May is a wonderful month in France and one of the most popular months if you want to see the sights before the crowds arrive. The weather is very good even in the north of France and the parks and gardens are at their Spring peak. Look out for these major events in France in May 2023.

To Nov 5, 2023: International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire Château in the Loire Valley is a fabulous, huge Festival, the Chelsea Flower Show of France. The Château and grounds are lovely and the festival of a series of gardens from international designers always delivers some surprises.

Chaumont garden festival Grenade garden with huge red plants coming out of red pots and wicker surround towering above one person in background
Chaumont Garden Festival 2022 – Grenade! © E. Sander

To Jan 2024: Chartres en lumières (Chartres Illuminated). This was the first city to light up its glorious buildings every night and it’s still one of the best light shows in France.

Mediatheque in Chartres seen from fountains in the ground. spectacular building in background lit up with spectacular colours
Mediatheque in Chartres © F. Delauney Spectaculaire, allumeurs d’images

Events in France starting in May 2023

May 1, 2023: Labor Day (Fête du Travail or Fête du Premier Mais). As with other French public holidays, some attractions and museums will close. (For all French public holidays, see the link at the end of the article).

May 6-8, 2023: Les Journées Romanaines de Nîmes (Roman Days of Nîmes) takes over the city and it’s quite a spectacle. This year it’s Vercingétorix where in the Arènes (grand arena) you can see the great battles of the wars of the Gauls against Julius Caesar with around 500 participants. There’s a Legionaires’ fort to discover, a grand banquet, and more.  Events in the streets, brass bands and folk groups entertaining the crowd, exhibitions, a free concert and more to enjoy.

Poster for roman Games in Nimes 2023 with Vercingetoris at top and pictures of people battling in wars between Gauls and Roman
Roman Games 2023

May 8, 2023: VE (Victory in Europe) Day (Fête de la Victoire 1945 or Jour de la Liberation) Like all public holidays in France, there are closures of attractions and parades in many cities, towns and villages.

Frontpage of Le Monde du Travail, May 8, 1945 with headline in French The War is Finished
Le Monde du Travail May 8, 1945

May 12-14, 2023: The French Motorcycle Grand Prix takes place every year in Le Mans on the main racetrack. It’s an important event with around 100,000 people coming to the Bugatti circuit. You can see the race on giant screens. There’s entertainment including concerts, and a shopping village where you can buy all that gear. On Saturday evening there’s a special motor show where you can see and hear the riders talking about the sport and the race on stage.

French Motor Cycle Grand Prix showing 5 riders racing on bikes turning a corner and leaning dangerously to right
French Motor cycle Grand Prix at Le Mans © Repsol/CC-BY-SA 2.0

If you’re in Le Mans, check out the fabulous 24-Hours of Le Mans car and motor bike museum. There’s plenty to see.

Here’s a general guide to Le Mans, a Tale of Two Cities: what to see and do, where to stay, eat and more. What surprised me (and many first-time visitors to Le Mans) is the beautifully preserved, and extensive, mediaeval quarter at the heart of the city. Guide to Plantagenet Le Mans.

Narrow cobbled street in medieval Le Mans in sunlight showing old stone houses covered with greenery
Medieval Le Mans © Ville du Mans

May 13-20, 2023: Jazz Sous les Pommiers (Jazz under the Apple Trees). This great jazz festival is now in its 40th year. It’s held at Coutances, in Normandy. Established and up-and-coming artists take part; there are performances in the streets and more. It’s spread over 7 stages including one for amateur musicians and it ranges from New Orleans jazz to electronic music.

Jazz sous les Pommiers in Normandy festival with street band in front of crowd with church behind. One man with tuba wrapped around him, plus others playing brass instruments
Jazz sous les Pommiers Festival Wikimedia/Selbymay

May 13, 2023: European Museum Night. Taking place throughout Europe, over 1,200 French museums open their doors, most free from 6pm to midnight.  There are often special events from storytelling tours to screenings and fireworks.

May 16-27, 2023: Cannes Film Festival. The 76th edition of the most famous film festival in the world is a glittering occasion on the Cote d’Azur. Prizes include the best film, best director, best actor, best actress, Jury Prize, Grand Prix and the famous Palme D’Or. The main screenings take place on the Boulevard de la Croisette, in the Festival and Conference Centre. It’s for professionals but many go to Cannes to catch sight of their favourites. And the outdoor Beach cinema is open to all and shows a different film every night.

