Combining shoulder-season prices with decent weather in many parts of the world, May offers a lot to travelers. So whether you’re seeking wildlife encounters, cultural happenings, an intrepid journey or a destination that won’t break the bank, there’ll be something in this month’s round-up sure to rouse your wanderlust.
Here are the best places to go in May, for any travel style.
Where are the best places to travel in May for relaxation?
Ruins in Samothraki; beaches in Barbados © Shutterstock / Eduard Constantin; Getty Images/Flickr RF
Why now? To see an underexplored part of Greece.
Lurking out in the northeast Aegean, Samothraki (Samothrace) also lurks off most international tourists’ radars – and is all the more alluring for it (though it’s popular among Greeks, so avoid July and August). The island is home to forests, streams and waterfalls – especially lush and full-flowing in spring – and Mt Fengári, the highest peak in the region, atop which it’s said Poseidon sat to watch the Trojan War. This makes it a natural-adventure playground, great for hiking, rafting and canyoning, as well as a place to chill (the best beaches are at Pachia Ammos, Vatis and Kipos). If the sea still feels chilly in May, go to Thermá, to dip in the village’s warm natural mineral springs.
Why now? Sun’s out, surf’s up.
Barbados is your grade-A tropical paradise, prime for beach lazing, sun-soaking and enjoying the sea breeze. But it’s also one of the best islands in the Caribbean for surfing, especially on its Atlantic-facing south and east coasts. Conditions are usually good and consistent from November right through to June; the advantage of May is that, while there might be a little more rain than in the preceding months, it’s still super sunny, and prices are lower, too. Top spots for catching waves include Freights Bay (good for beginners), South Point and Soup Bowl, a world-class wave near laid-back Bathsheba that has hosted international competitions. Brandons, a glorious beach near the capital Bridgetown, is also popular.
Where are the best places to travel to in May for wildlife and nature?
Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains; icebergs in Newfoundland; greenery in Damaraland © LL28 / Getty Images; jimfeng / Getty Images; Anastasiia Shavshyna/Getty Images
Great Smoky Mountains, USA
Why now? Glimpse a dazzling natural display, before the crowds arrive.
The Smokies are truly on fire this month. This spectacular subrange of the Appalachian chain, on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is home to huge numbers of Photinus carolinus (synchronous fireflies) and May to June is typically when they put on their magical en-masse mating display: a forest full of males flashing in unison. This natural wonder is the icing on the cake of a springtime road trip through the mountains. The USA’s most popular national park is quieter at this time. Take scenic drives via its misty ridges, hike wildflower-flush trails, look out for the diverse wildlife – from groundhogs and chipmunks to salamanders and black bears – and soak up the strong Southern Appalachian culture: log cabins, mills and churches built by early settlers have been preserved here.
Why now? To watch icebergs float through the Atlantic.
They call the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador “Iceberg Alley.” In spring, great hunks of Arctic ice – mostly cast-offs from the glaciers of western Greenland – float down the Atlantic coast past Canada’s easternmost province. They usually arrive in April and May, peaking from mid-May to June. You can stand onshore and watch these white titans drift by or board a boat for a closer look. Good spots include St Anthony, Twillingate, Bonavista and St John’s/Cape Spear. Seabirds also start to show up in May, while by the end of the month the first whales appear.
Why now? To see local wildlife on warm days in green wilderness.
Even in a country as sparse as Namibia – the second-least-populated place on earth – Damaraland stands out as especially empty. Sprawling across north-central Namibia, it’s a wilderness of craggy mountains, dry riverbeds and desert-adapted animals, including elephants, rhinos and lions. May, when days are warm and dry and the landscape is still tinged green, is a great time to seek out these species as they gather around waterholes. Better still, the country is a pioneer in community-driven ecotourism, with large areas run as communal conservancies that empower local people.
Where are the best places to travel to in May for adventure?
The beauty of Uzbekistan; kayaking the fjords of Norway © Getty Images; Johner Images / Getty Images
Why now? see the Silk Road showstopper in fine weather.
Caravansaries. The Silk Road. Spices. There’s something undeniably romantic about travel here, which has been the cultural heart of Central Asia for millennia. This is especially true of Uzbekistan’s trio of historic cities – Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva – which glitter with mosaic-tiled mausoleums, mosques and medressas (religious schools) that still speak of ancient times. Bukhara’s Silk and Spices Festival (late May) seeks to celebrate that legacy, showcasing the carpet weavers, wood carvers, musicians and artists still practicing traditional skills. Indeed, May is the perfect month to visit. Temperatures in the mid-70s°F (mid-20s°C) make for comfortable sightseeing, while tulips and apricot blossoms enliven the landscapes.
Why now? Sail to the fjords in sunshine on the west coast.
Hurtigruten ferries ply Norway’s 1491-mile (2400 km) west coast, from southerly Bergen to Arctic Kirkenes year-round. They are a lifeline for people living along this wild, fjord-serrated seaboard – so they must depart, whatever the weather. That said, May to June is a good time to visit. The weather is generally mild and days are extraordinarily long. By mid-May, the sun doesn’t set at all in far-north Tromsø – which means you can watch the jaw-dropping scenery glide by all night long. Better weather and more light make it easier to hop off for activities, too. There are 34 ports of call; disembark to fish in the Lofoten Islands, meet Sami people at North Cape or hike near Geirangerfjord. Note that May is a month of festivals in pretty Bergen, so allow extra time here before you sail.
Where are the best places to travel to in May for culture?
Historic sites in Belize; the music scene in Memphis © Simon Dannhauer / Getty Images; Shutterstock
Why now? Encounter marine giants and Maya monuments in dry weather.
Diminutive Belize packs a big punch. Only about 180 miles (290km) long, and with English as the official language, it’s a cinch to hop between its ancient Maya ruins, wildlife-rich tropical forests, living Maya communities and the cays and atolls of the world’s second-longest barrier reef, offering gorgeous beaches and fabulous snorkeling. May’s a sweet spot for weather and wildlife, when the sun shines, whale sharks cruise near Gladden Spit, and nesting green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles lumber onto beaches on Glover’s Reef and Ambergris Caye. In the north, explore relatively little-visited temples at jungle-set sites such as Xunantunich and Lamanai; today, the descendants of the ancient Maya who built these monuments live in villages around Toledo, where they welcome visitors to immersive homestays.
Why now? Music, grilled meat and Mississippi sunsets – without the mosquitos.
Memphis is less like a city, and more like a religion. People come to pay homage in the spiritual home of the blues, rock’n’roll, Elvis Presley and Memphis-style barbecue. In short, it’s a feast for ears, bellies and souls. Spring sees the Tennessee city at its tastiest: good weather, before summer’s sticky, buggy heat; plus the Memphis in May festival, incorporating the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the Great American River Run and more. There are sites aplenty: take a tour of legendary Sun Studio; visit the National Civil Rights Museum (partially housed inside the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr was shot in 1968); and, of course, make a pilgrimage to Graceland, Elvis’ uber-kitsch home.
Where are the best places to travel to in May for food and drink?
Paparajotes in Murcia; satay skewers in Ubud © Yulia Bogdanova / Getty Images; John Laurie / Lonely Planet
Why now? To eat really well.
There isn’t really a bad time to visit Spain’s Costa Cálida (the “Warm Coast”). But balmy, sunny May, with average highs of around 25°C (77°F), is a good time to get a real flavor of the place before summer crowds arrive. And the flavors are exceptional: surrounded by hills, vineyards, olive groves, fertile gardens and rich seas, the region is renowned for its quality meats, fruit, vegetables and fish. Regional specialities to look out for include caldero del mar menor, a cauldron-cooked rice stew traditionally made by fishermen from catch too small to sell; and paparajotes, battered and fried lemon leaves. Tapas trails can be followed in both the regional capital Murcia and the historic port of Cartagena.
Why now? Eat your way into the local culture.
Bali in May? Delicious. Dry, hot and sunny days, peak season crowds yet to descend and – as always – a relaxed vibe. Nowhere is the latter more true than in Ubud, the artsy, hippie highlands town with a good line of galleries and museums, ancient temples and a thriving food scene. Ubud, which is surrounded by lush forests, paddy fields and leafy plantations, has several world-class restaurants and fancy cocktail lounges as well as low-key food stalls and cafes serving Balinese specialities – gado gado salad, satay, injin porridge, babi guling (suckling pig) and more. It’s a great place to take a cooking course.
Looking to plan further ahead? Here are the best places to travel every month of the year.