Memorial Day might be the unofficial kickoff for summer, but why wait until then to take a vacation? There are plenty of reasons to squeeze in a trip before peak season starts, whether visiting an alternative Galápagos when the conditions are just right, or relishing an alternative side to Barbados at an unlikely festival.
Here are our 10 best places to travel in May.
1. South Ari Atoll, Maldives
May is great for: underwater adventures with whale sharks
Ninety-nine percent of this country is water and only 1 percent is land, so it’s smart to choose the Maldives for an ocean-focused getaway. On the western side of the archipelago, there are notably well-preserved coral reefs that make it a perfect spot for divers.
This month in the Maldives, divers can catch whale sharks when they cluster in and around the reefs at the end of the season as winds blow from the northeast. These extraordinary animals—the world’s largest fish—can grow up to 40 feet long but they’re not the only jaw-dropper underwater here. There are hundreds of coral species, marine mammals like dolphins and porpoises, and mantas, which, like the sharks, are protected when in this atoll.
Where to stay: Conrad Maldives Rangali
- Book now: Conrad Maldives Rangali
The 150-villa property sits across the Rangalifinolhu and Rangali islands, with different offerings depending on which you choose for your stay. (The former has a kids club and water sports center, while the latter island is quieter and more focused on R&R.) If you feel like splurging, try a night or two in the Muraka, the two-story suite that sits 16 feet below the surface of the ocean.
How to get to the Maldives
The best option is to take one of the Gulf carriers, such as Emirates or Qatar, and transit there. For those on the U.S. West Coast, the shortest journey is likely via Singapore, although you’ll still need to set aside an entire day to make the trek.
2. Côte d’Azur, France
May is great for: roses and red carpets
Visit the Côte d’Azur in late spring for a Goldilocks moment, when the crowds won’t have surged to bottle-service-and-dry-clean-bikini levels, but the weather will be balmy enough to idle away an afternoon on the patio of a beach club.
Make sure to stop in Grasse, a village that’s a 30-minute drive inland from Cannes. It’s protected from the salty sea breezes by the hills and well irrigated, which is favorable for the rose and jasmine grown here. May’s Exporose celebrates the former, covering the entire town with blooms, whether in bouquets or as bushes for sale.
Stick around for the end of the month if you want a glimpse of Cannes at its glitziest: The 77th edition of the film festival will run May 14–25.
Where to stay: Château de Théoule
- Book now: Château de Théoule
Steer clear of the hubbub in town by booking a suite at this brand-new hotel a short boat ride down the coast in Théoule-sur-Mer. The 44-room property, created out of a former soap factory built in the 1630s, perches on the edge of the water—and every single bathroom has a glorious view of the Med.
How to get to the Cote d’Azur
It’s a no-brainer to hop on the bargain-priced all biz operation from La Compagnie, which begins its seasonal service between EWR and Nice in late April; it runs through the end of September this year.
3. Berlin, Germany
May is great for: the ultimate all-inclusive event.
The four-day Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures) has been held since 1996, soon after the reunification of the city, and it acts as an emblem of that event. The free event involves more than 4,000 creatives over a long weekend (this year from May 17–20), whether local DJs or artisans selling their wares. Shanti Town is where you’ll find food trucks and companies with a strong emphasis on environmental responsibility, while the Rasen in Aktion location is the hub for performances that run the gamut from African bands to local singers.
The main event is the Parade on Pentecost Sunday (May 19), where 5,000 or so people come to party together, bringing samba dancers from Brazil alongside traditional German folk dancers or Chinese lion dancers.
Where to stay: Provocateur Berlin
- Book now: Provocateur Berlin
Who wouldn’t want to stay in the aptly named hotel in Europe’s funkiest city, especially when it’s as affordable as this boutique option? The 58-room property, in the quieter western reaches, has a maximalist interior, all deep reds, punchy blues, and gilt, which gives it a retro, almost art deco–era vibe.
How to get to Berlin
This month, both Delta and budget carrier Norse kick off their seasonal, direct nonstop service to Berlin from JFK; United also operates a year-round route from EWR.
4. The Algarve, Portugal
May is great for: easy-to-reach golfing getaways
United Airlines has carved out a welcome niche in recent years of offering nonstop service to vacation-focused destinations. For summer 2024, one of its new additions is Faro, the capital of the Algarve region in southern Portugal. It’s increasingly on a wider tourism radar: The first half of 2023 saw a 13.5 percent increase in visitors compared to the same time a year earlier.
Visitors are drawn here by the just-add-water perfection of the spot, where weather is consistent, the countryside gorgeous, and, of course, golf courses proliferate. There are 25 different clubs in the region, and more than half are top-rated in the country; you can play more than 40 9- or 18-hole layouts without leaving the Algarve.
Don’t miss the chance, too, for a quick trip to Culatra, one of the barrier islands protecting the coast from the brash Atlantic weather. It’s got superb beaches and restaurants where the seafood is so fresh it sits in tanks by the tables until the moment it’s ready to be eaten.
Where to stay: Martinhal Quinta
- Book now: Martinhal Quinta
The 70-villa estate is more like a gated community than a hotel proper. Each villa, with between two and five bedrooms, has its own private garden and swimming pool. There are ample on-site activities, including a kids club and a golf course.
How to get to the Algarve
Other than that United-operated flight, which debuts this spring, consider TAP, the Portuguese national carrier, which connects via Lisbon, a 45-minute domestic hop away; it flies to a half-dozen U.S. hubs.
May is great for: an adventure among Africa’s northern mountain regions
This month, head into Morocco’s Atlas Mountains for an unexpected outdoorsy experience that’s about two hours from Marrakech. It’s more important to spend money there now than ever, as it slowly recovers from the devastating earthquake of last fall.
Visit the mountain range and explore the rugged countryside while the weather is mild—you can climb the highest peak, 13,671-foot Mount Toubkal, in a couple of days if you’re reasonably fit and can handle the heady altitudes. If you’re a movie fan, visit the Aït Benhaddou village: The earthen buildings that form this settlement on the one-time caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech make it equal parts Biblical and otherworldly. No wonder it’s been a favorite filming backdrop for hits like The Mummy, Star Wars: A New Hope, and Gladiator. Some structures here, like the granary, were damaged last fall, but it still remains a compelling pit stop.
Where to stay: Kasbah Tamadot
- Book now: Kasbah Tamadot
The Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s luxe mountainside property, was devastated in the earthquake; it has reopened after a reimagining, which saw rooms replaced with 10 glamping tents. Nightly rates include a donation to the Eve Branson foundation earmarked to uplift local communities nearby.
How to get to Morocco
Long-haul international flights are funneled via Casablanca—Royal Air Maroc’s routings to the United States offer nonstops from Washington, D.C. and New York. Consider, too, opting to break your journey in Europe, which allows you to connect to a short-haul flight to Marrakech, Tangier, Fez, or elsewhere.
6. Kangaroo Island, South Australia
May is great for: an alternative to the Galápagos
There’s no bad time to come to Kangaroo Island; its extraordinary flora and fauna have earned the 1,700 square-mile island 13 miles off the coast of South Australia the unofficial nickname of “Australia’s Galápagos”.
You can see the namesake marsupials, sure (the species here is unique, with thicker fur for the colder climates in winter and a slower gait than its outback cousins), plus a large population of koalas. But there are many other rare and unusual flora and fauna: 87 percent of mammals, 93 percent of reptiles, and 45 percent of birds are unique to this spot and can be found nowhere else.
The best time to explore is undeniably fall, when days remain long enough to roam (usually until around 5:30 p.m.) and the temperatures are consistently balmy, making outdoorsy activities pleasant rather than sweaty. The weather is usually bright and clear, the seas remain calm, and wildflowers are in full bloom.
Where to stay: Southern Ocean Lodge
- Book now: Southern Ocean Lodge
This all-inclusive lodge on Kangaroo Island has reopened on a similar footprint to its previous iteration, which was destroyed in the devastating wildfires of early 2020. The new, 25-suite property has been upgraded via a $55 million renovation under the auspices of its original architect, Max Pritchard, who was born on the island.
How to get to Kangaroo Island
There are no long-haul international arrivals to Adelaide, South Australia’s capital. Instead, connect there via Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane—Qantas, United, Delta, and American all fly between them and various stateside hubs. From there, take a 45-minute ferry ride to the island or a 30-minute flight.
May is great for: enjoying an unexpected side to the Caribbean
The Caribbean’s colonial holdovers are wide-ranging, and some islands even retain a Celtic flair. An unlikely celebrant of all things Celtic is Barbados, which holds a four-day festival that trumpets its ties to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales this month. That link largely derives from the indentured servants who came to work in the mansions here as household labor; many of them took up permanent residence in their new home.
From May 15 to 19, you can join in ceilidhs and concerts at the Barbados Celtic Festival. Try the unlikely fusion of Celtic and Caribbean food, expect to hear the blare of bagpipes wafting over the beaches, and don’t miss a riff on the Highland Games on Sunday afternoon. Last year’s lineup included champion piper Roddy MacLeod MBE—he’s won the title five times and he’s already confirmed for a return gig—plus Gleadhraich, a bagpipe-spiked rock band.
