The Best Places to Travel in May
By the time May arrives, we know summer is around the corner with all that means to us — school vacation, travel, warmer weather, wardrobe change, longer days. Of course, any time is right for a trip, whether it’s a weekend getaway for a change of scenery or a longer journey to a new place, but May travel has some extra advantages. Travelers can enjoy pleasant weather while staying a few steps ahead of summer crowds that start to grow in June.
Flowers play a key role in May, whether in Savannah’s colorfully landscaped parks and squares or Portland’s Rose Festival that celebrates the blooming of the flower that gave it the nickname “City of Roses.” Carlsbad’s “Flower Fields” attract thousands of visitors to a spectacular display of colorful ranunculus blooms, and in Jackson, Wyoming, it’s wildflowers that create the rainbow of vibrant hues. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London is one of the world’s most popular festivals recognizing the beauty and importance of flowers, gardens, and nature.
Related: The Best Places to Travel in April
A small town in South Carolina that devotes itself to recognition of artists each year would be a different type of trip for art lovers who enjoy learning about new places. Stockholm’s weather has warmed a bit, so visitors can enjoy their outdoor museum and art-filled subway stations. Travelers seeking excitement and lively crowds might want to head for Monaco during May’s Grand Prix or to Cannes for the Film Festival. A lower-key perhaps and closer to home festival of a different style would be Old West Days in Jackson. Tampa’s Riverfest also promises traditional fun and lots to see, especially for first time visitors.
For an exciting getaway for anyone who’s interested in exploring African wildlife, we suggest Botswana, just moving into its winter dry season in May. Lodging options abound, with many opportunities to get safely close to elephants, antelopes, and more while also getting to know one of the continent’s most stable countries. Finally, Flagstaff, Arizona, is enjoying its warming weather and role in the Apollo 11 moon landing of 50 years ago with special events and celebrations all year.
Spring sees mild temperatures, ideal for strolling through Savannah’s streets and stopping at one of the many squares that make the city unique and inviting. More than 20 squares were part of the original city, which was designed in a grid pattern. Each square offers benches, monuments, moss-draped live oaks, and in spring, colorful flowers. Chippewa Square was the setting in "Forrest Gump" for his familiar park bench scene. Monterey Square plays a role in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," a semi-fictional book set in Savannah. Bonaventure Cemetery, a few miles out of town, is another fascinating location that was mentioned in the bestselling book and film. One of the favorite places to stop and admire the landscape is Forsyth Park with its famous fountain. Its water is dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day, a lavishly celebrated holiday in Savannah. Stroll down River Street for restaurants, bars, and shops as well as a view of historic buildings. Prominent Savannah citizens included Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girls Scouts, and Johnny Mercer, composer of popular music. The Savannah College of Art and Design is a notable presence in Savannah with a café, museum, gallery, and retail shops featuring art, jewelry, and accessories. The stylish new Perry Lane Hotel offers comfort, luxury, a rooftop pool, and Peregrin, its open air cocktail lounge with panoramic views of the city.
Spring comes to Jackson with wildflowers, re-opening of roads to national parks, animals awakening from hibernation, and several favorite local events highlighting the town’s Western heritage. It’s a great time to visit — before summer crowds arrive and when off-season rates make for budget-friendly vacations. Elkfest, on May 18-19, is a weekend of activities that include the Jackson Hole Boy Scout Elk Antler Auction, a chili cookoff, and ecological awareness. A little background: Thousands of elks shed their antlers before their summer migration. Boy Scouts help harvest the antlers and auction them to be made into furniture, wall decorations, jewelry, and food products with proceeds supporting the National Elk Refuge and habitat improvements. Then more festivities with Old West Days May 23-27, featuring a parade, stage coach rides, brewfest, and opening of the Jackson Hole Rodeo. Continue the western theme with a stay at the Hotel Terra Jackson Hole or the Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, where guests can experience special safaris along with in-house naturalist Kurt Johnson of Wild Things of Wyoming. Their May safari, “Predators of Yellowstone,” (May 15-19) focuses on bears, wolves, and the animals they prey on. Other wildlife tours, including visits to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, are available.
Set on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa is home to Busch Gardens, historic Ybor City, museums, live theater, boating, fishing, water sports, and golf. Mild temperatures in the 70s to low 80s make May an ideal time to visit Tampa. Its historic Ybor City neighborhood, considered Florida’s first industrial town, was founded in 1886 for cigar production, making it the center of that industry and eventually “Cigar Capital of the World.” Today, Ybor City houses a museum dedicated to its history, and it’s a popular dining, shopping, and nightlife destination. The growing sports-minded city has three professional teams, including Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays whose 2019 season will be well underway in May with games at Tropicana Field. Tampa will host the 2019 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Tournament to be held in Amalie Arena in early April. Marriott International, a supporter of collegiate sports including this tournament, recently renovated the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, located on the 2.6-mile Riverwalk. On May 3-4, the 5th annual Tampa Riverfest will be held along the Riverwalk with concerts, Wiener Dog Derby, Tampa Bay Pride Band Performance, Gasparilla Stand-up Paddle Board Invasion, Taco Fest, and other entertaining events.
If the idea of taking a coffee and cake break with friends at least once a day sounds good to you, you might enjoy visiting Sweden, where “fika” (pronounced fee-ka) is almost a required ritual. More than just a coffee break, fika is part of the socializing culture you’ll find when you travel to this Scandinavian country. You’ll also find public art in the Stockholm Metro subway stations, with displays of mosaics, paintings, sculptures, and installations. Weather will most likely be in the 50s, so have warm clothing because you’ll want to explore Skansen, the world’s oldest outdoor museum. It’s a perfect starting point to learn about Sweden’s history, traditions, and holidays. There’s a zoo, aquarium, gardens, restaurants, taverns, and bakeries. Be sure to visit Gamla Stan (old town), dating to the 1200s, and enjoy boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and the medieval atmosphere of its winding streets. The baroque Royal Palace is the home of Sweden’s king and queen as well as a museum. Be sure to check the schedule for the impressive changing of the Royal Guards. The Vasa Museum is home to a Swedish battleship that sunk in 1628 on its maiden voyage. It was recovered in 1961 and is on display along with thousands of incredibly preserved artefacts. If you’re in Sweden on April 30 and May 1, you’ll get to experience the celebrations of Walpurgis Night and May Day, double holidays that involve bonfires, music, parades, and festivities.
The month begins with three days of celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Tom McCall Waterfront Park with food, drinks, mariachis, concerts, and a tequila tasting. The Portland Rose Festival honors the blooms that appear throughout the city in spring, beginning with fireworks on May 24. Festivities continue over three weekends (May 24-27, May 31-June 2, and June 7-9) with concerts, a scavenger hunt, carnival-style entertainment, and Fleet Week on the final weekend. Between festivals, there’s time to enjoy all the city has to offer, whether your preference is outdoor or indoor activities. Forest Park, with more than 5,000 acres of urban wilderness is the place for hiking, biking, birdwatching, and even horseback riding. Waterfront Park, along the Willamette River downtown, has paths for running, skating, and enjoying the views. After a day of touring Portland, a perfect place to relax indoors and enjoy more city views is Knot Springs, an urban spa with everything from treatments to hot water to soak in. Learn about Portland’s history by touring Pittock Mansion, once home to one of the city’s most influential families. The 1914 home is a fascinating museum with the bonus of spectacular views of Portland, the Willamette River, and Cascade Mountains from its hilltop location. Two historic buildings were united to create the newly opened Woodlark, a unique hotel with a bar named for one of Portland’s earliest suffragettes, Abigail Hall.
Lake City, South Carolina
If you enjoy small towns and wandering off the beaten path in your travels, you might want to visit this town of fewer than 7,000 residents. About 60 miles west of Myrtle Beach in Florence County, Lake City comes alive with art once a year during ArtFields, one of the largest art competitions in the South. The entire town becomes an art gallery housing about 400 works of art by Southern artists. Visitors stroll through the displays along streets and in local businesses admiring and voting for their favorite works. In addition to the competition, with $140,000 available in prize money, there are demonstrations, lectures, and outdoor events. Held this year from April 26-May 4, it’s a chance to explore a small town, uniquely committed to art all year long, even when the annual competition has ended. While you’re there, visit Moore Farms Botanical Gardens, a 65-acre garden displaying native plants and during ArtFields showcasing large sculptures. Lake City was home to NASA astronaut Dr. Ronald E. McNair who was killed in the 1986 Challenger explosion, and the town created a museum and memorial to honor his life and sacrifice. The Browntown Museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, shows what life was like in the past, with a corn crib, cotton gin, an outhouse, and a smokehouse.
Monaco and Cannes, French Riviera
The tiny country of Monaco on the Mediterranean coast’s French Riviera has earned a reputation as a favorite destination for the rich and famous, and its luxury hotels, yachts, boutiques, and restaurants are testaments to the exclusive tastes of many of its visitors. This year, the Monaco Grand Prix will be held from May 23-26, with Formula One cars racing through the narrow twisting streets of Monte Carlo around Monaco’s harbor. The Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo offers views of the auto race and an opportunity to “drive the course” behind the wheel of an F1 racecar at the Circuit du Luc track in Provence. The opulent Casino de Monte-Carlo is a must-see even if you don’t plan to play French Roulette, Baccarat, or Black Jack. Prince Rainier III, who married American actress Grace Kelly, commissioned a Japanese garden open for visitors to see its pond, islands, waterfall, lanterns, bridges, tea house, and Zen garden. Browse the designer shops and over-the-top décor at the Metropole Shopping Mall. If you have the luxury of an extended stay on the French Riviera, consider a side trip to Cannes, about an hour away. This year’s Cannes Film Festival will take place from May 14-25, with Hollywood stars and upcoming films. A room at the Hotel Barriere Le Majestic would put you in the middle of the action for both relaxing on the beach and celebrity spotting.
Convenient to both San Diego International Airport and John Wayne Orange County Airport, Carlsbad is a picturesque beach town, with mild weather in May and lots to do. Both Legoland and Sea Life Aquarium will appeal to younger travelers, and there’s something for everyone. Each spring, the Flower Fields, a 50-acre hillside covered with colorful ranunculus through May, attracts admirers, photographers, weddings, and other events. Visitors can tour the orchid greenhouse, picnic, or take tractor-driven wagon rides. Ocean beaches include Tamarack State Beach, with picnic areas, lifeguards, and a path along the Carlsbad Seawall ideal for strolling, biking, or skating. South Carlsbad Beach offers campgrounds along the beach. South Ponto Beach is known for surfing, and it’s perfect for families with facilities that include restrooms and showers. A destination for craft beer lovers, at least nine breweries welcome visitors for a taste. The Museum of Making Music is a fun way to learn about the history of music, instruments, and more. For a luxury stay in Carlsbad, the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort offers an elegant spa, popular golf course, and Vera Via, an immersive wellness program presented in a boutique hotel environment.
Just 80 miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at an elevation of 7,000 feet surrounded by the world’s largest Ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff’s May weather in the high 60s makes it perfect for outdoor exploring. A light jacket or down vest, and you’re good to go. The historic downtown was a stop along Route 66, and this year Flagstaff figures prominently in two major milestones – the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the 100th anniversary of Grand Canyon National Park. The 12 astronauts who walked on the moon in 1969 prepared for their epic journey in the Flagstaff area, at the USGS Flagstaff Science Campus, Lowell Observatory, and at Sunset Crater, where a simulated lunar surface was created. Commemorative events will be happening all this year, ideal for learning about the historic event that took place before most visitors were even born. Get to know Flagstaff’s history on a downtown walking tour starting at the Visitor Center located in the old train station. The Museum of Northern Arizona is the place to explore the area’s cultural background with artifacts of the Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, and Hispanic early residents. Flagstaff is the ideal home base for a day trip to Sedona, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and only 32 miles to Williams where you can catch the Grand Canyon Railway to the South Rim.
Mild weather, parks and gardens bursting into bloom, and smaller crowds during what is still considered shoulder season make May an excellent time to visit London. The Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard is back to a daily schedule, and days are getting longer. Museums at Night from May 15-18 will feature new exhibitions, tours, live music, and special events. Photo London at Somerset House will bring a world class photography exhibition to London from May 16-19 showcasing both masters and newcomers of the art. The annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show, one of the most famous in the world, will take place from May 21-25 on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in Chelsea, London. Members of the British Royal Family attend, and this year, Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, worked with landscape architects to design a garden highlighting the benefits of nature and the outdoors. Each May (this year’s dates not confirmed), the State Opening of Parliament features a traditional procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster led by the Queen in a century-old ceremony. The Stafford London in historic St. James will feature a new menu at The Game Bird, and their American Bar will offer an updated cocktail menu inspired by U.S. historical figures. Be one of the first to experience the newly renovated elegant Mandarin Oriental Hotel, with its nature-inspired décor by renowned designer Joyce Wang.
Located in the central area of the southern part of the continent, Botswana is landlocked and nearly 400 miles from the nearest coast. May begins the country’s dry season, with warm days and cool nights, most amendable to visitors. A stable, independent nation since 1966, Botswana has natural wealth and commitment to its environment and wildlife, setting aside about 40 percent of the country for wildlife. The Okavango Delta, a “wetland” within a flat desert, is home to African elephants as well as abundant wildlife and flora. It includes water channels and lagoons originating from the floodwaters of Angola. The surrounding Kalahari Desert includes the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in Africa and home to the Bushman people. In northern Botswana, the Linyanti area is known for the Savute Channel, famous for wildlife, especially elephants during the dry season. Chobe National Park, with herds of elephants, hundreds of bird species, antelopes, and predators offers an extensive range of lodging from camping to luxury lodges. Visitors generally arrive in Botswana by airline connections in Johannesburg, South Africa with flights to Maun, Gaborone, or Kasane.
Some travelers book their own lodging and local tours, while others prefer to be part of an organized safari with all arrangements made for them. Wilderness Safaris offers a range of Botswana experiences. Audley Travel also makes travel to Botswana easy and comfortable with experienced guides and safari options.