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Where to Go in May: The Best Places to Travel

by Brook Wilkinson | April 22, 2019

Mild. Temperate. Those are the words used to describe the agreeable climate in many parts of the globe come May. In so many destinations, it’s an oh-so-lovely time to be hiking, sightseeing, or simply people-watching at an outdoor café.

(Don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for each month of the year. If you’re wondering when’s the best time to book your destination to get the best value for your dollar, see our “What to Book Now” series.)

Portugal

Beautiful sandy beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal

Beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

The country’s weather is beautiful from March to mid-June. In the Algarve, the coastal towns are not too busy yet, so you can get a table in the restaurants and enjoy uncrowded beaches. The Douro Valley’s rolling hills are lush and green from the winter rains, and there is excitement in Porto as the city prepares for summer festivities.

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Spain

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Ronny Siegel/Flickr

Terraces and cafés open, and residents head outdoors to enjoy Spain’s beautiful cities before the heat sets in and the crowds arrive. Spring is the perfect time for strolling and picnicking in the sparkling Mediterranean light. In Madrid, everyone pours into the streets in mid-May to celebrate San Isidro.

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Umbria, Italy

The Corsa dei Ceri festival in Gubbio, Umbria, Italy

The Corsa dei Ceri festival takes place in May in Gubbio, Umbria, Italy. Photo: CIU Travel

Lots of delicious local crops are in season, from cherries and strawberries to fava beans, wild asparagus, and artichokes. It’s also festival time, when the reserved Umbrians really let down their hair for small but rollicking historical and religious celebrations. This year, Gubbio’s Corsa dei Ceri happens on May 15, Assisi’s Calendimaggio (a contest between the upper and lower town staged in medieval costumes) on May 8–11.

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Sicily, Italy

Mountain village Novara di Sicilia, Sicily, Italy

Mountain village Novara di Sicilia, Sicily, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

May is an ideal time to visit, as the countryside is filled with wildflowers, the seas are getting warmer, the weather is more stable (and without the heat of summer), and the tourist areas are relatively calm. In towns such as Siracusa, there are live performances of the ancient Greek Tragedies in the actual theaters where these cultural events were staged thousands of years ago.

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Croatia

view of water and town Rovinj Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia. Photo: Billie Cohen

In late April and May, you have nice weather, the crowds are thinner, and prices are a little lower than at the height of summer. 

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Mediterranean Cruises

Celebrity Reflection cruise ship

The Celebrity Reflection cruise ship. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

May is the sweet spot: The weather is gorgeous, temperatures are ideal for sightseeing, and crowds are not as abundant as in summer, when kids are out of school and both overseas visitors and Europeans flock to the Mediterranean.

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The California Coast

Bixby Bridge on the Big Sur coast of California

Bixby Bridge is one of the landmarks on the Big Sur coast of California. Photo: Visit California/Myles McGuinness

In May the weather is generally nice, even in the north of the state, but the busy summer season hasn’t yet kicked in.

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Los Cabos

a villa with a firepit and pool in Cabo Mexico

May in Los Cabos means less crowded beaches and restaurants—and more comfortable temperatures. Photo: CaboVillas

In May, the weather is mild and there’s little chance of rain. The bustle of spring break has passed, so it’s much less busy than just a month prior. That means less crowded beaches and restaurants—but more comfortable temperatures than the very hot summer months ahead. Plus, villa rates are lower than in high season (December through April), with great deals to be had.

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Peru’s Sacred Valley

Springtime at Machu Picchu Peru

Springtime at Machu Picchu. Photo: Luis Felipa

May is a wonderful month to be outdoors exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Choose from wide variety of hiking trails for easy day hikes or overnight treks through the Andes. Skies are mostly clear, hillsides are green following the heavier rains that have ended by mid-April, and there are fewer crowds. Temperatures are also warmer on average than during the peak season (June through August). Base yourself in the Sacred Valley and enjoy convenient side trips to Machu Picchu and Cusco.

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Iceland

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland. Photo: Tim Baker

In early May, you’ll find fewer crowds, more hotel availability, and better prices than in the summer high season. It can be chilly, with daytime temperatures in the 40s, but there is plenty of sun.

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Rio de Janeiro and the Pantanal, Brazil

a toucan in Pantanal, Brazil. Photo: Matueté Brasil Travel Design

Pantanal, Brazil. Photo: Matueté Brasil Travel Design

Given its large mass and varied geography, the perfect time to visit Brazil depends on what parts of the country you hope to see. May makes for a good city-country combo: some of the best animal sightings in the Pantanal wetlands, and the sunniest skies and a gentler mood in Rio.

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Chile and Bolivia

Atacama desert, Andes, Chile

Atacama desert, Andes, Chile. Photo: Shutterstock

May is the ideal time for a trip that combines northern Chile’s Atacama Desert and Bolivia’s immense Uyuni Salt Flats. These two geological wonders are typically dry by May (though the Atacama is one of the driest places on the planet, in recent years it’s seen rain showers and even flooding from January to March), and many dormant desert plants are in bloom, transforming the arid landscape. Try to visit during the new-moon phase, when the Atacama’s famously dark sky is at its prime for stargazing.

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The Cotswolds, England

England, Cotswolds, Hidcote gardens. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds, England. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

By May spring has taken hold, so flowers are blooming across the Cotswolds—fruit-tree blossoms, clematis, and wisteria are everywhere. The air smells so fresh, and there are so many shades of green. Hotel rates are also lower than in the summer high season.

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Scotland

Kinnoull Hill tower ruins, Perth Scotland, overlooking the River Tay on a clear day

Kinnoull Hill tower ruins overlooking the River Tay, Scotland. Photo: Shutterstock

In May the weather is mild and even warm on occasion, and you won’t have to deal with the August crowds. Since this month falls before peak season (June–September), you can find some bargains, and the hills and roadways are dotted with blooming gorse, a bright-yellow flower.

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The Cyclades, Greece

Oia town on Santorini island, Greece. Traditional and famous houses and churches with blue domes over the Caldera, Aegean sea

Oia town, on Santorini, is famous for its blue-domed churches and white houses overlooking the caldera. Photo: Shutterstock

May is one of the most beautiful months to travel to the Cyclades. Days are warm, but the sun is not burning as relentlessly as it does in the summer. Wildflowers blossom, beaches are empty, and locals welcome you with smiles.

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Anguilla, British West Indies, Caribbean

Pool view of the Four Seasons, Anguilla, caribbean islands

Pool view of the Four Seasons, Anguilla. Photo: Lindsey Epperly

On May 30, Anguillan Independence Day, you can mix with locals for a trooping of the colors, a parade, and an around-the-island regatta. All of Anguilla turns out for this hotly contested race of traditional craft. By May, the Caribbean has entered its shoulder season, meaning that the spring break crowds and prices are gone. Plus, it’s not yet hurricane season, which technically kicks off in June (though it’s rare to see a hurricane that early in the year); May typically gets mild, sunny days with a few showers here and there. No need to worry about damage from 2017’s Hurricane Irma, as the island is completely back up and running, including the recently reopened Cap Juluca.

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Namibia

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive

In May, temperatures are mild night and day, the occasional rains tease the desert wildflowers into bloom, and the animals are fat and happy.

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Romania

The Corvinesti castle also known as the Hunyad castle, is a Gothic-Renaissance castle in Hunedoara (Transylvania), Romania.

The Corvinesti castle also known as the Hunyad castle, is a Gothic-Renaissance castle in Hunedoara (Transylvania), Romania. Photo: Shutterstock

May and June offer prime weather with the fewest crowds at the country’s dozens of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Available activities range from horseback riding and skydiving to truffle hunting and wine tasting.

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Aegean Coast, Turkey

view from a wooden gulet boat on Turkey's Aegean Coast

A wooden gulet is an enticing way to explore the hidden islands of the Aegean. Photo: Sea Song Tours

In May the sun is out but it’s not sweltering; the sea is calm; and summer crowds haven’t arrived. Plus, rates are up to 50% lower than during the high season of July and August.

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Scandinavia

Reine, Lofoten, Norway. The village of Reine under a sunny, blue sky, with the typical rorbu houses. View from the top

The village of Reine in Lofoten, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

After months of darkness, May’s longer days bring locals out to soak up the sunlight, making the outdoor cafes lively. You’ll also find an abundance of freshly caught seafood, and celebrations throughout the countryside leading up to the summer solstice.

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Japan

Beautiful Cherry Blossom, Japan

Cherry blossom trees, Japan

May (after Golden Week, which ends on May 6 this year) brings great weather throughout the entire country. While the cherry blossoms generally peak in April, you can still enjoy the sweet scent and beauty of the blooms in May, but without the crowds.

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Jerusalem

Tower of David, Jerusalem, Israel.

The City of David, in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, is an archeological site with remains dating back more than 5,000 years. Photo: Noam Chen

The optimal time to visit Jerusalem is after Passover—which ends on April 26 this year—but before summer: During this window, the weather is pleasant and the hotel rates are lower. Particularly wonderful is to be at any of the thousands of kibbutzes that dot the country for the festival of the first fruits for Shavuot (which happens to be a little later than usual this year, on June 9).

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Fiji

aerial view of Savasi Island Fiji

Savasi Island is a 52-acre private island in Fiji with only seven villas. Photo: Savasi Island

May falls during the islands’ drier “winter,” but outside the peak months of June and July, when Aussie and Kiwi vacationers drive up airfares and hotel rates. During the winter, temperatures are at their coolest (with highs hovering around 80), and the occasional rain showers are brief. With less humidity there are also fewer mossies (mosquitoes).

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Quito, Ecuador

Quito plaza, Ecuador

Quito Plaza, Ecuador. Photograph: Myths & Mountains

Quito is called the City of Four Seasons for a reason: The weather can change in the blink of an eye. May falls during the shoulder season, when the temperature is mild, usually reaching the high 60s, and there are fewer travelers.

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Zambia and Zimbabwe

two people paddle past elephants on the Zambezi River in Chiawa, Zimbabwe

Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the continent’s most magnificent wildlife reserves, in one of its safest and most welcoming countries. Photo: Explore

In May, everything is still verdantly green from the rains and the temperature is delightful, but it’s dry enough that you see plenty of wildlife and there are virtually no mosquitoes or tsetse flies. Game viewing during this time is not quite as intense as later in the season, when it is very dry and dusty, but the landscape is more beautiful and the animals more at ease.

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The American Southwest for River Rafting

rafters on the Yampa River

The Yampa River, in Dinosaur National Monument, is a tributary of the Colorado River, with a limited season from May to early July. Photo: OARS

May is a great time for rafting in the American Southwest, when desert rivers are at their best. The free-flowing Yampa River, in Dinosaur National Monument, is the last commercially run, free-flowing tributary of the Colorado, with a limited season from May to early July—making it one of the most sought-after river adventures in the U.S. Further south in the Four Corners region, the underappreciated San Juan River is an archaeological treasure chest, and in May you’ll likely catch the desert in bloom.

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Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why May is a good time to go.

Brazil: Rio de Janeiro and the Pantanal

China

China: Yunnan Province

Costa Rica: Pacific and Central regions

Cuba: Beachside R&R

Czech Republic

England: Castles, Manor Houses, and Gardens

European Canal Barge Cruises

France: Paris, including Apartment Rentals

Germany: Bavaria

Hawaii: Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island

Hungary

India: Trekking and tiger reserves

Indonesia: Bali

Ireland: Killarney and County Kerry

Italy: Venice and Villa Vacations

Madagascar

Malta

Mexico: Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Maya and Mexico City

Montana and Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park

Morocco

Myanmar’s higher elevations

Nepal

Netherlands: Amsterdam

New Zealand

New Zealand: Queenstown hiking and cycling

Norway (in late May)

Oman

Papua New Guinea

Peru

Russia: Moscow and St. Petersburg

Seychelles

South Africa: Cape Town and Winelands

St. Barts: Beach and villa vacations

Turkey: Istanbul

Utah’s national parks

Vietnam

Washington, D.C.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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    1. Billie Cohen

      Thanks for the question. To make sure Wendy sees it, please click over to the Ask Wendy page and submit it via the form there. That way it will go right to her inbox.

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