Spring is full on come May. Though the weather can be a little temperamental, it is more consistent with fewer bouts of rain, more hours of sunshine, and daily temperatures ranging between 54°F to 73°F (12-23°C) with the occasional mercury spike of 86°F (30°C). Along the coast and in the lowlands, the temps average a little closer to 59-70°F (15-21°C) and up in the mountains and hills of Siena, the weather is cooler yet. Pack shorts and tees alongside windbreakers and sweaters for those chillier evenings.
Crowds & Costs
May sees an influx in tourists and as such, you likely won’t find many deals on flights, hotels, and car rentals even if you arrive earlier in the month. Expect a surge in prices—sometimes fares doubling in price compared to the low season. Some of the more popular venues can feel crowded, so it’s with this in mind that you consider booking all arrangements as far in advance as possible. The good news is that museums all over Italy are open 363 days per year, so if the lines are too long one day, you can come back again and again.
Ferry schedules are running on their summer schedule and are fully operational making it more convenient to plan your day. Keep in mind, however, all transportation and business schedules will not be running as frequently as regular workday hours on Labor Day.
Where to Go
May is a great time to enjoy the pleasant weather and best-loved attractions before the major crowds arrive. A classic route option is to start in romantic Florence. Despite the influx of visitors, crowds should still be manageable enough that you can stroll the streets of its historic center and enjoy the Duomo and Piazza della Signora in relative peace. That aside, there's no getting around the fact that there will still be long lines to get into the famous Uffizi Gallery.
If you find yourself in Pisa, consider a drive along the coast to visit the charming towns and villages of Livorno and Cecina, and while the throngs of tourists have yet to arrive, board a ferry from Piombino to visit the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, like Elba Island. And while the sagre season is going on strong, you’ll want to visit the eastern region for the prugnolo mushroom, wines in Chianti, and cherries in Lari. Renting a car or riding the train is your best option to see as much as possible as your schedule allows.
What to Do
There are few better activities in which to indulge in than a wine tour. Consider Viavinaria in Montecarlo and relax as you’re escorted from one cantina (wine cellar) to the next to sample local wines and fare. Or if you’re in Tuscany toward the end of the month, no matter where you find yourself, the Cantina Aperta festival will see many vineyards, both popular and lesser-known, open up to the public with wine tastings, food, and tours.
Alternatively, if you’re a cyclist who loves wine, consider riding the unpaved white roads from Montalcino through the famed Val d’Orcia countryside in Chianti to any number of wineries to sample local varietals, like the Brunello and its variations. For more on Montalcino, read Hidden Hill Towns in Italy.
For a more mild outing, consider a walking tour of Florence, but also leave the historic center and discover the city's picture-perfect gardens. Head south of the River Arno to Giardino Torrigiani, a 16th century, UNESCO-protected garden (and Europe’s largest of its kind) that features 17 acres filled with plant and tree species from around the world. Also, Florence's famous Iris Garden is open to the public for 19 days in May. It's during this time that the garden's 1,500 varieties of colorful irises are in full bloom.
And if you’re in want of being stationary, head to the beach as amenities are now open for the season and dine al fresco on handmade pasta now that bars and restaurants have opened their patios.
Events in May
Fest del Lavoro (Labor Day). Held on the 1st of the month, many businesses are closed for this national holiday. Most attractions are closed too, as Italians choose to spend this day off relaxing with family and friends, enjoying picnics, and making nature excursions.
Giro d’Italia. Italy's answer to the Tour de France lasts three weeks in May (precise dates change each year). Even if you don't have much interest in witnessing a cycling race, you should still check the schedule. The route passes through many cities and towns throughout the country, and most lodging options in these locales will be fully booked during this time.
Giorno della Mamma (Mother’s Day). May 13 sees Italians (and visitors) celebrating their mothers.
Sagra della Cipolla. A food festival that takes place in Bagnone in northern Tuscany showcases the ways in which the red and white flattened treschetto onion can be prepared.
Sagra del Prugnolo. The small town of Pieve Santo Stefano features the prugnolo mushroom, the town's restaurants creating menus spotlighting the fungi as well as the shepherds bringing their livestock to the Maremma.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. A two-month festival showcasing international opera, concerts, and ballet performances, is Italy’s oldest music festival and takes place in Teatro dell’Opera di Firenze (Florence).
Traveling to Tuscany in May? Check out these great itineraries.
Riding the Eroica Among Famous Vineyards in Tuscany - 7 Days. May's pleasant temps make this a great time for biking. The Eroica is a world-renowned vintage bike race, held annually in the hilly, vineyard-dotted region of Chianti in Tuscany. Follow the route of this legendary race, experiencing the Strade Bianche that take you through the heart of the countryside.
Explore Tuscany - 12 Days. This is the season to see Tuscany's greatest hits without the crowds, with plenty of culinary delights along the way. See the highlights, sample the renowned Brunello di Montalcino wine, then end your trip in Lucca where you will learn the art of pasta making and go horseback riding in the Tuscan hills.