May is peak springtime and a lovely time to travel around England with extended daylight hours—more than 16 hours between sunrise and sunset by the end of the month—and warming weather. The nation's capital of London has some of the highest temperatures in the country this month, with daily highs hovering around 64°F (18°C) and lows in the 50°F (10°C) range.
Cities in the north like Manchester and Newcastle, closer to the Scottish border, tend to be a few degrees cooler. While the southwest peninsula, including the Isles of Scilly, often compared to the south of France, which is located 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall, is temperate year-round thanks to the Gulf Stream. Spring is a lovely time to visit the archipelago, with mild, sunny days that accentuate the azure waters making it feel much more tropical than it is.
England's weather is famously fickle—a common conversation topic with locals—and there will likely be a mix of sunshine, clouds, and precipitation during your visit. In May, it's wise to pack a spring jacket and a few layers, especially for cooler evenings, plus an umbrella or brolly for sudden showers. Nature enthusiasts heading out on the trails will want to bring waterproof gear and durable hiking shoes in case of muddy conditions.
Crowds & Costs
May falls within England's spring shoulder season, making it an ideal time to book flights, hotels, car rentals, and activities before the summer months begin to see higher prices and more tourists. Another positive aspect of traveling in May—for adults anyway—is that you'll safely avoid the Easter holiday and spring-break crowds for more elbow room at the famous attractions. Keep in mind that there is a public (bank) holiday on the first Monday of May, so more locals will be traveling during the extended weekend.
Where to Go
May is an especially delightful time to explore London, allowing you to visit the historical attractions, from medieval sites like the Tower of London to modern art galleries and hip neighborhoods, as well as famous food markets, pop-up restaurants, and quintessential pubs on foot. If you like to be in the center of the action and hope to see some West End theater, consider staying near Soho or Covent Garden, which puts you within walking distance to key adjacent neighborhoods and attractions.
Day trips are easy from London's many train stations to places like Cambridge, Oxford, and Bath—each well-known for history and architecture. Longer trips by train can get you to major cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and York in a few hours. Or rent a car and explore the countryside. An excellent place to start is the Costwolds. This rural area comprises several counties with beautiful scenery in the form of sheep-strewn hills and picturesque villages, like the market town of Chipping Campden.
Rent a car and soak up England's scenery from mountains and fresh water in the Lake District, or seafood and cliff hiking on the South coast if you have more time. Though it's further away, May is a great time to visit the Cornish peninsula in the country's southwest corner—a favorite spot for surfers and hikers. Base yourself in a seaside town like Bude or Newquay and explore the area's sleepy harbors and pretty coves. A ferry ride (or quick flight) away are the Isles of Scilly, and traveling here in May will reward you with fewer crowds than summer months.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What to Do
In between all the sightseeing in London, which may include counter-culture in Camden Market and Shoreditch, make sure to add in some classic English activities like watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace or touring the gardens at Kensington Palace, home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Follow it up with traditional high tea at Hotel Savoy on the River Thames, which offers a lovely tea service complete with the sounds of a live pianist.
If you hop on a train toward Oxford, consider hiring a punt (riverboat) to ride along the Cherwell River while enjoying the pretty college scenery, perhaps followed by a tour of the historic university, the second-oldest in the world. In Bath, you can take a literary tour and learn more about the former home of Jane Austen (1801-1806) and the famous Roman bath complex during a guided walking tour. Though you can't bathe here anymore, you can spend an afternoon at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa for a massage and healthy meal at the onsite restaurant.
If visiting Birmingham, often called England's second city, take a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon and tour Shakespeare's former homes and school. You can also explore woodland trails in the Clent Hills from Birmingham, which should be bursting with bluebells this month. More bluebells can be found all over England, including in the country's 10 national parks. You don't need a park to get into nature, though; there are even multi-day walking trails, including the UNESCO-listed Jurassic Coast in Dorset, with possible sightings of grey seals and puffins.
Events in May
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London. If visiting London in late May, check out this celebration of flowers and plants, sponsored by the Royal Horticultural Society, in the tony neighborhood of Chelsea.
Crab Festival, Salcombe. Seafood lovers can get their fill of crab at this festival in Salcombe, on the south coast, celebrating the local catch with plenty to eat and drink.
Opera Festival, Glyndebourne. This classical arts festival in East Sussex, about an hour from London, has a schedule lasting several months (starting in late May).
The Great Escape, Brighton. This popular music festival takes over the beach town of Brighton for several days each May featuring well-known musical acts and up-and-comers.
History Festival, Plymouth. This annual history festival on the south coast showcases the area's community heritage.
Jorvik Viking Festival, York. Northern England is said to be the home of the biggest Viking festival in Europe. Come for costumed warriors and other Norse-related activities.
Traveling to England in May? Check out these great itineraries
Hike the Northern Cornish Coast - 10 Days. This 10-day adventure combines city tours with hikes along England's southwest coast. It begins in London with a pub tour, after which you'll transfer to Cornwall to start the great trek.
London & the English Countryside - 7 Days. On this week-long itinerary, you'll immerse yourself in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of London before venturing out into England's fertile green countryside.