Cannes Film Festival with star in black and striped long top dress on red carpet steps with Cannes on poster in background
Cannes Film Festival © Gil Zetbase/CC-BY-SA 2.0

May 17-21, 2023: Nuits Sonores is an urban-oriented electronic music festival in Lyon. The innovative and exciting programme welcomes performers from around the world. It takes place in museums, disused factories, a theatre and the city hall. And along with the music come contemporary art, exhibitions, screens and more.

Anetha at Nuits Sonores showing women crouching down with long brons coat stretching out on floor behind her and wearing huge boots
Anetha at Nuits Sonores Lyon © Maud Ralliere

May 18, 2023: Ascension day

May 20-21, 2023: Coutellia is an extraordinary knife-makers event that attracts exhibitors from all over the world. It takes place in Thiers, one of the great knife-making centres in the Auvergne. There’s more about Thiers and Coutellia on MechTraveller’s excellent website.

Coutellia Knife Fair with men at table and one man with huge knife
Coutellia Knife Fair

May 22-Jun 11, 2023: Roland Garros in Paris is one of the 4 major world Grand Slam tennis tournaments. It began in 1925 and today takes place on 20 clay courts. Each match is five sets with no deciding game in the last set. 

View of Roland Garros tennis Paris showing domed seating and tall tower in front in leafy setting
Roland Garros © Mister No/CC-BY-SA 3.0

There are two major awards: the Musketeers’ Cup for men and the Suzanne Lenglen cup for women. The womens’ cup is named after the great tennis player who (among other things) was one of the early famous women wearing a bra invented in 1889 by Herminie Cadolle. There are also trophies for the winners of the men’s doubles, ladies’ doubles and mixed doubles.

Suzanne Lenglen playing tennis in 1920. Old black and white photo of her in the air doing a backhand shot with one arm raised behind her. She's in long skirts
Suzanne Lenglen playing in 1920 Public domain via Wikimedia

May 26-28, 2023: Monaco Grand Prix has taken place in the city since 1929. The slowest, hardest race in the Formula 1 championship, it runs over 3 days with free trials and qualifiers in the first days.

Black and white photo of 1932 Monaco Grand Prix with one old car passing another on a bend with no crowds watching
1932 Monaco Grand Prix Public domain

May 27-Jun 18, 2023: D-Day Commemorated. Each year, between late May and mid-June, the D-Day landing beaches host events commemorating the events of the great 6 June 1944 invasion of France by the Allies. There’s a full programme with guided walks, historical re-enactments, exhibitions, fireworks, parachute drops in period costume, tours of the installation and bunkers, military vehicle parades, concerts and more.

Read about the D-Day events this year.

American troops landing at Omaha beach June 6, 1944.
American troops landing at Omaha beach June 6, 1944. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Bayeux, Longues-sur-Mer, Arromanches, Sainte-Mère-Église, Carentan, Utah, Isigny-sur-Mer and Omaha take part.

Take a D-Day Landing Beach Tour from Utah to Sword
For accommodation near the D-Day Landing Beaches, check my article here.

Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches Map showing all 5 beach positions
Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches

May 28, 2023:  Pentecost or Whit Sunday and Whit Monday are official French holidays when shops, businesses, banks and more close so everybody can party.

May 31-Jun 4, 2023: Voiles d’Antibes on the Côte d’Azur is the start of the famous seaborne Mediterranean circuit races, when those beautiful rare, vintage and classic yachts unfurl their sails and race through the water.

Les Voiles d'antibes event with two old yachts, sails at full stretch in blue sea in front of Antibe's castle and fort in background
Les Voiles d’Antibes © Frank Follet Photography

Events in France in 2023

Have I missed an event you think I should include? Please do let me know.
Events in France in January 2023
Events in France in February 2023
Events in France in March 2023
Events in France in April 2023
Events in France in June 2023
Events in France in July 2023
Events in France in August 2023
Events in France in September 2023
Events in France in October 2023
Events in France in November 2023
Events in France in December 2023

More about great Food Festivals in France
Public holidays in France

Here’s a quick guide to the French regions and departments to help you find where the events are taking place.

Regions of France
French Departments