14 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 each season, there are some legendary trips that ignite inspiration, force you to think differently and have you telling the stories of your adventure for decades to come.
Regardless of how many passport stamps you’ve collected or countries you’ve checked off your must-go list, there’s always a new corner of the globe left to discover.
From adventures in South America to journeys through the United States, Europe and beyond, consider this both your inspiration guide and your new bucket list for when you’re out-of-office.
Enjoying the 'Dolce Vita'
When it comes to romance, there’s no place like 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 from Pisa ... Since the mid-summer weather can be scorching, try to plan your trip at the start or the end of summer so you can stroll the parks, squares, and promenades without your third serving of gelato melting faster than you can enjoy it.
Where to Stay: For your own private island — on a floating city — stay at the J.W. Marriott Venice. While in Tuscany, drink your fill of wine at Castello di Casole. 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 will be plenty of sweet tea to cool you down. Begin your trip in the South Carolina port city of Charleston, where you can wander picturesque cobblestone streets, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, walk the promenade along the ocean, 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 if you prefer to stay busy on vacation.
Where to Stay: Several stunning boutique properties have recently opened in Charleston — at The Spectator, The Dewberry, and The Vendue, you're in for modern style and classic Southern hospitality. While in Savannah, you'll find historic charm in spades at the Andaz.
Colombia continues to climb the must-visit list of countries for curious travelers and for good reason: Medellín offers an immersion into art and culture, while Cartagena pairs history with seaside allure. Often referred to as the “city of eternal Spring,” summer in Medellín means gin cocktails on outdoor patios, hiking into the 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 with colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets. Plus, the nearby white-sand beaches are never too crowded. For the foodie crowd, tasting menus at Carmen in Medellín is a must, as is Moshi in Cartagena.
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 the upscale casinos, sample local dishes at the evening gourmet market at the Condamine Market, or stroll along the boardwalk, admiring the seaside-hillside beauty.
Where to Stay: If you’re going to make the journey to Monaco, you may as well enjoy the view. Consider Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel, which was designed with 1960s Riviera glam in mind.
Marketing in Marrakesh
In northernmost Africa, Morocco is a diverse country with a rich history and plenty of unique experiences to engage your senses. From the mesmerizing 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 as you bargain for tiles and dodge motorbikes, anyway.
Where to Stay: Before you leave, book your 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 offer stops along the way for lunch and Instagram photos. While in the city, stay in the heart at La Sultana Marrakesh, with rooftop views of the 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.
Tasting in Napa
After last year’s wildfires, a vacation to this iconic California wine country is not only boozy and bountiful — but a way to stimulate their tourism and economy. For nearly all of those long, tipsy summer days, this region outside of San Francisco offers sunshine and foodie-approved meals. If you can make it during July, you can sip your way through the 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 your last stop will be your bed for a nap.
Where to Stay: With a Tuscan influence, the new Vista Collina Resort is in the center of the valley, with each guestroom complete with a free bottle of vino.
Pretending to Not Be a Tourist in New York City
Ask any New Yorker and they’ll tell you summer isn’t exactly the best season to visit the Big Apple. With unforgiving, scorching heat that’s trapped by skyscrapers to an influx of international crowds, most Manhattanites find their way out of the city every weekend they can. It might sound contrary, but visiting New York City during this time of year challenges travelers to experience the town as locals do. You can scour for rooftop pools, enjoy closed-off streets with food vendors, munch on small artisan bites at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, and even make it to Montauk or the Hamptons if you have the time — and patience.
Where to Stay: To be far away from the crowd and away from the commotion so you can actually sleep in this city that doesn’t, stay at The Beekman downtown. Right outside your door is the South Street Seaport, with plenty of summer pop-ups. If you make it to the shore, book an Airbnb way ahead of time.
Resort Hopping in Mexico
Before hurricane season in the fall, hop your way around Mexico for a week or so. The super-high heat of July and August make for less expensive hotel rates and cheap domestic one-way flights — plus less-crowded beaches. You can start your journey in Mexico City to see the ruins, jet to Los Cabos to sunbathe in style, stop by Punta Mita for the seafood, and finish with a few nights lounging in the beautiful Isla Mujeres.
Where to Stay: Your options are pretty endless in Mexico, but here are some ideas: for the all-inclusive route — complete with an onsite eight-time Michelin star chef! — stay at Paradisus Los Cabos. Splurge on a night or two at the St. Regis Punta Mita for a luxury summer experience, and get pampered at Le Blanc in Isla Mujeres to wrap your getaway.
Seeing South Africa
For many seasoned travelers, South Africa is a place that holds a special part of their passport pages (and heart). Each corner of this country presents a different climate — and experience. From the plains of Kruger and the view of Table Mountain in Cape Town, to the beaches of Mozambique and the wine country of Franschhoek, a summer getaway here will be robust and fascinating. If you can swing it, try setting your vacation toward the end of the season in September, where 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 through South Africa all depends on your budget. 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.
Enjoying the U.S. National Parks
The Grand Canyon, Arches, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Joshua Tree — we could go on and on about the breathtaking landscapes and adventures that await in our National Parks, and summer is prime time for a visit. During this season, you’ll enjoy sunny, blue skies during the day, cool, starlit evenings, and plenty of time to disconnect from your email and tune into nature.