A Short Summary of Grand Tours

Many people who Google the term “Grand Tour” will be met with top results referencing a beloved Top Gear cast and their well-known Amazon series.  That being said, it isn’t entirely off mark for the term.  Much like in the Amazon series, a traditional Grand Tour was a trip taken to distant parts of the world.  For Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, this meant traveling across Europe and the UK.  Many people even today take a Grand Tour, for some it’s more commonly known as a gap year.  Even Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls takes a mini Grand Tour with her mom, Lorelai.  Grand Tours are, and were, seen as an important part of refining oneself and a coming of age tradition.[1]

The late 16th and early 17th centuries in Europe were tumultuous to say the least.  Thankfully, with the Peace of Münster in 1648 the numerous wars that had occurred during this time period came to an end.[2] This allowed for many (wealthy) people to once again move freely through Europe and the UK.  With this new found freedom, many British men took Grand Tours to visit parts of Europe and take advantage of their local cultures.  This included going to operas, theatres, and visiting private art collections.[3]  What should be noted, is that very rarely were these trips seen as a replacement of education and more of a fun getaway for young men.  

The general age for men who took Grand tours was roughly 18-20 years old.  Those who took Grand Tours often found themselves in the company of a bear leader, usually a gentleman older than themselves who would ensure the safety of those on the tour and, more importantly, the safety of their finances.  The tours usually lasted anywhere from two months (the absolute minimum allowed to even consider your time abroad as a Grand Tour) to four years.  The most common route taken during the tour would be as follows.  Start in London, stop in Paris, stop in perhaps Switzerland or the Netherlands (depending which cities and countries were considered fashionable at the time), and finish the trip off in Italy.[4]  It should be noted that Grand Tours never went so far as to include anything east of Italy.  Some predominant Russians had their own version of a Grand Tour by going west instead, usually ending up in Paris.[5]  It was during the peak of Grand Tour culture that many Central and Eastern European countries were included into British itineraries.

Art and culture rose in popularity around the Grand Tour.  Many artists found themselves creating luxurious pieces of art as mementos for those on their Grand Tour.  In some cases, those who were wealthy enough would simply employ an artist to accompany them during their travels to document the beautiful European landscapes.[6] Some artists would even be commissioned to create paintings with monuments from various geographical regions (e.g. the Roman Colosseum and ruins from the outskirts of Venice).  See below for a list of notable artists who benefited from Grand Tours.

Pompeo Batoni

Anton Raphael Mengs

Carl van Look


Giovani Paolo Pannini

Along with the rise of artists during the Grand Tour period, both antiquities and architecture also increased in popularity. Many of those who went on a Grand Tour brought back parts of Italy’s ancient history (literally and figuratively). [7]  As seen in the rise of Neoclassicism taste, Palladianism architecture, and replica Roman cameos in Wedgewood designs.  

Unfortunately, with the start of the Napoleonic Wars in 1803, Grand Tours came to a sudden halt.[8]  The stunning landscapes of France and most of Europe turned into war zones and became increasingly hostile to travelers.  Travelers found themselves cancelling, or delaying, their trips until after the war; a sentiment many travelers during the Covid-19 outbreak can relate too.  Yet, the effects of Grand Tours on Europe and the UK can still be seen to this day. Should you find yourself in England, I highly recommend visiting Great Houses to see the Roman architectural influences. I also recommend going to the Sir John Soane's Museum, where you can see a house filled with Grand Tour goodies.

Interior of the Pantheon, Rome by Panini, c. 1734
Engraving of Stourhead
Wedgewood jasper vase with Roman like figures


[1] At least in Western cultures.  

[2] London shouldn’t be too terribly excited about this since they still had another 3 years left in their civil war and roughly 20 years later suffered the Great Plague of London.  Killing an estimated 20% of the city’s population.

[3] This was before museums were popular in Europe.

[4] Not all Grand Tour routes were the same.  For the British, the route evolved over time.  Originally it would start in London, include a stop somewhere in France (usually Paris), and end in Italy (usually Rome).  Anything further south than Rome was not usually included in such tours.  

[5] It was through many of these predominant Russians in Paris, that Catherine the Great was able to collect large quantities of French art.  

[6] Think of this like their version of the family vacation slide show we all would see after someone came back from their trip.

[7] I can’t, in good faith, discuss the Grand Tour without acknowledging the horrifying trend of visitors taking parts and even entire ancient architecture and sculptures from their homes.  This behavior is a tragic part of the art world, and is seen all over the world.  Especially in non-European countries and continents.  The question of restitution is deeply complicated, but progress is slowly being made to return objects to their original setting.  I should mention, that I do not condone removing art and/or cultural objects from their original homes under the pretense of mementos/keepsakes or anything other than the absolute need to preserve the object from elements that may destroy it.  

[8] Grand Tour culture obviously wasn’t destroyed by the Napoleonic Wars, but actually became far more inclusive afterwards.  In the 19th century there was a notable increase in women who took Grand Tours throughout Europe.


"The 18th Century, The Role of The Grand Tour", The Encyclopedia Brittanica, access on 28 October, 2020. [link]

"Grand Tour", Wikipedia, last updated 27 October, 2020. [link]

Black, Jeremy. The British Abroad: The Grand Tour In The Eighteenth Century. Glouchestershire, The History Press, 2009.

Haskell, Francis and Nicholas Penny. Taste and the Antique: Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

Sorabella, Jean. “The Grand Tour.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.(October 2003). [link]

Wilton, Andrew. Grand Tour: Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century. London:Tate Publishing, 1996.

Wilton-Ely, J., ‘“Classic Ground”: Britain, Italy and the Grand Tour’, Eighteenth-Century Life, Vol. 28, No.1, (Winter, 2004), pp.136-165.


"The 18th Century, The Role of The Grand Tour", The Encyclopedia Brittanica, access on 28 October, 2020. [link]

"Grand Tour", Wikipedia, last updated 27 October, 2020. [link]

Sorabella, Jean. “The Grand Tour.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003). [link]

Wilton, Andrew. Grand Tour: Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century. London:Tate Publishing, 1996.

Image Credits:

Header: The Grand Canal in Saint Lucia, Canaletto, Unknown, Foundation Bemberg [link]

Interior of the Pantheon, Rome, Giovanni Paolo Panini, c. 1734, National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) [link]

Engraving from Colen Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus vol. 3, 1725. [link]

'First Edition' copy of the Portland Vase, Wedgewood, c.1790, Victoria & Albert Museum [link]

Note: All views and opinions expressed are the author's own. If you feel there is missing information or wish to discuss any of the works please contact me.