Our round-up of the best Southern European festivals, exhibitions, concerts and events happening in Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Britain this month.
Iberian Mask Festival, Lisbon
First week of May

Portugal and Spain may form twin parts of the Iberian peninsula, but both countries are often keen to emphasise their separate identities. Once a year, however, the Portuguese capital throws regional differences aside in this brilliantly colourful festival where crowds fill the streets in brightly coloured, patterned masks. From the folksy looking to the out-and-out Pagan, there are masks of all kinds and for several days, Lisbon parties with street processions, traditional folk dancing displays, free outdoor concerts and general merriment of all kinds.
Roman Games, Nimes
3, 4 and 5 May

For three days in early May, 500 actors from France, Italy, Germany and Croatia descend on Nimes’ Roman amphitheatre – the best preserved in the world, to take part in the ‘Great Roman Games’. One of Europe’s largest historical re-enactment events, the games recreates this impressive spectacle as it would have been 2,000 years ago, complete with Roman legionnaires, chariot racing and gladiator fights. This year’s games will also feature an archaeologically accurate Roman camp. Actors will live in legionnaire tents for five days and visitors can chat to historians and archaeologists dressed in Roman attire for workshops and demonstrations.


Photo: Giudecca Art District

Venice’s new Art District opens in Guidecca
From 11 May

May sees the launch of Venice’s first permanent art district on the formerly industrial island of Giudecca. Close to the home of the world-famous Venice Biennale – a major date on the international art calendar – the new district has recently become one of the city’s most cutting-edge art districts featuring state of the art hotels, art-inspired restaurants and industrial chic throughout. The newly launched district will feature 11 galleries and three national pavilions for 2019, from Estonia, Iceland Nigeria. Also opening will be a new contemporary art space, Giudecca Art District Gallery and Garden, featuring work by no less than 60 artists from 30 countries. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrity Giudecca residents Elton John and Miuccia Prada.
Giro d’Italia – Tour of Italy
11 May – 2 June

Along with the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia is one of the key dates on the international cycling calendar, watched by millions around the world. This year, the Giro starts in Bologna.


Photo:Giro d’Italia

Cannes Film Festival
14 – 25 May

The Cannes Film Festival is one of the major dates on the international film calendar with A-list stars attending from around the world. Most of the festival is off-limits to the public but there are free open air screenings at the Cinéma de la Plage so you can enjoy a film and get a taste of the glamour and glitz at the same time.

Festa dei Ceri – Race of the candles, Gubbio, Umbria
15 May

They know how to celebrate a fiesta in Italy and the Festa dei Ceri is one of the oldest and most colourful events in Umbria, dating back to the 12th century. Every year, on 15 May, three vast wooden poles, representing candles, are carried through the streets (it takes ten men to carry each one) in a race to the city’s basilica. The procession starts early in the morning to the sound of beating drums, and the streets are decorated with flags and banners with the symbols of the saints.


Photo: Cyril Duchêne FDC

Jerez Horse Fair
11 – 18 May

The Andalucian town of Jerez is best known for two things – sherry and horses. The annual Jerez Horse Fair has been going since the 13th century and is now one of the biggest horse events of its kind with international show jumping competitions, dressage, horse rallies and exhibitions. Marquees fill the González de Hontoria park with food and drink stands and children’s activities whilst locals dance Sevillanas into the small hours, and a firework display rounds it all off.

Temps de Flors Flower Festival, Girona
11 – 19 May

Many cities in Europe have flower festivals, but Girona’s is more like a flower festival and an art festival rolled into one. Flower displays by artists take the form of installations filling churches, shops, public buildings and even entire streets, especially throughout the city’s historic medieval old town.


Photo: www.enit.it

Fiesta de San Isidro, Madrid
15 May

One of Madrid’s major festivals, the Fiesta de San Isidro sees Madrileños and Madrileñas take to the streets for free open air concerts, street parades and partying. Locals dress up in traditional costumes to the strains of the chotis – Madrid’s traditional dance. Look out for traditional doughnuts including ‘rosquillas’ – aniseed doughnuts; ‘tontas’ – ‘the stupid ones’ without icing; or ‘listas’ – ‘the clever ones’ with lemon icing. There are also children’s activities throughout the city.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Receive our monthly newsletter by email

I accept the Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy