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The Grand Tour

Hey everyone! So as always I’m stuck at home thinking about potential European itineraries and add ons to my existing plans for Europe, and I stumbled upon a rabbit hole of history called “The 17th-18th Century Grand Tour”.

For anyone who doesn’t know what this was, it was essentially a cross Europe trip taken by young English gentlemen (although not only Englishmen took this type of trip) between the ages of 19-22 to take in Europe’s cultural treasures, capitalize on their youth, and for many...”sow their English oats”.

Ok history lesson over! Let’s talk itinerary. The classic route took the tourist from England, through Paris and the alps, and then throughout Italy, usually ending in Naples before returning home. Other routes took tourists around the alps, through The Low Lands (I believe that’s modern day Belgium and Netherlands?) and down through the Germanic regions of Europe, such as Munich, The Rhine Valley, and even Vienna.

This trip sometimes took years to complete. At most I have 5 weeks. I was already planning to go to London, Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome over a 22 day period. What else could I do with 13 more days? How could I make a modern 21st century “Grand Tour” trip over the span of 35 days? Maybe 3 days in Amsterdam and 10 days throughout Germany/Austria? Let’s pretend you’ve never been to Europe. What does that first trip (done in the style of the Grand Tour) look like for you?

Posted by
76 posts

To be blunt: SLOW DOWN. DO The Grand Tour— a fantastic concept. Just the cities you have listed. But slow your roll and spend more time in each. While in London take day trips to Cambridge or Oxford (or both), a week in Paris is nothing; then to Venice (cover all the islands) and take a short side trip to Padua and the Scrovegni Chapel (frescoes by Giotto). Off to Florence, an easy week with side trips to Pisa (if you want to see the tower) and Siena. Finish in Rome…extra time run down to Naples.

Posted by
104 posts

I ALWAYS appreciate the bluntness :)

The idea is that this trip will be somewhat of a “sampling”. You could spend a month anywhere to really get the real experience and see everything a place has to offer. This is more of a “see what I like and come back to it later” sort of trip :)

For a first time to Europe, 4-5 countries in 5 weeks doesn’t seem too out the ordinary, BUT I DO appreciate the advice and will certainly keep it in my thoughts as I adapt and learn while forming my plans :)

Posted by
2588 posts

I think the goal of the Grand Tour was to be in one place long enough to have a torrid affair with an older married woman.

Posted by
1022 posts

Hm, well, it doesnt look like going from city to city to city, but then, you sound younger, and that is what I did when I was younger. Amsterdam is one of my favorites, but it has sentimental value for me, so there's that factored in. I have been there several times and still yearn to go back. But since you have that geographic space between Paris and Venice, maybe Germany is a better option, maybe some of Bavaria then Munich then Berlin, then fly to Venice? Or you could go London, AMS, PAR, Berlin, then Venice etc?

Posted by
140 posts

If this is the only tour you think you might ever take, then maximise and head to Amsterdam / Germany / Austria. If you think you are likely to return to Europe, slow down and enjoy the places you already have more fully. For example, I have been to London many, many times and still on my last trip (just before the pandemic) visited places I had never seen or heard of--Vinegar Yard, Cross Bones cemetery, and an food festival in a converted industrial area--great atmosphere, etc.--and that in January. We have been to the British Museum many times and have barely scratched the surface. A week in London is a great start. The same is true for Paris. Give yourself an afternoon to have a leisurely lunch in a cafe, and then enjoy that second glass of wine and watch the city go by. Visit the lesser known places of each city or trace a particular event or person. Find the unusual or simply grab a baguette, an apple, and some cheese and sit in a park with a good book and a picnic. Get lost driving around the wine country of Tuscany (we certainly did--construction plus outdated navigational equipment had us scrambling for paper maps, then stopping to enjoy the view). Stop at roadside stand or find an off-the-track village to have lunch.

The Grand Tour took so long because the people did it more slowly--renting an apartment in a city like Florence and then doing each and every museum and church, enjoying their version of nightlife, etc. If you want to approach that style, you would need to do it slowly.

All of that said, if this is likely to be your only trip to Europe, you can add some time in Amsterdam, then down the Rhein to the Black Forest, over to Munich and on to Vienna before heading to Italy. It would be whirlwind, but it can be done. You would be exhausted and feel like you had scratched the surface of the great sites of Europe, but you would also feel like you had maximised your trip and seen a lot!

Racing through is fantastic if you want to maximise your once-in-a-lifetime trip, but slowing down is special and creates entirely different types of experiences.

Posted by
2043 posts

Check out Rick’s Best of Europe 21 day Tour as a base. He Hits some smaller cities which you could substitute for main cities. I also love Amsterdam, don’t leave it out.

Posted by
1938 posts

"This is more of a “see what I like and come back to it later” sort of trip :)"
My wife and I did something similar in the years before our retirement, taking advantage of the travel requirements of my job to stop off in Europe for a week or so while returning to the US for business meetings several times a year. Like you, we used the opportunity to scout out locations for future trips when our time would eventually be our own. It worked well for us - spending 4 or 5 nights in different places allowed us to get a feel for different cities, see how easy or difficult it was to use public transportation (it was always easy) and take the occassional independent day trip or organized tour to explore a little further afield as the spirit moved us.
My only caution is to realize that you're going to see a lot of cities but not necessarily much of the countryside - where much of the charm of different countries resides - so your perceptions are going to be a little skewed in that regard (as it was for us), but for a quick look your proposed itinerary should provide the degree of insight you're looking for.
Unless you're an especially go-go type of traveler I would advise building in some down days during your trip when you can relax, recharge, and generally take a mental break from your vacation in order to keep from running yourself ragged over the course of your 5 weeks in Europe.

Posted by
1647 posts

Another reason the Grand Tour "sometimes took years to complete" was that transportation was WAY slower in those days!

Posted by
104 posts

Yeah I’ve looked at the 21 day Rick Steves tour, and it essentially covers what I’m talking about. My problem with the tour itself is that you’re barely in Rome, Florence, or Paris...and London isn’t in it at all. This is pretty much why I’m planning it myself to add more time where it’s needed. BUT it’s definitely a good rubric and source for ideas.

Posted by
104 posts

There are places like London, Paris, Florence, and Rome where I really want to spend genuine time, and then there are places like...maybe Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Krakow (NOT ALL AT ONCE haha) where im ok only being there for 2-3 days. Just to sample them and see what I like.

Posted by
104 posts

And I love the idea of adding in some European villages and country sides. I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing some half timbered houses in places like France and Germany.

Posted by
21200 posts

There are two approaches -- plan it out - two days, four days there, etc -- make the hotels reservations, buy the train tickets, get it all down on paper and then excute. OR -- as my son did a few years ago and many others have done -- You know where you are going to land -- London -- and you know where you are coming home from -- Rome. And you have a rail pass -- one of the few times that a rail pass makes sense for the convenience. Plan a ark through Europe. This is a trip of exploration. Start in London/Paris first week, 2nd week-Amsterdam/Berlin, 3rd - Praque/Budapest, 4th - Venice/Milan/Florence and finally 5th week Rome and home. Don't have to hit every city and don't plan on 2 or 3 or 4 nights. Stay if you want to see more. And if you seen enough -- move on. Hotels are always available and the TI is your friend. Maybe use the slower trains so you can stop off at an in-between village for day or so. No real schedule but only a broad plan. My son was on a student visa so he could manipulate his time a little better and spent four months just drifting. Actually was in the middle of Turkey for two weeks as one of his better experiences. Just have a broad plan and fill in the days as it happens. You don't have to see everything and a great attitude is ---"I will see that the next time."

Posted by
2789 posts

I would want 1 week each in Paris and London and environs such as Chartres and Windsor, 2 weeks for Italy. Amsterdam or Vienna or Switzerland and Germany the last week(maybe take 2 or 3 days away from Italy). Remember that each change of cities will result in the loss of much of that day.

Posted by
4974 posts

A modern twist on Dave’s comments about the torrid affair as a means to sow one’s oats could be patronizing the legalized Red Light District in a city such as Amsterdam or Frankfurt . . . or not.

To recapture an aspect of the original Grand Tour experience, perhaps ditch a train or rental car, and go by horse, maybe even carriage. That’s probably impractical, and some of those wild oats would need to be used to feed the horse(s), but then driving a new Maserati Gran Tourismo maybe wouldn’t be a practical option, either.

Just reading Rick Steves’ guidebook today about the five Cinque Towns along Italy’s west coast, he mentions Lord Byron swimming in the gulf just south of there, despite locals’ warnings about dangerous waters. Byron survived . . . at least for a little while longer. Are you considering daring activities, in addition to seeing recognized, significant destinations?

One more modern Grand Tour element: time your trip to personally witness one of the big Grand Tour bicycle races - Giro d’Italia in May, Tour de France in July, or Vuelta a España in August/September.

Posted by
104 posts

These are all great suggestions and ideas. Thank you! :)

I’ve been looking at some of the other cities that I could potentially see for 2-3 days, and I’m really trying to convince myself to include Budapest. That sounds super negative and I don’t mean it like that. But it is usually included in the big 3 cities of the region (Vienna, Prague, Budapest). The other two are pretty self explanatory as to why you should go. I suppose Budapest should be too, but I’m not getting that sort of excitement about it. I tried researching and watching Rick Steves videos. Anyone have any suggestions or insight that could potentially bring to the other side and appreciate this city the way everyone else seems to?

Posted by
1790 posts

On a trip that long I'd plan most short stays towards the beginning and leave the last two weeks full of longer stays. The reason is you will be tired of packing and unpacking and switching hotels so often. I would add Amsterdam and maybe skip Venice. Travel between France and Italy is always a logistical problem and it's easiest to fly.

Posted by
4873 posts

Having lived in Europe and traveled a lot there, I am always amazed when I see on these boards planned itineraries that only provide 2-3 days in cities like Rome, Paris and London. I know first timers want to cover a lot of territory, but they should plan on coming back and see more.

In my opinion those cites need 5-7 days, each.

Posted by
140 posts

Ah, but not everyone can do that. For many, a trip to Europe is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Let's not forget that there are also many types of travel and traveler. Some people want to see the famous things. Some have the energy to go non-stop. Some don't. Some want to experience the people. Some want to join in or experience things like locals. Some want history. I agree that you could spend a month in Rome and still find more to see and do (heck, you can spend that long just in the Vatican), but that isn't realistic for most people. My father is a high speed traveler. He is out the door by 8 and can go from attraction to attraction, walking tour to festival, eat and move on until fairly late, and all with kids in tow. But he is also a checklist guy whose time is more limited. My husband and I can do a lot, but we also enjoy sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by. We are more likely to join the locals at a flea market or go stand up paddle boarding and will spend a bit more time finding a local eatery and enjoying it. We are happy to wing it a bit more and enjoy the act of discovery. We also have longer vacations in our jobs.

I think we all realise that there is SO MUCH to see and do, but that isn't the OP's question.

Posted by
104 posts

Of course I would stay as long as possible in each and every location but unfortunately, I’m an American with very brief vacation time periods so I have to play with what is afforded to me.

I was considering other locations outside of London, Paris, and Italy and came up with a few ideas.

Perhaps Amsterdam for 3 nights? Exclude arrival day for sake of ease and travel. 2 full days waking around the historic city, checking out Anne Frank house and Rijksmuseum?

Munich for 4 nights? Exclude arrival day for sake of ease and travel. One full day in Munich itself to check out things like The famous beer hall and city square. One day checking out castles on a tour, and another day where half or all of it is spent seeing the Dachau Concentration Camp?

Lauterbrunnen valley for 4 nights. 3 full days of hiking with no actual set plans?

Maybe I’m rushing Munich? Or is that a solid plan for that one city while trying to keep it brief. I don’t want it to be so brief that it’s ultimately just a waste of time.

Posted by
1647 posts

If you're still interested in hearing opinions about Budapest, I would re-post that question in the Hungary forum. There are some passionate Budapest lovers on this forum, but they may not have looked into this Grand Tour post.

I would say that we have been there and are glad we went but it wouldn't take precedence over many other places we have visited.

Posted by
104 posts

I love all of the responses and advice. Thank you guys :)

While exploring potential routes from Paris to Italy, I got an idea to somehow include Switzerland and Southern Germany/Bavaria into the transit. If I wanted to go from Paris to Venice, and I wanted to go to the Lauterbrunnen Valley (I’m thinking Wengen) and Munich...how would that route look? What would make more sense in terms of order?