boats on a lake
Set up shop at a lesser known Italian lake. | Daniele Novati/EyeEm/Getty Images
Set up shop at a lesser known Italian lake. | Daniele Novati/EyeEm/Getty Images

Race Into Warm Weather with These May Travel Ideas

From slow beach living to the world's fastest cars.

May has always been a month of transitions, when the pleasant chill of spring gives way to long, lazy summer nights, and Memorial Day kickstarts the whirlwind season of boat parties, beach town boardwalks, and trips to far flung lands. And boy, are the transitions already happening at warp speed this year. Restaurant patios are bustling, theaters are packed to the brim, and the music festival calendar is fully swinging, with so much more to come.

Still in the planning stages and need help finding affordable airfare? Google Flights just rolled out a price guarantee, ensuring that you’ll get the best deal possible when you book—if the price drops they’ll pay you the difference (!). And if you’re still struggling with getting out socially after hibernating over the winter (we’re with you), SNL alum and all round mensch Colin Quinn has a new show in New York to help you brush up on Small Talk. (If all else fails, just hit a cannabis museum to stock up on both fuel and fodder for all social situations.)

Proceed with caution or hurl yourself in—you do you. But we should also remind you that May 14 is Mother’s Day. If you’re still seeking ways to celebrate the mother figure in your life, maybe take inspiration from this month’s events. Might we suggest a trip to New Mexico for wine and hot springs, complete with a side of lavender dreams? Or, if she’s a speed demon, a Kentucky Derby party, tickets to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Miami, or a trip to the Indy 500? Also… we did mention cannabis museums, right?

Indulge your need for speed

Not only are we headed straight into summer, we’re getting there faster than ever. This month kicks off with the 150th annual Kentucky Derby in Louisville’s Churchill Downs (May 6), “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” as they say. Feeling fancy? Head down to Florida for the second iteration of the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix (May 5–7), where Hard Rock Stadium will transform into the Miami International Autodrome for a Monaco-style race, complete with a (landlocked) yacht club. And while most attendees will be seeking out luxurious accommodations in Miami, the track is only about 30 minutes south of Ft. Lauderdale—all the better to beat the crowds by booking hotels like the newly rebranded Kimpton Shorebreak Fort Lauderdale, with a rooftop pool in full view of the Intracoastal Waterway. And like all Kimptons, it’s pet friendly. But not just that: Fido also stays for free.

Into moonshine and car racing (but like… not at the same time)? North Carolina has introduced a new Moonshine and Motorsports Trail just in time for NASCAR’s 75th anniversary this year. Follow the route to hot spots like the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville, the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, plus much more. Finish it off in Wilkes County, the “moonshine capital of the world,” and home to the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway, set to host the 2023 All-Star Race on May 21.

Later, round out the month on the oval tracks of the Indy 500 (May 28). Pack a cooler, make sure you know which color car your fave is driving, and find seats up high for the best vantage point. Why not make it an IndyCar month? The GMR Grand Prix comes to Indianapolis on May 13.

Beam yourself up to the UFO Festival in Oregon

You know what else goes fast? UFOs. They’d have to, right? That sounds like something to ask the experts at the McMenamins UFO Fest, the second largest event of its kind (outside of Roswell, that is), touching down in McMinnville, Oregon on May 19 and 20.

An hour southwest of Portland in Oregon’s wine country, McMinnville is a worthy endeavor any time of year, with vineyards for biking through and tasting rooms for sampling their famous terroir-driven Pinot Noir. The resident Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum showcases Howard Hughes’s massive wooden Spruce Goose, and the adjacent Wings & Waves Waterpark boasts a real retired Boeing 747 aircraft on its rooftop.

And then there are the aliens. Every year, thousands of them descend on the Oregon town for UFO Fest, chosen because McMinnville was the site of an actual UFO sighting—with photographic evidence!—over half a century ago. Expert speakers range from former military personnel to UFO researchers to abductees who lived to tell the tale. There’s also a parade where pets, costumes, and pets in costumes, are encouraged.

Enjoy a pre-summer vacation in New Mexico

New Mexico has its fair share of alien ephemera, but they also have two very important things for those looking for a relaxing getaway: hot springs and wine. Put them together and it’s the perfect pre-summer vacation.

Grapes were first planted by Franciscan monks on the banks of the Rio Grande in 1629 for sacramental wine, making this the oldest wine growing region in the country. Today everyone can partake, with wine festivals throughout the year to celebrate the vines’ bounty. And May is a particularly good month to sample their output, when the Las Cruces Wine Festival (May 27 to 29), thrown by the New Mexico Wine Growers Association, takes over the Southern New Mexico Fairgrounds with local varietals, cheese pairings, and Latin and Tejano bands. That same weekend, the massive New Mexico Wine Festival takes over Albuquerque (May 27 to 29), a Memorial Day tradition held in the famed Balloon Festival Park, home to the largest balloon festival in the country. While you’re there, spend the night at Los Poblanos Historic Inn, where the lavender fields will lull you into an even deeper state of relaxation.

And what about those hot springs, you ask? Head to the quirky town of Truth or Consequences to pick from nine different bathhouses. Outside of Santa Fe, try Ten Thousand Waves, a mountain spa that feels like a Japanese onsen, or Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs near Taos. Need more suggestions? Never fear, we’ve got a whole itinerary laid out just for you.

Take in the urban beats of Belgium

In recent years Horst, Belgium’s three-day art, architecture, and music festival (May 5–7), has established itself as a leader in the electronic music sphere. Taking place in Vilvoorde’s Asiat Park, a former military barrack turned public green and events space, the immersive festival features inventive stage design—created by architects like Bruther and Stand Van Zacken—to match its stacked international DJ roster. The festival also marks the opening of a free, year-round expo at Asiat, paying tribute to residents, temporary visitors, and communities that define the city’s urban spaces. Don’t miss the co-commissioned installation created by Bottega Veneta and Turner prize laureate Mark Leckey.

Over in the country’s capital, you can catch a free concert at an outdoor square or jazz bar during the annual Brussels Jazz Weekend (May 26–28), or celebrate the performing arts at Kunstenfestivaldesarts, a series of contemporary theater, dance, and visual arts shows running from May 11 to June 3. Every year, the festival hosts a temporary “Free School,” and 2023’s edition focuses on language learning. The program includes courses presented by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera as well as talks related to the politics of language.

Explore the beauty of Quebec

Dust off your high school French and head to Quebec, where this time of year its resplendent natural landscapes come kissed with a gentle breeze. Fish along the St. Lawrence River in Gaspésie National Park or hike through the endless trails at Jacques-Cartier National Park. Gaze at Quebec’s rushing waterfalls, at their fullest in May due to winter snow run-off. Admire the Canyon Sainte-Anne in Beaupré (opening May 11), or zipline through Montmorency Falls in Quebec City. By mid-month, the city’s parks will be in full bloom, so make sure to stroll through Mount Royal or Battlefields Park. And if you’re more of a biker, opt for a refreshing ride through Promenade Samuel De Champlain.

The end of winter also marks the beginning of sugaring off season, when maple trees release their sweet sap. Make sure you indulge in a maple-infused Quebecois meal at one of the many sugar shacks stashed around the province. To boot, May is also Montreal Museums Month, which means 25 participating museums are shining a spotlight on their collections’ favorite items, and on the last Sunday of the month, you can visit them all for free.

Take a long walk in Italy or Spain

For some, relaxation is wine and hot springs. For others, it’s an epic hike imbued with beautiful scenery and a little regional history. Spain’s legendary Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trek encompassing several routes marked by shells and yellow arrows, leads walkers along coastal routes and through forests, building community with the modern-day “pilgrims” that flock to it annually. It all culminates at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the alleged burial site of St. James, one of Jesus’s 12 disciples.

Or, you can always hit the dirt in Italy. On this multi-day hike around Lake Como, you’ll see a different side of the popular celebrity haunt (though if you see Clooney, say hi for us), via a network of hillsides, forests, and old church courtyards on paths forged by farmers and sheep herders. Go from lakeshore to hilltop on the 27-mile Sentiero del Viandante, a.k.a. Wayfarer’s Path, and when it gets too hot, just pop down for a dip. Don’t worry about athletic ability: This hike is suitable for all skill levels (though trekking poles are recommended).

Looking for an under-the-radar Italian lake to soak your weary legs after all that hiking? There are plenty to choose from. Pack a picnic everywhere from Lake Maggiore, the country’s second-biggest lake, to Bellagio, with its sweeping views of Switzerland’s mountainous landscape, to the region of Franciacorta an hour east of Milan, featuring more than 100 wineries that make Champagne-style wines of the same name. For something more tucked away, the heart-shaped Lake Scanno has mysterious underwater magnetic fields for that spooky vibe, the Alpine Lake Prags is dotted with fossils, and Lake Capo D’Acqua is called the Atlantis of the Gran Sasso National Park, luring divers from all over with its complete underwater medieval villages. Go ahead. Find yourself where the crowds aren’t.

