Traveling to Scandinavia in May

Where to Go and What to Do

Reine - Lofoten Landscape Scenery

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Scandinavia in May features warmer spring temperatures, with lower travel prices and smaller crowds than visitors will find during the summer. But most summer activities will be open to visitors in May, and parks across the five Scandinavian countries are alive and blooming.

Average daily temperatures in Scandinavia in May range between 47 and 63 degrees, although Iceland may be a few degrees cooler.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that visitors will be able to see the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, in May. But they might be able to witness another wonder of the natural world: the "midnight sun." This phenomenon occurs in late spring and early summer in latitudes north of the Arctic Circle (as well as south of the Antarctic Circle). As its colloquial name implies, the sun is visible at midnight from mid-May until the end of July in Scandinavian countries.

And, with proper weather conditions, the sun can be visible for a full 24 hours a day. This is great for travelers planning long days outdoors, as there will be sufficient light for outdoor activities around the clock. But be advised the midnight sun can wreak havoc on sleep cycles, especially for those who haven't experienced 24-hour sunlight before.

The most popular Scandinavian location for travelers to experience the Midnight Sun is in Norway at the North Cape (Nordkapp).

There are many other events celebrated in the countries of Scandinavia in May. Here are a few of the more popular tourist attractions.

May Day (Labor Day) in Scandinavia

Observed in countries across Europe and most of the world, May Day celebrates workers. The countries of Scandinavia each mark May Day in different ways:

  • Denmark: May 1 is not an official holiday in Denmark, but most public sector workers get a day off.
  • Finland: May 1 is a national holiday, celebrating workers, students and the arrival of spring.
  • Iceland: While May 1 is a public holiday here, many businesses remain open and pay workers a higher wage.
  • Norway: Known as Arbeidernes Dag, May 1 is an official public holiday, marked by marches, parades and public speeches.
  • Sweden: May 1 has been designated a public holiday in Sweden since 1938, with some political factions celebrating it as far back as 1890. May Day demonstrations have been a distinct part of Swedish history for decades.

Stavanger International Jazz Festival (MaiJazz), Norway

The MaiJazz, or Stavanger International Jazz Festival, is a large annual jazz music event held in early May in Stavanger, Norway. Some 40 local venues host concerts across Stavanger during the festival, which attracts major jazz musicians from all over the world.

The first MaiJazz festival took place in 1989, and since then it's grown to become one of Norway's largest music festivals.

The Swedish Speedway Grand Prix

This popular motorcycle speedway event has been held annually in May since 1995. Speedway races are between teams of motorcycle riders on an oval track, with one gear and no brakes.

The Grand Prix is always in southern Sweden, shifting among venues in Linköping, Stockholm and Göteborg.

Reykjavik Arts Festival, Iceland

Founded in 1970, the Reykjavik Arts Festival in mid-May brings hundreds of artists in theater, dance, music and the visual arts from all over the world. This event promotes Icelandic culture in venues both unconventional and traditional, and its one of northern Europe's oldest festivals.

Independence Day (Constitution Day) in Norway

Norwegians celebrate their national day differently than other Scandinavian countries. On May 17, traditional independence day celebrations with processions, banners, flags and bands are held all over the country. In the capital of Oslo, the Norwegian royal family takes part in the massive spring celebration.

While it's certainly worth visiting Norway on Constitution Day, be aware that most businesses are closed to mark the holiday.

There may be some restaurants open, but shopping opportunities will be limited.

Aalborg Carnival, Denmark

The largest carnival in Northern Europe has been held in Aalborg since 1982. The annual event has grown into the largest carnival in Scandinavia, drawing crowds of 100,000 people.