It’s a beautiful time of year no matter where you are in the world. Let’s find out what’s going on
The weather’s warm, nature is in bloom, and people are starting to get into the holiday mood. Whether you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or something relaxing and intimate, here’s our guide to what to do in May.
All things NOLA, New Orleans, USA
People tend to think of Mardi Gras as the ultimate New Orleans street party, but the city never needs an excuse to let its hair down: throughout May there are a number of events that just scream Louisiana.
The New Orleans Jazz Fest marks its 50th anniversary this year. It takes place over two weekends, with its second running from Thursday, 2 May to Sunday, 5 May. Jazz culture is central to the NOLA vibe, with both contemporary artists and “heritage” music featuring, meaning you’ll hear the best of Cajun and Creole music, brass bands, and Mardi Gras acts.
Tuesday, 10 May is National Shrimp Day. There is a case to be made that in New Orleans every day is National Shrimp Day, but here’s an extra reason to get your fill of one of the city’s favorite foodstuffs. Boiled, fried, barbecued, grilled, in stews, in gumbo, or in a thousand other ways, it’s one of the tastes of Louisiana.
Otherwise, simply enjoy the spring weather. It’s a very green city, surrounded by parks, historical reservations and nature preserves, as well as lakes, bayous and rivers that can be explored by canoe or kayak. After all that partying, it’s the perfect way to cool off.
White Nights, St. Petersburg, Russia
As northern Russia emerges from its wintry shell, the former capital comes alive. From early May to late July, it’s daylight almost constantly during what are known as the White Nights. Across the city, people party, spend all day and all night in the parks and gardens, head out into the countryside for midnight swims in the (still chilly!) rivers and lakes, and generally celebrate life being good.
The city itself is a grand proposition; busy and lively, but less immediately overwhelming than Moscow. Where Moscow jumps up and down and shouts for your attention, St. Petersburg sits back and lets the focus come to it. Take a boat tour through the rivers and canals, walk across the vast plaza outside the Hermitage, then go inside and see some of the greatest artistic treasures anywhere in the world.
As an added incentive, you can now visit St. Petersburg and the surrounding region more easily, thanks to a new e-visa that was introduced in 2019. You can read more about that, and more about the city itself, here.
Music on the streets, Vilnius, Lithuania
The middle of the month is when Vilnius brings people together who speak the universal language: music. Saturday, 16 May is Street Music Day, set up in 2007 by actor and musician Andrius Mamontovas, and it’s a day on which musicians of all kinds flood the streets of the capital to play, entertain, meet others and generally have a great time.
Rock, classical, metal, jazz, avant-garde, African rhythms, Lithuanian folk… no matter what your taste, you’ll hear things you’ve never heard before. Follow your ears as you explore the streets and alleyways of Vilnius, from the castle to the Old Town, and from the old Jewish ghetto to the “independent republic” of Užupis.
In 1998, the residents of Užupis — historically an area made up of artists, musicians, and general bohemian types — declared “independence” from the country, gaining a president and a cabinet, a mayor, a flag, an unofficial currency and a constitution.
The constitution runs to 41 points, including “Everyone has the right to understand”, “Everyone has the right to understand nothing”, “Everyone has the right not to be afraid”, “A dog has the right to be a dog”, and “Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation”.
Because all the music that happens on Street Music Day is, by its very nature, on the streets, everything is free, but feel free to chuck a couple of coins in a guitar case or a hat to show your appreciation.
Spend the rest of the weekend relaxing in the bars and coffee shops of the city, or wandering some more when everything calms down. The Unesco-protected Old Town consists of around 1,500 buildings, giving a beautiful snapshot of medieval Europe.
The beautiful Church of St. Anne so impressed Napoleon he supposedly wanted to take it back to Paris. Thankfully for the city it’s still here, and is just one of the many gorgeous buildings in a lesser-visited European capital. This spring, why not find out more for yourself?
The third island, Kyushu, Japan
For a month later this year, the world will be focusing on Tokyo as the Japanese capital hosts the Olympic Games for the second time. Competitors and spectators from all over the world will make the summer months a busy, multi-national time. Springtime in a different part of Japan, however, is a different matter entirely.
