This European Town Is A Great Fall Destination For Lovers Of Literature

A trip to the U.K. offers plenty of opportunities for bookworms to pay homage to the nation's proud literary tradition, whether it's visiting the birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon or tracking down Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective with a visit to 221B Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London. While there are a few must-visit European cities for book lovers, there is one under-the-radar destination that you should consider if you happen to be visiting Britain around fall time: Cheltenham. 

The historic spa town is situated in a beautiful part of the country on the edge of the Cotswolds, just a few hours' drive from London and not far from the natural beauty found in Malvern Hills and Wye Valley. The town may be best known for its racecourse, which hosts around 275,000 visitors annually for the Cheltenham Festival, one of the major fixtures on the country's horse racing calendar. Yet lovers of the written word are also well-catered for by the Cheltenham Literature Festival, which takes place in October each year.

The Cheltenham Literature Festival has a great reputation

The Cheltenham Literature Festival was founded in 1949, making it the first and longest-running event of its kind in the world. Since then, it has built a prestigious reputation as a "literary lover's dream." It isn't just literature; the festival also provides a platform for journalists, politicians, and an array of celebrities each year. Some talks are ticket-only, but there are also many free events on offer, and the festival proudly presents a program aimed at younger visitors.

Over the years, authors such as Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell, Martin Amis, Sebastian Faulks, and Nick Hornby have all attended. The star-studded lineup is supplemented by celebrities as varied as Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Hawking, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and, um, Melanie C from the Spice Girls. In 2017, Hillary Clinton was a star guest as the festival sold around 134,000 tickets.

The 10-day event is renowned for showcasing award-winning authors and some of the most promising up-and-comers in the literary scene, as well as offering lively and sometimes controversial debates. The 2023 edition is headlined by actor Brian Cox, fresh from his most recent Emmy Award nomination for "Succession," who is joined by Charlie Mackesy, best-selling illustrator and author of "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse;" Liv Little, author of "Rosewater;" British astronaut and writer Tim Peake; and Sunday Times Bestseller Yomi Adegoke, to name just a few.

Other things to see and do Cheltenham

Aside from attending other big annual events in town, such as the jazz festival or science festival, there are lots of things to see and do in Cheltenham. The compact city center makes it easy to explore on foot, and history buffs will find interesting attractions in a town known for its fine Regency architecture, from the Holst Victorian House to impressive medieval minsters. You can also take a steam train ride along the Gloucestershire-Warwickshire railway, which is an atmospheric way to soak in the region's beautiful countryside.

Shoppers will enjoy browsing the independent shops and boutiques in Montpellier, a charming district built alongside the town's spas in the mid-19th century. As you'd expect for a town that hosts a prestigious literary festival, there are also several great independent bookshops to browse. Cheltenham Rare Books specializes in first editions, while Moss Books offers a huge variety of second-hand hardbacks and paperbacks. Once you've found the perfect read, the town's thriving indie café culture offers plenty of places to cozy up and get lost in your book; check out The Find for afternoon teas or For the Saints for continental-style, outdoor seating if the weather holds up. 

Cheltenham has plenty of things to keep visitors occupied, either during the literature festival or any other time of year. It also makes a great base camp for exploring the Cotswolds, visiting historic Bath, or taking a trip across the border to take a scenic walk in Wales.