May welcomes pleasant, relatively mild weather in France, though you can anticipate spring showers as well as chillier evenings—yet toward the end of the month, the sea might just be warm enough to entice brave bathers (64°F/18°C). If you arrive in Paris in May, you can count on an average of 57°F (14°C) with highs reaching the mid-70s (mid-20s) on particularly sunny days. As for regional averages during the month, they range between 46-57°F (8-22°C) in the northeast, 50-66°F (10-19°C) along the Atlantic, and 55-68°F (13-20°C) in South France.
Paris receives the most rain, while the southern coast, like in Nice, receives the least amount. You’ll want to pack a mix of clothing, think t-shirts with warmer layers and waterproof gear.
Crowds & Costs
The last month before the hordes of tourists arrive and prices surge for peak season, this is the best time to snag a decent hotel rate and plane ticket while the weather is nice for outdoor activities and sightseeing. Though with pleasant weather comes the crowds, particularly along the southern coast, so you’ll likely be jostling with fellow travelers at popular sites and attractions.
And with Labor Day and Victory Day taking place this month, you can count on nationwide closures where transportation services are operating on a reduced schedule.
Where to Go
May is a great time to enjoy the pleasant weather and best-loved attractions before the major crowds arrive. Not to mention wherever you find yourself this month, there is likely some kind of food, sporting, or cultural event taking place. A classic route option is to start in Paris for the Taste of Paris gastronomic event that sees food vendors in the Grand Palais, as well as eateries across the city, participate in the fun. Meanwhile, sports fans will want to get themselves to the Roland Garros stadium for the French Open. Be sure to buy your tickets well in advance as the event tends to sell out quickly.
If your trip coincides with the Saturday closest to May 18, take advantage of Nuit des Musées (Night of Museums) and visit any museum across the country for free. Try Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi, Musée Fabre in Montpellier, Musée Historique Lorrain in Nancy, and Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Normandy.
Fans of film will want to check out the Cannes Film Festival in southeastern France to spot celebs on their way to gala screenings or take in a provoking documentary at the Cinéma de la Plage—an open-air theater on the beach. And for a spectacular live production make your way to the amphitheater in Nîmes for the Grands Jeux Romains (Great Roman Games), Europe’s largest historical reenactment. And on the opposite side of the country are Brittany and Normandy, both regions featuring their own cultural events, Fête de la Bretagne and D-Day Festival, respectively. You can expect parades, concerts, fireworks, special tours, and historical reenactments.
What to Do
There are few better activities in which to indulge in than a wine tour. Consider meeting with an expert oenologist to discover the fruits of Avignon’s legacy on a tasting journey of Châteauneuf du Pape’s famous reds, Grenache and Syrah. A classic next stop would be to visit the vineyards of Gigondas in the Rhône Valley for a continued tour, the perfect setting for pretty views of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range. And the truly fit might want to make their way to Mont Ventoux to hike or bike the steep terrain, particularly popular with cyclists (and often featured in the annual Tour de France).
Before the summer crowds flood France’s south coast and islands and the sun is at its worst, consider a trip to Corsica to hike its wild mountains and walk its rugged coastline. There are a variety of routes to choose between ranging from long-distance walking paths, like the tough GR 20 that traverses the island diagonally (112 miles or 180 km) to shorter walks and day hikes, like a route to explore the mountain villages around Bastia.
For those that prefer the water, book yourself in for a tour of the Gorges du Verdon in southeastern France’s Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department. The largest canyon in Europe offers plenty for the active nature lover, spring being one of the best times to white water raft or kayak down the Verdon River between Castellane and the lake of Sainte Croix. It’s also possible to swim and canoe the river as well as hike, rock climb, and go canyoning.
Events in May
Fête du Travail/Fête du Premier Mai (Labor Day/May Day). Held on the 1st of the month, many businesses are closed for this national holiday. Most attractions are closed too, as the French choose to spend this day off relaxing with family and friends. And as it is also May Day, many individuals gift lilies of the valley to their loved ones for happiness and good luck.
Les Grands Jeux Romains (The Great Roman Games). For three days in early May, 500 authentically clad reenactors participate in a large scale reenactment of ludi (public games) in Nîmes’ well-preserved amphitheater.
Fête de la Victoire 1945 or Jour de la Liberation (Victory Day). A nationwide event on May 8 celebrating the end of World War II in France and the people’s freedom. Expect closures as well as parades.
Cannes Film Festival. A prestigious film festival held annually in Cannes mid-May previews new films of all genres, including documentaries, drawing in the rich and famous.
Festival Medieval de Sedan. Every year Sedan hosts a fantastic medieval festival in Europe’s largest medieval castle. Expect participants outfitted in historic attire, and the castle and castle grounds alive with archery, jousting, and banquets.
Monaco Grand Prix. A prestigious Formula One motor race held each year the last weekend of the month on the Circuit de Monaco.
Festival des Jardins (International Garden Festival). From April to October the gardens of Château Chaumont-sur-Loire host this annual festival showcasing up to 30 themed gardens put on by landscape architects, designers, and artists.
Traveling to France in May? Check out these great itineraries.
Paris & Provence Road Trip – 9 Days. This scenic itinerary starts with a self-guided road trip through exceptional villages, cities, and wine regions in the heart of Provence. Over the course of 9 days, you’ll explore Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, and the Rhone Valley with visits to a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as hidden gems. Finish the adventure in Paris with a mix of private tours and free time to explore on your own.
Vineyard Hopping in Corsica – 7 Days. Calling all wine-loving travelers: this 7-day Corsican vineyard hop was made with you in mind. Bounce between some of the oldest vineyards in Europe (with stops at stunning beaches and charming towns in between) to experience the history, variety, and especially the flavors of Corsica's wine culture.