Why Hay-On-Wye, Wales Is The Perfect Destination For Book Lovers

A tiny town with a huge reputation in the literary world, Wales' Hay-on-Wye is a superb destination for book lovers. Y Gelli Gandryll as the town is known in Welsh is the world's first "booktown," according to Hay-on-Wye. It's so-called because of the abundance of antique and second-hand bookshops that line the town's pretty streets. It is also home to Hay Festival, an annual event that attracts hordes of writers and book lovers alike.

Hay-on-Wye lies on the border between England and Wales, right on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is described by the Guardian as a town that is prospering thanks to its bookshops. The man behind this prosperity is Richard Booth, who the Guardian cites as having opened the first second-hand bookstore in the town in 1962. Booth went on to open more bookstores and then others joined in the trend, and by the 1980s, the town had over 30 second-hand bookshops.

Bookshops and the festival

Hay-on-Wye has a list of all of the bookstores in town and a quick perusal will show you that whatever your taste in literature, you'll find something to like here. Some of the stores specialize in one or a few genres, like Murder and Mayhem, which unsurprisingly stocks crime and horror books. Others, like Richard Booth's Bookshop, stock more general titles, and there is a store dedicated to children's books just outside the center called The Children's Bookshop. No one is going for cryptic with their store names here.

If you visit Hay-on-Wye in late spring, you might be lucky enough to catch its most famous festival. Described by Visit Wales as one of the biggest and best literary festivals in the world, it draws over 100,000 visitors every year who can listen to talks by writers, poets, and more. Its speakers are so diverse that recent iterations saw author Ian Rankin, politician Alok Sharma, and scientist Robert Winston appear, according to theĀ Hay Festival website.

Other things to do in Hay-on-Wye

If your eyes are beginning to go a bit blurry from all the reading, it might be time to head outdoors. Luckily, Hay-on-Wye is surrounded by some glorious countryside. As we said, the town nudges right up to the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and the Brecon Beacons website has a long list of places to explore and suggests a picturesque lakeside walk that begins less than 15 minutes' drive from Hay. Even closer to Hay, Anywhere We Roam recommends hikes in the Wye Valley among the lovely Black Mountains.

If walking's not your thing, Anywhere We Roam also writes that canoeing and swimming on the Wye River are great ways to explore the surrounding area. When you've worked up an appetite, head to one of Hay-on-Wye's charming pubs; Cathryn Summerhayes writing for Visit Wales likes the Old Black Lion for its food and as a place to stay. With books, outdoor pursuits, and good grub, Wales' most literary town is worth spending a few days in.