Puerto Rico
Picture yourself in Puerto Rico with a piña colada in your hand. | maremagnum/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Picture yourself in Puerto Rico with a piña colada in your hand. | maremagnum/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Light Up Your Summer with These July Travel Ideas

Sand dunes, piña coladas, and summertime in Croatia.

This month very literally kicks off with a bang, whether you’re gazing up at fireworks over Midtown Manhattan, on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, at the harbor in Newport, or in any of the cities across the country that go extra hard for the 4th of July. But after fireworks and sparklers and stuffing your face with hot dogs… now what?

Then, friends, we take it easy—unless, of course, you’re competing in the International Climber’s Festival in Wyoming or chopping wood at a Basque celebration in Nevada (see below). July is a month for lazy vacations, toasty temperatures, sandy beaches, and luxuriously taste-testing all the flavors of ice cream (or canned cocktails—you do you). We’ve got jazz festivals in Türkiye, piña coladas in Puerto Rico, lavender festivals in Croatia, and music festivals galore. Plus plenty of stories about train travel, because sometimes you just want to sit back and watch the world chug along from your window seat.

Whether you’re sticking close for weekend adventures or venturing out—maybe for your first solo trip! Don’t forget to check for deals—we present to you the best places to travel in July.

Experience fireworks elsewhere

Fourth of July in the US of A is bound to be a good time, but perhaps you fancy watching pyrotechnics overseas. Bahamian Independence Day (July 10) is a great excuse to set your sights on the Caribbean Island, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary as an independent nation this year. Nassau is hosting a roster of celebrations, from a National Float Parade to a traditional Bahamian Junkanoo—and fireworks are bound to be included. Our revolutionary allies in France will also be carousing on Bastille Day (July 14), when the Eiffel Tower beams with red, white, and blue fireworks. (For a quieter commemoration, you can also visit many of the city’s museums for free.)

But perhaps the most impressive fireworks show will take place in Japan, where the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (July 29) will light up over the Sumida River in Tokyo. Considered one of the oldest fireworks festivals on record, it was first established in the 18th century to ward off evil spirits and pray for the end of a famine. Feast your eyes on over 20,000 shells of the most innovative firework displays surrounding the Tokyo Skytree.

Toast to Türkiye

Despite getting hit with a devastating earthquake earlier this year, Türkiye (the country’s official spelling as of June, 2022) continues to stand strong—and could probably use a resurgence of visitors. In May, Istanbul’s iconic Maiden’s Tower reopened after a major restoration project. Dating back to 1725, the lighthouse sits on the Bosphorus Strait, connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and has spawned various legends, from a king building the tower to protect his daughter to a love story between a nun of Aphrodite and a man who used the tower’s guidance to swim to her every night. Pay the monument a visit (it’s free!) by ferry for an extra scenic viewing moment.

Istanbul is also hosting its 30th annual Jazz Festival this month (July 7–18), welcoming artists from Latin America to Northern Europe who are exploring the genre in both both old and new ways. Hear from a number of emerging jazz artists through the Young Jazz+ program, which will welcome experiments in funk, R&B, electronic music, and more. But if jazz is not your thing, check out the One Love Festival (July 20), which is returning to Istanbul’s Parkorman park for its 15th year. Performers include Michael Kiwanuka, the Blaze, and more.

Elsewhere, runners will gather at the Uludag Premium Ultra Trail Marathon (July 21–23), a race that features some of the country’s most challenging trails. The expedition, however, is not entirely masochistic: Lovers of cross-country will be able to bask in the surrounding landscape of Mount Uludağ while they trot along. It’s also a great time to check out the 2,000-year-old Kibyra Fountain in the ancient city of Burdur, which has recently undergone a major restoration project and is now providing fresh drinking water after being dormant for more than 1,300 years. All that plus a brand new inflight menu from Turkish Airlines, which came in a cool sixth on Skytrax's World's Top Airlines of 2023, make it the ideal time to pay a visit to the Land of Four Seasons.

Sample piña coladas in Puerto Rico

Did you know that the piña colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico? In fact, the intoxicating blend of coconut cream, pineapple juice, white rum, and ice was invented in the capital city of San Juan. So there’s no better time to down the vacation classic than during the very official Piña Colada Day on the very advisable Monday, July 10.

Now, where to start? That’s a pretty good question—there’s a dispute over who actually created the cocktail, with no less than three bartenders laying claim to it. The most famous origin story starts at the Caribe Hilton Hotel, which credits staff bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero with coming up with the drink in 1954. According to the hotel, he finessed the recipe over several months, and the end result turned out so well that after tasting it, actress Joan Crawford declared it “was better than slapping Bette Davis in the face.” (Old Hollywood! So violent.) At the same location, another bartender, Ricardo García, says he created the cocktail, after a coconut shortage made him improvise with coconut cream while whipping up a tropical cocktail. The final theory traces back to 1963, when bartender Ramón Portas Mignot to the adoring patrons of the Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan. That spot even doubled down by hanging a commemorative plaque by the entrance.

What is known is that the cocktail is delicious and comes in all forms, from frosty disposable cups at roadside stands to the convenient Piña Colada Popsicle at Señor Paleta in San Juan. If you can’t make it out to Puerto Rico, you always can try to make your own version at home. But if you are in Puerto Rico, why not take yourself on a full-on gastronomic tour? We suggest a culinary route through small and mountainous Naranjito, located about 45 minutes or so from San Juan. The town was always a destination for pub crawls, or chinchorreos, known for copious amounts of chinchorros (a.k.a. bars) where you can grab a beer and a bite to eat to a backdrop of live music. There’s a gastro map to follow along Route 152, taking you from spots known for mouth-watering comida criolla, to the updated traditional offerings of El Limbo Bar and BBQ (which also has incredible—and dangerous—passion fruit mojitos), to the charming family-run Rancho de las Longanizas, where you’ll walk out smelling of smoked meat, to the upscale Caliche and Asador San Miguel, both offering gourmet food with mountainous views. (You might want to hire a driver for this one.)

Take advantage of summer temps in Scotland

Most of the year, the weather in Scotland skews cold and gloomy. But this summer might just be the warmest on record, with heat wave-fueled temperatures soaring as high as 88 degrees. See for yourself with a trip to artsy, historic Glasgow, with its fascinating museums, inviting pubs, and world famous live music scene. You won’t be wanting for things to do: They, too, are taking advantage of the weather with a hefty lineup of festivals including TRNSMT (July 7–9), Laugh in the Park Comedy Festival (July 15), and Glasgow Zine Fest (July 8–9). Between acts, get to know the city by snagging a spot on one of Walking Tours in Glasgow’s fun and informative sightseeing adventures (we recommend the Street Art tour for maximum mural action).

Thirsty? Bathe yourself in the country’s famously smoky Scotch with a quick trip over to Islay, a magical oasis set off Scotland’s west coast. A 45-minute flight from Glasgow will get you there efficiently (depending on weather conditions), while the ferry provides a longer yet much more scenic option. Once on the island, drop your bags at the quietly luxurious Machrie Hotel (golfers take note—the onsite course butts up against the rocky coastline for an extra-challenging and breathtakingly gorgeous outing), and head out to explore the distilleries… on foot. That’s right, the tiny isle is supremely walkable, lined with peaceful trails guiding ramblers through mossy peat bogs and along sandy shores. The Three Distilleries Pathway is a whisky-lover’s best (not to mention safest) bet, an easy trot around charming Port Ellen with stops at Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. Make sure to save multi-award-winning Ardbeg for last, so you can soak up all that delicious booze with some sticky toffee pudding at Old Kiln Cafe, the distillery’s unbeatable onsite restaurant primed to celebrate its grand re-opening in mid-July. (Trust us, you’ll need it.)

