I always felt, if I could get to a library, I'd be ok.
– Maya Angelou
Everyone knows Hay-on-Wye as a book lovers' paradise with endless bookshops, the annual literary festival and plenty of places to hide away with your nose in a book. But is there more to it than meets the eye?
Once upon a time, there was a quaint little village called Hay-on-Wye. It was little known throughout the rest of the UK - that is until Richard Booth, self-proclaimed King of Hay, came along and declared it the first book town in the world.
Hay-on-Wye: a History
Richard Booth began as a bookseller in Hay-on-Wye, who became known for his skills at finding books that interested people. When he decided it was time the land had a new ruler, he declared himself King of Hay in an elaborate ceremony.
The press were called, the stunt got UK-wide coverage and this town quickly gained a reputation as a literary mecca.
Today, Hay-on-Wye is known worldwide as a haven for readers and storytellers, drawing famous authors and celebrities to its fantastic annual literary event, Hay Festival.
Why not visit the world’s first book town? Find holiday cottages in Hay-on-Wye.
More than just books
Yes, there are plenty of books and bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, but is there anything else to do around here?
The Telegraph claims that Hay-on Wye is about more than books. We weren't sure that we believed them, so we set out to do a bit of investigation of our own…
Here are 10 things you will love about Hay-on-Wye:
Chapter 1: The never-ending bookshops
If you’re reading this, chances are you love books, so the idea of bookshops that go on forever will sound pretty good. For its small size, this town has an estimated 30+ bookshops throughout its cobbled streets. Don’t believe us? You better go and take a look yourself.
You could peruse the shelves at the rather grand Addyman Books…
Find your next read at Hay Cinema Bookshop…
Or pick up a paperback at our personal favourite, the Honesty Bookshop in the castle ruins of Hay Castle.
Chapter 2: The Hay Festival
Authors, poets, and writers of all mediums and genres gather every year at the Hay Festival. There are talks and debates going on, adult and children’s workshops that range from cookery to bushcraft, as well as readings and music you can listen to. There are also exhibitors and caterers so you can try delicious food while sitting and reading in the grass or listening to your favourite author talking about their latest release. Previous attendees have included Benjamin Zephaniah, Margaret Atwood, Jaqueline Wilson, Philip Pullman - the list goes on…
It’s become a worldwide phenomenon and there are now additional Hay Festivals throughout the world including Columbia and Croatia, and Hay Forums in Peru and Texas. However, Hay-on-Wye is the original and the best.
If you love festivals and would like to discover more throughout this vibrant country, take a look at our post on magical festivals in Wales.
Chapter 3: The kayaking adventures
Let’s move on from books… Hay-on-Wye and the Wye Valley is renowned for its outdoor sports, in particular, kayaking! A trip down the beautiful winding Wye River is a great way to see the valley and get active as there are plenty of places that offer kayak rentals and lessons throughout the area. With Ultimate Canoe and Kayak you can begin in Hay-on-Wye and travel down the river to see the sights - they take out hen and stag groups as well as families. Wye Valley Canoes is 4 miles away in Glasbury-on-Wye and is both a café and kayak rental shop, so you can end your day out with a coffee and cake after your River Wye adventure.
Chapter 4: The Institute of Art and Ideas - Globe at Hay
This arts and performance venue, Globe at Hay, near the centre of Hay-on-Wye hosts a whole range of events. Music, movies, DJ sets, quizzes, open mic nights, not to mention Q&As and, of course, book and poetry readings; this place is buzzing with events and things to see. Check out their schedule to see what’s on during your holiday in Hay-on-Wye.
Chapter 5: Walking around Hay-on-Wye
Wales is home to incredible walking routes and some of the best can be found in the nearby Brecon Beacons. The seemingly endless 177-mile National Trail, Offa's Dyke Trail, runs alongside the England/Wales border and passes right by Hay-on-Wye. It’s great for families and dog walks, although there are some strenuous stretches - why not give part of it a go? Other beautiful and far more sensible routes include the riverside walk (1.5 miles) and Hay-on-Wye to Hay Bluff walk (4 miles), you could even meet the wild horses that live on Hay Bluff.
Chapter 6: The eclectic independent shops (not just bookshops!)
This little town is home to a wonderful range of shops and stores to peruse while here, a few of them may surprise you. There’s a vinyl store, clothing boutiques, farm and foodie shops and art galleries – there’s also a local market that takes place on Thursdays. One of the more unique stores in town is Mostly Maps, where you can find a collection of rare and intriguing antique maps and prints. See if they have a map of your home town!
Chapter 7: The Warren at Hay
A beautiful riverside meadow and Site of Special Scientific Interest, The Warren at Hay is a wonderful spot to while away a beautiful day in Hay-on-Wye. It’s a great place for families as kids can splash about in the shallows of the river, keep an eye out for wildlife, and have a kick-about on the parkland. Unpack a picnic on the grass and don’t forget a few treats for the dog who’s always welcome to join you on a day out here.
Chapter 8: Paragliding from Hay Bluff
For you brave souls and adventurous spirits out there, the local area offers plenty of opportunities besides kayaking to get active! Try paragliding from the top of Hay Bluff, a hill which is a must-see local landmark, so you can tick off two bucket list items while here. The huge variety of other outdoor activities and adrenaline sports you can get involved in include climbing and caving, gorge walking, mountain biking, and a whole range of fun family activity days.
Chapter 9: Eating out at Three Tuns Pub
A watering hole to the rich and infamous, this quaint pub has 16th-century period features and a wood burner that creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere for a dinner out one evening. The clientele has reputedly included musician Jools Holland, singer Marianne Faithful, politician Lord Kinnock, BBC news presenter Huw Edwards and some of the notorious Great Train Robbers. The menu includes Italian-style food and the classic Sunday Lunch, and dogs are welcome in the beer garden.
Chapter 10: The magical waterfalls
Hay-on-Wye sits right at the top of the breathtaking Brecon Beacons, a landscape that is also known as Waterfall Country – so you have to make a visit to one of these crashing walls of water at some point during your stay! Take a trip down to the Talybont Waterfalls in the heart of the Brecon Beacons for a chance to explore among beautiful natural scenery. To reach the falls, you follow a walking trail that is of medium difficulty with lots of variety - you’ll even venture over a glacial valley ridge before reaching the selection of waterfalls at its heart.
This is just one of the many, many waterfalls which make up the Brecon Beacons - discover more in our post on whimsical waterfall walks in Wales.
Epilogue: Holiday cottages in Hay-on-Wye
Yes, this town has plenty for all book lovers who visit, with an excellent selection of bookshops to explore and the world-renowned Hay Festival where you can see your favourite writers speak. But there are also fantastic opportunities for thrill-seekers, music lovers, shoppers, outdoor adventurers and foodies to discover – any and everyone can have a great time during a holiday to Hay-on-Wye.
Now you know what you want to do when you visit this fantastic little town, you need to pick out the perfect place to stay while here. We have chosen three beautiful holiday cottages that we think the reader in you will love.
A stylish romantic retreat where you have your own incredible private spa with sauna. Bright colours create a beautiful interior – dig through the bookshelf to find your next favourite read.
This beautiful country retreat is a perfect escape for a family or group of friends. Curl up in an armchair with a Daphne Du Maurier page-turner while a fire roars in the wood burner.
A wonderful choice for a family celebration, a hen or stag party or a writer’s retreat – the fantastic medieval-style dining room will make you feel like you’ve just stepped foot inside a Terry Pratchett novel.
If you’re feeling inspired to take a trip to this book lover’s paradise, browse through our entire collection of holiday cottages in Hay-on-Wye.
Words are life
- Markus Zusak, The Book Thief