Today’s Grand Tour

Through the 17th to 19th centuries it was common for the wealthy children of the European (especially English) elite to go on a ‘Grand Tour;’ a proto-elite package tour through the great centers of culture and power in Europe. The goal was to absorb classical culture – travelers were often accompanied by a learned guide – and presumably hobnob with familiar networks of elites abroad.

In a piece on the botanist and early scientist Joseph Banks (of Banksia and Botany Bay fame), Steven Shapin quotes Banks sneering at the Grand Tour in the same tone used for ‘all-inclusive’ package tours today:

The usual late 18th-century itinerary for polite travelling and collecting was the Grand Tour, but the young Banks had a different idea. (‘Every blockhead does that,’ he said. ‘My grand tour shall be one round the whole globe.’)

Today the Grand Tour has been replaced by the gap-year backpacking trip. Although I’m not sure comparisons are workable in an age of mass travel.

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