It's festival season in Edinburgh. | Andrew Merry/Moment/Getty Images
It's festival season in Edinburgh. | Andrew Merry/Moment/Getty Images

Beat the Heat with These July Travel Ideas

Solo trips, pig races, and summertime in Scotland.

This month very literally kicks off with a bang, whether you’re gazing up at fireworks over midtown Manhattan in New York, on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, at the harbor in Newport, or in any one of these 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… then what?

Then, friends, we take it easy—unless, of course, you’re competing in the World Athletic Championships (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 art festivals, heist reenactments, roller coasters, and Scotch whisky in its home country of Scotland—because gloriously, we can travel overseas again.

Whether you’re sticking close for weekend adventures or venturing out—maybe for your first solo trip!—we present to you the best places to travel in July.

Work on your fun in the sun technique

This summer heat snuck up, huh? Pack us in ice already. Or better yet, ship us off to a cool, refreshing beach. For a gorgeous Mexican beach 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 island has flamingo-filled waters and fresh—like right out of the water fresh—seafood. Or, now that Europe is opening up, maybe the Amalfi Coast is more your speed (or any one of these sandy European stunners).

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.

Pick up speed in Eugene, Oregon

You may not know this, but they really, really love running in Eugene, Oregon. The Willamette Valley college town was home to track legend Steve Prefontaine, who won seven NCAA titles during his time at the University of Oregon, and has a memorial jogging trail in town named after him. Present-day Olympic superstars from Eugene include runners Andrew Wheating, Devon Allen, English Gardner, Phyllis Francis and Nick Symmonds. And many more. 

Which is to say that there’s plenty of reasons that from July 15 to 24, the storied and newly renovated Hayward Field at “Tracktown USA” will host the track and field World Athletic Championships for the first time in the United States since its origins in 1983. While you’re in town, check out the 20x21 murals created for the event (which was originally supposed to take place in 2021), with artists representing everywhere from Nepal to Australia, including work by Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan's first female graffiti artist. Use the map to find them all, and keep a special eye out for a gigantic pigeon on the side of Coffee Plant Roaster. A stunning portrait of a real local citizen named Eugenie, she’s depicted by Belgian-American artist Adele Renault.

Bet on the racing piggies in Montana

Whether it’s hiking and skiing in Big Sky, kayaking Flathead Lake, exploring Old West towns like Livingston and Kalispell, or bar-hopping in downtown Bozeman, there’s no shortage of reasons to visit Montana. New direct flights are being added daily; JetBlue now flies there straight from JFK, dropping you right by Glacier National Park. (For a second year in a row, Glacier is requiring a special reservation ticket to enter certain parts of the park through September.)

But hear us out: Perhaps the best reason to go to Montana right now is the beloved summertime sport of pig racing, happening every weekend through Labor Day in Bearcreek. They call it the Bear Creek Downs, held at the Bear Creek Saloon and Steakhouse in a tiny town north of Yellowstone, population 79. The pigs are not even remotely fast, but they are adorable, wear sponsored jerseys, and have names like Pumpkin Butt, Raquel Belch, and Notta Hot Dog. Pigs in jerseys! You can bet on the races and the money goes towards local scholarships. We see no downsides to this.

Take advantage of summer temps in Scotland

Most of the year, the weather in Scotland skews cold and gloomy. But in the summer, temperatures could reach a balmy 65 degrees (we joke, but it’s quite ideal when your hometown hits over 100). Take advantage with a trip to its capital of Edinburgh, with its medieval castles, winding cobblestone streets, and hilly vistas straight out of a fantasy novel. You won’t be wanting for things to do: They, too, take advantage of the weather with a hefty lineup of festivals including the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (July 15–24), and the Edinburgh Art Festival (July 28–August 22). Extend your trip through August 29 to spot new talent at the 75th anniversary of the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, back for the first time in two years with everything from theater, comedy, dance, and circus to opera, musicals, and exhibitions.

Soak yourself in Scotch in Speyside or Islay, or blow some cash on a Scotch Malt Whiskey Tour with tastings and private tours of the Tomatin, Macallan, and Tullibardine distilleries. It’s aboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman, a luxury train with ensuite cabins and a spa—the first of its kind in the UK. Why? Because you’re worth it.

Reenact some stealthy robberies

Sometimes it’s not enough to read about history—it’s way more fun to reenact it. June 17 marked the 50th anniversary of the break-ins of the DNC headquarters in Washington DC’s Watergate Hotel (slash office and apartment building complex), an act that would eventually lead to the downfall and resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. To commemorate this pivotal moment in American history, the Watergate is offering two immersive overnight packages through the month of June, including stays and private tours by two of the original arresting officers from Room 214. The site of the original break-in, it’s now the throwback Scandal Suite, designed in conjunction with Scandal costume designer Lyn Paolo, with decor from the 1960s and 1970s.

Art heists more your thing? Then make your way to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the site of one of the biggest still-unsolved heists involving $500 million worth of works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and more. If you have evidence leading to the recovery of the pieces, you could take home $10 million. But first you have to know the details, and that’s where a new immersive tour following in the footsteps of the robbers comes in. (And if you happen to solve the crime, just remember who sent you.)

Go solo

It’s been over two years of staying close to home, and you’re finally ready to go it alone on that big solo overseas trip. Lucky you, the time is exceptionally great now. Entry restrictions are easing—including the elimination of a COVID test when returning to the US—and many of the cities you may have thought you knew intimately well have gone through a shiny pandemic refresh.

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve compiled a list of 15 incredible places for a solo trip. Whether you’re looking for a road trip stateside, or a deep dive into the cuisines and cultures of a new land, we’ve got you covered with all the places where you can explore what interests you, on your own schedule. Not seeing anything that appeals? How about choosing your own adventure in Portugal, Barcelona, or Paris. Or Santorini, Vatican City, or Belfast. Or really, just spin a globe. Solo travel can happen anywhere, and the best part is, it’s all about you.

Travel from East to West

What a joy to live in such a melting pot of a country. Travel without leaving the US at a Dragon Boat Festival this summer, where in an ancient Asian tradition, long boats with dragon heads race for the finish line, complete with cultural performances and plenty of food including bamboo-wrapped sticky rice dumplings called zongzi. Read all about the origins here, then hit a festival this month in Chicago (July 11), Colorado (July 23–24), or Queens, New York (July 30–31).

Then, go ahead and giddyup to the Wild West, with Western festivals in Prescott, Arizona (June 28–July 4), Laramie, Wyoming (July 2–10), Cheyenne, Wyoming (July 22–31) and Dodge City, Kansas (July 28–August 7) this month. 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 happens in Alberta, Canada (July 8–17), “the world’s greatest outdoor show on earth” with 10 days of rodeos, musical performances, and indigenous culture exhibits, plus a parade with Kevin Costner as this year’s marshal (he’s apparently a big fan of the scenery and filmed a couple of projects in the region). And you’re gonna wanna check out the food. On the eclectic and internationally-tinged lineup are things like Korean Squid Ink Corn Dogs, Pop Rocks-studded popcorn chicken, Samosa Poutine, hot dogs made with roasted crickets, and so much more. Plus Duck Pond Lemonade. That comes with your own little rubber duckie.

Hey, what’s new with Cleveland?

You may already know Cleveland is the home of Cedar Point, the self–proclaimed “Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” We’ve ranked the 18 coasters, for research purposes or vicarious amusement (the Magnum XL-200 looks… terrifying).

But besides coasters, there’s a lot more going on in this Ohio city. The Tall Ships Festival, for one (July 7–10), a four-day maritime celebration on the shores of Lake Erie, with food, craft beer, fireworks, boat tours, and a dramatic Parade of Sail. (Dramatic because, you know, they’re tall.) This summer, the Cleveland Orchestra performs for 10 weeks at the outdoor Blossom Music Center, in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, while the Lumineers and Vampire Weekend headline the Wonderstruck Music Festival (July 9–10). Also in the lineup? Party-starter Big Freedia, most recently of Beyonce’s new single fame.

July also marks the second installment of the completely free FRONT contemporary arts festival (July 16–October 2), a visual extravaganza where 75 artists take over sites in Cleveland, Akron, and Oberlin for performances, films, and exhibitions plus dance parties and a scavenger hunt. This year’s theme is Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, focusing on art as an agent of transformation and healing, and an homage to the poem “Two Somewhat Different Epigrams” by Langston Hughes, who called Cleveland his home for a time.

Climb to your heart’s content in Wyoming

Do you like to climb things? Maybe you’re just climb-curious? This July 14 through 17, 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, film festivals, bike rides, 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. Proceeds go towards Climb Like A Woman, an organization that works toward inclusive climbing spaces for women in India.

Try Park City in the off-season

Utah’s Park City and its surrounding areas are synonymous with snow and winter sports, but you can definitely still play in the off-season. If you really want to see what you’re made of, check out the 400-acre Utah Olympic Park, built for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games, with an oval speed skating ring (where you can apparently also do glow-in-the-dark “cosmic curling”), summer bobsledding, extreme tubing, an alpine slide, airbag jumps, ziplining, a drop tower, scenic chair lifts, and so much more.

For something a tad less strenuous, the Deer Valley Music Festival—summer home of the Utah Symphony—is performing outdoors for eight weeks this July and August, accompanying artists like Stewart Copeland of The Police (July 1), Boyz II Men (July 23), Guster (July 30), and Kristin Chenoweth (August 6).

And did you know that famously strict Utah provided the deciding vote to end Prohibition? And now they have the world’s only ski-in, ski (or stumble)-out distillery at High West Whiskey. Take home a bottle of their American Prairie Bourbon and snooze soundly knowing your dollars went towards preserving the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48. Progress!

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. Find her sipping all the samples on the Scotch train.