The tail-end of spring promises warm, travel-friendly weather, beautiful flower blooms, top-down road trips and famous sporting events like the Kentucky Derby. Basically, it’s the perfect time to shake off any lingering winter frost and get out of town.
While many travelers are interested in seeing what spring looks like in a different part of the United States — say, the rolling plains of Montana, for example or a firefly-filled forest in South Carolina — others are itching for a long-haul getaway.
From jungle triathlons to a three-week light and music festival in Australia, some of the most memorable trips you can take this month can be found halfway around the world. Just don’t forget to pack a comfy pair of walking shoes: this is no time to hide indoors.
Indeed, the best places to travel in May are heavy on action, with a backdrop of breezy coastal drives and contemplative forest retreats. Meanwhile, if it’s a new city you’re looking to discover, consider a long weekend in Shanghai, which marks the season with extravagant new hotels and unexpected daytrips.
Whether you’re a nature lover or a culture junkie, May is a time for pushing new boundaries. To figure out where you should head this month, read on.
The Kentucky Derby is coming up, and there couldn’t be a better time to visit Louisville, a dynamic city whose identity is shaped around this one-of-a-kind sporting event. The actual race takes place on May 5 (tickets are still available), but it’s worth showing up early for the two-week festival that precedes it, as the packed calendar includes events like a hot air balloon festival, a steamboat race, and musical performances by Kentucky natives. Louisville’s other attractions spring to life this time of year, so plan on working your way through Whiskey Row and joining crowds along the waterfront for America’s largest annual fireworks display.
With a new focus on high-design properties, China’s poster child metropolis continues its evolution as the go-to city for luxury, style, and world-class dining. Pierre Gagnaire’s boat-shaped bar inside the new Capella Shanghai is just one example of the high-caliber venues now saturating the center (several other five-star properties, like Middle House and Bulgari, are also set to open this spring). Meanwhile, Shanghai’s subtropical monsoon climate means mid-May is the sweet spot for mild, pleasant weather that’s in between the rainy season and the oppressively hot summer—perfect conditions for a daytrip to nearby Suzhou, whose enchanting canals earned it the nickname ‘the Venice of China.’
Monte Carlo, Monaco
The drive to Monaco from Nice International Airport only lasts 30 minutes, but you’ll be wishing it was longer as you swerve your way down the spectacular coastline that leads to town. Of course, racing enthusiasts from all over the world will fly in this month for the 76th annual Monaco Grand Prix. But May is also an ideal time to enjoy the tiny country’s natural landscape. You’ll notice locals wading out into the sea, while up in the hills, there’s wild honey and berries to be harvested. Even in town, at the famous Exotic Garden, the greenery will be striking.
São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo, the world’s tenth largest city, will be cooling down from summer in May, and the mild sunny days are sure to enchant. If you feel like working your way through the crammed, maze-like streets, stop in at the Museu de Arte for its impressive Modernist architecture and classic collection of European paintings. Just outside the city, the grand Palacio Tangara makes for a satisfying spa retreat, with its driveway of imperial palms and impeccably designed guest rooms that overlook Burle Max Park.
Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
Up for a workout? You’ll get more than you bargained for at Pangkor Laut’s gruelling annual Chapman’s Challenge race (May 12), which makes use of the resort’s stunning private island off Malaysia’s western coast. The route itself includes a 2.4-mile run around the island, followed by a 1.5-mile uphill trek through dense jungle, and finally an invigorating lap around Emerald Bay. If all that sounds unnecessarily difficult, consider that in 1945, a British spy made the same journey, as he was running for his life to escape Japanese imprisonment. These days, the stakes aren’t quite as high — though the winner does score an all-inclusive stay at an undisclosed YTL property. So, in a sense, the trip pays for itself.
For altitude junkies, there’s nothing quite like a road trip through Japan’s Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Spanning Nagano and Toyama Prefectures, the seasonal highway only opens between the months of April and November, but May is the sweet spot. That’s when it’s still possible to drive through the famous “snow walls” (narrow corridors carved through 30-foot mounds of snow) before they melt away, and the route is blanketed instead with wildflowers. A stay at Hotel Tateyama, which sits 8,000 feet high, is standard for most travelers, but it’s also possible to enjoy the route as you make your way to or from Tokyo.