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The term “summer vacation” conjures images of sunny afternoons on the shore and leisurely drives. Suntans and ice cream cones. International adventures and bright blue water straight off a postcard.
While plenty of travelers have their go-to spots for the summer, some trips are the stuff of legend. There’s hiking to Machu Picchu, surfing in Nicaragua, or road-tripping through the American West.
Our classic summer vacation ideas promise to ignite inspiration, force you to think differently, and have you telling stories of your adventure for decades to come.
No matter how many passport stamps you’ve collected or countries you’ve checked off your list, there’s always a new corner of the globe left to discover. Summertime getaways to places like Scotland or the U.S. Virgin Islands have been growing in popularity among travelers recently, joining the ranks of classic summer vacation destinations like Mexico and Italy. Here, we detail some of the best ways to see these seasonal escapes.
From river cruises to train adventures to African safaris, these summer vacation ideas will inspire you for your 2023 travels.
Enjoying La Dolce Vita in Italy
When it comes to romance, no place comes close to the allure of Italy. You’ve got the history of Rome, the art of Venice, the modern vibe of Milan, the dreamy Mediterranean coastline, the wineries of Tuscany, the pizza of Pisa, and more. The long summer days hover around 75 degrees, so when you’re strolling the parks and promenades, eat your gelato quickly before it melts. For a true Italian villeggiatura, take a room at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como, or the Hotel Hassler Roma.
Road Tripping from Charleston to Savannah
While it’s mighty hot down South in the summertime (we’re talking temperatures in the 80s and 90s), there’s plenty of sweet tea and lemonade available to cool you down. Begin your trip in the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where you can wander picturesque cobblestone streets, walk the promenade along the ocean, snap photos in front of Rainbow Row, and eat really, really well.
Then, hop in the car and make your way to Savannah. The coastal Georgia city is about two hours away, and while you’ll find similar architecture and live oaks draped in moss, there’s a bit more action (and ghost sightings) if you prefer to stay busy on vacation. Spend your nights at Charleston’s very best, The Loutrel, and on River Street in downtown Savannah at The Alida.
Exploring the Mythic Landscape of Colombia
Colombia continues to climb the list of must-visit countries for curious travelers, and for good reason: Medellín offers immersion into art and culture, while Cartagena pairs history with seaside allure.
Summer in Medellín — often referred to as the “City of Eternal Spring” — means gin cocktails on outdoor patios, hiking on nearby mountains, pretty blooms from the surrounding rainforest, and a great calf workout (the town is built on hills).
While you’re in the port city of Cartagena, you’ll travel back in time to the 16th century through its quintessential Old Town, which features colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets. Plus, the nearby white-sand beaches are never too crowded. You’ll find temperatures upwards of 90 degrees all summer, so prepare for sweltering days. Find some relief in a room at the Casa San Agustín.
Pretending You’re 007 in Monaco
If you haven’t been to Paris, summer is a special time to visit. But, if you’ve had your fill of lazy sunset picnics along the Seine, consider Monaco instead. This tiny independent city-state on the Mediterranean coastline of France oozes international spy vibes. You’ll feel like an extra in a James Bond film as you gamble at upscale casinos, sample local dishes at La Condamine market, or stroll along the boardwalk, admiring Monaco’s hillside beauty in the relatively tame summer weather of 75 to 80 highs. Complete your storybook vacation by checking into the iconic Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo.
Market-ing in Marrakesh
The North African country of Morocco is diverse, with a rich history and plenty of unique experiences to engage your senses. From perusing the rows of local goods that line the winding lanes of the Medina in Marrakesh to riding a camel into the sunset and losing count of the stars in the Sahara Desert sky, a summertime trip is both challenging and enticing. It’s right past the high season, so if you can take the nearly 100 degree heat, it makes for fewer crowds and a much calmer getaway — well, as calm as it can get while you bargain for tiles and dodge motorbikes. Book a stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech for private villas with lush gardens and open-air spa treatments.
Lazing Around in Jamaica
A hop-and-a-skip from the East Coast, the capital of St. James Parish, Montego Bay, gives you permission to disconnect for a hot second. And by hot, we do mean hot: Temperatures are upwards of 90 degrees in the summer, but this also makes for some of the best sunrises, sunsets, and beach days. When you’re not paging through the latest beach read, you can explore the area’s many shores, including Doctor’s Cave Beach or Walter Fletcher Beach, among others. If you’re into snorkeling or scuba-certified, the protected waves of Montego Bay Marine Park are a must-dive, too. Stay at the Round Hill Hotel and Villas to really get a feel for the country’s barefoot luxury.
Summiting Machu Picchu
Summer might be the busiest time to see Machu Picchu, but it’s the most beautiful time to see blue skies, lush green grass, and awe-inspiring views. Whether you’re up for the challenge of hiking the Inca Trail or would prefer the Inca Rail, it’s wise to spend a few days casually sightseeing in Cusco to adjust to the altitude first. This small Peruvian town is postcard-perfect, with a hilltop that lights up at night, a bustling local market, and countless alpaca stores to splurge on a sweater for the chilly nights. If you’re on the fence about scaling Huayna Picchu, the mountain in front of Machu Picchu with the killer views, opt in. Then return to the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, where the hotel’s historic trappings and oxygen-enriched rooms are the perfect way to rebound after a day in the Andes.
Eating Your Way Around Lima
For foodies who prefer eating to sightseeing on vacation, Lima will feel like the holy grail of discoveries. There are countless restaurants ripe with Michelin stars and affordable tasting menus. During the summer, the Peruvian capital boasts 70-degree, sunshine-filled days and little rain, and when you’re not restaurant hopping, you can learn how to surf, snap photos of impressive graffiti art, and pet the countless cats at Parque Kennedy. Word to the wise: If you want to dine at Central or Astrid & Gastón, make reservations far before takeoff. Miraflores Park, A Belmond Hotel provides all the comforts of a five-star hotel alongside Peruvian cuisine, a rooftop pool with Pacific Ocean views, and a convenient location for exploring the area, like the hip Barranco neighborhood.
Surfing in Nicaragua
Ride the swells in Nicaragua, or at least have fun trying. It’s famously one of the top places to put your surfing skills to test, and the waves here lend themselves to both beginners and experts. This Central American country, tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, features more than just no-filter-required sunsets — various regions mean you can experience everything from lakes to volcanoes. Before you leave, make sure you see Granada, rich in Spanish colonial history. While there, book a room at Tribal Hotel for boho-chic interiors and icy poolside drinks to help you beat the upper 80-degree weather.
Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
For a whole season of long, tipsy summer days, the Napa Valley region outside of San Francisco offers sunshine and foodie-approved meals. If you can make it in July, sip your way through Festival Napa Valley, which features myriad wineries offering their best blends. For a more playful afternoon, consider booking a journey on the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Wine country’s own Auberge du Soleil has residential-style accommodations and an on-site French restaurant with outdoor dining, so you can sip local pours while taking in the sweeping verdant countryside views.
Pretending to Not Be a Tourist in New York City
Ask any New Yorker and they’ll agree: Summer isn’t exactly the best time to visit the Big Apple. Between unforgiving 80-degree heat trapped by skyscrapers and an influx of tourists from around the world, most Manhattanites find any excuse to escape the concrete jungle in the summertime. However, there’s an upside: Visiting New York City during this time of year encourages travelers to experience the city as locals do. Seek out rooftop pools, munch on artisan bites in Brooklyn, or make a break for the Hamptons if you have the time — and patience (the heading-out-of-town traffic is no joke).
There’s no shortage of world-class accommodations in the City That Never Sleeps. Whether you prefer classic stays at places like The Plaza or The Carlyle, or hip hotels like the Arlo Hotel, Soho Grand Hotel, and the Pendry Manhattan West.
Resort-hopping in Mexico
Outside of hurricane season, which peaks in late summer, hop your way around all-inclusive resorts in Mexico for a week or so. The super-high, 90-degree heat of July and August makes for less expensive hotel rates and cheap domestic one-way flights, as well as less crowded beaches. You can start your journey in Mexico City to see the ruins, jet off to Los Cabos to sunbathe in style, stop by Punta Mita for seafood, get your Instagram on in Tulum, and finish with a few nights lounging on beautiful Isla Mujeres.
Going on Safari in South Africa
For many seasoned travelers, South Africa holds a special place in their passport pages (and heart). Each corner of this country presents a different climate and experience, so a summer getaway to South Africa promises to be robust and fascinating. There’s plenty to see and do from the animal-dotted plains of Kruger National Park to hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town; from experiencing the cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope to the wine country of Franschhoek.
If you can swing it, try timing your vacation toward the end of the season, in September, when you’re more likely to spot elephants, leopards, and many other species as they search for watering holes. June through August is technically winter in South Africa — you’ll want to pack sweaters instead of swimsuits for this summer vacation — so expect mild days with chilly nights. There are several amazing safari lodges to choose from, but we recommend andBeyond Ngala Safari Lodge inside Kruger National Park for an intimate, immersive Big Five wildlife experience.
Hiking the U.S. National Parks
The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, even Haleakalā in Hawaii — we could go on and on about the breathtaking landscapes and adventures that await in our nation’s national parks, and summer is prime time for a visit. You’ll enjoy sunny blue skies during the day, cool, starlit evenings, and plenty of time to disconnect from the digital realm and tune into the rhythms of nature. Some parks are free to visit, some are underwater, and all are unique. Camp out without sacrificing comfort at Under Canvas, which has locations with access to the Grand Canyon, Acadia National Park, Yellowstone, and Zion National Park, among others.
Traversing Europe by Train
From college students to retirees, many travelers place a European trip at the very top of their list — and for good reason. Eating a croissant beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris, bicycling along the canals of Amsterdam, discovering crumbling castles in Ireland, sticking to a diet of pizza, pasta, and gelato in Italy, pulling out your wildest antics in an attempt to make the Buckingham Palace guards crack a grin — these are the kinds of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that await in Europe. Grab a Eurail pass to hop between countries for a low price with minimal hassle, and stay in some of the best hotels on the continent.
Seeing Florida from Coast to Coast
Beaches, swamps, the Everglades, Key Lime pie, the glamour and exclusivity of Palm Beach, the tropical island vibe of the Florida Keys, the vibrant sizzle of Miami — the Sunshine State has it all. Everyone should take time to explore Florida at least once in their lifetime, from St. Augustine to Key West — home to the southernmost point in the continental U.S. Of course, you’ll want to hit the central city of Orlando for attractions like Walt Disney World, Epcot, and Universal Orlando. Plus, there are spectacular stays all across Florida, from seaside resorts to charming inns to all-inclusive idylls.
Taking a Cruise
Cruising is a popular form of travel because it’s hard not to have a good time. Meals and drinks are included, your ship comes equipped with a wide range of activities, and you sail from port to port, hitting a multitude of new destinations while only having to unpack once. What more can you ask from a summer vacation? For an even more refined and intimate take on cruising, opt for a river cruise through Europe.
Traveling Through the Wild West
Put on your pioneer pants and head out for an adventure in America’s Wild West. With history, wide-open spaces, and cowboy lore from centuries past, you’ll feel as free as it comes in places like Colorado or Nevada. And you can’t get more Western-chic than at Amangani in Wyoming near Grand Teton National Park.
Try driving an electric vehicle on the Nevada Electric Highway: The route is populated with strategically placed EV charging stations, including Tesla Superchargers. The route’s combination of Gold Rush ghost towns and tomorrow’s technology makes it a road trip of the future and the past all at once.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway
On the West Coast of America, State Route 1 — better known as the Pacific Coast Highway — runs along rugged cliffside terrain and expansive beaches, making it one of the most scenic drives in the country, if not the world. Plan your agenda around the spectacular sunsets and plentiful photo ops. The summer weather will be beautiful, if toasty, with an average daily high in the upper 70s or 80s. Spend at least a couple nights in Big Sur at the Post Ranch Inn for classically California cool accommodations and sweeping Pacific views.
Not in the mood for a road trip? Tackle the Pacific Coast Highway by train on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight route, which runs from Los Angeles to Seattle and hits spots like Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Portland along the way.
Backpacking in Southeast Asia
You’ve seen the Instagram photos — now go explore Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia for yourself. Take a cooking class, go temple-hopping, book an ethical elephant encounter (which never includes riding), and just generally live it up — even on a budget. The region is famous for its far lower prices on food, hotels, activities, and excursions than most Westerners are used to. There are accommodations all over Southeast Asia from luxurious brands like the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Cambodia, the Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam, and Amanpuri in Thailand.
Getting Adventurous in New Zealand
For those who prefer the snow to the shore, beat the heat and travel to New Zealand, which experiences its winter from June to August. You’ll be happy for the 50- to 60-degree weather when the country’s epic hiking, climbing, and bungee jumping get your blood pumping. And make no mistake: You will be spending all of your time outside. New Zealand is renowned for its gorgeous landscapes from beautiful beaches and the fjords of Milford Sound to the wonder of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and charming locations used in Lord of the Rings.
Sipping Rum Swizzles in the U.S. Virgin Islands
There are three islands in the Caribbean that Americans don’t need a passport to enjoy. Whether you choose St. John, St. Croix, or St. Thomas (or hop between the three), you’ll find white sand, world-class snorkeling, and tropical environs in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Each has its own vibe. Go to St. John for a ritzy, private island-like atmosphere; St. Croix for the food; and St. Thomas for the convenience of a tourist hot spot. Stay at a beachfront all-inclusive resort for a stress-free escape.
Rumor has it that rum is cheaper than Coca-Cola on the islands, so enjoy your extra-boozy rum runners and rum swizzles as you kick back in this humid, 90-degree summer wonderland.
Golfing in Scotland
The U.K.’s northern nation is known for its charm: gorgeous lochs, fairy-tale castles, and windswept Highlands. From whisky distillery tours to walking the magnificent West Highland Way to exploring the more cosmopolitan centers of Glasgow and Edinburgh, there’s no shortage of things to do and see. Plus, the sun doesn’t set until 11 p.m. in some parts of the Highlands in June and early July, so you’ll have even more time for exploration.
But the real reason to embark on a summertime Scottish getaway is found on the links. This country is a golfer’s dream with more than 550 courses — plus it’s the birthplace of the sport! There are coastal courses with sea views for the ultimate summer game, like at the Fairmont St. Andrews where you’ll have two courses to play and a chic room to return to at the end of the day.
Snapping Your Way Through Japan
Japan is a beautiful country. You might miss the spring cherry blossom blooms, but there’s still plenty of natural wonder to photograph in the summertime. Pose in front of the country’s calling card in the Fuji Five Lakes area or snap a steamy pic in an onsen. Meanwhile, in Kyoto you’ll get plenty of pictures of temples and shrines for your scrapbook. From the mangroves and white beaches of Okinawa, to the colorful flower fields and national parks of Hokkaido, to the ramen shops of Tokyo (okay, not a natural wonder, but just as beautiful), these are memories you’ll want to capture on film to last a lifetime.
Island-hopping in Greece
Nothing says summer like the Greek Islands. From sipping ouzo by the Aegean to snapping a few windmill pics for Instagram, this is the perfect Mediterranean getaway. Of course, you’ll have to deal with more crowds and hotter temperatures in the summer, but it’s a popular time to visit for a reason. More restaurants and bars are open for visitors and you’ll find more available ferry routes, opening up the entire archipelago for your vacation. Start in the Cycladic Islands (and the famous beaches of Mykonos and Santorini) before moving on to the Sporades, Crete, or Dodecanese Islands. In summer, the Greek Isles are your oyster.