The Grand Tour was the long tour of the most picturesque or edifying parts of the European continent, undertaken by people in Britain. It became increasingly seen as an important part of a young man's higher education and experience in life, and is the ancestor of today's world tourism.

It began in the seventeenth century. During the Civil War, many who adhered to the Royalist side were by necessity in exile. After the Restoration they - typically rich noblemen with large houses - had ties on the Continent, had seen it, and sent their sons off to see it.

Everyone (everyone educated) learnt Latin and Greek, and this became a chance to see the sites (and sights) that featured so vividly in Virgil, Cicero, Pausanias, Ovid, and all the rest. They took back artworks: paintings, statues, medals, both ancient (and fake ancient) and modern styles harking back to the ancients, such as Salvator Rosa and Claude Lorrain, and these in turn influenced painting, architecture, and garden design back in England. The procession of rich Englishmen carting off the treasures of Europe to their stately homes made them known as Golden Asses in some quarters.

As the eighteenth century went on the middle class were able to afford the Grand Tour. Painters and poets thrived on the Alps, the ruins of the Colosseum, and such wild and romantic scenery. Memorable and vivid journals of the countries of Europe were written by many leading figures, such as Horace Walpole, Thomas Gray, James Boswell, Edmund Gibbon, and Laurence Sterne. It was not, of course, a purely British thing: many other northerners like Goethe sojourned in Italy.

The Napoleonic Wars made travel impossible; after the Peace of Amiens it was resumed, but in the early decades of the 1800s the old-style Grand Tour was overtaken by the possibilities of mass transit, with the coming of the railways, and tour promoters like Thomas Cook. This now becomes the modern notion of tourism.

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