July means independence. Or, more accurately, July means watching people eat potentially concerning quantities of hot dogs and proceed to play with consumer-grade explosives whilst drinking. All of this is great fun! But it only gets you to the fourth day of the month. After that, you’ve got four more weeks when the weather is nicer, the pace is slower, and much of the country continues to be on vacation. If you’re among the lucky ones to be able to swing some time off this month, we’ve got some ideas for where you should go. Whether they made the list because of the perfect weather or once-a-year wildlife display or an especially rad music festival, here are the best places to travel this July.
Nashville Absinthe Cocktails & the Hottest Chicken (Literally)
Few places crush summer like French Canada, and July’s the height of festival season in Montreal and Quebec City. The biggest jazz gathering in the world, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, runs from June 27 to July 6. If you’re into ex-Olympian acrobats soaring overhead, the Montreal Completement Cirque is your jam, a circus festival where jaw-dropping acrobats perform nightly in public squares and streets, like a city-wide Cirque du Soleil running from July 4-11 -- much of it free. For practically every non-jazz genre, head 150 miles further northeast to Quebec City for the Festival d'été de Québec, one of the most underrated parties anywhere on the continent. Tickets start at $105 and cover your access to the entire festival (July 4-14). Cubs, parks, and pop-up stages fill the 400-plus-year-old city’s vibrant, fortress-lined Downtown.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Yes, it might be a little warm down Mexico way this time of year. But you know what that means? One of the most popular and beautiful beaches in the world won’t be nearly as packed and will cost a fraction of what it would during spring. Around the middle of the month, look for the return of the Festival of the Virgin Carmen and the ensuing parades, musical performances, and general merriment that take over the city. And from August 2 through August 8, the beach is home to the ZoukMX festival -- a dance party along the shore that feels like a less-contrived spring break with a more upscale vibe. Tickets start around $100.
The single greatest animal migration on the planet happens this month in Kenya, when the thundering wildebeest make the move from the Serengeti to Masai Mara. It’s one of the greatest shows in nature, and unlike the northern lights or a spewing geyser -- which you’re never exactly guaranteed to see -- you can actually plan a vacation around it. The places to see the migration best are at the Lamai Wedge and at the Mara River, where the wildebeest must cross treacherous, crocodile-filled waters. It’s like a front row seat to one of the greatest shows on Earth. The Kichwa Tembo Camp, Bateleur Camp, and Sayari Mara Camp are a few of the ideal spots to stay in order to catch the action. Afterward, head out to the coast and the unbelievably scenic beaches at Watamu, where you’ll likely have most of the sand to yourself.
Music festivals have become a summer tradition on par with road trips and T-shirt-shaped sunburns. And sure, you could just drive to your nearest Live Nation-approved festival and maybe catch Chance the Rapper, Tame Impala, Childish Gambino, but wouldn’t it be more fun to … head to the easternmost point in Australia and see all those acts, plus dozens of other bands, in the temperate winter Down Under? Of course it would, so consider planning your 2019 summer getaway around Australia’s beloved festival Splendour in the Grass, held July 19-21 in Byron Bay. Beyond just the festival, Byron Bay has some of the most exquisite beaches on the continent, plus a hinterland rainforest and plenty of trails traversing it all.
This is one of those world destinations where you really have to separate the acts of the government -- still the world leader for imprisoning journalists -- from those of regular Turkish restaurateurs, hoteliers, and tour guides who would love to welcome you. On the assumption you still want to see one of the world’s oldest, most fascinating cradles of civilization, this is not the worst time to do so; places like Istanbul and the coastal city of Ankara won’t be clogged with visitors. To best experience the ancient ruins, natural wonders, and culture of the country, Intrepid Travel offers a 12-day tour for about $1,460 that’ll have you cycling along the shores of Lake Gokova before soaking in nearby thermal mud baths. You’ll also tour historic World War II battlefields, kayak over sunken cities, hike through pine forests, and spend time in the town of Antalya, a waterfront resort town just a few miles from the Greek islands. Along the way, you’ll probably answer a few questions from curious fellow travelers about what the hell, exactly, is going on in Washington, D.C. these days.
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is one of the great bargain American destinations, where top attractions like Forest Park, the zoo, the art museum, and the science center are all free. The $380 million Gateway Arch renovation is one of the country’s more confusing national park designations, but it’s a breathtaking city landmark -- 11 acres of park space, 7.5 acres of gardens, a bridge over the highway from downtown, and live music at the new amphitheater. July is also the height of baseball season, and few scenes in baseball rival that of Ballpark Village outside Busch Stadium before Cardinals games. Add in a cold, refreshing trip to the original Budweiser Brewery and you’ve got maybe the best cheap US destination to hit in July.
One of the biggest logistical pains in travel is getting visas. But Shanghai is making it a little easier for you to visit these days, allowing US visitors to stay in the city visa-free for up to 144 hours (six days). Shanghai has sunk millions into redeveloping its waterfront at The Bund, where you’ll stroll by Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, and Renaissance architecture with striking views of the modern skyline across the river. Or go relax in the more-classic Yuyuan Garden after a hectic day of shopping in along Nanjing Road. Want to get in your summer theme park fix? Shanghai’s got a hell of a Disneyland.
For outdoor-adventure types on the East Coast, nowhere beats New Hampshire in July. White Mountain National Forest is unreasonably green this time of year, with some of the best mountain biking and off-road cycling trails in the country. Kayaking and canoeing along Squam Lake makes for a calm, serene mountain getaway. Or hit Newfound Lake in the state’s Lake Region for the largest freshwater swimming beach in the state. For the extreme athlete, July 7 brings the Loon Mountain Race, where competitors climb more than 2,000 vertical feet over the course of 6.5 miles, including the Upper Boss ski run. Afterwards, relax at the nearby RiverWalk Resort, which in addition to a massive lagoon pool also has a small winery onsite where you can nurse your sore muscles with a nice glass of rosé.
If you love country western anything, there may be no better place than Calgary in July. From July 5-14, this Canadian prairie city hosts the annual Calgary Stampede, a festival attended by more than a million people. It’s as much about the parties as it is about the biggest purse in outdoor rodeo. Nightly concerts include headlines like Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan, with plenty of smaller country bands playing venues around a city that’s striving to be the Austin of Canada. If live animals get old, head about 80 minutes outside of the city to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the only paleontology museum in the world dedicated to the subject. You’ll have the opportunity to join in on an actual live dig and maybe find some dino bones.
If you haven’t yet discovered that Nebraska is one of the most underrated summer getaways in the country, now is the time to get on that. You don’t want to spend July somewhere humid. You want crisp, dry breezes, the kind that make miles and miles of Kentucky bluegrass ripple on all sides. While away your afternoons with the time-honored Nebraskan tradition of tanking, which consists of floating lazily down a river in a horse trough with some buddies and a cooler a beer. It is the best. July 12-14, don’t miss the Wayne Chicken Show -- a vibrant street fair with local vendors, a parade, “cluck luck golf”, fireworks, a hot wing-eating contest, and the world’s largest chicken dance.