Things to do in the UK in May

We love May in the UK. It’s the official start of spring. Daylight hours last longer, the April showers ease away and the countryside, with all its wildlife and flora, bursts into life. So what is there to do in the UK in May where we can make the most out of this month?

May spring UK holidays

Why is May so special?

May is named after the Greek goddess Maia who apparently looked after plants, amongst other things! May is a great time to get out and about along the waterways and canals, plus visit local attractions such as gardens to witness the May flowers coming to life.

It is also the month when many villages, towns and cities celebrate with festivals, carnivals and other colourful events, making the most of the May bank holidays at the beginning and end of the month.

May is a great time to visit many of the top attractions in the UK as this month tends to be quieter than the traditionally busy holiday times of July and August.  If you are holidaying on the canals then you’ll find that the waterways are quieter, allowing you more time to cruise the countryside, traverse the locks and see the sights.

Here are some top tips of places and attractions to visit in the UK that celebrate the month of May.

Blenheim Palace and Gardens

The impressive country house that is Blenheim Palace is most notable for being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, whose life and times are commemorated by a permanent exhibition in the suite of rooms in which he was born.

The gardens at the palace are also famous for being designed by Capability Brown back in the eighteenth century. Now a Unesco World Heritage site, the palace remains the home of the Duke of Marlborough and is open to the public throughout the year, with regular festivals and events.

If visiting in May, head to the gardens, which are spectacular, with the water terraces, Italian garden, secret garden, rose garden, Churchill memorial garden and the award-winning formal gardens.

If you’re into film, then see if you can spot the filming locations used for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Spectre, The Young Victoria, Gulliver’s Travels, Fan and The BFG!

You can visit Blenheim whilst on a canal boat holiday from our canal boat hire base in Oxfordshire at Lower Heyford, on our Oxford Return route. 

Blenheim Palace Grounds

RHS Garden Bridgewater

Along the Bridgewater Canal in Salford is the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Garden Bridgewater’, one of the largest gardening projects undertaken in Europe in recent years. This garden transformed the 154-acre green space which used to be the site of Worsley New Hall. This garden is worth a visit in May to see the garden in full spring bloom.

You can visit RHS Garden Bridgewater whilst on holiday from our canal boat hire base in Cheshire at Acton Bridge.

Rickmansworth Canal Festival

The Rickmansworth Festival takes place on the third weekend of May every year, celebrating the canals and the environment. It’s a fantastic sight to see all the different canal boats from across the country moored up on the Grand Union canal between Stockers Lock and Batchworth, and the area round Batchworth Lock.

At the festival you’ll experience music and performing arts, enjoy food from one of the many food stalls and enjoy the sights and sounds of all the many different trading boats that line the canal.

You can visit Rickmansworth Canal Festival from our canal boat hire base at Napton.

Shakespeare Stratford Upon Avon

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

The Bard’s hometown in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire is a great place to visit outside of the main holiday season when it’s not too busy. Head to Stratford-upon-Avon to see a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the river’s edge. Shakespeare’s birthplace is also worth a visit as well as the church where he was laid to rest.

You can visit Stratford-upon-Avon from our Napton canal boat hire base in Warwickshire, cruising along the Grand Union Canal through Warwick to reach the Stratford upon Avon Canal.

The Roman City of Bath

Another historical place of interest that’s great to visit in May is the ancient Roman city of Bath in Somerset, a Unesco World Heritage site. This small city is extremely pretty, sitting on the banks of the River Avon and full of fine examples of Georgian architecture as well as the world-famous Roman baths.

The Roman Baths tour allows you to see the original bathhouse from thousands of years ago and see ancient artefacts excavated from around the site are on display, including a large collection of coins. The whole tour is nicely brought to life with the use of costumed actors, videos and 3D models and you can even sip water from the hot spring.

Bath is also home to The Jane Austen Centre, which offers you a snapshot of life during Regency times and you may also like the Regency Tea Room where you can enjoy tea and cake in gorgeous surroundings!

You can visit Bath from our canal boat hire base at Bradford-upon-Avon.

oxfordshire spires

Oxford & Cambridge

The two cities of Oxford and Cambridge are world famous university towns that welcome visitors from all over the world.

They are similar in that they are both fairly small cities, easy to walk around to see the sights and both date back to early medieval times.

Both Oxford and Cambridge centre around their prestigious universities and many visitors enjoy a university walking tours, usually lead by students themselves. Otherwise you can try your hand at punting on the River Cherwell and the River Cam or just enjoy a bit of window shopping in the town centres.

You can visit Oxford from our canal boat hire base at Lower Heyford in Oxfordshire and visit Cambridge from our canal boat hire base in Ely in Cambridgeshire.

So we hope that you have found some holiday inspiration from our guide of things to do in the UK in May. All of the suggestions here are easily easily accessible from our suggested canal boat routes and make for great things to do whilst you are enjoying your holiday on the UK waterways.


Take a look at our LOCATIONS page to start planning your narrowboat holiday.

Search now

Or if you would like help planning your adventure then call on +44 (0)1527 575 115 and a Black Prince team member will be happy to help!