20 Classic Summer Vacations Everyone Should Take at Least Once
There’s a summer vacation — and then there’s one you can’t explain with a postcard.
While plenty of travelers have their go-to spots for the summer, some trips are the stuff of legend and should be added to everyone’s must-visit plans. Travel + Leisure’s 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.
Related: The Best Weekend Road Trips to Take This Summer
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.
From road trips to train adventures to safaris, consider this your new bucket list and inspirational travel guide.
Enjoying ‘La Dolce Vita’ in Italy
When it comes to romance, no place can come 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 wines of Tuscany, the pizza of Pisa, and more. Since the mid-summer weather can be scorching, try to plan your trip at the very beginning or end of summer, so you can stroll the parks and promenades without your third serving of gelato melting faster than you can enjoy it.
Where to Stay: For your own private island — in a floating city — stay at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. While in Tuscany, drink your fill of wine at Castello di Casole. Hotel Lungarno in Florence is mere steps from the medieval Ponte Vecchio bridge. As for the coast? There are fabulous options on Airbnb.
Road-tripping from Charleston to Savannah
While it’s mighty hot down South in the summertime, 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, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, walk the promenade along the ocean, snap photos in front of Rainbow Row, and eat really, really well. Then, hop in the car (your own, or a rental) and make your way to Savannah. The coastal Georgia city is about two hours away, and while you'll find similar antebellum architecture and live oaks draped in moss, there's a bit more action (and ghost sightings) if you prefer to stay busy on vacation.
Where to Stay: Many stunning boutique properties have opened in Charleston in recent years, but The Restoration stands out with its stunning design, homey vibe, and convenient location just off of King Street, the main drag in the city. In Savannah, the Perry Lane Hotel offers the utmost in modern Southern charm plus a great location (and free bicycles to explore the city).
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 rain forest, 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.
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 Bond film as you gamble at upscale casinos, sample local dishes at La Condamine market, or stroll along the boardwalk, admiring Monaco’s seaside-hillside beauty.
Where to Stay: If you’re going to make the journey to Monaco, you might as well enjoy the view. Consider Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel, which was designed with 1960s Riviera glam in mind.
Market-ing in Marrakesh
The northern 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 to 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 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.
Where to Stay: Before you leave, book a trip into the Sahara to stay a few nights at one of the many glamping camps. Though it’s a long, curvy eight-hour drive from Marrakesh, there are plenty of companies that offer stops along the way for lunch (and Instagram photos). While in the city, stay at La Sultana for rooftop views of the city’s infamous purple-pink sunsets and a traditional Moroccan spa.
Lazing Around in Jamaica
A hop-and-a-skip from the East Coast, the capital of Saint James Parish, Montego Bay, gives you permission to disconnect for a hot second. And by hot, we do mean hot: Temperatures are definitely warm in the summer, but this also makes for some of the best sunrises, sunsets, beach days. When you’re not paging through the latest beach read, you can explore the many shores, including Doctor’s Cave Beach or Walter Fletcher, among others. If you’re into snorkeling or scuba-certified, the protected waves of Montego Bay Marine Park are a must-dive, too.
Where to Stay: For the all-inclusive route, stay at the Zoetry Montego Bay, offering direct access to the beach, ocean views and dining options that cater to gluten-free folks and vegetarians. Another nice perk? A complimentary 45-minute snorkeling tour, per person, per stay.
Hiking to 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 — trust us.
Where to Stay: Have you passed the point in your life where hostels are, um fun? If so, it’s worth the splurge to stay at the J.W. Marriott Cusco, where comfy beds make restless nights thanks to altitude sickness much better. Same for Aguas Calientes — which also caters to the backpacker crowd — a stay at Sumaq will make getting up 4 a.m. more bearable.
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 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 & Gaston, make reservations far before takeoff.
Where to stay: Just a short Uber ride away from all the action, book The Westin Lima for unique city views and Maras, the onsite restaurant with flavorful ceviche and knock-you-off-your-chair-good pisco sours.
Surfing in Nicaragua
Learn to surf in Nicaragua — or at least have fun trying. Notorious as one of the top places to put your hang 10 skills to test, 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, with dozens of tropical birds and a rich Spanish colonial history.
Where to Stay: If you want of those easy-cooker summer vacations — you know, book it, arrive and consider it done — consider Rancho Santana. Here, you can choose between different accommodations — a bed and breakfast, a bungalow, etc — and fill your days and nights with whatever activity you’d like. Though surfing is an obvious choice, try horseback riding, fishing trips, and a bonfire, too.
Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
After the recent wildfires, a vacation to California’s wine country is not only boozy and bountiful — it’s also a way to stimulate the state’s economy. In other words, it’s a win-win for everybody. 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, with a myriad of wineries offering their best blends. For a more playful afternoon, consider booking a journey on the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Where to Stay: With its Tuscan influence, Vista Collina Resort is in the center of the valley, and each guest room comes with a free bottle of vino.
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 heat trapped in 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 small artisan bites at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, or make a break for Montauk or the Hamptons if you have the time — and patience (the heading-out-of-town traffic is no joke).
Where to Stay: Away from the crowds and commotion — so you can actually try to sleep in the city that doesn’t — stay at The Ludlow Hotel in the Lower East Side. Trendy yet relaxing, the hotel lets you experience the city like a true New Yorker. Opt for the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel if you want to be in the heart of it all — complete with flashy neon views — or New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge for the ideal Brooklyn digs. The Jane Hotel, a historic and charming West Village landmark, is on the Hudson River and feels a bit like stepping into a Wes Anderson movie.
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 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 the seafood, get your Instagram on in Tulum, and finish with a few nights lounging on beautiful Isla Mujeres.
Where to Stay: Your resort hotel options are pretty endless in Mexico.
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. From the animal-dotted plains of Kruger National Park to hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town and experiencing the cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope and the wine country of Franschhoek, a summer getaway to South Africa promises to be robust and fascinating.
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. Plus, balmy and warm temperatures make for ideal beach days or wine sipping tours.
Where to Stay: Lodging in South Africa all depends on your budget; you can camp at the park or upgrade to a luxury lodge. While nightly stays at camps in Kruger are fairly inexpensive, you can also go the glamping route and stay at a posh resort like Royal Malewane. When in Cape Town, opt for a hotel with a rooftop, like The Silo, so you can take in the sunset views over the city, as well as the mountains that surround it.
Exploring the U.S. National Parks
The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, even Haleakalā volcano 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.
Wandering Europe by Train
From college students to retirees, many bucket lists have a Euro trip at the very top — 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 and minimal hassle.
Where to Stay: Whether you’re into affordable castle accommodations, romantic hotels, resorts, or city breaks, browse T+L’s picks to find the perfect pad. If you can swing it, stay at The Savoy in London or Shangri-La Hotel in Paris (the latter offers unparalleled Eiffel Tower views) for top-of-the-line luxe.
Seeing Florida from Coast to Coast
From St. Augustine to Key West — home to the southernmost point in the continental U.S. — everyone should take time to explore Florida at least once in their lifetime. Theme parks, beaches, swamps, the Everglades, Key lime pie, the glamour and exclusivity of Palm Beach, the tropical island vibe of the Keys, the vibrant sizzle of Miami, the centuries of history winding through St. Augustine’s charming streets, juice freshly squeezed from locally grown citrus — the Sunshine State has it all.
Where to Stay: In Orlando, stay in a Disney-sanctioned resort like Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek for easy access to the parks; in Palm Beach, The Breakers epitomizes Gilded-Age luxury; in St. Augustine, The Collector Inn offers both a private enclave and convenient location; Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys is the only private island resort in the United States.
Taking a Cruise
Cruising is a popular form of travel because it’s hard not to have a good time: Food and drink is 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? Plus, newcomers like Virgin Voyages are steering the industry to new heights. For an even more refined and intimate take on cruising, opt for a river cruise: Uniworld’s U River Cruises pack an upbeat, youthful verve and a front-row seat to some of the most scenic spots of Europe.
Where to Stay: Take it from a travel writer: It’s always worth the splurge to book a balcony room on a cruise ship. For the ultimate family getaway, Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas has a two-story Ultimate Family Suite complete with an air hockey table, table tennis on the balcony, and an in-suite slide for the kids (and kids at heart).
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. Drive an electric vehicle on Nevada’s 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 the road trip of the future and the past, simultaneously.
Where to Stay: Venturing along Nevada’s Free-range Art Highway from Reno to Las Vegas? One night in Tonopah’s Mizpah Hotel, which opened its doors in 1908, is all you’ll need to decide if the haunted rumors are true.
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. 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.
Where to Stay: For a sumptuous stay, plan an overnight at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Between the top-notch service and competing views of the Pacific Ocean before you and the Santa Ynez Mountains behind you, you’ll soon see why Santa Barbara is considered the American Riviera.
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.
Where to Stay: Hostels are the name of the game in Southeast Asia, but over-the-top accommodations come standard, too. In Thailand, rent a villa on Airbnb, and in Bali, stay at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan — T+L readers voted it the number one hotel in the world in 2018.