Traveling to Italy in May: What You Need to Know

May in Tuscany || creative commons photo by Fabrizio Sciami

May in Tuscany || creative commons photo by Fabrizio Sciami

Once upon a time, the month of May was part of spring in Italy. The weather was usually good – so reliably good, in fact, that more people started flocking to Italy in May than they had in the past, which meant hoteliers and airlines started jacking up prices…

And that brings us to the present, when May is firmly part of the high summer tourist season, no matter what season it’s technically in.

This isn’t to say that going to Italy in May is a bad idea – far from it. There’s a reason May caught on. It’s warm, but it’s not usually too warm. It’s crowded, but it’s often not too crowded. It might just be the month equivalent of Goldilocks finding Baby Bear’s porridge. There are some drawbacks to a May trip, though, and some things to keep in mind as you plan your vacation.

If you’re traveling to Italy in May, here’s what you need to know about weather and holidays.

Weather in Italy in May

As mentioned, May in Italy can be warm. It’s not typically as blisteringly hot and humid as Italy can be later in the summer, but that kind of weather is also not out of the question in May. In the last decade (give or take), summer heat waves have been striking Italy earlier in the year, often making May unseasonably hot.

Early May tends to be more temperate, though remember that the weather gets warmer as you go south. Italians might still be waiting for July or August to dig swimsuits out of the closet and hit the beaches, but it could be plenty warm enough for some beach-going during your May trip. Do keep in mind that even if the days are warm, the nights might cool off enough that you’ll want a light layer for your walk back from your late-night dinner. Rain isn’t unheard of, either, so keep an eye on the forecast to see whether you’ll need to pack a small umbrella or rain jacket.

Some average temperature ranges for different parts of Italy in May are:

  • Northern Italy: 50-70°F (10-21°C)
  • Central Italy: 55-70°F (13-21°C)
  • Southern Italy: 60-75°F (16-24°C)

And, as always, check the current extended forecast for where you’re actually going just before you leave – when you’re packing is the perfect time – so you can find out in advance if it’s unseasonably cold or warm.

Read more on my Italy weather page

Holidays & Festivals in Italy in May

The very first day of May is International Workers’ Day, a national holiday in Italy. If the weather is nice, it’s a day when Italians will often hang out with friends and family outdoors – picnics in the countryside, visits to nearby mountains, etc. This is one of the days when many attractions are closed – even the big ones that always seem open – as well as plenty of shops and restaurants, as their owners take the day off. If you’ll be in Italy over May 1, why not swing by a market the day before to grab the fixings for a picnic and spend the day as the Italians do?

As France has its Tour de France, the big three-week bike race, Italy has its Giro d’Italia. The Giro takes place over a three-week period each May – the dates and route change each year, and chances are good the race won’t impact your trip – especially if you’re sticking to public transportation rather than renting a car. Still, if you’re curious (or want to be absolutely sure you won’t get stuck in a traffic jam because a bike race is monopolizing the road) then be sure to check out the race route and schedule. The start and finish towns also end up booking out hotels and other lodging options way in advance, so that’s another reason to look at the route.

There are other holidays in Italy in May, including the medieval Corsa dei Ceri (Race of the Candles) in Gubbio and, typically, a flower carpet festival or two. Browse the listings on my Italy holidays page, and be sure to ask at the tourist information office when you get into town to see what else is going on while you’re there.

Why should you go to Italy in May?

As I said at the outset, a May trip to Italy is no longer going to be the shoulder season bargain you hoped it would be. May is absolutely the start of high season in Italy now, with all its attendant higher prices and bigger crowds. Crowds still seem to get larger in June and July in the main tourist cities, but May feels plenty busy.

Of course, just as touristy sights are touristy for a reason, May in Italy is now part of high season for a reason – it’s excellent. The weather is typically summer-like, which is what most people want when they visit, and yet it’s not quite as sweltering as it will get in August. Families traveling with school-aged children still usually need to wait until June to take a vacation, so if you can get to Italy in May you’re at least beating that part of the crowd by a hair.

For travelers on a strict budget, May can be tricky. You can still get a decent deal if you avoid the main tourist cities, but accommodation rates almost everywhere jump so steeply starting on May 1 that you might need to figure out a different time of year for your trip (I recommend April).

If money isn’t your primary limiting factor, then May can be dazzling. The rolling Tuscan hills are still green from spring rain, and in most touristy places the locals haven’t been completely inundated with visitors yet (that can make even the nicest people a little curt after a few months). May offers wonderful weather and crowds that are usually manageable.

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