The weather is the epitome of ‘just right’ for exploration, and blooming landscapes colour the scene in the best places to travel in May in Europe. This is your last chance to beat the summer rush of tourists, along with the heat, if sweating while sightseeing doesn’t sound ideal.
For fragrant gardens and wildflowers peppering incredible landscapes, you could almost close your eyes, point at the map and pick anywhere on the continent. Spring is in full swing, so this is one of the top months of the year for packing your hiking boots and getting out into nature.
The Balearic and Greek Islands are gearing up for summer and, while the water is still a tad refreshing, it’s beach weather all the same. However, if you’re looking for hot places to go in May in Europe, the always-sunny Canary Islands have you covered with temperatures soaring by the minute.
No matter where you choose to go, get ready to pop on your sun hat to enjoy one of Europe’s best months of the year in the great outdoors.
Best European Cities to Visit in May
Along with cobbled streets lined with dazzling flowers, the best places to visit in Europe in May celebrate the season with unique festivals, gourmet food and colourful traditions. The atmosphere is one of exciting anticipation in the lead up to summer, without the focus on tourism that sometimes overwhelms peak season. Set your sights on these spectacular spring spots.
The gastronomic and cultural delights of Lyon are always alluring, but it’s one of the best cities to visit in May for music fans too. The annual Nuits Sonores electronic music festival brings events, workshops and performances across five days. Performances take place in numerous locations across the city, highlighting heritage sites, iconic landmarks and artistic culture. However, it’s not just the festival that makes this one of the best places to visit in Europe in spring.
The city’s opulent buildings are beautifully wrapped in blooms and pleasant temps are perfect for strolling or cycling among them. Rent a bike and cycle along the picturesque banks of the Rhone and the Saone, stop to smell the rose gardens at Le Parc de la Tête d’Or and find treasures in the trendy shops of bohemian Croix Rousse. Don’t miss the chance to try the celebrated Lyonnais cuisine at a traditional bouchon.
Abruzzo might be one of the country’s most underrated regions, but it’s also one of the best places to visit in Italy in May. Ensconced within the salty breezes of the Adriatic, the open countryside explodes in a riot of purple, pink and yellow, with poppies peeking through crumbling walls and picturesque pathways. For hiking among wildflowers, visit the Gran Sasso National Park.
Choose to base yourself in the pretty medieval town of L’Aquila or the seaside resort of Pescara. Then, discover surrounding castles, quaint villages and caverns, like the Grotte di Stiffe with its cascading spring waterfall.
On the 1st of May, make sure you’re in the town of Cocullo, in the Majella Mountains. The annual Snake Festival celebrates San Domenico di Sora and sees live (harmless) snakes draped over the patron saint’s statue, before being released back into the wild in a religious respect for nature.
With its Mediterranean climate warming up to near-perfect temperatures for exploring, Portugal is one of the best countries to visit in Europe in May. Plus, the country’s capital is in the vibrant grips of the yearly Iberian Mask International Festival. The Parade of the Iberian Mask is the top event, with around 500 people displaying colourful mask rituals from across the Iberian Peninsula.
Famous as the ‘City of Seven Hills’, the mild weather of spring is your best friend when traipsing up and down steep cobbled laneways. Stroll around Alfama and soak up the rich heritage of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood, shop ‘til you drop around the Baixa district’s Commerce Square and sip coffee in Chiado’s artsy cafes.
For magnificent spring views over the city, visit one or all the viewpoint terraces, known as miradouros. Jump on the historic number 28 tram when your feet need a break.
If you’re looking for the most fun places to visit in Europe in May, the yearly Iris Festival in Brussels brings the party. Celebrating the region, of which the iris is a symbol, you’ll find free outdoor concerts, events, workshops and organised activities galore across the city.
That’s not all though, as the city also lives and breathes music over the Brussels Jazz Weekend. A multitude of concerts in squares, bars and clubs highlight new and established musicians for toe-tapping fun.
Visit the castle of Grand Bigard to see Floralia, a spring flower exhibition that features tulips, hyacinths and daffodils across 14 hectares. If the weather doesn’t behave, this is one of the most interesting places to visit in Europe for indoor pursuits. Delve into comic book heroes at the Art Nouveau Belgian Comic Strip Centre, learn the art of chocolate-making at the Choco Story Museum and sample the famous Belgian brews across the city’s fantastic beer cellars.
SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN
Stunning San Sebastian is a frontrunner for having the best weather in Europe in May for sightseeing. Up to 13 sunny hours a day and quickly rising temperatures also make sangria-sipping on outdoor terraces an absolute delight.
Held in late May and early June, the Olatu Talka festival hits town with cultural spaces, concerts, live music, art installations and workshops celebrating Basque heritage.
Whether or not the ocean is warm enough for you, the picture-perfect La Concha Beach and surfer’s favourite, Zurriola, await for lazy days beneath the Spanish sun. When you’re feeling active again, hire a bike to explore the coast and greenways or hike up Monte Urgull for breathtaking views at the top. At each step of the way, treat your taste buds to the pintxos scene. You’ll smell this relative of tapas from numerous bars in the Old Town and wash each tasty morsel down with local Txakoli, Tempranillo or beer.
With dreamy weather, the Festival of Sant’Efisio and gorgeous trails for spring hiking, Sardinia is one of the best Italian islands to visit in May. The historic capital, Cagliari, kicks off the month with the island’s premier festival, celebrating the saint who’s said to have rid the city of plague in 1656. A spectacular parade of about 5000 people winds through the streets, featuring traditional dress, colourful wagons, Sardinian pipe music, horsemen and an atmosphere that’s wholeheartedly festive.
