Though May is normally associated with Spring, for Greece, it’s actually the beginning of Summer. May is the perfect month to visit Greece because it combines the best of everything: it is Summer most days, also sprinkled with some Spring. You can hike, and it will be cool at night, but you can also swim on warm days.
The sun is bright and warm but forgiving. Everything is mild and fragrant, and because it’s not yet the height of the summer season, you are still going to enjoy it all without the teeming crowds of tourists.
May is an ideal month for vacations in Greece simply because you have all the access to amenities, venues, and services that operate during high season but at the best possible prices. May is still a month where bargain deals happen, and you can get a lot more value for your money.
Highly popular places such as the islands and some of the most well-known coastal towns are not yet drowning in tourists, so you will be able to enjoy sights and get photos with ease and calm.
In many areas, especially in the islands and certain villages, the first summer panygiria happen, where locals dance, sing, eat, and make merry well into the night in honor of a saint’s feast day. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the local traditions and culture and make amazing memories! This guide has everything you need to know about vacations in Greece in May!
- A Guide to Visiting Greece in May
- Pros and cons of visiting Greece in May
- The weather in Greece during May
- Holidays in Greece during May
- Where to Go in Greece in May
- Planning your trip to Greece in May
A Guide to Visiting Greece in May
Pros and cons of visiting Greece in May
Honestly, there are no disadvantages to visiting Greece in May, except perhaps that the sea may be too chilly for your tastes if you try to swim. There will be days that are so hot that such coolness is welcome, however, and there are islands and mainland beaches with shallow waters that warm up easily. Beyond that, visiting Greece in May is getting the best of everything:
Though the prices are still in the neighborhood of the off-season, the access you get is that of the high season. Everything is in order and operational, from the high-season ferry and airlines, local airports, and high-frequency trips to the various venues like summer cafés and bars, island restaurants and nightlife posts, and more.
In short, if you want to visit Greece on a budget but not compromise on the whole summer experience, May is the month you want. You can also enjoy it all with a few tourists, as the first big wave arrives in Greece sometime in late June. However, there are enough tourists for the sights and various areas not to look empty, so it’s comfortable but not lonely.
The weather is mostly summer, but it’s not scorching hot; you will get several warm summer days, cool evenings and nights, and perhaps rare rainfall. You can bask in the sun with impunity, go hiking, go exploring, and enjoy the outdoors for a lot more time than in the peak of summer, where heatstroke is a real threat.
The weather in Greece during May
The temperature in Greece in May averages around 19 to 20 degrees Celsius in Athens, with many days going as high as 25 degrees during the day. After the sun sets, expect the temperature to drop to an average of 15 degrees, but it can get as low as 10 degrees.
From there, the more south you go, the higher the temperature average, so in Crete it can go as high as 25 or even 28 degrees. The more north you go, the lower the temperature average, so in Thessaloniki, you may get an average of 17 degrees.
That means you should pack your swimsuit and T-shirts, including a jacket or a cardigan for those chilly instances!
Weather-wise, it is mostly sunny in May, with days that get longer. However, there may be some rainfall. If it does rain, it’ll be short-lived! It’s not yet Meltemi season in the Aegean, so the islands are likely to have several calm days and gentle winds, if any. An excellent time to explore the Cyclades!
During May, the sun is warm and inviting. Bring your sunglasses, and don’t be fooled; use sunscreen for those long hikes outdoors!
Check out my post: Packing list for Greece.
Holidays in Greece during May
There is a chance that May is the month when Easter Sunday happens, as in some years, the entire Easter calendar is ‘late.’ However, this is relatively rare, and Easter happens mostly during April. If you’re visiting in a year with ‘late’ Easter, then you’re in for an extra treat, as the Easter celebration is one of the highlights of the Greek year!
In all other instances, the only country-wide public holiday that happens in May is May Day.
May Day in Greece is called “Protomagia” (the name literally means ‘first of May’). It’s a special public holiday that has a dual meaning in Greece, as it is the “Flower Holiday” as well as International Labor Day.
There are several traditions that you can look out for during May Day in its Flower Holiday capacity, and certain actions that are taken annually that you must work your schedule around in its International Labor Day capacity.
During May Day, a lot of shops, venues, and other businesses are shut. There is a country-wide strike, and there are demonstrations organized in all major cities. Make sure you are aware of what places are not working, whether public transport has special arrangements (they often participate in the strike), and whether your ferry will be delayed or rescheduled. In general, it’s a good idea not to book trips on May Day but rather enjoy the day where you are.
In its Labor Day capacity, May Day is very important to Greeks, as the country has a very intense workers’ rights history, with a lot of harsh, bloody strikes, demonstrations, and political trouble that has marked the Greek common unconscious.
There are, therefore, a lot of happenings commemorating this history, apart from the strike and demo. Make sure you look out for any film or music events taking place in honor of May Day in the place where you’re vacationing!
In its Flower Holiday capacity, May Day has been celebrated for several centuries and has its origins in Ancient Greek festivals around Spring and flowers. Customarily, it’s the day when people go on day trips to the countryside to pick wildflowers. From these wildflowers, they make the May Wreath.
The May Wreaths are traditionally made by bending thin branches of blossoming trees, such as an almond tree or cherry tree or vines, and then decorating the circle with flowers. They would hang the wreath on the door. It is a symbol of bringing Spring to the house and, thus, rejuvenation and virility.
Often, the wreath twigs were of a rose tree or other briar that had thorns to ward off evil. These wreaths would stay on the door until June 24, which is the feast day of St. John Kleidonas (Aghios Giannis). Then, big bonfires are lit, and the now-dry wreaths are tossed in. Couples and young people then leap over the fires for good luck and good fortune.
In rural areas, the celebration of Spring during May Day can take on even more elaborate celebrations and customs, so if you find yourself in the Greek countryside, look out for them! Here are some examples:
Florina is where the feast day of Aghios Ieremias is celebrated together with May Day, and there is intense singing and dancing on a special hill. These dances celebrate nature and invoke blessings to keep homes pest-free.
Corfu is where the “Magioksylo” (May’s Wood) customs involve cutting a fir branch and decorating it with yellow daisies. A young boy parades the streets with it, and young men dressed in all white with red sashes dance and sing May’s praises.
Epirus’ region is where the Resurrection of May takes place (in Greek, it’s “Anastasi tou Magiopoulou”). It’s a very visceral reenactment of Spring conquering the death of Winter: a young boy adorned with flowers and leaves pretends to be the dead Dionysus.
Around him, young girls sing a special dirge to wake him from death. In other areas, instead of a young boy, it’s a young man, preferably a farmer, who is representing Dionysus, and he walks door to door while young girls and boys dance and sing of May all around him.
There are several variations of the above examples, so make sure you enjoy May Day where you are vacationing, rather than try to travel and meet assorted hurdles!
Feast Day of Konstantinou kai Elenis (Constantine and Helen)
The feast day of Konstantinou kai Elenis takes place on May 21st. It is the commemoration of Emperor Constantine the Great, the first emperor of the Byzantine empire, and his mother Helen who supposedly discovered the actual cross that was used for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Both are canonized and celebrated as saints in the Greek Orthodox Church.
There is an iconic custom taking place on that day, besides the various panygiria across Greece: Anastenaria.
Anastenaria is performed in the regions of Thrace and Macedonia. The word means “the sighing dance,” and it’s a ritual where dancers are driven to a state of ecstasy and then walk barefoot over a long corridor of red-hot, burning coals. The amazing thing about it is that they don’t feel any pain, and they don’t suffer any burns. The custom is ancient, likely having been observed long before Christianity!
Palaiologia Festival (29th May)
This festival takes place annually on May 29th at Mistras castle town, in the Peloponnese. It is in honor of the last Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Constantine Palaiologos, who saw Constantinople (currently Istanbul) fall to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. There are several events during the festival, from music and dancing to archery and shooting competitions. There is also a very formal memorial mass done in the citadel in honor of Emperor Constantine.
Where to Go in Greece in May
No matter where you choose to go in Greece in May, you will be surrounded by the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Everything will be verdant and fragrant, the weather will be wonderful, and you will have your pick of venues, accommodations, and sites to enjoy without the overwhelming crowds of peak summer.
