exclusive and only undertaken by the very rich, mainly the sons of the aristocracy. This was because travel was both difficult and expensive.

Travelers carried little money for fear of robbery. Instead, they took letters of credit from their London banks which they then presented in major cities.

Some Tourists sought to continue their education and broaden their horizons while abroad, some were just after fun and leisurely travels, but most desired a combination of both.

An added benefit of sending young gentleman abroad was that they were able to sow their wild oats with as little inconvenience to their families as possible. Typically, the young travellers experienced greater freedom on the continent, and became involved in drinking, gaming and romantic liaisons.

Typical young aristocrat Francis Basset painted by Pompeo Batoni, 1778 – whilst on the Grand Tour

How long?

Originally, the Grand Tour was expected to last about three and a half years: six months of travelling and three years of living abroad, allowing gentlemen to absorb the cultures they were visiting and improve their language skills.

The period of time spent abroad gradually shortened until most travelled for no more than two years.


The most popular destination was France as French was the most commonly spoken second language. It was also the easiest place to get to. The fastest crossing was from Dover to Calais and the roads to Paris were very good.

From Paris, travelers usually proceeded to the Alps and then by boat on the Mediterranean to Italy. They would usually visit Rome and Venice but their tour might also include Spain, Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic.

Grand Tourist carried over The Alps in a sedan chair. The chairmen of Mont Cenis were regarded as the best, strong and agile! 1755 – George Keate

Grand Tourists were primarily interested in visiting cities that were considered major centers of culture at the time, so Paris, Rome, and Venice were not to be missed.

While the original purpose of the Grand Tour was educational, a great deal of time was spent on much more frivolous pursuits. Among these were drinking, gambling, and intimate encounters—some Tourists regarded their travels as an opportunity to indulge in promiscuity with little consequence.

Map of the Grand Tour
Map of the Grand Tour itinerary

Wikimedia, Courtesy Of University Of Texas

The legacy of the Grand Tour

The study and collection of art became almost a non-optiona. Many returned home with bounties of paintings, antiques, and handmade items from various countries as well as Ancient carved gemstones and cameos, cameo casts, etc. Those that could afford to purchase lavish souvenirs did so in the extreme.

Handmade Grand Tour cameo reproduction by

The Gypsotheca during the Grand Tour

This Gypsotheca is a gallery of plaster models of classical statues, created by the sculptor Canova for Grand Tourists eager to purchase ‘classical’ statues for their country homes.



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