Follow in the footsteps of your favorite musicians

Like with food, following your passions are an ideal way to take in a new city or country. And an especially fun way to do that is through music. Be it with music festivals, one very popular concert tour, or exploring a city that steeped in music history like Montreux, Switzerland, Seattle, Memphis, or New York. When seen through the lens of your favorite hobby, the experience of travel grows so much richer.

If you’re headed to New York, remember that this year is the 50th anniversary of the creation of hip hop in the Bronx, with plenty of events and exhibitions around the city to celebrate. And if you’re going to spend time downtown, grab yourself a copy of This Must Be The Place: Music, Community and Vanished Spaces in New York City, which covers how changing neighborhoods shaped New York’s robust music and nightlife scene over the past 75 years. Out July 11, it’s written by Jesse Rifkin of the Walk on the Wild Side Tours, so when you’re done reading, join Rifkin in retracing the actual footsteps of musicians like Lou Reed, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and more. See where inspiration hit, where album covers were shot, and where Rick Rubin co-created Def Jam (spoiler alert: it’s an NYU dorm). Or heck, create your own tour—after reading the book, you’ll practically be an expert.

Climb and slide in Wyoming

Do you like to climb things? Maybe you’re just climb-curious? This July 13 through 16, the International Climber’s Festival lands in Lander, Wyoming—smack dab in the Wind River Mountain Range—allowing you to explore all your height-happy whims. Its four days are action-packed with climbing clinics, gear demos, trade fairs, free yoga, art crawls, and parties, plus mini-competitions to see how you stack up against your peers. Don’t have a climbing partner? They’ll help you out with that, including LGBTQ+ and BIPOC meetups. Plus, you can drop off your well-loved rope for recycling and donate used gear.

If you’re in Lander, it’s just a short jaunt over to Yellowstone. Or you can head the other way towards Casper. There you’ll find plenty to do—learn the history of the only place where the Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express Trails converge at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, try your hand at fly fishing on the North Platte River, one of the best fly fishing destinations in the country, or, if you’re into aviation history, check out Bar Nunn, a town built on a former airport.

Or go down south to Sweetwater County, a region rife with history and sprawling natural beauty. Check out the free Rock Springs Historical Museum in the former city hall, or the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River. Learn about the area’s complicated history of coal mining—including a horrific massacre involving Chinese immigrants—and the current practice of mining trona, or soda ash. While you’re in town, take a tour through Flaming Gorge, which at times feels like your own private Grand Canyon, or drive out to the remarkable White Mountain Petroglyphs. Then hop next door to the Killpecker Sand Dunes, the largest active sand dunes in the US, for some sandy adventures on an open play area. Bring your own ATV or sled, but don’t forget the wax. Wax, we’ve learned, is very important.

Celebrate Basque heritage in Nevada

People from the Basque region, a patch of land straddling the border between France and Spain, immigrated to the US in stages, establishing themselves stateside by herding sheep, working in mines, and, with glittering riches in their eyes, answering the call of the California Gold Rush. Today, about 60,000 Basque descendants live in the US, with Nevada as a main area of settlement. And Basque culture is still alive and well in those parts, littered with Basque landmarks like the Star Hotel, Louis’ Basque Corner, J.T. Basque Bar and Dining Room, and the 1898 Martin Hotel, which feels like stepping back in time.

You're also invited to immerse yourself in all things Basque. The National Basque Festival is taking place in Elko this July 1 and 2, complete with plenty of food (and Picon Punch, a traditional cocktail), lively dancing, old world music, and competitions like weightlifting, tug of war, and wood chopping, a rural sport that has stood the test of time. Later, stick around for Reno’s Basque Festival on July 15, which covers all of the above plus, if you want, gambling, and a quickie divorce.

Get some fresh air in Zurich

Zurich might be known as the financial hub of Switzerland, but summertime brings a whole new dimension to the city. Visitors arriving in July will be lucky enough to experience Züri Fäscht (July 7–9), the country’s largest festival which takes place every three years. Over two million visitors will gather along the River Limmat to enjoy international food stalls, live music, and—you guessed it—fireworks.

Beyond the festival, there’s plenty of ways to take advantage of Zurich’s warm weather, like by catching a film at open-air cinemas set against epically scenic backdrops like the banks of Lake Zurich or the courtyard of the Swiss National Museum. Speaking of Lake Zurich, now’s the time to don your swimming costume and take a chill dip near Saffa Island, a not-so-busy stretch of the famously sparkly lake.

Hone your fun-in-the-sun skills

This summer heat snuck up, huh? Pack us in ice already. Or better yet, ship us off to a breezy, refreshing beach. For a gorgeous Mexican shoreline close in proximity but mentally miles away from the throngs of Cancun, try Isla Holbox in Quintana Roo. One of the most beautiful beaches in the world, this tiny car-free hideaway has flamingo-filled waters and fresh—like right out of the water fresh—seafood. While the Amalfi Coast will always be a sandy European go-to, consider heading further east to the secluded coves of Hvar, Croatia. The sunny island boasts a number of attractions this time of year, including the annual Lavender Festival (July 14–15) as well as a new winemaking museum. And if you’re looking for somewhere totally underrated to get your tan on, might we suggest the Albanian Riviera?

Sure, it’s nice to dream, but if you’re staying stateside this summer, you can still find an above average spot to stake an umbrella in Florida, SoCal, Michigan, Maryland, Cape Cod, Oregon, and good ‘ol New Jersey. Hell, even Texas has beaches—but if you’re not near a coast, go find yourself a lazy river instead.

Travel from East to West

What a joy to live in such a melting pot of a country. Get your culture fix without ever leaving the country by visiting a Dragon Boat Festival this summer, an ancient Asian tradition where long boats with dragon heads race to the finish line, complete with performances and plenty of food (go for the bamboo-wrapped sticky rice dumplings called zongzi). Read all about the origins here, then hit a festival this month in Chicago (July 29), Colorado (July 22–23), or Springfield, Massachusetts (July 29).

Later, go ahead and giddyup to the Wild West, with Western festivals going down in Prescott, Arizona (June 28–July 4), Laramie, Wyoming (July 1–10), Cheyenne, Wyoming (July 21–30), and Dodge City, Kansas (July 27–August 6). (If you’re itching to get an early start, the Augusta Rodeo, one of Montana’s oldest and set in an impossibly charming town, runs June 23–25.) Cheer on your favorite rodeo competitors, see some barrel-racing and broncos, and learn about Native American culture. Then compare it all to what they do up north. This month, the massive Calgary Stampede takes over Alberta, Canada July 7–16, dubbed “the world’s greatest outdoor show on earth” with 10 full days of rodeos, musical performances, and Indigenous culture exhibits, plus a parade with astronaut Jeremy Hansen acting as this year’s marshal. And you’re definitely gonna wanna check out the food. On the eclectic and internationally tinged lineup are things like elkeroni pizza (that’s pepperoni made from elk), ketchup and mustard ice cream, poutine colossal onion, sugar cookies spiked with dill pickle and Flaming Hot Cheetos, and so much more.

Catch a train, any train

Did you happen to see our Trains Week coverage in May? In case you missed it, allow us to re-cap: We went deep on locomotives, serving up stories about everything from high speed trains expanding around the US and a scenic Amtrak trip down the West Coast Amtrak to a snowy ride on the Rocky Mountain Railroad and a train in Alaska you can flag down like a taxi. Of course, we love all things environmentally friendly transportation over here, so we continued our coverage with additional stories like a ridiculously scenic train from NYC to Montreal, and though it’s technically not a train, the evolution of the futuristic monorail in Disney also made an appearance (close enough). And if you’d like news on how to book a train ride overseas, we’ve got that too. Trains! They’re everywhere you want to be.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer.
Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist.