May offers some of the best weather of the year, and will have warmed sufficiently by the end of the month that it now feels like summer—with an average high of about 75°F (24°C), it's the perfect time for a beach vacation.
There’s little chance of rain, with plenty of sunshine and clear blue skies. Your wardrobe will mostly be summer clothing, but be sure to pack a cold-weather item for the odd cool evening, and while traveling on the inter-island ferries.
It's good to note that the Meltemi winds blowing from the northern Aegean pick up strength at this time, and by late May can impact sea traffic to the point that ferries may be canceled. Then, the sea can also be too dangerous for swimming, and beach-goers may feel the sting of wind-whipped sand.
On days when the northerly Meltemi winds are strong, head to the protected leeward sides of the Aegean Islands, where the waters should just be warm enough for pleasurable bathing.
Crowds & Costs
This is a time to experience the Greek islands while they’re still serene, with enough visitors to add vitality but few enough that you’ll have ample, uncrowded space while sightseeing. May is still shoulder season, with lower hotel rates and airfares.
Where to Go
The islands are at their prime in May—perhaps the ideal sightseeing month, especially the most popular stops such as Crete, Mykonos, and Santorini, which by June will begin to overflow.
There’s no better month to experience gorgeous Santorini, where the villages of Fira and Oia won’t yet feel overrun, the beaches will still be quiet, and you can explore the ruins of ancient Akrotiri (and climb to the top of Profitis Ilias) in relative peace.
But don’t forget the Saronic, Sporades, and Ionian islands, which are more sheltered than the Cyclades Islands and will especially appeal if you want calm waters and don’t like the wind. The largest of the Ionians, Kefalonia, is popular with families and blessed with heaps of Italianate castles and monasteries that recall when these islands were part of the Venetian empire for 400 years. Bathers and sun-worshippers will appreciate Kefalonia’s many fine beaches, such as Myrtos.
What to Do
While you’ll surely want to lay out your towel on the beach, this is also still a great month for cultural activities. And there’s no better time for enjoying nature, especially bicycling and hiking, taking advantage of the sublime weather.
By May, the weather is perfect for yachting vacations, while sailboat charter companies still offer lower rates. And photographers will find May as good as any: the skies are usually crystal clear and the colors are prime.
While on Santorini, combine your enjoyment of traditional cuisine with a culinary experience, such as wine-tasting, or a cooking class that draws on fresh local ingredients whose unique flavors are given by the island’s volcanic soil. Nearby Mykonos also offers similar treats. And Crete is another key draw for gourmands with a taste for the local cuisine.
International Workers Day (May Day): The “worker’s holiday” (protomagia) on May 1 is an important part of the Greek calendar, and many businesses close. On Crete, the city of Heraklion puts on a huge flower show.
Panigiria: On Santorini, inhabitants of Akrotiri celebrate the feast of Agios Epiphanios each May 12, while those of Fira celebrate the feast of Agia Theodosia on May 12. Daytime processions and festivities are followed by traditional evening feasts, with plenty of music and dancing.
Traveling to Greece in May? Check out these great itineraries
Getting Off the Beaten Path in Mykonos. Get to know the quieter, more natural side of Mykonos, beyond the beach party scene.
Sail the Ionian Sea from Corfu – 8 Days. Take advantage of the gorgeous May weather and calm Ionian Sea as you travel by yacht from Corfu to Syvota, Paxos, and more.
Taste of the Cyclades and Crete – 14 Days. For a true taste of the islands, this two-week itinerary infuses your visits to Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini and Crete with cooking classes, wine-tasting, and similar treats.