May Bank Holiday days off: Why we get time off, and how to use it

Ever wondered why you get two long weekends at this time of year? We look at the history of the May Bank Holiday days off, and how to make the most of them.

Discover the history of the May bank holiday days and how to enjoy them

We love May. Any ideas why? You got it. On top of the fact that the temperatures finally start to rise, and we can (normally) say goodbye to our winter coats, we love it because there’s not just one May bank holiday, but two.

That means two long weekends that you can either just enjoy for themselves or make the most of to take holiday creatively and squeeze all the goodness you can out of your precious holiday days every year.

This year, the two bank holiday breaks in the UK fall on Monday 6th of May and Monday 27th of May. That means two four days weeks, and two chances to organise bank holiday getaways. We’re sure you’ve been enjoying the May bank holiday days for years, but you might not have ever considered what’s behind them.

Just why do we get bank holiday breaks in the UK at this time of year? What’s the bank holiday history?

And, most importantly, what are some of the best places you can visit in May for long weekends, or even 9-day long escapes that you only have to take 4 days of holiday for?

Before you start planning that getaway, read on to find out a few bank holiday facts.

Why is it called a bank holiday anyway?

Just in case you didn’t know, these public holidays in the UK are called a bank holiday because, as the name might suggest, banks have always traditionally closed for business on these days, and still do!

May Bank Holiday history: Early May Bank Holiday

The first of the two bank holiday days we enjoy at this time of year is also known as May Day. We’re not the only ones that celebrate it, and its history goes back a very long way.

Did you know that the origins of the Early May Bank Holiday can be traced back as far as the festival of Flora, the ancient Roman goddess of flowers?

Celebrations of the arrival of May have been taking place in England, Scotland and Wales for centuries upon centuries, the Pagan festival once known as Beltane.

Public holidays in the UK have long histories to be discovered

Traditional English May Day celebrations involve the crowning of a May Queen and dancing with ribbons around a maypole. People have been celebrating like this, especially in the south of the UK, since the 14th century. Celebrations in Scotland and Wales have long included bonfires, flowers, and dancing.

Interestingly, this is the youngest of all UK bank holidays, of which there are eight in total. Despite its long history, it was only created officially in 1978. In many countries, the first of May is always a holiday, but in the UK it’s always the first Monday of the month.

Did you know that the first May bank holiday was nearly scrapped back in 2011? They were talking about moving it to March, April, or even October, to lengthen the tourist season.

Late May Bank Holiday

The Spring Bank Holiday is the second luxurious day off we get in May, the perfect excuse for anything from a city break to a beach break to get that summer tan going.

It was originally always the Monday after the Christian celebration of Pentecost, which commemorates the descension of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples.

It always fell on the seventh Sunday after Easter, meaning that it would move, just as Easter does. The festival was also known as Whitsun. In 1971 the holiday was permanently fixed on the last Monday of May, after a five-year trial.

Places to go on a May bank holiday weekend

May is a wonderful time of year to go away, mainly due to the weather, so bank holiday trips are an excellent idea. Many of the best holiday spots in Europe are basking in warm sunshine by this time of year but they aren’t yet overheated or overcrowded.

It’s a great opportunity to start the summer as you mean to go on, treating yourself to a break somewhere warm and sunny.

If you’re just sticking to the long weekends, then set your sights on a Spanish city. Book yourself a bank holiday break in a city like Madrid, Barcelona or Seville to enjoy the balmy temperatures, perfect for indulging in the local culture without frying.

Whether it’s a romantic break or a getaway with your friends you’ve got in mind, there’s something for everyone in Spain’s cities.

If you’ve opted to take four days of holiday and bag yourself nine whole days off work, then you’ll be wanting to go a little further afield.

Bank holiday facts - did you know May Day is only 50 years old?

For us, there’s no better time of year to head to the Canary Islands. Temperatures are wonderfully mild here all year round, but the nights start to warm up a bit at this time of year, as does the water in the Atlantic Ocean.

On top of that, the summer crowds haven’t yet descended on the islands, meaning that during a week exploring Fuerteventura, Lanzarote or Gran Canaria when making the most of a May Bank Holiday you could find you have some of the islands’ best attractions all to yourself.