The best Greek islands to visit in May tend to be the more southerly in the country. That’s the part of Greece that warms up fastest as the winter recedes and cools down the latest when autumn approaches. But they aren’t the only options…
This list of five fantastic rocks in the seas of the Aegean also takes in the bucket-list draws of islands like Santorini and Mykonos; places that are best visited in the shoulder seasons if only to escape the crowds. Choosing those for the spring means you’ll get to wander idyllic whitewashed villages and wonder at UNESCO-tagged historic sites without having to jostle with crowds of camera-snapping visitors.
Generally speaking, we’d say that May is a fantastic time to explore this corner of southern Europe. It’s not quite as balmy as the peak summer months, but when said peak summer months can see temperatures topping 105 F (40 C), that’s not such a bad thing. May is also when the Greek beaches really start to shine, as the water warms and the rains drop away to allow for long tanning sessions. So, grab the sunscreen, let’s go…
Crete is just about the perfect Greek island to visit in the shoulder seasons of spring or fall. The reason? It’s the furthest south of all the islands in the land of feta and moussaka, meaning it tends to get hotter earlier on in the year and stay hotter a little later.
And there’s more…Crete gets whacked by some pretty strong northern winds, known as Meltemi winds, in the middle of the summer months. They can be very blustery – like, blustery enough to knock over you Mythos beer by the poolside. Not good.
May is the perfect month for dodging both winds and catching the first uptick in the thermometer readings down in Crete. We’ve even been in early May before and spent day after day lazing on the sands of Chania – check out Falasarna Beach and Elafonisi for two of the very best options there!
The other thing we love about an early-season trip here is the fact that the nature trails are probably at their finest. Crete is arguably the best of all the Greek isles for hikers, since it’s got 2,400-meter-high mountains at its center and goat-stalked gorges like Samaria carving out its southern shores. It’s simply too hot (or windy) to conquer those in June or July. Not so in May.
Hydra is a member of the wonderful Saronic Gulf islands. They’re super-close to Athens, dotting the waters to the west and south of the big city. That means two things. First, they’re easy to get to after jetting into the capital. Second, they’re very popular with locals looking to escape the heat of the metropolis come the summer months.
May time is a sweet spot in the Saronic region. People in Athens aren’t sweating quite enough to warrant a trip out this way, the yachters haven’t descended en masse, but the weather tends to be balmy, clear, and crisp.
Hydra without the crowds is a beautiful, beautiful thing. This moody island has no cars, just donkeys. It’s a rugged, elongated rock, fringed by coves of pebbles that offer some of the clearest swimming waters this side of the Maldives. On higher ground, you can hike (and May is PERFECT for hiking) to the summit of Mount Eros to view the wide, open Aegean and visit the mystical Profitis Ilias Monastery.
There’s plenty to be said for simply sticking to Hydra Town, though. Artists and thinkers and musicians a la Leonard Cohen have come and gone from there over the decades, drawing inspiration from the echoing alleys and the church-topped streets. In mid spring, it’s a charming place to sip cold cocktails at sunset bars and enjoy long lunches on the marina side.
Everyone should see Santorini at least once in their life! Seriously – this is the bucket-list member of the Cyclades chain. Just think: A whole collapsed volcano that’s now flooded with the sky-blue waters of the Aegean Sea and topped with whitewashed villages that have luxury cave hotels. It’s proper travel-brochure fodder.
Sadly, the unique draws of Santorini have proved to be both a blessing and a curse. These days, this eye-wateringly wonderful island is positively packed to bursting with people. They not only clog up the lookout points and caldera-side hiking trails, but also crank up the prices to the point where it’s sort of normal to pay $250 a night for a midrange hotel. Yikes!
Thankfully, things aren’t quite that bad in May. Before the holidays start in earnest and the hordes of island hoppers hit the Greek seas, Santorini sees just a fraction of the visitor numbers it sees in June, July, and August. But the weather is still decent, and all the tour operators offering boat trips around the rugged coast should be open for business.
There’s also another kicker here, because Santorini is just about the perfect starting point for launching longer island-hopping trips. It’s right at the southern end of the Cyclades region and acts as a sort of unofficial island hub for the destinations there. Hop on a boat and you can be in Mykonos, in Milos, in Naxos, all in just two or three hours tops.
Ah, Mykonos – party, laze, party some more, sunsets you’ll never forget. Such is the routine on this happy-go-lucky island in the midst of the central Aegean. But Mykonos isn’t all hedonism, you know? The island hides UNESCO-tagged ancient history sites and some very secret beaches that hardly a soul will visit, all of which are best seen before the party season kicks in earnest.
So, plan a jaunt from here to Delos. It’s the tiny, pint-sized isle that’s right next door. Boats go every single day from the main harbor from May onwards, whisking visitors over the strait to see the ruins of an ancient sanctuary and treasury that was one of the starting points of the Athenian Empire.
Then there are the beaches. The south coast is livelier and more built up, but still relatively tame in May. You can share sand space with A-list celebs by choosing Psarrou or Ornos, both wispy, white coves with turquoise waters. That said, we still prefer the more feral bays of Ftelias and Agios Sostis up on the north coast.
Mykonos is also a great choice because it’s one of the best-connected islands in the Aegean. Ferries link it to just about every other major port in the Cyclades, and to the capital in Athens. It boasts its own airport, too, which has seasonal connections that tend to begin around the first of May or in late April each year.
Aside from Crete, Kos is likely to be the hottest island in Greece come May. It’s not unusual for thermometers to push past 75 degrees here in the middle of spring, and the locals even talk of occasional highs closer to the top end of the 80s! The stats show that rainfall also dips to a sixth of what it was only the month before, so there’s barely a drop of the wet stuff to contend with.
Kos gets its balmy climate and low rainfall from the fact that it’s tucked deep into the eastern Aegean. It’s nearer to the Turkish coast than it is to Athens, and further south than the vast majority of the Cyclades and the Ionian Islands.
The location also gives the island a unique cultural makeup – you’ll notice Turkic influences in the mezze dishes (wrapped vine leaves, hummus, and more) and get to see Game of Thrones-worthy historical sites like the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, a onetime base for Crusaders bound for the Holy Land.
Assuming – like us – you’re a bit more interested in the beaches than the history sites, we’ll say this: Kos has LOADS to keep you going. The south shoreline is the most popular. It’s home to ridiculously gorgeous inlets like Anthony Quinn Bay, where you can snorkel with parrotfish between the rocks, and the long sweep of Lindos Beach. Up north, things are wilder and quieter, with cliff-backed bays like Κοpria and Glifada coming up trumps.
The best Greek islands to visit in May – our verdict
Those looking for the best Greek islands to visit in May won’t need to look too hard. This part of Europe is riddled with fantastic springtime destinations that get bathed in high temps the moment April’s in the dust. The farthest south in the country are the hottest of all in May time. Those include Crete and Kos, where it’s possible to be in full beach mode by the first of the month. Further north, it’s mainly about escaping the crowds, to see epic isles like Santorini and Hydra without the high prices and over-busy historical sites.