However, here is a short list of great places to be in Greece in May that may not immediately spring to mind as well as the classics!
Athens and Thessaloniki
The capital of Greece, Athens, is a gem to visit in May. All the citrus trees on the sidewalks are blossoming and, at night, scent the air with their aroma. The weather is perfect for exploring the major archaeological sites such as the Acropolis, and the schedule for the museums is the summer one, meaning that you get a lot more hours in the day to get your fill of museums.
It’s also perfect for enjoying Athens’ open-air culture of cafés and restaurants, scattered in its various picturesque districts and neighborhoods like Exarheia, Koukaki, Psyrri, and Plaka, the historical center.
Thessaloniki is also great, with its great port promenade and its historical monuments giving character to its many districts. Stroll through its historical center in the upper tiers down to Aristotelous Square, and enjoy your coffee on the warm, bright day; visit the White Tower, and enjoy its many museums and venues.
There’s no better time to visit the gorgeous Mt. Olympus, where the Ancient Greek gods would live, than in May. Everything has blossomed, and everything is green. All the rare wildflowers and other lush vegetation are in harmony in the great Spring symphony that is May.
Start at Litochoro village with the beautiful traditional stone architecture swathed in gorgeous vegetation, and hike along Enipeas River to its stunning Gorge with its bridges, plunge pools, and waterfalls. If you’re feeling more adventurous, hike up to Zeus’ Throne and explore Orlias Gorge for some of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural vistas and landscapes you will ever see.
May is a great opportunity to visit Santorini at its best: with all the beauty and none of the teeming crowds! There will be tourists, but the heavy waves will arrive in late June. Enjoy Santorini’s amazing views from the caldera, hike from Fira to Oia, and enjoy your coffee in peace at some of the most beautiful island villages in all of the Aegean.
Santorini generally is pricey, but May is when you can get the better deals, which makes visiting then an even greater idea.
The queen of the Dodecanese, Rhodes, is the island of the knights, the time capsule of medieval times. May is one of the best months to visit, as the weather is inviting for exploration, and you can get a lot better deals once you’re there. Explore the Palace of the Grand Master and the Old Town and have your coffee or refreshment outdoors with comfort.
Discover the acropolis of Lindos and walk through the Valley of the Butterflies. There won’t be many butterflies as they mostly come out in June, but the gorgeous vistas and stunning nature are enough compensation!
Nafplio is a very historical, very gorgeous city in the Peloponnese. It was Greece’s first capital when finally the country was founded after the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Explore Nafplio by walking up to Palamidi Castle to enjoy the breathtaking, sweeping views of the entire city.
Visit the bastion where Theodore Kolokotronis, one of the leading figures in the War of Independence, was imprisoned in 1833. Take the boat across to visit Bourzi Castle and walk along the Arvanitia promenade, which is considered one of the most scenic ones you can find!
Close to Mt. Parnassus, Delphi is the place of the famous ancient Greek Oracle and the temple of Apollo. May is the perfect time to visit, as all nature is lush and festive with wildflowers and color that enhances the beauty of the archeological sites even more. The views are breathtaking, and the vantage points you will get will make you understand why people were inspired to have the Oracle there.
Pass through the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, following the footsteps of the ancients, and stop by Kastallia spring, which still runs today, as they would to cleanse themselves before proceeding. Then explore the site of Delphi and its museum before trying Mt. Parnassus for more hiking!
Planning your trip to Greece in May
May is the beginning of the tourist season. Not quite high season yet, but with a lot of high season elements, you can expect most or all of the services of the high season already in operation. Because it’s not quite high season yet, you can find package or bargain deals if you start planning your trip a few months in advance.
Make sure you book all your major tickets for airlines and ferries, as you may not be able to find one at a good price if you wait until the last minute. If you plan to visit islands with high-profile venues, check first if they have opened. Most have but some wait until June, especially those on Mykonos Island. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment!
In terms of preparation, make sure your suitcase has summer clothes as well as some warmer items to protect you in the evening or in case you have a cooler day- make sure you pack a couple of cardigans and a jacket. You will need flat, sturdy shoes for all your exploration and hiking, and definitely include your sunglasses and sunscreen.