Events and festivals: best places to go in Europe in May

by Destination(s) Europe
Published: Last Updated on

📌 Read in / Lire en : Français (French)

Here comes the sun, at last! The month of May brings a foretaste of summer, but without the heat wave. We get to spend more time outdoors. And with May 1st, May 8th, Ascension Day, etc. it is the period of public holidays and long weekends. And event-wise, there are plenty of things to see and do: the glamour of the Cannes Film Festival in France, the Chelsea Flowers Show in London, but also parties and festivals, such as the MyFest in Berlin, the Brighton Festival or the Bergen International Festival in Norway. To help you make your choice, we prepared a list of the best European travel destinations in May, based on the festivals and gigs you can attend.

UPDATE: In 2021, many events are cancelled or modified due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lisbon for Corpus Christi | Portugal

Where in Portugal? Lisbon, capital of Portugal (map)

When? First Thursday after Pentecost

You can feel all the passion Portugese people have for the Catholic faith on this day. It was first instituted by Pope Urban IV at the end of the 13th century. Over the centuries, the celebrations in Lisbon have grown to be more and more splendid, taking the form of a large impressive procession. For more information, check out this post on the MonLisbonne website (in French).

Bercelos for the Festival of the Crosses | Portugal

Where? Barcelos, north of Porto, in the north of Portugal (map)

When? Around May 3

The Festa das Cruzes originated in the 16th century. It is associated with a legend according to which, in 1504, the shoemaker João Pires observed a black cross on the ground in Campo da Feira while returning from a mass. “What he considered “a sacred sign” soon became a popular event. An increasing number of locals started worshipping the “Lord of the Cross”. The Temple of Bom Jesus da Cruz is today at the core of the Festival of the Crosses”, according to the website of the municipality of Barcelos. Now, every year at this time, the streets of the city come alive with fairs, open-air shows, and processions.

Madrid for the Fiestas of San Isidro | Spain

Where? Madrid, capital of Spain (map)

When? May 15, Saint Isidore’s Day

This event, which is very popular with the locals, combines tradition and modernity, with festivities that focus on water. In fact, according to the chronicles of the time, San Isidro had the gift of finding water easily. Thus, it is customary to drink the “saint’s water” that gushes from a spring located in the small monastery of San Isidro. Most of the activities take place outdoors, such as the “romeria” in San Isidro Park. But make sure to also visit other emblematic places of the city, like the Plaza Mayor or the gardens of Las Vistillas.

(Credit : Tomas Manrique / CC)

Cannes for the Cannes Film Festival | France

Where ? Cannes, on the Mediterranean coast, in the south-east of France (map of the place)

When is it? For the dates, consult the official site of the festival

Another great travel destination in Europe for the month of May. This internationally renowned 12-day film festival (perhaps one of the most famous in the world) has been running since 1946. The Cannes Film Festival is THE place to be for anyone involved in cinema. Actresses and actors, directors, producers, and show business personalities: the famous red carpet walk in the Palais des Festivals, where the screenings and ceremonies take place, gathers the whole world’s cinema elite. In addition to the official selection, several side events have been created over the years, such as the Fortnight and the Critics’ Week. The event also attracts tens of thousands of film lovers who flock to the Croisette hoping to meet their favorite stars.

Brighton for the Brighton Festival | United Kingdom

Where? Brighton, a seaside resort in southeast England (map)

When? For dates, check the official festival website

“The aim of the Brighton Festival is to encourage city dwellers and visitors to take a fresh look at the arts and to give them the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture where the serious and the seemingly casual exist side by side,” explained the first Brighton Festival director, Ian Hunter, at its inception in the late 1960s. Since then, it has become England’s biggest arts festival. Just look at the first artists invited for the inaugural edition: Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Yehudi Menuhin, The Who or The Pink Floyd. And yes, you can expect to meet the stars of this level every year.

London for the Chelsea Flower Show | United Kingdom

Where? Chelsea, West London (map)

When? For the dates, go to the official website of the event

It is the worldwide meeting point for flower lovers. The Chelsea Flower Show is a floral exhibition organized every year in May for five days by the Royal Horticultural Society. It takes place at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and as it is primarily a competition, a demanding jury compares the proposed gardens. Of course, on your side, you just have to stroll around and enjoy the show.

Dublin for the International Literature Festival | Ireland

Where? Dublin, capital of Ireland (map)

When? For the exact dates, please visit the official website of the festival

The Dublin International Literature Festival is the main literary event in Ireland. It has been held every year since 1998. Through readings, conversations, debates, screenings, guided walks, podcasts and broadcasts, the public can discover the best Irish and international authors, poets, lyricists, playwrights and screenwriters of fiction and non-fiction. The world-renowned Dublin International Literary Prize is awarded for a novel written or translated into English.

Brussels for the Kunstenfestivaldesarts | Belgium

Where? Brussels, capital of Belgium

When? For the exact dates, check the official website

This festival in Brussels is organized around contemporary art: theater, dance, performance, cinema, visual arts… Since 1994, the Kunstenfestivaldesarts takes place during three weeks in May, in about twenty theaters and art centers all across the Belgian capital, as well as in various public places of the city.

Berlin for the MyFest | Germany

Where? Berlin, capital of Germany, more precisely in the district of Kreuzberg (map)

When? Every Labor Day (May 1st)

If you’re in the German capital in the beginning of May, don’t miss this important event for Berliners. Since 2003, on every Labor Day, the Kreuzberg district transforms into a giant festival. You will see the streets filled with people, concerts organized here and there, food stalls flourishing, and alcohol flowing freely. A great moment of celebration, which initially was started to avoid the recurrent hassles on the 1st of May. Successful bet, even if it is not rare to see the police arrive: with improvised anti-establishment manifestations, it remains an eventful day for the forces of order.

(Credit : Frank M. Rafik / Flickt / CC)

Rome for the Concorso Ippico Internazionale | Italy

Where? Rome, capital of Italy, more precisely in the gardens of the Villa Borghese (map)

When? For the exact dates, visit the official website

The “Piazza di Siena” international equestrian competition has been held every year since 1922. It takes place in Rome in the Piazza di Siena, located in the gardens of the Villa Borghese. Part of the FEI Furusiyya Nations Cup circuit which includes the eight most prestigious races in the world, the competition gathers the best international riders.

Bergen for the International City Festival | Norway

Where? Bergen, in the southwest of Norway (map)

When? For the exact dates, check out the official website of the festival

This is THE cultural and musical event of the Nordic countries. This festival starts in the end of May and lasts for two weeks. Every year since 1953, it takes over various halls in the city for musical, dance and visual arts performances. In total, nearly 120 events take place and attract thousands of visitors. A great time in a great city.

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