The i-escape blog / Lucy Richardson

By Lucy Richardson, Editor

The savvy among you will want to make the most of the two precious bank holidays in May. This is my favourite month for travelling. Europe is hotting up, summer crowds and prices haven’t peaked, and many towns and cities are still cool enough to explore. Here’s our pick of the five best places to go in May.

1 Sicily, Italy

 Average May temperatures: Highs: 23C; Lows: 12C

Come May, Sicily’s season has swung into action, and you should easily find direct flights to Palermo or Catania. But this isn’t quite peak season here, so you have the added bonus of cheaper prices. Weather-wise, it’s ideal too: plenty of sunshine and warmth, but not the scorching temperatures of summer.

This is a lovely time of year to visit Sicily’s beaches, which shouldn’t be too crowded; try the stretches around Palermo or Trapani on the west coast, or Mazzaro near Taormina on the east coast. South of here, Vendicari Nature Reserve sees the spring migration, and you might catch flamingoes and other waders in the shallows. In the north, the Madonie and Nebrodi mountains have carpets of wild flowers, so it’s a pretty time for hiking or biking.

May is a lively month in Sicily, with squares, ancient theatres and gardens hosting regular concerts, shows and folklore events. There are all sorts of local festivals, like the Greek Theatre Festival in Siracusa, the World Festival on the Beach in Mondello (near Palermo), and Buongiorno Ceramica, when towns famous for ceramics host open artists’ studios and craft workshops. Be aware of International Workers Day on the 1st, when lots of businesses close, and Giro d’Italia, Italy’s version of the Tour de France, which lasts for three weeks in May and runs through various towns, making accommodation busy.

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2 Crete, Greece

 Average May temperatures: Highs: 25C; Lows: 14C

Crete is another island where May provides the perfect balance of temperatures (warm but not sweltering), crowds (it’s the first month of the proper holiday season) and value (hotel prices are, on average, 30% lower than July-August). Flights from European cities to both Heraklion and Chania are in full swing, restaurants and outdoor cafés are open, some beach bars and boat trips too.

For those exploring Crete’s rugged hinterland, the Samaria Gorge – and its neighbours in the White Mountains – typically re-open (after winter closures) during the first week in May; and you definitely don’t want to be traipsing through it in the full summer heat. Wild flowers are in abundance: on the first May weekend, Cretans head into the meadows to make May-Day wreaths and share picnic feasts. Rivers still flow with the last of the winter snowmelt; the highest summits still bear snowy caps.

In the second half of the month, you can watch – or even take part in – festivities commemorating the WW2 Battle of Crete, including athletic games, folk dancing, historical exhibitions, plays, concerts and Orthodox church services. The towns of Chania, Heraklion and Rethymno are the best spots for this. As you’d expect, some hotels (especially the smaller, family-friendly ones) fill up quickly for May half term dates, so book early.

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3 Croatia

 Average May temperatures: Highs: 20C; Lows: 10C

We don’t like crowds, so we’ll always tell you that the best time to visit Southern Europe is just before or just after peak season. In Croatia, you’ll get all the shoulder season benefits if you come in May. By this point, restaurants and shops are back in business, and the ferry lines will have restarted their summer schedules to the islands.

At the beginning of May, spring is still very much in the air, so the landscape is in bloom. This is a great time for hiking in inland Istria’s green hills, or whitewater rafting down the Cetina river in southern Croatia, which will be gushing following the winter rains. Later in the month, it starts feeling like summer, and the long days will bring almost 15 hours of daylight. This is the perfect time for sailing and island-hopping in Dalmatia, with seas calmer, and marinas not yet crowded with tourists. Just brace yourself when diving in – sea temperatures are on the chilly side in May, averaging 18C.

Because it’s not yet scorching, May is great for exploring Croatia’s towns and ancient history. There are lots of Unesco World Heritage Sites to see, like Stari Grad Plain on the island of Hvar, and the Old City of Dubrovnik, where daily highs reach around 22C. And if you like a party, the country’s busy schedule of music festivals swings into action, with Spring Break Island on Pag, Sea Star Festival in Umag, and the Lighthouse Festival in Porec all taking place in May.

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4 Barcelona

 Average May temperatures: Highs: 23C; Lows: 16C

If you want to strike the perfect balance between comfortable walking temperatures and ideal beach-bathing weather, May is a fab time to visit Barcelona. The city’s streets are full of life, with everyone out dining on tapas in the buzzy squares. Over on the beach, the xiringuito bars have opened for the summer. Delicacies to try in May are stewed fava beans and grilled calcots (a type of green onion), which are both in season.

The city’s green spaces look leafy and lush at this time of year, so it’s a pretty month for seeing Parc Guell, the Botanical Garden or Ciutadella Park. You could do a cycling tour around Gaudi’s sights, or just have a leisurely stroll down Las Ramblas, the tree-lined boulevard in the heart of the city. And if the rains do come, which they might in May, pop into a museum or gallery. The Night of the Museums takes place this month, when nearly all museums are open and free to the public, and there are special exhibitions, too.

The best thing about May in Barcelona is the jam-packed line-up of music and cultural events. The most famous of these is Primavera Sound, which is usually at the end of the month (expect prices to rise around this time), but there are lots of smaller concerts are arts events taking place across the city. If you fancy a day trip, catch the train to Girona for the Temps de Flor (flower season), when the city is dressed in spectacular floral displays.

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5 Bali, Indonesia

 Average May temperatures: Highs: 29C; Lows: 23C

In May, Bali’s dry season begins, as the rain gives way to bright sunshine and a (slightly) dryer heat. It’s Bali’s hottest month, averaging 29C, but temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year here owing to Bali’s location within the Tropics. High season hasn’t yet begun, so you might find some good savings on hotels.

The warm, dry weather makes beach conditions ideal, and the sea temperatures are as balmy as the air. Head south to the idyllic surf beaches around Seminyak, or go snorkelling off the laid-back Gili islands – green turtle hatching season will have begun, so keep an eye out for babies scurrying to the shore. Bali’s lush vegetation looks gloriously green in May, and lotus flowers are a riot of colour following the rains. This is also the best time for seeing waterfalls, the rivers bursting as they plunge into valleys.

If you can, time your trip to coincide with Vesak Day, which occurs on the first full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha – usually in May or early June. This holy day celebrates the birth of Buddha, with rituals and festivities taking place across Bali’s many temples – quite the spectacle. And if cultural events are your jam, you’ll want to visit Ubud, which in May hosts the Bali Spirit Festival, a five-day celebration of yoga, music and wellness, as well as the Ubud Food Festival at the end of the month.

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Keen to go away sooner? Have a look at our top picks for where to go on holiday in April