Visiting France in May is a wonderful option. The spring temperatures make outdoor activities such as walking tours, hiking, cycling and truffle hunting very pleasant. And it may already be warm enough to enjoy the beaches in the south of France!
In this post we’ll recommend places to visit and things to do that are particularly nice during the month of May.
France Weather in May
The warmest part of France in May is the south, with average daytime temperatures of 55-68°F (13-20°C). The Mediterranean will still be warming up after the winter, so may not yet be warm enough for some travelers. The average sea temperature in the French Riviera in May is around 64°F (18°C). Bring some warm and light sweaters for the evenings or cooler days, even in the south.
On the Atlantic coast, temperatures are lower than in the south, with averages of 50-66°F (10-19°C) during the day. The sea will probably be too cold to swim in, but you can still enjoy the beautiful coastal landscapes of Normandy, Brittany and the Basque Country.
In the rest of France, the weather is mostly mild, but with some rainy and cooler days. In Paris, the average temperature in May is around 57°F (14°C), but can climb to the mid 70s/20s on sunny days. The lowest temperatures will be in northeastern France (around 46-57°F/8-14°C).
It is not unheard of to have a heatwave in May, so check the weather forecast before you travel and pack accordingly. Normally for May, we recommend packing your spring wardrobe with a warm jacket for the evenings or cooler days (especially in northern France), an umbrella and waterproof jacket in case it rains, and some light summery clothes if you’ll be traveling through southern France (especially in late May).
Festivals and Events in France in May
Rose festival in Chédigny, Loire Valley
The lovely village of Chédigny is in full bloom at the end of May, marked by its annual Rose Festival. The Loire Valley is known as ‘The Garden of France’, and this festival was established in 1998 by former mayor Pierre Loualt, who wanted Chédigny to live up to this reputation. The villagers planted 700 rose bushes, which have multiplied and are in full blossom in late May. Even if you’ll miss the 'Festival des Roses', it is worth visiting the town in May or June to see and smell the roses.
Cannes Film Festival, French Riviera
One of the most glamorous events in the international entertainment calendar, the biggest names in world cinema congregate in the south of France once a year for the Cannes Film Festival.
Even if you don’t have a pass for the film festival, you can still enjoy the atmosphere and the movies that are showing. The free open-air cinema at the Plage Mace shows classic films every evening during the festival - and it's free! Arrive early to grab your deckchair - you won't need a ticket.
As a Cannes Cinephile, you can also enjoy a movie showing at one of the four movie theaters in Cannes for free! Get your tickets from the Cannes Cinephiles' tent on the Pantiero between 9.00 and 17.30. When you’re not at any of the festival events, jump in a car and explore some of the lovely hidden gems of the French Riviera!
Monaco Grand Prix, Formula One, French Riviera
Every year in late May or early June, the Monaco Grand Prix, also known as Le Grand Prix de Monaco, is held on the Circuit de Monaco. Established in 1929, the Formula One race takes place on a narrow course along the streets of Monaco. It is one of the most difficult tracks in Formula One, due to the many elevation changes and tight corners, and a tunnel.
If you would like to visit Monaco during the Grand Prix, we will recommend other things you can do when you’re not at the races. We include some of our suggestions in our post on how to spend a day in Monaco, and can include a trip to Monaco in any of our French Riviera driving itineraries.
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer Gypsy Pilgrimage, Provence
Every year around 24-25 May, Gypsy communities travel from all over Europe and beyond to the Provence coastal town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to worship their patron saint, Sara La Kali (Black Sara).
The joyful atmosphere is a mix of religious tradition, Gypsy faith and culture, and carnival. During this vibrant festival, the streets, squares and beaches fill with campsites with a party atmosphere in the town day and night. Friends and families meet again and many baptisms take place in the town’s church.
Wazemmes Accordion Festival, Lille
Flonflons is a cultural association in Lille in northern France promoting musical and festive events centered around the accordion.
It developed from a small event in the 90s to a huge local music festival attracting musicians from a wide range of musical genres including rock, punk, folk, jazz, classical and tango.
If you’re in Lille during the Wazemmes Festival, you’ll enjoy impromptu performances, dancing and festivities all over the city. Most events take place in and around the Maison Folie Wazemmes, Lille from the last week of May through the first week of June.
The festival is well worth attending if you’re driving through northern France in late May.
The Guardians Festival, Arles
On May 1st every year, the Fete des Gardians in Arles celebrates the town’s history and heritage. It also marks the anniversary of the ancient Brotherhood of the Guardians of St. George, founded in 1512. In this context, the gardians are mounted cattle herders, much like a cowboy, who live and work in the Camargue delta, a natural coastal region south of Arles in southern France. It’s the oldest active fraternity and the festival celebrates the life of the gardians of the Camargue.
During the festival, which has been held for five centuries, the people of Arles dress in traditional 17th century costumes and parade through the streets, accompanied by music and the gardians on their iconic white horses.
The festival moves on to the 12,000-capacity Roman Arena, which dates back to the 1st century AD. There, the Camargue cattle herders put on horse shows, displaying their impressive horsemanship.
We invite you to see one of our sample tours of Provence and the Camargue.
Joan of Arc festival, Reims
On the last weekend of May the Joan of Arc Festival (known as the Fêtes Johanniques in French) in Reims commemorates the coronation of Charles VII that took place in Reims Cathedral on 17 July 1429.
To mark this occasion, the city recreates a medieval village with dozens of craftspeople and tradespeople dressed in costumes from the period. Entertainers fill the streets and there are many activities, including a falconry display, stone-cutting and wool-spinning workshops, tutorials on how to handle medieval weapons, musical performances and a fancy dress parade.
The highlight of the festival is the reenactment of the arrival of Joan of Arc and the Dauphin in the city of Reims during the coronation procession, with hundreds of people taking part. There’s also a big pyrotechnic show on Saturday evening.
If you’re on a tour of Champagne at the end of May, we recommend visiting Reims for this festival - a very fun and interesting cultural experience!
Best Places to visit in France in May
The Crozon Peninsula, Brittany
The Crozon Peninsula is on the coast in the middle of Brittany. There are gorgeous beaches and a beautiful sea in this area. For a picture-perfect back-drop, visit the enchanting ruins of Landevennec Abbey, a medieval Benedictine monastery by the sea.
Other parts of Brittany we recommend visiting include the beautiful Pink Granite Coast (especially the area around Perros-Guirec), the Emerald Coast, the Gulf of Morbihan and the Vallée des Saints. See more of our favorite places (with stunning photos!) in our post on the best places to visit in Brittany. We’ve also done a round-up of what we think are some of the best beaches in Brittany.
The Gardens of the Loire Valley
As mentioned above, the Loire Valley is known as ‘The Garden of France’ for its many beautiful gardens and flowery villages. Many of the castles of the Loire Valley have very pretty formal or themed gardens or even natural gardens that are ideal for a picnic!
If you enjoy gardening, a visit to Chaumont-sur-Loire Castle during the International Garden Festival (which runs from April through October) is an absolute must. A visit to the Chateau de Chambord castle and its recently restored gardens is also a nice option. We love Villandry’s beautiful terraced gardens, as well as the elaborate flower arrangements and 70 hectares of garden and forest that surround the 16th century Chateau de Chenonceau.
Find out more about some of the best gardens in France on our blog.
Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, Alsace
No driving tour of Alsace would be complete without a visit to the spectacular Haut-Koenigsbourg castle.
This medieval castle is perched on the hills in eastern France, overlooking forests and vineyards. It was first built in the 12th century and eventually left to ruin. It was entirely rebuilt in the 19th century
Book skip-the-line tickets (we’ll do this for you if you book a tour with us) and learn about the castle and Alsace’s rich and fascinating history through the ages. There are both audio and guided tours available in English.
Mont Ventoux, Provence
One of our favorite driving routes is the road around Mont Ventoux in Provence, the highest mountain in this region. During pleasant May weather, you can see stunning panoramic views across Provence.
Keep in mind that the last section of the routes up to the summit are normally closed from late November through mid-April or May. So if you’re in France in early May and want to drive to the summit of Mont Ventoux, check that the routes have been reopened.
May is an ideal time to explore the roads around Mont Ventoux by car. During the peak summer season, these routes are extremely busy with both drivers and advanced cyclists (as this route features in the Tour de France), and can be tricky to drive.
Driving around Mont Ventoux until it joins the lavender road in Sault can be an excellent option - we’ll explain how to do this if you’re on a road trip through Provence with us!
The Verdon Gorge, Provence
The largest canyon in Europe, also known as ‘The French Grand Canyon’, offers stunning views of the aquamarine Verdon River. If you enjoy outdoor activities, there are many on offer: white water-rafting, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, hiking, rock-climbing and of course, canyoning!
If you’re driving, we’ll tell you when to visit to avoid the majority of the tour buses along the road. And we’ll tell you our favorite photo-stops!
Best Things to do in France in May
See the tennis at Roland Garros at the French Open, Paris
The French Open tennis tournament normally starts at the end of May. If you’re a tennis fan and already have your tickets for the tournament, we can plan a personalized itinerary for you around the tournament. That way, you can enjoy the tennis AND immerse yourself in French culture, all in one trip!
Enjoy some Jazz under the apple trees in Normandy
Starting in the last week of May, the annual Normandy Jazz Festival is the scene of great musical performances. In the medieval town of Coutances and its surroundings there’s a great atmosphere of celebration and family fun. Performers include amateur jazz enthusiasts to international jazz stars.
The festival lasts a week and there are performances in marquees, halls, churches, bars and on the streets, including 50 concerts showing off a variety of jazz styles.
If you’re a fan of jazz and you’ll be in Normandy in May, you cannot miss this festival!
Alongside the festival, you may be interested to explore the Normandy Cider Road or enjoy some day trips in Normandy elsewhere. We’ll be happy to plan a Normandy driving itinerary around your preferences.
Sit and get to know your neighbors during the Neighbors Festival
Every year on May 19th, France celebrates Neighbours’ Day (la Fête des Voisins). On this day, people from the same neighborhood or apartment block get together for a chat and to get to know each other better. Established in 1999, more than 8 million neighbors across France now celebrate this festival.
This day is also popular in other European countries, including Germany, Italy, Switzerland Portugal and Belgium, and across the world.
If you’re staying at a French B&B on May 19th, ask your hosts about the Neighbors’ Festival and if you can join in the conversations with neighbors! It’s a great way to get to know the locals and experience this a French cultural tradition.
Explore the half-timbered villages of Alsace
Alsace in eastern France has a fascinating history and culture, with a unique and delicious gastronomy and beautiful little villages to explore. These villages are like something out of a fairy-tale at Christmas, covered in decorations, Christmas lights and with Christmas markets lining the streets.
In May, the weather is very pleasant for strolling through the villages - you’ll get some stunning photos of the colorful half-timbered houses, some of which date back to medieval times. Some of our favorite Alsatian villages include: Dambach-la-Ville (nestled among Alsatian vineyards), Andlau (located in a forested valley in the the Vosges foothills, where bears used to roam), Soufflenheim (well-known for its typical Alsatian pottery), Eguisheim (voted France’s Favorite Village in 2013), Riquewihr (lovely squares filled with fountains) and Ribeauvillé (a cute town covered with flowers).Find out more about our self-guided tours of Alsace.
Play a game of Pelote Basque with the locals in the Basque Country
The French Basque Country stretches from southwestern France across the Spanish border and has a unique and interesting culture - and its own traditional sport.
This is called pilota or pelote basque, and as this is an important part of Basque culture, it’s great to give it a try if you’re driving through the Basque Country.
Basically, you either use a wooden bat, a type of glove or your bare hand to hit a small, hard ball against a wall, depending on how you’re playing.
As part of our Basque Country tours, if you’re interested in trying this sport, we’ll arrange for you to do a pelote basque class with a former champion! You’ll learn about the history of the sport, how to play, and then play a few games with a pro. Definitely one of the most memorable experiences you can have in France!
Visit the WWI battle sites & memorials near Verdun
This is a fascinating and poignant place to visit if you’re interested in World War I history, trench warfare, and key contributions that the American military made toward ending the First World War.
The Battle of Verdun began on 21st February 1916, when the German artillery launched a 10-hour assault using two million shells. The battle lasted for ten months, during which nine villages in the area were completely destroyed and six were never rebuilt.
You can visit the area of one of the destroyed villages, Fleury-devant-Duaumont, on the way to the Verdun Memorial museum. It still shows where the city hall, school, farms, etc. once stood.
The main battles in the Meuse region for the US troops were the Saint Mihiel Salient (marked at the Montsec memorial) in September 1918 and the Battle of Argonne (marked at the Romagne-sous-Montfaucon memorial) in October 1918. They successfully dislodged the German forces occupying these areas. These victories allowed the allied troops to regain control and cut off German supplies arriving by train, a strategic imperative. This led to the signing of the Armistice on November 11th, 1918.
As well as visiting the battlefields, Verdun Memorial museum and areas where destroyed villages once stood, you can also see the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial. It’s the biggest military cemetery in Europe, with 14,246 graves.We find that the people of Verdun are very friendly and like sharing their region’s history with travelers. Most of them, of course, lost relatives/ancestors in the battles, and may share their own personal stories.
FAQ about traveling to France in May
How hot is France in May?
May is a very pleasant time to enjoy a road trip through any part of France.
The average afternoon temperatures are 16-18°C (60-64°F) in the northern part of the country and 60-68°F (16-20°C) in southern France.
Get more details on the temperatures in each French region on our FAQ about the French weather.
Where is the warmest in France in May?
Is May a good month to visit France?
May is an ideal time to explore France, as you'll enjoy mild to warm temperatures and springtime in full bloom. It's a great time to be outside in France, strolling, hiking, cycling and walking through our beautiful towns, villages and countryside.
If you're curious about having us plan a custom self-drive itinerary of France for you, we would love you to contact us. We warmly invite you to browse our sample tours, all of which can be customized based on your preferences.