How would you like to spend two years traveling Western Europe, soaking up art and architecture, language, and culture? It sounds too good to be true, but some lucky 17th and 18th-century travelers did exactly that.
If you love the idea of a Grand Tour but don’t have the unlimited funds — or unlimited vacation days — to roam Europe for a year or two, don’t despair! Even if you’re traveling with a backpack instead of a butler, you can still have the ultimate European cultural experience. Our itinerary ticks off the essential destinations of the classic Grand Tour: London, Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Taking in everything from palaces to galleries, it’s perfect for culture lovers and history buffs alike. So what are the stops on this updated Grand Tour?
1. Spy splendid architecture in London
London was the starting point for the traditional Grand Tour — but before you set off for the continent, we suggest you take some time to wander through the city. Every street breathes with history. Get a bird’s-eye view of the vibrant streets with a trip on the London Eye. You’ll see stunning architectural landmarks, like St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower Bridge, from above. Back on solid ground, head straight for the Tower of London. There’s no better place to get a handle on the fascinating (and sometimes gruesome) history of England’s royal family.
2. Brush up on your art history in Paris
Travelers on the Grand Tour took years to soak in European art and culture. With the Ultimate Louvre Tour you can do the same — in the space of a day! The collection of art and artifacts at the Louvre spans Ancient Greece to the 19th century. From sculpture to painting, this monumental museum is a snapshot of European culture. Once you’ve said goodbye to Da Vinci and Delacroix, take a trip to the palace of Versailles and learn about fascinating figures in French History, like Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette.
3. Go beyond the canals in Venice
In beautiful Venice it’s easy to spend your days floating through the canals on your personal gondola, or eating the local specialty, Risi e Bisi, in cozy trattorias. But scratch the surface and you’ll find there’s a wealth of culture and history to discover here. Start with the Doge’s Palace, where you can admire ornate 14th-century architecture while learning about the dukes — or Doges — of Venice. Then, skip from the 14th century to the 20th, by paying a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This modern art museum is home to masterpieces by Picasso, Magritte, Pollock, and more.
4. Reach a high point in Florence
Dig into the Renaissance culture of Florence at the famous Uffizi Gallery, where you’ll take in iconic paintings like Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Then, reach new heights — quite literally — when you climb to the top of Florence’s famous Cathedral Dome for a panoramic view of the stunning cityscape. After climbing up and down those 463 steps, you’ll have earned your aperitivo!
5. Visit the heart of Rome
Head to the buzzing capital of modern Italy: there’s no better place to finish your Grand Tour than beautiful Roma. The Vatican, the city-within-the-city at Rome’s center, is a treasure trove of art, history, and culture. Skip the crowds at this understandably popular destination with a guided tour that whisks you past the lines and straight to the good stuff: the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.
And there you have it — in five quick stops, you’ve sampled some of the best that Western Europe has to offer. What could be grander than that?