Where to go on holiday in May
By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer
Foreign holidays are likely to get the go-ahead from 17 May – and it’s a wonderful time to travel. You’ll find dazzling sunshine in many of the most popular destinations along with mouth-watering bargains.
In the Mediterranean, May marks the beginning of the summer season. In 2021, after a cold miserable winter, the welcome is likely to particularly warm. Many countries are desperate for the return of British tourists.
May is also a great month to fly long haul. Prices in the Caribbean plummet after the Easter holidays, yet the weather is excellent. The UK will also be popular, though not cheap this year.
These are my own personal recommendations with links to companies tested and approved by our team of editors. For details of booking and cancellation policies, click on the links below. Also see the best family holidays in May half term and solo holidays in May.
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Mediterranean beach holidays in May
The welcome in May is unusually warm – it’s too early in the season for waiters and taxi drivers to start feeling jaded, and everyone in resort is pleased to see the start of a new tourist season. The weather will be amazing, the sea is warming up and the countryside carpeted with spring flowers. Best of all, prices are low so you can pick up some cheap holidays in May.
Where should you go? In the Med, almost anywhere. In Spain, I recommend the unspoilt beaches of the Costa de la Luz and the coastline of Catalonia. On the island of Mallorca you’ll find some first-class villas. See my guide to the best destinations in Spain.
Greece is magical for May holidays. Head to the quiet island of Paxos to chill out, or explore fascinating Crete where you’ll find stylish houses to rent and the contemporary five-star Daios Cove hotel.
We love the three spectacular resorts of MarBella Collection in mainland Greece and on the island of Corfu. If you want an upmarket all-inclusive, try the excellent IKOS Olivia and IKOS Oceania. See more inspiring holiday ideas in Greece.
I love the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia, home to two of the Med’s finest hotels, Forte Village Resort in Sardinia and the Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily. On mainland Italy I recommend the scenic Amalfi Coast and the unspoilt region of Puglia in the “heel” of Italy. See my guide to Italy holiday ideas.
The Aegean coast of Turkey has some beautiful boutique hotels and villas with private pools. In Greece, you can indulge your love of water sports at Mark Warner’s new Paleros Beach Resort, where all activities – including water skiing – are in the price.
Portugal is also good value. You can explore by car, staying in historic pousada hotels with prices from just £445 including flights and car hire.
It’s a good time of year to pick up a deal on one of these luxury villas in Tuscany (see the latest special offers). Another classic destination for May – although not in the Med – is the Italian Lakes. It’s perfect for boat trips, walks along the shores and al fresco lunches.
If you want to soak up some Italian culture – as well as some wonderful food and wine – try this two-week Grand Tour of Italy.
Long haul beaches and adventures
Low season rates in the Caribbean mean that previously unaffordable destinations become genuine bargains. You can find upmarket and mid-market hotels in Barbados (see the latest special offers). I have a soft spot for the beautiful beaches of the Cayman Islands.
A nice alternative to staying in a hotel is to rent a fully-staffed luxury Caribbean villa with CV Villas. If you travel with friends the price is surprisingly affordable. See my pick of the best Caribbean holidays and details on weather in the Caribbean in May.
Many people mistakenly believe that Bermuda is in the Caribbean. It’s actually in the Atlantic and gets rather chilly in winter but by May the weather is superb and you can enjoy pink sand beaches, immaculate gardens and golf courses and hotels such as Cambridge Beaches and the budget-friendly Grotto Bay Resort.
May is a perfect time to be in Costa Rica as the weather is good, but you’re paying low season prices. It offers an exciting combination of jungle, beach, volcanoes, cloud forest, hiking trails and rafting rivers. British Airways flies direct from the UK and you’ll find great value tours such as this 12-day Costa Rica Highlights tour.
In Africa this is an excellent time for a safari in Botswana or a gorilla tracking safari in Rwanda. There isn’t a wildlife spotter who doesn’t yearn to visit Madagascar – check out this 15-day Classic Madagascar Overland private tour which also includes time on a pristine powder-white beach.
Head to Ethiopia for ancient rock-carved churches, spectacular religious festivals and dramatic mountain treks.
May is a good month to visit Japan. Temperatures in the capital Tokyo are mild, the gardens are in full bloom and the mountains are green. The Kenrokuen gardens in Kanazawa are considered amongst the most beautiful in Japan. Find more holiday ideas in Japan.
Russia is the world’s largest country and a trove of art treasures, as well as fascinating history and rich culture. Try this eight-day Classic Russia tour or set off on a river cruise or classic rail journey.
UK holiday ideas in May
Long days of sunshine and warm temperatures can make the UK one of the best holiday destinations in May. Cornwall enjoys some of the best weather in the country – stay in one of these charming cottages. You’ll also find some stunning houses to rent in the Cotswolds and the Lake District and the Peak District National Park.
If you love walking, check out good-value Hassness Country House in the Lake District. If you like the idea of camping but want a touch of comfort, head to Perran Springs Holiday Park on the north coast of Cornwall. It has log-built glamping pods and a spectacular sandy beach on the doorstep.
A boating holiday.on a river cruiser or narrowboat is great value and a relaxing way to explore the British countryside. Options include the Norfolk Broads where you can explore 250 miles of waterways, motoring gently through reed marshes, meadows and woodland. There are plenty of riverside pubs and restaurants where you can moor up.
Nearby, in the charming market town of Bishops Castle, the Castle Hotel offers gastro food, modern rooms and easy access to picturesque walking routes.
Something more highbrow? Join a tour of the Great Houses of England or choose from a wide selection of small-group cultural tours of the UK led by an expert in the field of art, music or architecture.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay with a large group of family or friends, you can rent a large house. I recommend The Big Domain which has a great collection of properties in the UK and abroad that all sleep 12 or more.
There’s a wonderful collection of short breaks in Scotland including a steam train journey on the West Highland Line and self-drive tours in classic cars. You can take a whisky tour of Islay or spot Minke Whales on Mull.
It’s easy to reach Jersey with its fascinating historical sites, hidden coves and buzzing restaurant scene. Fly from more than 30 airports across the UK and stay at the Pomme d’Or Hotel in St Helier, or the relaxing Greenhills Country House Hotel.
Activity holidays in May
With the heat of the summer yet to descend, May is a great month for an activity holiday – whether you want to push your body to its limits or just enjoy some leisurely exercise in beautiful surroundings.
Northern Spain offers rolling hills, empty beaches and dramatic mountains – great for hiking, biking and white-water rafting. It’s very good value and the food is excellent. Find out more from Vintage Travel. Or discover the heartland of Spain on a self-drive tour of the non-touristy region of Extremadura.
Martin Randall specialises in expert-led cultural tours in some of Europe’s most fascinating destinations. Travelling in a small group, each of its tours is themed around art, architecture, gastronomy, music or history. See the website for details.
If you crave adventure, how about Star Clippers which runs tall ship cruises on traditional masted sailing boats. Peter Sommer Travels runs gulet cruises in Croatia, Greece, Italy and Turkey accompanied by an expert guide to show you around the cultural sites.
Indulge your mind and body at a luxury spa retreat in the South of France or Andalucia. If you want to stretch yourself, how about a fitness holiday in the Italian Dolomites or a dedicated yoga holiday with healthy food and expert teachers in a choice of beautiful destinations including Crete and Italy.
It’s also a great time to visit the Azores with warm weather suited to walking and cycling. You’ll find incredible volcanic landscapes, along with some of the world’s best whale and dolphin watching – there are direct flights from the UK.
Head to Norway in May as midsummer approaches and you’ll see some of the world’s most spectacular wonders bathed in long hours of sunshine. Take an independent tour of fjords, lakes and mountains or a coastal voyage on a ship used by local people. You can spot whales in the Lofoten Islands, visit the Land of the Midnight Sun or ride on Europe’s highest railway between Oslo and Bergen on this four-night Roof Across Norway break.
Iceland is one of the world’s most ruggedly beautiful countries – with mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and geysers. Check out these group tours and independent fly-drive holidays. View the latest special offers.
May is a perfect time to head to Eastern Europe for a city break. I personally love the historic capitals of Prague and Budapest. Or paint the town red in Lisbon, Barcelona or Madrid, where you’ll find art galleries, pavement cafes, tapas bars and grand architecture. And of course, Paris is perfect at this time – the end of May sees the start of the French Open at Roland Garros.
Love food? In Northern France, I recommend these gastronomic breaks in small friendly hotels just across the Channel.
America holidays in May
Spring is the perfect time to visit New York. You can expect fabulous sunny weather on a fly-drive in New England or, for a really stylish entrance, how about arriving in the Big Apple on a transatlantic cruise.
The natural beauty of Alaska will blow your mind – it’s home to eight National Parks, half the world’s glaciers and the second biggest rainforest after the Amazon. You could join an escorted group tour or opt for a self-drive adventure. Between April and September you can join an expedition cruise through the Inside Passage, a magical voyage.
When are the May bank holidays in 2021?
The May Bank Holidays in 2021 are: Monday 3 May and Monday 31 May (Spring Bank Holiday).
Last updated: 8 March 2021
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