The Most Popular Summer Activities Throughout History



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Over 50 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Most Popular Summer Activities Throughout History
Voting Rules

Vote up the summer activities you're practically clawing your way out of the house to go do. 

Warm weather, sunny days, and free time make summer a season of fun and travel. While summer vacations are a fairly recent development, historically speaking, venturing out during the summer months to take part in a variety of activities has long been the norm. 

Throughout history, summertime has offered the ideal conditions to enjoy being outside. Going to the beach, lounging by the pool, sipping a White Claw, and watching your local sports team are some modern things to do during the summer. It turns out, many of the summertime things we do today have been around for longer than most people realize. 

A trip through popular summer activities across history is a fun way to see how people from the past were enjoying themselves - and a nice reminder to go out and do some of these things ourselves!

This sponsored list was created with the participation of White Claw.

  • 1
    55 VOTES

    Spend Time With Friends Around The BBQ Like The Indigenous Americans Did

    Using an open flame to cook food has been a common practice for nearly two million years, but what most people identify as barbecue traces to indigenous cultures in the Caribbean. 

    When Europeans arrived during the 16th century, they found, as described by Gonzalo Fernandendez de Oviedo y Valdes, indigenous boys guarding corn as it was dried:

    On top of the trees and scaffolding that they make of wood and reeds, and covered like ramadas (because of the sun and the water), and these scaffoldings are called barbecues, and from the barbecue they are continually shouting, looking out for the parrots and other birds…

    Oviedo's word for “barbecue" was “barbacoa” - considered the etymological foundation for our modern use of the term. In another passage of Historia general y natural de las Indias, written c. 1535, Oviedo mentioned eating meat cooked on the same mechanism:

    They ate some local chickens called guanajas for lunch, and deer loins that they found roasted on the barbecue, which is like on grills.

    Though barbecue had negative connotations - considered “savage" - the practice of using a barbecue did spread. In the United States, barbecue developed differently in various regions, representative of the cultural and culinary practices of various groups.

    55 votes
  • 2
    46 VOTES

    Spend Time In A Hammock Like It's The Age Of Exploration

    It's not entirely clear who “invented” the hammock, but In the ancient world, the Greeks and Romans had something that was, at the very least, comparable. During the 5th century BCE, the Greek Aristocrat Alcibiades slept on a bed “slung on cords rather than spread on the hard planks” of his ships. Roman physicians associated “swinging beds” with easing illness or aiding sleep. 

    Hanging beds continued to be used during the Middle Ages and, when Christopher Columbus interacted with Taino groups in the Bahamas. He noted,

    A great number Indians in canoes came to the ship today for the purpose of bartering their cotton or hamacas or nets in which they sleep. 

    When the Portuguese landed in the Americas, they found widespread use of hammocks among indigenous groups. A raised bed could be used to avoid bugs, snakes, and other critters. Additionally, the “fishnets for sleeping” were easy to transport and relatively affordable. Europeans used them, but often for travel. According to scholar Inga Wiedemann, “Everybody who could afford it would travel in a hammock, carried by two strong slaves.” 

    While not only used during the summer, hammocks were also both practical and protective. The summertime hammock used today actually gets its name from these earlier uses. The modern word “hammock” is actually a derivation of the “hamaca” found in the Americas. 

    46 votes
  • Enjoy An Open-Air Movie Like It's The 1930s
    Photo: Pedro Taam / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    37 VOTES

    Enjoy An Open-Air Movie Like It's The 1930s

    It's not uncommon for a local neighborhood to offer a movie in the park or some other comparable location. This practice draws on a tradition that dates to the early 20th century with the growth of open-air and drive-in cinema. 

    The oldest outdoor cinema in the world is located in Bromme, Australia. Opened in 1916, Sun Pictures showed silent pictures with piano accompaniment until 1933 when it started offering “talkies.” One visitor later recalled, 

    During the 1939-'45 war… I was serving with army transport in the area. Pictures were shown in the current Garden theatre. Apparently there was only one projector and the operator had difficulty in changing the reel, which was quite often. Sometimes it took twenty to thirty minutes to change reels. During those periods they played a record – they only had one, which was called "You look like a monkey when you grow old." This was played over and over until the movie could continue.

    It was also in 1933 that the first drive-in cinema opened in Camden, NJ. The individual behind the idea was Richard Hollingshead, Jr., who said on his application to patent it, “My invention relates to a new and useful outdoor theater… whereby the transportation facilities to and from the theater are made to constitute an element of the seating facilities.” 

    In anticipation of the opening in June 1933, Hollingshead assured patrons in the local newspaper, “The whole family is welcome… regardless of how noisy the children are apt to be.”

    37 votes
  • 4
    33 VOTES

    Check Out A National Park Like The First Visitors Did Around 1900

    Yellowstone National Park, the first in the United States, was designated in 1872. When President Teddy Roosevelt, a known lover of the outdoors, took office during the first decade of the 20th century, he expanded the number of national parks in the country to include parks at Crater Lake in Oregon, Wind Cave in South Dakota, Sullys Hill in North Dakota, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Platt in Oklahoma. Sullys Hill was later changed to a game preserve and Platt is part of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

    The expansion of national park lands meant more people could enjoy the outdoors, especially during the summer months. According to the National Park Service (which was officially established in 1916) and its predecessors, the number of visitors to recreation areas in 1910 was 173,416. By 1915, the number topped 300,000 and, in 1920, exceeded 1 million.

    When Henry Isaac Jacobs made the trip to Yellowstone National Park in 1900, he went with relatives visiting from the East: 

    About the middle of July 1900 we had several relatives arrive here… to spend their vacation among the mountains and breathe this fresh mountain air… We had been talking of going through Yellowstone Park before they came… So we talked it all over and found out it was favorable with everybody and invited those we wanted in our party and then commenced to prepare for a glorious trip.

    It was, as he put it, “no small task" to get everything ready to go but his excitement is almost palpable. 

    33 votes
  • 5
    32 VOTES

    Spend Time At A Villa Like The Ancient Romans Did

    Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, writing during the 1st century BCE, noted that “[if] heat, becomes predominant in any body whatsoever, it destroys and dissolves all the others with its violence.” Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the hottest days of the year coincided with the summertime rising of Sirius, the dog star, which brought bad luck (hence the “Dog Days of Summer”). On the whole, it makes sense that escaping such heat was a priority for Romans who had the ability to do so.

    On a hot day, a Roman was lucky if they were able to escape high temperatures by retreating to a house in a rural setting (villa rustica) or on a beach (villa maritima). For many Romans, a villa functioned as a summer home outside of the heat and noise of the city. 

    A villa rustica emphasized agricultural activities but a villa maritima could be a luxurious place to spend the summer. A villa maritima like the Villa of the Papyri buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, featured a pool, gardens, and elaborate decor. It's believed to have once been owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, attesting to the wealth and affluence associated with such homes. 

    Not all villas were created equal, however. In his Letters, Pliny the Younger (d. c. 113 CE) described the Villa Laurentine (near Rome) which was, as he put it, “a convenient size without being expensive to keep up." In talking about his days spent at a villa in Tuscany, Pliny wrote this in another one of his letters:

    I take a little nap, then a walk, and after that repeat out loud and distinctly some Greek or Latin speech… I then take another walk, am anointed, do my exercises, and go into the bath…. After supper we are entertained either with music or an interlude. When that is finished, I take my walk with my family, among whom I am not without some scholars. Thus we pass our evenings in varied conversation; and the day, even when at the longest, steals imperceptibly away….

    32 votes
  • Take A Dip In The Local Pool Like The Harappans Did
    Photo: CreativeJ / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    34 VOTES

    Take A Dip In The Local Pool Like The Harappans Did

    Greeks and Romans alike enjoyed spending time in pools and baths, but they were not the only ancient civilization to have communal water tanks available for use. The Harappan civilization, based in the Indus River Valley, also built water facilities in cities, the best example of which was found at Mohenjo Daro in modern Pakistan.

    The ruins of Mohenjo Daro date to the 3rd millennium BCE and attest to the presence of areas used for bathing. In addition to the Great Bath, there are bathing rooms theorized to provide individuals with a place to cleanse themselves before entering the larger body of water. The Great Bath is believed to have had spiritual significance, both purifying and renewing bathers. 

    Considered the “earliest public water tank in the ancient world,” the Great Bath was roughly 40 feet long and 20 feet wide and, at its deepest, was nearly eight feet deep. Like other ancient baths and pools, the Great Bath would have been a site of “pleasure, politics, and propaganda.” 

    34 votes