European Grand Tour
Arts and Cultural Trip to Paris, Florence, Venice and Rome.

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Colosseum of Ancient Rome (72-80 CE)
A Grand Tour Highlight.

The European Grand Tour (c.1650-1850)
Cultural Highlights, Arts Itinerary


Cultural Trip Around Europe
Itinerary of the Grand Tour
Paris and Florence
Naples, Greece, Austria, Germany and Low Countries

David (1501-4) by Michelangelo.
Now in the Academy of Arts Gallery,

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a quick guide to specific
styles, see: Art Movements.

Cultural Trip Around Europe

In fine art, the term "Grand Tour" refers to the fashionable European trip undertaken by cultural and socially conscious tourists, to the great centres of classical, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, sculpture and painting: notably, Paris, Florence, Venice, Rome, Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, Amsterdam and Antwerp. The main tourists were British and American - Charlestonians, for instance, comprised the single largest group of Americans to take the Grand Tour, typically spending a full 12-months sightseeing and cultural trip across Bourbon France and Renaissance Italy. With its opportunities to study the ruins of ancient antiquity, as well as the works of the Old Masters, the Grand Tour was also taken by young painters and sculptors - from America as well as Britain - to experience artistic techniques at first hand: not least because most of the best art museums did not appear until the mid-19th century. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence (opened 1765); the Vatican Museums (opened 1769-1774); and the Louvre (opened 1793) were some of the few galleries on the Grand Tour circuit. Most wealthy travellers who took the Grand Tour purchased a range of artworks. As well as recent pictures and sculptures, they could also acquire collections of masterpieces sold by longstanding noble families who had been reduced to dire poverty. The main benefit of the Grand Tour, it was thought, lay in its exploration of Roman art of classical antiquity, as well as the Renaissance art of Florence, Rome and Venice, along with its opportunities of networking with polite aristocratic society of the European continent.

Pesaro Madonna (1519–1526)
S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
One of Titian's greatest Venetian
; another masterpiece
of the Tour.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

For a guide, see: Definition of Art.


The first person to use the term "Grand Tour" was the Roman Catholic priest Richard Lassels (c.1603-68), in his posthumous book The Voyage of Italy (1670). As a cultural tradition, the Grand Tour started to become popular after the Peace of Munster (1648), which as part of the Peace of Westphalia helped to end the Thirty Years' War. Certainly, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, European gentlemen and artists began to travel, fuelling a general desire to become directly acquainted with other cultures and develop international contacts. Long itineraries, which were often uncomfortable to follow, ran the length and breadth of the continent and were deemed indispensable for the development of "good taste". It was also one of the few ways for a young person to extend his education - notably in languages and the fine arts. In 1776, for instance, the Scottish economist Adam Smith declared that the poor standing of British universities had made the Grand Tour an essential part of an upper-class education. Further encouragement to experience European visual art came with the founding of new schools of art, and societies of artists. In addition, the Royal Academy of Arts was founded in London in 1768. Its first President, Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) aimed to rival the great European academies that had so impressed him on his Grand Tour.

Thanks to wealthy sponsors, talented young British and American painters also toured Europe to help them learn from the masters. The architect Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) took a Grand Tour around Europe in 1784, where he saw the neoclassical Pantheon in Paris, designed by Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-80) and Jean Rondelet, and the classical Pantheon in Rome. The painter Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) toured Europe with friends in 1882.

English landscape-painters (and rich tourists) were particularly interested in the classical style landscapes by Paul Bril (1554-1626), Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610) and the Bolognese painters Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Domenichino (1581-1641), as well as Claude (1604-82), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). Rural views by Dutch Baroque masters were also much admired and copied.

The tradition of the Grand Tour continued to flourish until the mid-19th century, when mass train travel became a more common occurence.

Itinerary of the Grand Tour

A Grand Tour might last from several months to several years. Travellers were often accompanied by a tutor or knowledgeable guide. The main destination for the English, French and Germans on their Grand Tour was Italy, and not many ventured as far afield as Russia and its magnificent new capital Saint Petersburg. Based on the recommendations of the guidebooks and the advice of eminent men of culture, the Grand Tour usually began with an extended visit to Paris.

Paris and Florence

Here, most culture-seekers took lessons in fencing, French conversation, and sought out the art collections in the Louvre and the Tuileries, as well as the architecture of Notre Dame, the new Pantheon designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot, and the gardens of the Palais du Luxembourg. Outside Paris, popular sights included the Palace of Versailles and the Chateau de Fontainebleau (note: see Fontainebleau School for details). After this, they typically visited Geneva (cradle of the Protestant Reformation), and often Lausanne, Barcelona and Turin, before spending a month in the Renaissance centre of Florence. Here they would study the masterpieces of the Florentine quattrocento, by Botticelli and others, the marble David by Michelangelo (1501-4) at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, the bronze David by Donatello (1440-43) in the Uffizi, and the paintings of the Bolognese School from the Medici collection.


The Grand Tour continued on to Padua, Bologna, before taking an extended pause in Venice, arguably the most elegant and refined city in Europe. Venetian painting by Titian and others, in the city's many churches, the architecture, and the architectural paintings of Venetian topography by view-painters (vedutisti) like Canaletto (1697-1768), his nephew Bernardo Bellotto (1721-80) and Francesco Guardi (1712-93). The popular Venetian miniaturist Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) worked in Rome and Vienna, as well as her native Venice. As well as her miniature painting on snuff boxes for English tourists, she was also in demand for her pastel portraits of the European aristocracy. The Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was another artist who found a ready supply of customers for her portrait art among distinguished tourists visiting Italy as part of the Grand Tour of Europe.


After Venice, most travellers turned south for Rome, where they were able to observe at first hand the archeological remains of ancient Rome, the masterpieces of High Renaissance painting and sculpture, as well as the architecture of Rome's Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Sistine Chapel frescoes - notably the Genesis Fresco (1508-12) and Last Judgment fresco (1536-41) by Michelangelo - Bernini's incredible Baroque architecture leading up to and including Saint Peter's Basilica, and the contents of the Vatican Museums were particular highlights. Although the art and the social life in some Italian cities was scintillating with princely receptions and magnificent theatrical entertainments, Italy was experiencing a growing social and economic crisis in diverse sectors, and the conservation of its monuments left much to be desired. Even so, foreigners could make excellent purchases of artworks, from a variety of art collectors and dealers in antiquities. The British sculptor Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823) went to Rome to perfect his technique of marble sculpture, but also had a lucrative sideline as an art dealer, selling statuettes and small bronzes to English tourists visiting Rome on the Grand Tour.

Naples, Greece, Austria, Germany and Low Countries

After Rome, some tourists journeyed further south to Naples, to see the antiquities and excavations at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Paestum, whose artifacts triggered the spread of Neoclassical art across Europe, and had a major impact on British taste in pottery and furniture, as in the Etruscan-style pottery of Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, and furniture by Thomas Sheraton. Some of the more adventurous Grand Tourers crossed the Ionian Sea to the Greek mainland, to experience Greek art - mostly Greek sculpture - at first hand, but most headed north to Vienna, Dresden and Berlin, sometimes pausing in Munich or Heidelberg, before visiting the Low Countries. Here, they saw works by the great Flemish Painters of Ghent, Bruges, Brussels and Antwerp, such as Jan van Eyck (1390-1441), Hans Memling (c.1433-94), Hugo van der Goes (1440–1482), Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), as well as Dutch Realists, like Rembrandt (1606-69) and Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) in Amsterdam.

Grand Tourists typically arrived home with crates of art, including antique artifacts, oil paintings, statuettes, medals and coins, which would be ostentatiously displayed in cabinets, libraries, drawing rooms and gardens.

• For a guide to the evolution of European culture, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about painting and sculpture in Florence, Venice and Rome, see: Homepage.

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