Going strictly by the calendar, May is part of the spring season and would under normal circumstances be considered part of Italy’s shoulder season. Italy is quite good at dismissing normal circumstances, however, and unfortunately May is often thought of as the start of the high season in Italy these days.
Weather in May in Italy
Weather-wise, it’s easy to see why May gets lumped in with the high summer season. Especially in recent years, heat waves have hit Italy in May resulting in temperatures that were once reserved for July and August. Early May tends to be a bit milder, although usually still warm, sunny, and generally glorious.
By May the waters off Italy’s coasts are usually warm enough to warrant digging the swimsuit out of the closet or suitcase, but in the northern part of the country the mountains usually keep things a bit cooler overall. Temperatures in Italy rise as you move south in the country, so if you’re hearing about a heat wave in northern Italy you can guess that it’s even hotter in the south.
Rainfall is less of an issue during May, but there’s more chance of rain in the north than in central or southern Italy. Also note that even if the days are warm, the nights may be quite cool.
Temperatures in May vary depending on where you are in Italy, but as a general rule of thumb these are the ranges:
- Northern Italy: 50-70°F (10-21°C)
- Central Italy: 55-70°F (13-21°C)
- Southern Italy: 60-75°F (16-24°C)
>> Be sure to check a current weather forecast for Italy before you leave home, as the weather can change. Check my weather in Italy page for seasonal temperature and rainfall averages in a few Italian cities.
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Holidays in May in Italy
The month of May kicks off with International Workers’ Day on the 1st, a holiday which typically means spending time outdoors with family and friends, enjoying the day off from work and what is often very nice weather. Many attractions and shops are closed on May 1, so your best bet is usually to join the Italians – get picnic provisions at the market and hang out in the park.
Gardens are blooming all over Italy in May, and there are special local festivals to honor that – including an iris garden in Florence that’s only open to the public during a few weeks in May. This is also the month for Italy’s biggest bike race, the three-week Giro d’Italia. The route for the Giro changes every year, so check a race schedule to see if it’ll be passing through any of the towns you’ll be visiting.
As is the case with any major event in Italy, witnessing the Giro d’Italia firsthand can be exciting and add a unique flavor to your vacation. On the other hand, it can mean clogged highways, fuller-than-expected hotels, and crowds usually reserved for the summer. A little advance preparation is all it takes to make the experience fun instead of a hassle.
Don’t forget to check the local tourism office’s calendar of events for the places you’ll be visiting in May, as there are also local festivals and holidays that aren’t recognized throughout the country but can be interesting to experience.
>> Check my Italian holidays page to find out some of the things going on this May in Italy.
Why go to Italy in May?
Whereas a May visit to Italy was once a shoulder season bargain, Italy has caught on to how remarkable it can be during May and prices have risen accordingly. May is now firmly in the high season category price-wise in many places, although crowd levels still aren’t at their peak.
For the bargain-hunting traveler who’s on a tight budget, May in Italy is likely to be too much of a stretch. While the cost of Italy airfare in May is still lower than it is in June or July, the prices on Italy hotels are often jacked up to their high season rates as of mid-May (if not May 1).
Budget travelers who still want to visit Italy in May would do well to seek out cheaper accommodation such as the many hostels in Italy, and even a vacation rental in Italy can be a better budget option if staying in one place for more than a few days. Another option for cash-strapped travelers is to stay in the south, where prices in May haven’t usually risen quite as much as in the north.
If May is no longer a budget traveler’s dream, it’s certainly still fantastic when it comes to the weather – and because the summer months remain the most popular for foreign travelers in Italy, crowds aren’t quite as thick in May as they are in June. For those whose budgets allow it – and who don’t want to risk the rain in April – May can be the perfect month to be in Italy.
photo by Roberdan