For those looking for the best beaches to visit in May, you’ll find plenty of those here. Soak up the luxurious vibe of the Costa Smeralda, discover the hidden coves of the Golfo di Orosei and float in the serene, turquoise waters at Spiaggia Rena Bianca. For strolling and hiking, an abundance of wildflowers surround the ancient ruins of Tharros and the Cannoneris Nature Reserve is a magical land of waterfalls, wildlife and some of Europe’s biggest holm oak trees.
Can’t wait to take your taste buds on a journey too? Bratislava is one of the top places to visit in May for foodies. This is the month of the Slovak Food Festival, to top off a city bursting with farmers markets and events celebrating fresh, seasonal produce. There’ll be more tasty treats at the annual Bratislava May Festival, along with concerts and fireworks over the romantic river Danube.
Then, there’s the wine. The city just happens to be surrounded by some of Europe’s most celebrated vineyards, including in the Small Carpathians Wine Region. To make sure you stay hungry for more, Bratislava is heaven for cyclists, with trails around the Danube that connect the city to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. If you’re not up for an all-out cycling adventure to a neighbouring country, hop on and off the historic Prešporáčik train to see the sights, including majestic Bratislava Castle.
One of the more obscure places to visit in Europe, the capital of Lithuania tends to surprise visitors with an exhilarating blend of Old Town quaintness and cutting-edge art culture. In May, the annual Skamba Skamba Kankliai Festival brings the sounds of traditional Lithuanian culture, along with international folklorists. Local handicrafts, workshops, night dances and singalongs bring young and old together, with a key concept of erasing boundaries of countries and ages.
Get up high to see the scenic charm of this city, with its red-tiled roofs, ample green spaces and towering spires, from the Three Crosses monument or Gediminas’ Tower in the Castle Complex. To combine nature and sightseeing, stroll along the riverbank and explore the haunting Bernardine Cemetery along the way. No matter where you stay within the historic, cobbled streets, you’ll stumble across colourful political graffiti and quirky modern artworks that’ll have you reaching for the camera, time and again.
With warm, sunny weather, yet still the possibility of scoring a lounge chair on Kamari Beach, Santorini is one of the best places to visit in Greece in May. Spring covers the grassy hills in blooms throughout the perennially popular honeymoon destination. So, it’s a prime time for doing the 10-kilometre trek from Fira to Oia, ending your day at Oia Castle for what’s among the most famous sunsets in the world.
Temperatures of around 23°C are spot-on for exploring sights often overrun by tourists in the following summer months. See the remains of the ancient Minoan city, Akrotiri, that was buried under volcanic ash in 1613 BC. Explore the hidden laneways of Fira and hike the steep trail up to the Roman, Byzantine and Hellenistic ruins of ancient Thera. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a bite in between, the joy of feasting on local produce, seafood and wine among the breathtaking views here can’t be overstated.
LOFOTEN ISLANDS, NORWAY
Jagged mountains, postcard-perfect villages, incredible fjords and natural light that’s driven many an artist brush to otherworldly inspiration – Norway’s Lofoten Islands are indisputably among the most beautiful places to visit in Europe. In late May you can experience the midnight sun along with the power of freshly flowing waterfalls, just to add to the extraordinary adventure that awaits here.
The main islands are connected by bridges and a road that crosses the entire archipelago, so a scenic road trip is a great way to start your explorations. Choose your preferred outdoor activity, whether it’s hiking, fishing, scuba diving or even surfing. Yes, this wildly diverse landscape even offers stunning white-sand beaches and some of the best cold-water waves in the world.
The best places to visit in Northern Europe just wouldn’t be the same without delving into the Viking Age and the Lofotr Viking Museum in Borg boasts the largest Viking-era house ever found.
Flower Festivals in Europe in May
What else makes the best places to visit in Europe in May so spectacular? Flowers of course! This month sees a colourful array of flower festivals making the most of the fragrant spring season.
No less than 7 million flower bulbs explode in a riot of colour throughout Keukenhof, better known as the ‘Garden of Europe’. It’s open from late March to early May each year in the town of Lisse, a short drive from Amsterdam.
This is the month of the romantic rose in the world’s perfume capital. Grasse honours the flower with a festival each May, including rose-themed gifts, rose-flavoured food and cut roses decorating the already-atmospheric town.
Temps de Flors, Spain
Flower-power fills the medieval streets of Girona at this annual flower festival in May. Fun festivities join extravagant floral exhibits scattered across the town’s historic sights.
Chelsea Flower Show, UK
One of the most famous flowery festivals in the world, London’s prestigious Chelsea Flower Show features horticultural displays on the grounds of the Royal Hospital. This is the place to spot cutting-edge garden trends and the best works of some of the world’s top landscapers.
Chantilly Flower Show, France
Most recently held in the magnificent grounds of the Chateau de Chantilly, exhibitors, workshops and conferences showcase everything horticulture and floriculture at the spring edition festival in May each year. Chantilly is an easy drive or train ride from Paris.
Spend your time stopping to smell the roses, hike to the heights of majestic mountains or frolic at festivals. Whatever you choose to do, Spring serves up the holiday fun on a backdrop of gorgeous weather and seasonal joy in the most amazing places to visit in Europe in May.
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