Where to stay: Sam Lord’s Castle
- Book now: Sam Lord’s Castle
The name of this 422-room, all-inclusive resort is a nod to Sam Lord’s Castle on the same site in the 19th century, a mansion built by the namesake plantation owner, an unscrupulous rascal believed to have caused shipwrecks for his own profit. Thankfully, the 29-acre property is a new build from the ground up, banishing any bad vibes.
How to get to Barbados
Take your pick: The legacy carriers and JetBlue offer a variety of nonstops, everywhere from Charlotte, NC, to JFK.
8. Charleston, South Carolina
May is great for: gorging on highbrow culture in gorgeous surroundings
It’s always a good time to go to Charleston, but this year there’s particular appeal, after the International African American Museum opened there in 2023. If you’re mulling when best to go, though, May’s a slam dunk, especially for first-timers: The weather will be balmy, and less muggy than summer, and the city is energized by the beginning of the Spoleto Festival, which this year runs from May 22 to June 9.
The festival commandeers almost any public space, whether theater, church, or square for a program of performing arts (dance, opera, theater, choral) that’s a stateside counterpart to the Italian namesake. It was founded by the same person, Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti; he established this event in the late 1970s, two decades after he devised the original. Every year now, expect around 150 performances across 10 or so venues—this year’s lineup includes everything from Hedwig deviser John Cameron Mitchell in cabaret to a concert by New Orleans–based Trombone Shorty and his jazz band.
Where to stay: The Mills House Hotel
- Book now: The Mills House Hotel
Two years ago, the 1853-founded Mills House Hotel underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation that encompassed every aspect of the hotel, from its 218 rooms and common areas to the rooftop pool and outdoor terrace, which reopens for the season this spring. One thing that didn’t change: its signature Millennial pink exterior.
How to get to Charleston
Charleston is one of the most networked cities in the USA, with nonstop service to more than 30 cities, including Minneapolis (MSP) and Detroit (DTW).
9. Santa Fe, New Mexico
May is great for: making a chic statement
From May 2 to 5, Santa Fe will be the host for an inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week, a four-day exploration of Indigenous designers from across North America. It’s the second event of its kind on the continent, following a pioneering week aimed at First Nations people in Canada, which first launched seven years ago.
Programming will incorporate symposia on fashion as well as runway days that showcase both traditional and contemporary riffs on Indigenous design, whether from what’s now the United States or from Canada. This extensive program is an evolution of the decade-old Indigenous Fashion Show run by Southwestern Association for American Indian Arts, which was first championed by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe from the Siksika Nation.
Bear Robe aims for the event to help establish the city as a hub for Indigenous style and design nationwide, building on the increasing presence of Indigenous designers in the Indian Market there, which takes place each August.
Where to stay: Inn of Five Graces
- Book now: Inn of Five Graces
Right in the heart of Santa Fe, this adobe-style luxury inn features eclectically decorated, over-the-top rooms festooned with objets from the Silk Road and other far-flung locales.
How to get to Santa Fe
For a place that’s firmly on tourist radars, Santa Fe has surprisingly modest air connections. The only direct flights run from Denver, Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix. Most, though, can easily connect to one of those hubs from elsewhere, making it max a one-stop journey.
10. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
May is great for: jumping the shark
It’s the 50th anniversary this year of the novel that transformed the great white shark from apex predator in the wild to jump-scare staple: Jaws. Get ahead of next summer’s scarefest with a trip this spring, and take a specialist tour of the key filming sites.
The 87-square-mile island off the southwestern tip of Cape Cod is a slouchier, more relaxed riff on New England life than manicured Nantucket next door. Here you can amble around the colorful Aquinnah Cliffs, also known as Gay Head, the clay formation carved out by glaciers millions of years ago. These are Up-Island in the south and west, a quieter corner especially this month just before the high season begins. Down-Island, or the north and eastern reaches, has more tourist-friendly assets—head to Edgartown for its restored clapboard and cedar shingle mansions, and for a glass of wine or two. (Many towns here are dry, but for meals, you can often BYOB.)
Where to stay: The Summercamp Hotel
- Book now: The Summercamp Hotel
The Summercamp Hotel is in Oak Bluffs, a rare booze-friendly settlement—it’s designed and named in homage to the fact that Methodists often used the island for summer camps (hence those prohibitions about drinking). It sits right across from the harbor, with rooms that have a kitschy retro touch to their decor.
How to get to Martha’s Vineyard
If you’re in the Northeast, seasonal regional carriers like Cape Air and Tradewinds are an option for a quick puddle jump over the water, while Delta’s service from LGA starts in May.