By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

For a fortnight each summer, book lovers from around the world descend on the peaceful town of Hay-on-Wye in their droves, eager to be a part of its internationally renowned literary festival.

However, for the other 50 weeks a year, Hay-on-Wye continues on its business as a sleepy little country town close to Wales/England border. There may not be as many famous faces to see or events to attend, but these weeks are, in my opinion, when you’ll get the most out of a trip to Hay-on-Wye.

Why you ask? Well, I can’t imagine it’s very easy, or that enjoyable, to really explore the small town and its myriad of quirky bookstores when the hundreds of thousands of festival ticket holders arrive!

Instead I recommend enjoying the real Hay-on-Wye, like we did, outside of the festival season, when you’ll have the chance to get lost in the stores’ vast warrens of bookshelves, with secret corners all to yourself, or comfortably grab yourself a cosy chair in one of the cafes and start reading your latest purchase…

What to see in Hay-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye is essentially a normal small country town, but one that’s become famous for its large number of bookshops. These are the main ‘sights’ the town has to offer, aside from a few nice bars, cafes and restaurants, but make for a lovely day of exploring, and the whole town can easily be traversed by foot.

In most hotels, and of course the small Tourist Information Centre, you can pick up a red map of the town’s 23 bookstores, as well as bookbinders, printers and more stores beyond the town’s border. I recommend grabbing this and then planning out a route for your first day, making sure you note the stores you definitely want to visit, as it’s likely you’ll run out of time to see them all!

Highlights of Hay-on-Wye

Each store has its own specialism, such as children’s’ titles, murder mystery, transport, science fiction and poetry, and some have to be seen just for their quirky designs and layouts. Here are a few of my personal favourites.

Murder and Mayhem

This place is amazing! Dedicated to detective fiction, true crime and horror, its one of the most fantastically decorated book shops in Hay-on-Wye. My personal highlight had to be the chalk body outline at the bottom of the stairs!

If this is your genre of choice it shouldn’t be missed, and even if it’s not, I still recommend you pop in for the décor alone!

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wyeb


How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

Addyman Books

This store is a joy to explore and one that I believe families would enjoy the most, thanks to the treasure hunt of quirky cubbyholes you can go on.

Many rooms are decorated in the style of the literature, from steam punk through to sci-fi. There’s a Bat-Cave dedicated to vampire-related titles and if you venture up to the top of the store you’ll be rewarded with a recreation of Scott’s Antarctic Hut!

I particularly liked this store as it had lots of comfy chairs scattered throughout, making it an easy spot to while away a few hours.

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

Mostly Maps

Ok, this one isn’t exactly a bookstore, but its still an amazing shop to peruse. Mostly Maps is overflowing with antique maps from around the world including Ordnance Survey and antique topographical maps as well as satirical prints. We actually ended up visiting the shop twice we loved it so much, and spent a good hour looking through all the amazing old world maps, as well as antique maps of our current county and hometowns. Well worth a visit!

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

Hay Castle

Just down the road from Mostly Maps you’ll find Hay Castle hidden behind an old stone wall with an antique wooden door. More a mansion in size and style than a castle, this building was built in the 12th century. Long owned privately owned, it has fallen into a bad state of disrepair. Locals banded together to buy the castle in 2011 and now a major restoration project is underway, which will see the building be turned into a national heritage attraction.

It hopes to open to the public in 2020, but for now it’s still worth peeping through the door to see the magnificent frontage, and also take a look at the honesty bookshop, where money donated goes to the restoration fund.

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

Hay Cinema Bookshop

Be prepared to get lost! This converted cinema is now filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves across three floors and you can easily lose each other as you wander further and further back into the cavernous space.

Complete with creaky floorboards and directions at the end of rows, this is a proper booklovers top spot and reminiscent of an old local library.

Richard Booth’s Bookshop, Café and Cinema

Richard Booth is the man known as establishing Hay-on-Wye as ‘The Town of Books’. He is also the self-proclaimed King of Hay, as on April 1st 1977 he declared the town an independent kingdom, with him as its leader. Yep, a quirky fellow, for sure! However, you can’t deny he is the man who put Hay on the map, and he continues to be at the town’s heart.

This includes opening this store, although it is now has a new owner – which is a real hub in the town, thanks to its café and cinema. It’s one of the more modern stores – no cold drafts, damp smelling carpets and sadly, that beloved old book store smell.

Still, it’s well worth a visit, as it reminded me of a Waterstones with heart – buzzing with visitors, it’s warm and inviting with cosy leather seats and long tables to sit at while you peruse potential purchases…

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

Day two – head further afield

After a day of exploring the town, and most likely bringing back to your hotel several bags of new books, on your second day I recommend venturing further afield.

Hay-on-Wye is surrounded by countryside, and when the weather is good there are lots of great outdoor pursuits to get involved in.

Simply go for a lovely stroll to the Warren, a pretty meadow and river beach spot perfect for spring or summer picnicking, or pop on your walking boots and go out to explore the valley or climb the local hills the Hay Bluff and the Twmpa. For the more adventurous, a canoe ride down the river Wye is recommended.

How to spend a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

The swan at Hay hotel hay on wye

Where to stay in Hay-on-Wye

There’s lots of camping options, glamping and yurts for those who want to immerse themselves in the great outdoors, but for those who prefer more comfort, I recommend booking yourself into the Swan at Hay, which I recently reviewed. Known as one of the best hotels in Hay-on-Wye, it’s very well placed for exploring the town and its environs.

A weekend break in Hay-on-Wye

So there you have it – the perfect itinerary for a weekend in Hay-on-Wye. Day one is dedicated to books and day two to the great outdoors. Is this the kind of weekend break you’d enjoy?

Pin for later!

Tin Box Traveller
Suitcases and Sandcastles

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

26 thoughts on “How to get the most out of a weekend in Hay-on-Wye

  1. I haven’t heard of Hay-on-Wye but it looks like heaven for a book lover like me. Another place added to my wish list.

  2. I’ve never been to Hay on Wye and would love to go. A weekend pootling round the bookshops would be perfect I feel a need for a child free weekend! I’m hoping you have an afternoon tea recommendation to come! #MondayEscapes

    1. Ah Jo, so sorry but I didn’t get round to finding an afternoon tea – too many bookshops to explore!

  3. I love browsing through book stores and I feel like the UK has so many amazing book stores all over the country! They’re a much rarer find here in Norway!

  4. We loved Hay on Wye outside of festival time. It’s such a brilliant little town with its quirky bookshops. Addyman Books was our favourite too and we spent ages in Richard Booth’s Bookshop too. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. I’m sure it must be amazing during the festival too, but personally think it must be more enjoyable when not so busy….

  5. I’ve never heard of Hay-on-Wye before but from what I read in your post it sounds like a perfect weekend getaway to just relax and recharge your batteries! I’ll definitely need to go one day. #WanderfulWednesday

    1. I’m surprised by how many people haven’t heard of Hay-on-Wye actually – hope you get to visit!

  6. Hay on wye means joy to me, with so many book shops and especially antique. Book store. I would love to go there for a longer time . Happy travelling #farwayfiles out

  7. A small town with lots of book stores? That sounds like a slice of heaven to me. I would LOVE to visit one day!

  8. Hay is such a unique town. I have been to the festival and there is a great buzz around town at this time. However I have intended to go back outside of festival time ever since. Books and cafes in which to read books is for me the perfect combination. I’m now wondering if I could fit in a weekend visit sometime this year….! #farwayfiles

  9. Huh. I knew about the festival. I did not know about all those bookshops. Oh dear. I did not need to know about all those books shops… That looks fabulous.

  10. Hay-on-Wye is a place I have always wanted to visit and now reading this post it has tempted me all the more.

    It’s definitely the Mostly Maps shop that has won me over, I can’t resist fumbling through maps and atlases old and new.
    Whenever I go to Stanfords in Covent Garden I’m lost for hours. #farawayfiles

  11. You’re the third person who has said what a wonderful place this is! I’m putting it on my list for our next Uk road trip! #farawayfiles

  12. This post and these photos make me simultaneously so happy and sad! I have wanted to come here for five years, since I studied in Exeter and first heard of it. I did my undergrad dissertation on Welsh poetry and dreamed of coming to the Hay On Wye literary festival. It’s just so hard to get there without a car! Hopefully soon, but for the meantime I’ll be living vicariously through your blog post!

    1. Aww Sarah! Yes, it’s sad it’s very hard to get to on public transport. I really do hope you get to visit one day x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *