Best Events in Europe in May

There’s a palpable shift in gear in Europe when the month of May rolls around. Most cities have shaken off the last cold snaps and are preparing for a bumper summer season. Though not quite peak summer, you’ll find plenty of entertaining events in May, with traditional celebrations, film festivals and even a concert or two.

Events in May

1. Cocullo, Italy – Snake Festival

Fans of slippery serpents should earmark May 1 and put a Google Maps pin in the town of Cocullo. Each year residents cover the statue of St Domenico (the saint who protects against snake bites) with money, jewels, and hundreds of snakes. They then carry the statue through the streets and release the creatures back into the wild. The first festivities start at 8am with a slew of fireworks, but most action kicks off around 10am.

How to get there by train: You can reach Cocullo by train from Rome in approximately 3 hours. There are three daily trains.

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2. Jerez de la Frontera, Spain – Horse Fair

Horses play a significant role in Spanish history. Each year, residents of the vibrant town of Jerez pay homage to these creatures in the annual Horse Fair. In 2019 the fair runs from May 11 to May 18. You can expect colorful parades, traditional garb, and bustling fairgrounds packed with hundreds of tents for you to explore. This is one of Jerez’s major annual festivals, so book ahead if you plan to stay overnight.

How to get there by train: There are several daily trains between Madrid and Jerez that take between 3.5 and 4 hours. There are also at least two daily direct trains.

3. Venice, Italy – Venice Biennale International Art Festival

The Venice International Art Festival kicks off in mid-May and runs until late November. From May 11 you can expect to find events taking place throughout the city, including the Pavilions at the Giardini, the Arsenale, and in the historic city center of Venice. Given the size and diversity of the festival, it may be a good idea to consult the website when planning a trip:

How to get there by train: There are regular trains from throughout Italy to Venice. There’s a high-speed train from Rome that takes 3 hours and 45 minutes.

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4. Cannes, France – Cannes Film Festival

There are few film festivals in the world as glamorous or celebrated as Cannes. This year it takes place from May 14 to May 25. Each year 30,000 budding and established filmmakers and dedicated fans descend on the small slither of French paradise to bask in the glory filmmaking. Those who aren’t basking are selling, buying, or promoting their own creations. The energy is electric, and prices over the course of the event are equally shocking.

How to get there by train: There are TGV trains between Paris and Cannes approximately every 3 hours. The journey takes between 5 and 6 hours and may require catching a connecting train in Avignon.

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5. Athens, Greece – Athens Jazz Festival

Each year the city of Athens hosts one of the continent’s best jazz festivals. This year is no exception, and from May 27 to June 2 you can expect an event packed full of collaborations from across the European Union. The festival has also seen a recent expansion to include a range of international artists. Entrance to the festival is free, and you can find out more info on performances and shows on the Athens Jazz Festival Facebook page.

How to get there by train: Athens is a major rail hub in Greece. You can reach it by rail from throughout Greece and from several neighboring cities.

6. Barcelona, Spain – Primavera Sound

Sneaking in at the end of May is one of Europe’s best music festivals. Primavera Sound takes place from May 30 to June 1 and features a slew of high-profile headline acts. This year you can expect to find Solange, Tame Impala, Cardi B, J Balvin, Erykah Badu, Future, Janelle Monáe, Nas, and Rosalía, as well as many others. Tickets usually sell out well in advance, so buy early.

How to get there by train: Barcelona is a major rail hub in Spain. It’s easily accessible by train from throughout the country. There are also easy connections from France, including a direct train from Paris that takes 6 hours and 15 minutes.

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May is just before peak tourist season in Europe, so it’s a good time to visit. The crowds are generally smaller, the weather is favorable, and are several events in May that you can reach with your Eurail Pass.

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