Sight-see in Greece without breaking a sweat (or your wallet)

You go to Greece in the summer to soak up clear blue skies and swim in warm Mediterranean waters. But when it comes to sightseeing, you might find yourself slogging uphill in pursuit of unshaded, ancient temples in 90-degree weather. Not only will a visit to Greece during shoulder season promise lower hotel rates and airfares, it’ll also offer the most comfortable sightseeing conditions with lower temperatures and fewer crowds. Plus, there’s little chance of rain. Say hello to the Parthenon in Athens, visit the archaeological sites of the Peloponnese, or take a ferry to Apollo’s birthplace of Delos, an uninhabited island that’s essentially an open-air museum.

May is also a great time to experience local traditions. Particularly in the city of Heraklion on the island of Crete, where the first of the month coincides with Protomagia, a festival that includes flower shows and wreath-making. The month also marks the start of Panagiria, a series of celebrations honoring saints that occur in and around the Greek islands. In Santorini, for example, the village of Akrotiri celebrates the feast of Agios Epiphanios on May 12—expect drinking, dining, and dancing till dawn.

Find a new beach to love

As you look ahead to warmer weather, you might envision your beach plans skewing toward the familiar, perhaps strolling wooden boardwalks with taffy (or deep fried Oreos) in hand at one of America’s great beach towns. Or maybe you’re dreaming of slipping into turquoise waters on an easy Caribbean getaway. Or heck, you could be setting your sights on a beachy Stateside hamlet where you can afford to set up camp for a few months—or even forever.

But what if you want to venture to an entirely new beachy destination? Somewhere like the Albanian Riviera, a.k.a. Europe’s best-kept beach secret. Here, stashed between Greece and Montenegro, you’ll find natural rock archways and seafront campgrounds, secluded sandy coves accessible only by boat, and, sure, beachfront boardwalks, all in what can only be described as paradise. Want to country hop? Check out these drop-dead gorgeous European beaches. From unexpected seaside bliss in Cornwall, England, to the beachy, boozy Nissi Bay in Cyprus, to Portugal, Sicily, Greece, Turkey, and even the otherworldly Iceland, there’s something for everyone. Even aliens.

Head south for Memphis in May

It’s always a good idea to visit Memphis—what with that gigantic pyramid and all—but you’ll be especially rewarded this month. That’s because it’s time for Memphis in May, the umbrella term for the many festivals running throughout the city, this year featuring an international salute to Malaysia.

Kick things off with the Beale Street Music Festival (May 5–May 7), which returns to the riverfront in Tom Lee Park with a lineup that includes The Lumineers, Greta Van Fleet, Gary Clark Jr., and Earth, Wind & Fire. Follow it up with a visit to the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (May 17–20), a showdown that makes taste buds tingle with competitions that span traditional smoked meats as well as hot wings and sauce. You can’t eat the food being judged, but don’t despair—there’s a whole tasting extravaganza happening as well.

There’s also the Great American River Run (May 27), if pounding the pavement’s your thing, and all around Memphis, you’ll find events and exhibits relating to Malaysia, including performances by the JKKN Malaysia Dance Troupe (May 11) and Malaysian folk troubadour Azmyl Yunor (May 5 and 6), plus a glamorous evening of dinner and dancing at the 2023 Magical Night in Malaysia Gala.

Go outside and tip your chin to the sky

Call it Meteor May, because this month marks the return of excellent stargazing weather. We may not be celestial navigators—yet—but we are plowing through debris left over by Halley’s Comet during the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, which started activity in mid-April. The peak arrives May 5 and 6, featuring as many as 40 meteors per hour under dark skies in the early hours. But if you *checks watch* missed the main event, don’t sweat it, because the shower can be seen all month, and you’ll also have a shot at seeing Venus and ever-elusive Mercury. (Intrigued but also confused? Check out our guide to stargazing for beginners.)

Now is also the time to get out there if birdwatching is your thing. Start by raising money for the New Jersey Audubon Society at the World Series of Birding (May 13). Not in New Jersey? How about West Virginia’s New River Birding and Nature Festival, taking place May 1–6 in our nation’s newest National Park, Homer, Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival (May 3–7), (the state’s largest wildlife-viewing festival), or the Birds of a Feather Spring Festival in coastal Astoria, Oregon (May 6-7). And from May 11 to May 14, you’ll find festivals in the Indiana Dunes and Eerie, Pennsylvania, while the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival goes down May 18–21.

Registration is now also open for the Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival in Ashland, Wisconsin (May 19–21), with a full schedule of field trips including kayaking to estuaries in Lake Superior with a US Fish and Wildlife Service refuge specialist. Happy (birding) trails.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. 
Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist.