In Victorian England, it was common for upper-class young adults who had recently finished school to go on vacation on the Continent. Countries full of classical history like Greece and Italy were musts, but visits to more scintillating locales in France and Spain were also common. Not so much the likes of Andorra and Slovenia. The purpose of this extended vacation was allow young adults to experience locations they had studied extensively, like classic Greece and Rome, to fully understand the foundation of Western civilisation. It was merely a perk that these young socialites also tended to mingle with aristocrats on the Continent, creating a network of power difficult for anyone to puncture. Alas!
The Victorian era has come and gone, but the appeal of a Grand Tour of Europe persists in travellers of all ages, especially now that Europe is becoming more affordable for Americans just out of their studies. Vacation planners looking for a healthy dose of culture during their European excursion would do well to base their itineraries on the Grand Tour of old — with some modern updates. Here’s an updated Grand Tour for the Victorian of today.
1. Lisbon, Portugal
Kick start things in Portugal. Portugal has experienced many ups and downs, but today their culture is strong, and the capital, Lisbon, is an excellent place to fly into and kick off a young adult’s grand tour (check current travel prices on flights.com). The city is filled with age-old architecture and museums to educate visitors on Portugal’s past. Plus, Lisbon beats with an electric heart, as dancing and music are exceedingly popular among the younger set; Lisbon nightclubs are some of the best places for young travellers to meet and learn about their Portuguese peers.
2. Barcelona, Catalonia/Spain
Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, but it doesn’t show it and the locals don’t want to be classed as Spain, rather Catalonia. The city has a lazy and relaxed atmosphere, as its citizens are much more interested in siestas and tapas than deadlines.
Barcelona’s rich culture is in many ways directly contrary to that of the U.S., and it could be beneficial for young adults to experience a calmer lifestyle than they’ve likely previously experienced. Travellers can sip on sangria and walk the long, winding streets, then catch some flamenco at night. Plus the added bonus of arty Gracia which can be experienced on a food tour add to the diversity of this vibrant city.
3. Paris, France
There’s little to say about the City of Lights that hasn’t already been said. Paris is arguably Europe’s center of culture, and any tour of Europe would be worthless without a trip to France’s capital. Travellers can see the Eiffel Tower, walk the Louvre, and dine in any of the city’s myriad cafes; there’s so much to do and see in Paris, and every choice is a good one.
4. London, England.
London is at least 2,000 years old, and in that time it has grown to be the largest city in Europe with nearly 9 million inhabitants. London has a similar fundamental importance to European travel as Paris — it is difficult to understand the European ethos without a trip of any length in the big city. Travellers will enjoy seeing the iconic and historic sights of Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, but young adults will gain more insight by rubbing elbows with fellow youths in pubs in fashionable or artsy areas like Soho or Hackney.
5. Amsterdam, Netherlands
In the past, it was easy to guess why a young adult would want to visit Amsterdam, yet even with the recent bans on drug use by foreigners, the capital of the Netherlands is still a valuable destination on a Grand Tour.
The Netherlands is a surprisingly progressive country; often rated as some of the happiest in the world, natives of the country are healthy and place importance on social works like education and conservation. The Netherlands’ liberal government is arguably more successful than the U.S. — something young travellers can judge for themselves during their trip. Plus the thought of “Cannabis Cake” does appeal to the up and coming hippies of this world!
6. Berlin, Germany
Long gone are the days when Berlin was burning and split by the Soviets to the east and the Allies to the west. Now, Berlin is full of art, life, and youth, making it often a young person’s favourite place to travel. There are plenty of memorials and museums dedicated to Berlin’s deep and troubled history, and a young traveller has the opportunity to learn much about the world wars that tore the country apart. However, the shops, restaurants, and nightclubs present the direction that Berlin is headed: rich, clean, tolerant, and vivacious. Vibrant Berliners can teach Americans much about recovering from tragedy.
Young people have much to learn, and travel to any location will teach them about self-sufficiency and different world views. However, gaining experience in Europe’s most famous and historic cities will provide a more realistic view of the world they’ve learned about in their studies. Modern travellers can craft their Grand Tour however they would like, as long as it gives a holistic view of Europe’s culture and peoples.