May we help you with May? This month might be the most optimistic in the calendar. You can see summer on the horizon, layers are getting thinner and we’re all absolutely certain that we can get in shape by July.
It’s also a great time to indulge in some solo travel. Not only are you avoiding the school holidays, you’re heading off when a lot of places around the world are at their very best. Here’s our pick of the best places to go in May for a solo holiday.
San Francisco, USA
Average temperature: 15°C/59°F
Cultural attraction: the NBA play-offs (the Golden State Warriors are reigning champs)
There probably isn’t a bad time to visit San Francisco, but there are definitely better times and May is one of them. Longer and warmer (but, crucially, not too warm) days are perfect for exploring one of the USA’s most culturally significant cities.
Its famous hills will be kissed by spring sunshine and San Francisco Bay will look glorious, whether you choose to explore it by boat (adding in a trip to Alcatraz, if you like) or look at it as you cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can walk through the history of the place: the world’s most famous Chinatown, the heart of the hippy movement in Haight-Ashbury, the home of the LGBTQ rights movement in Castro, all the way to the 21st-century influx of Silicon Valley tech money.
Arenal, Costa Rica
Average temperature: 24°C/76°F
Cultural attraction: Thermal baths
Costa Rica isn’t somewhere you go for a city break. It’s all about nature in this beautiful Central American country that’s blessed with coasts along both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
But it’s the middle of the country that is arguably the most spectacular part, with the Arenal volcano and its surrounding rainforest. May is theoretically on the cusp of the dry and rainy seasons (Costa Rica can be both at any time of year). So, theoretically dry enough not to have your trip washed out, rainy enough to experience the forest at its luscious best with a hearty hike (pack-a-mac in your bag, obviously).
You should also take a guided walk around the hanging bridges of Mistico park so that get you up close and personal with some spectacular wildlife. The evenings can be spent in the small town of La Fortuna or relaxing with a cocktail in one of the many private hot springs.
Average temperature: 14°C/57°F
Cultural attraction: May day festivals
If your diet of England has mostly been costume dramas or detective shows where people in quaint little villages murder each other in imaginatively gruesome ways, then the Cotswolds will live up to all your expectations (apart from the murders – they are very rare).
In May, you’ll be visiting when the English countryside is at its finest, as spring blooms, newborn animals bless the fields and the nation is generally in a much better mood.
Set to the west of London it is an area of exceeding charm, both natural and manmade. Chocolate box villages, bendy old pubs, rolling hills and curious characters are scattered everywhere, while the glorious Roman city of Bath offers up some bricks and mortar (and history) if you need a break from the countryside. Seek out a May Day festival for maypole dances and Morris dancers.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Average temperature: 21°C/69°F
Cultural attraction: Go on safari
It’s delightful to see Zimbabwe at the top of just about every ‘next big travel destination’ list. An absolutely glorious country full of wonderful people, its political instability (and the ensuing drop in confidence by airlines) has robbed travellers of one of the best places to visit in the world, let alone Africa.
Its climate is pretty much perfect all year round, but May sees the start of the peak safari season. The wildlife here is a little bigger than in the Cotswolds, even Costa Rica – you can see everything from rhinos to lions to ants (even they’re bigger). All the Big Five, in fact,
Add to this Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall (if you combine height and width) and you have the ultimate destination for people who want to spend all day outdoors, soaking up natural beauty.
Average temperature: 22°C/71°F
Cultural attraction: the Hiroshima Flower Festival
The start of May sees the Golden Week holiday in Japan: a period (of a week, obviously) during which the whole nation celebrates a number of special days, from Showa Day (the late Emperor Hirohito’s birthday) on 29 April to Children’s Day on 5 May. The celebrations and festivals, however, tend to go on a lot longer. Why not?
It’s just after the cherry blossom season but it’s still a wonderful time to visit for fabulous flora. This is why the Hiroshima Flower Festival takes place in Golden Week every year, attracting more than a million visitors.
There are all-year-round reasons to visit, too. Hiroshima has thriving culture and food scenes (including world-famous oysters), beautiful scenery, the Itsukushima ‘floating’ Tori gate and, it goes without saying, the Peace Park Memorial on the site of the horrific 1945 atomic bomb attack.
Average temperature: 20°C/68°F
Cultural attraction: Clown Day
December to May is peak travel time in Peru, coinciding with the best (i.e. driest) weather. May is particularly pleasant for anyone looking to be active, perhaps hiking or biking the Inca trail, but it’s also a fine time to visit the capital of Lima.
Like Hiroshima, the city has a fantastic food scene, which probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s witnessed the explosion of Peruvian food around the globe. At home, the culinary excitement is being caused by young chefs with a sustainable ethos, so you can fill your belly without hurting your conscience.
We’re not sure about the eco-credentials of this event, but if you like your cultural experiences a little less sophisticated, the last week in May sees Clown Day, where clowns and clown fans dressed as clowns parade through the city making everyone happy/sad/scared [delete as applicable].
Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
Average temperature: 29°C/84°F
Cultural attraction: the ruins of Polonnaruwa
Sri Lanka in May is the perfect time, weather-wise, to visit the east of the country. And one of the absolute must-see attractions of eastern Sri Lanka is the 10th-century city of Polonnaruwa: one of the best-preserved uninhabited cities in Asia and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the past as you stroll (or cycle) among the dusty and decaying temples, homes, statues and the magnificent royal palace.
For a wilder time, you could head to the nearby Wasgamuwa National Park, which is full of animals from elephants to water buffalo to the tiniest of insects.
Average temperature: 17°C/62°F
Cultural attraction: the Alhambra palace
This beautiful region in southern Spain is a big favourite with travellers from all over the globe and May is just about the perfect time to visit. It being southern Spain and all that, the summer months can get a little toasty so anyone not keen on, or built for, the heat will get much more from it in the spring.
There is much to get, too. Culturally, the region is a bridge between East and West, between Africa, Asia and Europe, having been part of the Caliphate of Cordoba when most of Spain was under Moorish rule for a solid seven centuries in the Middle Ages. This shows in much of the local culture, but particularly the architecture with life-affirming highlights like the beautiful Alhambra palace in Granada.
Granada itself is a wonderful city and it’s not the only one: Malaga and Seville are worthy of their own holidays, rammed as they are with history, art and delicious Andalusian food and wine. Time to say Hola.
Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway
Average temperature: 5°C/41°F
Cultural attraction: Bergen fish market
A European break in May, you would assume, would be a fairly warm affair, as the seasons flip from spring to summer. Not in Norway, friend – not when you can visit the Jostedalsbreen National Park.
Here you’ll find the Jodestal Glacier: the biggest glacier on mainland Europe and a perpetually icy playground for outdoor activities involving crampons and spikes and axes and other fun things.
Away from the park, there’s the melted ice (aka water) of lakes and fjords, also ideal for outdoor activities and – if you want more urban-based adventures – it’s one of the most beautiful five-hour drives you’ll ever experience to the beautiful and historic coastal city of Bergen. Here you can act fishy with some of the world’s best seafood, the aquarium and fragrant fish market.
Caye Caulker, Belize
Average high temperature: 31°C/87°F
Cultural attraction: snorkelling in the Caribbean
May is right in the middle of the dry season in Belize, but the aim of your visit should be to get very, very wet. It’s the perfect weather for plunging yourself, mask first, into the crystalline sea for a spot of Scuba diving – and the island of Caye Caulker is the perfect location to do that.
It’s also a really good time (and place) to wet your whistle. It’s a Caribbean paradise for outdoor pursuits, but these include sipping on a cold beer or a rum cocktail on the beach or a boat as you drift over sharks and other less intimidating aquatic life. A proper dream getaway, with the emphasis on getting away.
Images: Flash Pack, Shutterstock, Unsplash