Kyushu is, after Honshu and Hokkaido, Japan’s third-largest island, but is easily reached from the capital. A network of bridges and tunnels connect Kyushu to Honshu, and the famed bullet train will get you there from Tokyo in around five hours.
The largest city is Fukuoka, with a population of around 1.5 million people, and it’s a great base from which to explore the island. Despite being almost 2,000 years old, it feels contemporary and calm, with modern architecture, fabulous restaurants, a number of art galleries, and (in summer) a beautifully warm climate.
Speaking of fabulous restaurants, the town of Saga, to the south of Fukuoka, is hosting the 2020 edition of the Asia’s Best Restaurant awards so wherever you go there’ll be delicious things to eat.
Another important city on the island is Nagasaki, now once again a thriving port, but famously one of the two cities attacked with an atomic bomb during World War II. Naturally, there are a number of tributes to those killed, including a monument and the Peace Memorial Hall, but the city doesn’t dwell on the past, looking — as much of the country does — to a peaceful and prosperous future.
Syttende Mai, Oslo, Norway
A lot of countries celebrate their Independence Day; it’s only natural, particularly if the country in question has had a long and difficult history. After all, what’s better than celebrating a right to self-government, freedom from oppression and, in some cases, simply the fact that your nation exists at all?
Norway doesn’t celebrate its Independence Day. That falls on 7 June, and isn’t even a public holiday! No, the big one is Constitution Day, 17 May, and the history behind it is slightly tricky. Basically, the Constitution was signed because it was in danger of being lost to Sweden during the Napoleonic Wars, and the Constitution was a way of attempting to declare Norway an independent kingdom.
This avoided Norway being ceded to Sweden, and instead placed them in a union. When people started celebrating this day, it was banned, being seen as a form of protest against the union, until 1829 and the Battle of the Square, a clash between revelers and military forces so severe that the King had no choice but to acknowledge it as a day of celebration.
Nowadays, Constitution Day (or Syttende Mai, the seventeenth of May) is a day of peace, and particularly a day for children. Each elementary school district organizes its own parades, with marching bands and flags.
The older children carry banners, and the younger ones follow with hand-held flags, and often the routes visit war memorials and old peoples’ homes. There are also parades that the public are encouraged to join, often wearing a bunad, the traditional costume of Norway.
The Constitution itself offers up the ideas of freedom, equality and brotherhood, and former Norwegian parliamentary president Jo Benkow has noted that it’s become a celebration of Norway’s growing ethnic diversity. For this, and many other reasons, it’s a joyous day for the citizens of this peaceful country.
Sustainable heritage, Kochi, India
The state of Kerala, in the south of India, has spent centuries as a mish-mash of people and cultures. An important trading port, it has the double quirks of being slightly detached from the rest of India by the mountains that lie to the east, but totally open to the rest of the world by its location on the coast of the Arabian Sea.
The historic portion of the city is called Fort Kochi, after the old Portuguese fort that used to stand there, but now no longer does. The most popular sight here are the Chinese fishing nets, apparently brought to Kochi by Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century. They mainly exist as a photo opp for tourists nowadays, and for a small fee, you can have a go at catching fish yourself which you can then have cooked for dinner as you watch the sun set.
Across Vasco da Gama Square is the Church of St. Francis, one of the oldest European churches in India. It was built as a Catholic church by the Portuguese, rebuilt by the Dutch as protestant, and finally became Anglican when the British arrived. A flippant point it may be, but all of this — the fishing nets, the church — give an idea of what Kochi has done throughout its history.
Renewable is what the city does best. Cafes are proud to supply local products, homestays are highly recommended as a way to meet the locals, and the Kerala folk museum is home to over 4,000 artifacts, and their 17th-century theater has daily performances of dance or drama from one of the many facets of the city’s heritage.
Add to this the fact that Cochin International is the world’s first totally solar-powered airport (it has been since 2015) that also includes a farm selling organic vegetables to local businesses and airport staff, and you have a city that embraces its past while doing all it can for a sustainable future.