The earliest forms of leisure tourism can be traced as far back as the Babylonian and Egyptian empires. A museum of “historic antiquities” was open to the public in the sixth century BC in Babylon, while the Egyptians held many religious festivals attracting not only the devout, but many who came to see the famous buildings and works of art in the cities. The local towns accommodated tourists by providing services such as: vendors of food and drink, guides, hawkers of souvenirs, touts and prostitutes.
From around the same date, Greek tourists travelled to visit the sites of healing gods. Because the independent city-states of ancient Greece had no central authority to order the construction of roads, most of these tourists travelled by water, hence seaports prospered.
The lands of the Mediterranean Sea produced a remarkable evolution in travel. People travel for trade, commerce, religious purposes, festivals, medical treatment, or education developed at an early date.
Guidebooks became available as early as the fourth century BC, covering a vast area of destinations, i.e. Athens, Sparta and Troy. Pausanias, a Greek travel writer, produced a noted “description of Greece” between AD 160 and 180, which, in its critical evaluation of facilities and destinations, acted as a model for later writers. Advertisements, in the form of signs directing visitors to wayside inns, are also known from this period. However, under Romans rule is where international travel became first important. With no foreign borders between England and Syria, and with the seas safe from piracy due to the Roman patrols, conditions favouring travel had arrived. Roman coinage was acceptable everywhere, and Latin was the common language. Romans travelled to Sicily, Greece, Rhodes, and Troy, Egypt and from the third century AD, to the Holy Land.
Domestic tourism also flourished within the Roman Empire. Second homes were built by the wealthy within easy travelling distance of Rome, occupied particularly during the springtime social season. Naples attracted the retired and the intellectuals.
Before the sixteenth century, those who sought to travel had three modes in which to do so. They could walk, ride a horse or they could be carried, either on a little or on a carrier’s wagon. The development of the sprung coach was a huge advance for those who regularly travelled, and by the mid 1600’s, coaches were operating regularly in Britain. In the eighteenth century the introduction of turnpike roads, which provided improved surfaces for which tolls would be charged. The later introduction of the metal, leaf spring suspension also added to comfort.
Travel also requires accommodation, and at that time, it was basic. To accommodate the new demand for travel inns was provided. They provided fresh horses, and lodgings were available for rent to visitors when they arrived at their destination.
From the early seventeenth century, a new form of tourism developed as a direct outcome of the freedom and quest for learning heralded by the Renaissance. Young men who wanted positions at court were encouraged to travel to the Continent to finish their education. Others soon adopted this practice in the upper echelons of society, and it soon became customary for the education of a gentleman to be completed by a “Grand tour” of major cultural centres of Europe, accompanied by a tutor and often-lasting three years or more. The appeal soon became social, and leisure seeking young men travelled, predominantly to France and Italy, to enjoy the rival cultures and social life of cities such as Paris, Venice, or Florence. By the end of the eighteenth century, the custom had become institutionalised for the gentry.
Passports have their origins in the medieval testimonial. A letter from an ecclesiastical superior given to a pilgrim to avoid the latter’s possible arrest on charges of vagrancy. Later, papers of authority to travel were more widely issued by the state, particularly during periods of warfare with neighbouring European countries.
Spas were already well established during the time of the Roman Empire, but their popularity, based on the supposed medical benefits of the waters, lapsed in the subsequent centuries. Renewed interest in the therapeutic qualities of mineral waters has been ascribed to the influence of the Renaissance in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe.