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Discover some of the best places to visit in Europe in May, when the continent awakens from its winter slumber with the warmth of spring. Days are longer, the weather warmer, and the queues shorter at main attractions, given the summer crowds of high summer are yet to arrive.

A time for new beginnings, spring sees Europe at its colorful best. From the flower markets of Nice to the tulip season of Amsterdam, and the Hidirellez spring awakening festival in Istanbul, there is a whole host of things to see and do in May.

Looking for some inspiration as to where to go? Here are some of the best places in Europe to visit in May.

Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Athens, Greece

Athens is one of the best places to visit in May, especially in years when Orthodox Easter falls into the month.

Probably Greece’s most celebrated religious festival, it makes it a great time to take in this most fabled city. Tsoureki, a sweet holiday bread, and brightly dyed boiled eggs abound. The breaking of the Lent fast is celebrated in homes and restaurants with spit roast lamb.

Outside of Easter, the pleasant weather makes Athens an ideal May destination given it can be extremely hot in summer.

The National Gardens are in full bloom, the Acropolis resplendent against bright blue skies, and the seaside neighborhoods in Athens such as Glyfada and Vouliagmeni shake off their winter blues and start to open up for the summer.

Istanbul, Turkey

Beautiful waterfront of Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

The arrival of spring in full flow makes it a perfect time to visit Istanbul, the Turkish city that sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Early May brings with it Hidirellez, one of the most important celebrations of the year in Istanbul. The festival takes its name from the protectors of earth and water, Hidir and Ilya, and asks them to watch over the coming summer’s crops with a series of events that include music, dancing and feasting.

While Hidirellez takes place early in the month (traditionally May 5 and 6), the “awakening of nature” it celebrates can be seen throughout the city in blooming parks such as Gülhane and Maçka Democracy Park, the latter being particularly pleasant thanks to its network of paths, sculpted gardens, and fountains.

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Valletta, Malta

Simultaneously Europe’s most southern capital and the smallest capital in the European Union, the fortified city of Valletta is a joy to visit in May.

Established on a peninsula by the Knights of St. John, the fortified city is rich in beautiful baroque landmarks such as the opulent St. John’s Co-Cathedral, which are just opening up for the summer season. This means the key sights are much less busy than in the height of summer.

The first week of May also sees the city transform itself. Central Pjazza San Ġorġ is turned into a riot of color thanks to the 18,000 flowers, shrubs and plants that form the heart of the Valletta Green Festival.

Read: Best Things to Do in Malta

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In most of Europe, May celebrates new beginnings. But not so in Amsterdam, where the brilliant colors of tulip season are coming to a close. This makes the display no less spectacular, though.

The season runs from the end of March until mid-May, with the Keukenhof botanical gardens just south of the city a great place to visit to see tulips in full bloom. There are more than seven million plants here.

Back in the city, the famed canals are lined with flowers and it’s a great time to explore both on foot and on bike. Discover open squares, winding alleys, and those iconic narrow houses of the city on a tour.

Perhaps catch one of the music festivals, such as the Music On Festival, which takes place in the middle of the month.

Lisbon, Portugal

Street view of Lisbon, Portugal with iconic yellow tram

Lisbon, Portugal

The coastal capital of Portugal is steeped in maritime history, marrying that respect for the past beautifully with a buzzy, contemporary feel.

Part of its seafaring past is steeped in Portugal’s national dish and a cornerstone of Lisbon’s culinary scene: grilled sardines. Officially, the sardine season runs from March through August.

But savvy sardine-loving locals will tell you to wait until May for the absolute best offerings, eaten freshly grilled in the restaurants of the Alcântara and Campo de Ourique neighborhoods of Lisbon.

With the sun sparkling on the Tagus and off the city’s famed tiles, Lisbon seems to literally light up in spring. And while the city’s summer festival Festas de Lisboa officially kicks off in June, the excitement starts to build with a handful of anticipatory events and decorations starting to appear in late May.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Aerial view of Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

A favorite of location scouts for Hollywood movies thanks to the medieval walls that surround its historic core, Dubrovnik is often referred to as the Pearl of the Adriatic.

Its strategic position, handsome buildings, and views that reach out to the green island of Lokrum across the bay all add to the charm.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik is one of the best places to visit in Europe in May, given the peak heat of summer is still a couple of months away. This is the ideal time for walking those city walls in Old Town Dubrovnik or hiking to the summit of Mount Srđ, a 1,200-feet peak crowned by the early-19th century Fort Imperial.

Foodies will love the food workshops, talks, and stalls of the Bavarin street food festival which is held early in the month. For those looking for a dash of Croatian culture, famed folklore dance ensemble Lindjo also begin their summer performance schedule in May.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Berlin, Germany

Germany’s capital, Berlin, has mostly been a place that welcomed all-comers. More than half of Berliners are said to have moved here after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

That melting pot of culture is celebrated in mid-May with the Carnival of Cultures. The  highlight is the Sunday parade through the city. Chinese lion dancers, Brazilian samba dancers, and West African drummers are just some of the groups taking part.

More temperate weather is the perfect chance to take a cycle tour to visit well-known sights such as the Brandenburg Gate, or take in one of the city’s quirkier traditions: open-air karaoke in front of vast crowds at Mauerpark. Formerly part of the Berlin Wall, this popular park is also home to a regular flea market.

Bergen, Norway

Colorful waterfront of Bryggen in Bergen, Norway

Bryggen in Bergen, Norway

Gateway to the fjords and the cultural heart of Norway, Bergen—surrounded by seven mountains and with a harbor of colorful wooden buildings—is a joy to visit at any time of year, but especially so in May.

Nature is at its most dramatic in spring here. The greenery around the Norwegian fjords seems both deeper and brighter, while melting snow means cascading waterfalls are more spectacular than ever.

The middle of the month (May 17th) is also Norway’s Constitution Day, the country’s equivalent of July 4th, and Bergen celebrates with gusto as parades, traditional costumes, and patriotic flair fill the streets.

Venice, Italy

Gondola ride in Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

In fairytale-like Venice, life is quite literally lived on the water thanks to the entire city being built over a brackish lagoon. The city’s iconic canals, lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces, provide the very arteries for life here to take place, with boats, ships and gondolas the preferred form of transport.

That changes somewhat in May with the advent of Vogalonga, the city’s rowing regatta. Held in the middle of the month, it sees various teams celebrate Venetian culture and history in a series of rowing events that can be viewed from the 400 bridges that span the waterways.

The weather here in May is warm and sunny, making it a great time to explore some of the lesser-known sights such as the lovely gardens of the 16th-century Palazzo Zenobio in Dorsoduro.

Alternatively, simply relax in a bacaro, a Venetian wine bar, over a glass of wine and cicchetti, Venice’s answer to tapas.

Read: One Day in Venice

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Beautiful Barcelona is without doubt one of the best places to visit in Europe in May. The weather is clear as spring comes into full bloom, the events calendar is packed, and the scent of summer and all its promise is in the air.

It’s a time to stroll around the Gothic Quarter, catch some early summer sun by the beach, and admire iconic sights such as Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia. With the soccer season coming to an end, there’s the chance to worship at another temple—the Camp Nou stadium of legendary local team Barcelona FC.

Alternatively, take in Comic Barcelona, an expo dedicated to cartoons, anime, comic books, and more. May also sees the Night of the Museums when the city’s museums open late for free, while the city of Girona, 60 miles to the north, hosts the beautiful Temps de Flor flower festival.

Read: Best Beaches to Visit in May

Nice, France

View while walking the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France

Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France

Nice’s place as the crown of the French Riviera remains firmly intact. Nice is a blend of French elegance and Italian flair, where looking chic is the order of the day.

May brings with it the first rays of summer, ideal for ticking off some of the best things to do in Nice, such as strolling along the beachfront Promenade des Anglais or through the vibrant markets of the Old Town.

Flowers in Cours Saleya

Cours Saleya in Nice, France

It’s also when the flower market at Cours Saleya is in its fullest bloom, best enjoyed with a strong double espresso from one of the many cafés in the surrounding streets.

For added glamor, it’s also a great chance to head eight miles down the coast to equally chic Cannes. Here, the iconic film festival is in full swing in May, offering the chance to potentially bump into Hollywood superstars while on a visit.

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Rome, Italy

May in the Italian capital of Rome starts with a bang and doesn’t seem to let up for the whole month; this really is one of the best places in Europe to visit in May.

May 1 is the European version of Labor Day, with Italian trade unions pulling together for a huge free concert, while the Roman Maggetto, an extension of an ancient festival in honor of the goddess Flora, also takes place on the same day.

View of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy

Pantheon in Rome, Italy

For those of a religious persuasion, this holiest of Italian cities has much to offer in May, too. The Lemuria in the middle of the month is an ancient rite to exorcize evil spirits, while the feast of St. Paschal Baylón is held annually on May 17.

The Pentecost (a moveable May feast thanks to its post-Easter links) sees a spectacular show at the Pantheon.

Those looking to celebrate nature will not be disappointed either. Both Roseto, the rose garden in the 17th-century Garden of the Jews and the azaleas at Piazza di Spagna are in full bloom adding a flash of color to the Eternal City.

Read: How to Spend 3 Unforgettable Days in Rome

Reykjavik, Iceland

Street view of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

With the cold of winter fading into a distant memory and the advent of summer bringing almost 24-hour daylight, May is a choice time to visit Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital.

Set among the craggy lunar landscapes of this volcanic island, the city’s brightly colored buildings brighten up the landscape and nature comes blinking back to life. It’s an ideal time for whale watching as the nutrient-dense waters surrounding the city tempt hundreds of migratory cetaceans.

People snorkeling in the Silfra fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

May is also an excellent time to dive or snorkel into the waters of the Silfra fissure glacial gorge in Thingvellir National Park, one of the best places to visit in Iceland.

Taking a dip here, in a dry suit, of course, is literally diving at the meeting of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The astonishing visibility is seldom better than in late spring.

Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Old Town Kotor, Montenegro

In an inlet deep in the Bay of Kotor, the Old Town of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is said to be set on Europe’s southernmost fjord.

Sitting at the foot of a towering cliff face, its medieval streets and buildings are delightful in May, with just a handful of discerning tourists contrasting sharply with the numbers who visit in high summer.

May is a great time to do some hiking in the surrounding areas too. The slightly cooler weather makes it ideal for those wishing to take the winding staircase to medieval San Giovanni castle, one of the best things to do in Kotor.

Overlooking the town from around 900 feet, it offers great views over the town, the surrounding countryside and the bay below.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia, one of the best places to visit in Europe in May

Town Hall Square in Tallinn, Estonia

The Estonian capital of Tallinn is a fascinating mix of old and new, the UNESCO-listed Old Town contrasting with a modern digital industry packed with start-ups that has seen some dub the city “Europe’s Silicon Valley”.

The Old Town takes pride of place in May though thanks to Tallinn Day on May 15, officially the city’s birthday, given that it was accepted in the Union of European Cities in 1248. The event is marked with a host of cultural happenings including street food, live music, and local crafts either side of the day itself.

Exploring the cobblestoned streets and medieval buildings is a joy even when there are no festivities. Other things to do in Tallinn include visiting city parks such as Kadriorg and Telliskivi Creative City. A booming creative district, it has some great cafés, and a weekly flea market on Saturdays.

Couple exploring Tallinn, Estonia

Town Hall Square in Tallinn, Estonia

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