Editor’s update: This article was originally published in September 2019 and updated in July 2023.
Picking your next destination isn’t easy, but there’s a better way than spinning a big globe, closing your eyes and slamming your finger down (it’ll probably end up in the middle of the Atlantic, and wifi there is patchy, to say the least). Introducing our ultimate month-by-month destination guide: your no-fuss list of places to go, things to see and good weather to chase around the world.
Today we’re looking at where to travel in May, a balmy, sunshine-in-a-bowl sort of month, particularly for the northern hemisphere. Europe wakes up from its winter slumber, tables and vino glasses start appearing on cobbled sidewalks, beaches in the Caribbean and the Med begin to buzz, and the world puts its metaphorical feet up with a good John Grisham novel. Here’s where you should be looking for that perfect May getaway.
Top 10 destinations to travel in May
If you’ve been wanting to knock Base Camp off your bucket list, May is a damn good time to do it. The June rains haven’t hit the Himalayas yet and the skies are usually duck-egg blue with no mist in sight (when you trek a thousand feet for good views, it’s nice to be able to see them when you get there!). The trails from Namche to Base Camp will be pretty busy during May, so give the Annapurna Circuit some serious consideration (Chitwan NP is also a good bet if you’re worried about potential Yetis). May is also Buddha’s birthday month, and you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid the madal-beating, street-dancing and celebrations that break out all over Nepal. Our tip? If you’re after the biggest party, head to Bhaktapur or Patan.
It’s the classic shoulder season gamble: temperamental weather but the promise of much smaller crowds. Greece in May is no different. If you’re after long days at the beach and sunshine powerful enough to give your handbag a tan, visit in June or August when the weather is perfect. But if you’re after Crete, Santorini, Athens and the Parthenon sans tourist hordes, May is ideal. The temperature usually hovers around 21°C (69°F) – perfect for strolling the old streets of Delos or haggling in a Mykonos marketplace. There’s also the Corfu Beach Festival, May Day, and the annual Rhodian Flower Festival, a colour explosion that takes over the island for a few weeks at the end of the month.
Like its Grecian cousin, Italy swells with tourists in high summer (June-August). But May is where you’ll find the canny travellers. Crowds are down (no five-hour queues for St Peter’s Basilica), flowers colonise every available windowsill, and the temperature is perfect for sightseeing with the thermostat set at a balmy 25°C (77°F). There might be a few showers around at the beginning of the month, but travel from mid-May and you’re pretty much guaranteed warm days and cool nights.
Head into Tuscany for tranquil cellar door pitstops, visit Florence for the annual Festa del Grillo in Cascine Park (vendors basically unleash a horde of crickets on the city), or snack on in-season fava beans, tomatoes and strawberries at a Monti street café in Rome.
Okay, the United States is a big place. So let’s narrow it down. If you happen to be passing through the Appalachians (and want to brave the trackside crowds), you should consider visiting the Kentucky Derby. May is also a great time to visit the Grand Canyon as the winter snow has usually cleared, the weather’s warming up and the summer hordes haven’t yet clogged all the viewing platforms. Plus, the North Rim reopens mid-May for the spring/summer season (it closes for most of winter) – always an exciting time. Weather-wise though, it’s hard to beat the north-east: Cape Cod, Pittsburgh and New England in general are all coming into bloom.
- Western USA National Parks Loop – 5 days
- Real LA to San Francisco – 11 days
- Tennessee Music Trail to New Orleans – 6 days
Like any country that can lay claim to bits of the Sahara, Morocco is a place where summer can actually be too hot. The camel’s won’t struggle, but you might. May is considered one of the best times to visit, with an average daytime temperature of around 21°C (69°F). It’s the month when spring meltwater runs off the High Atlas, the rivers come alive, and flowers and festivals take over the country.
Our pick? The Festival of the Roses at Kelaa-des-Mgouna, a desert town that’s home to the country’s famous rose water industry. Over 700 tonnes of petals will be harvested from the valleys during this time, and locals celebrate with traditional dancing, singing and (our favourite) eating. If rose water’s your thing, there’s no better place to be.
Throw a dart at a map of the Caribbean and, wherever it lands, you’re going to hit paradise. But our pick for May is definitely sailing the Bahamas. Local prices start to drop, humidity is low (goodbye flies and mosquitos), the water is bath-like and there’s almost zero chance of hurricanes. The weather? It’s cooling off after the summer months, but it’s still a beach-perfect 29°C (85°F). Spring breakers have usually packed up and gone back to class by late April, so the islands will be breathing a well-earned sigh of relief: the beaches are less crowded, flights are easier to book, and European travellers emerge at dawn to shotgun the poolside lounge chairs. Good thing you chose to sail your own yacht, right?
Like the USA, you can’t just tell someone to ‘visit Australia’ in May; there’s just too much regional variation. While Victoria might be shivering through the start of its drizzly football season, the Top End and Far North Queensland are just coming into their own (goodbye monsoonal rains, hello crisp sunny days). For us though, May is the time to hit up the West Coast, specifically Ningaloo Reef and Exmouth. The reason? Whale sharks. This is the start of the dry season, when dozens of whale sharks appear off the coast of Exmouth, cruising the warm waters above the reef. The town puts on an annual Whale Shark Festival, but the real highlight is donning your snorkel, diving off the boat, and swimming alongside the biggest fish in the world.
- Broome to Perth Overland – 10 days
- Queensland Daintree Explorer – 5 days
- Uluru & Kings Canyon Adventure – 4 days
It’s hard to find a month of the year when Prague doesn’t look a million bucks. Snow, rain, sunshine… Prague is always a delight. May is our pick of the bunch though, if only for the colour and the concerts. Hanging baskets dangle from every street corner and windowsill, the magnolia trees are out in blossom and the epic Prague Spring Music Festival is in full swing – three weeks of symphony, opera and chamber music (try to book an event in the spectacular Smetana Hall).
For those who like to chase their culture with a good brew, there’s also the Czech Beer Festival – a 17-day celebration that takes place at over 70 local breweries, not to mention a stomach-expanding feast of local Czech food courtesy of the country’s hottest chefs. Trust us, you’ll never want to leave.
- Highlights of Central Europe – 9 days
- Best of Central Europe – 15 days
- Cycle Prague to Vienna – 8 days
Ask a local what May means in Barcelona and they’ll tell you: sangria – specifically sangria al fresco (featuring a setting Catalan sun, good company and a few choice plates of jamon iberico or patatas bravas). May is when Spain comes back to life after the winter. The summer cruise ship crowds are still a few weeks away and, if the weather’s on your side, swimming should be idyllic.
We recommend a little out-of-the-way spot like Castelldefels (great tapas, fewer crowds). The weather usually hovers around the mid-20s (°C) or high 70s (°F). Hit up a good rooftop bar in the Gothic Quarter, order a ruby pitcher of sangria and let the evening unfold. If you’ve got your dancing shoes on, make sure to check out the Ciutat Flamenco Festival held in the Mercat de les Flors.
Machu Picchu, anyone? May is one of the best months to hike Peru’s iconic Inca Trail through the Andes. The rainy season’s over, but there’s still a carpet of green on the valleys, and the big crowds don’t arrive until June. Like always with the Inca Trail, you’ll need to organise your permits months in advance (unless you’re doing it with us, in which case, we’ll organise this for you).
Temperatures in the mountains can drop to around 10°C (50°F) after sunset, so pack a few layers to keep you warm at night. For something really special, check out the Qoyllur Rit’I, a massive indigenous pilgrimage to the peak of Mt Ausangate near Cusco. Thousands of locals attempt the climb, some carrying blocks of ice down on their backs).
Not looking to travel in May? No worries. Check out our other monthly travel guides: