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Weekend in Hay on Wye where to stay, what to do and when to go

Have you ever heard of Hay on Wye? If you’re literary-minded the chances that you’ve heard of this town are pretty high.

It’s known as a book town in part due to the number of amazing bookshops there, but also because it hosts the Hay Festival, a literature and art festival that runs for 10 days at the end of May and early June.

A few years ago I spent some time exploring Hay and have put together this Hay on Wye travel guide so you too can enjoy some of the best things to do in Hay on Wye.

On the border between England and Wales, Hay on Wye is known as the UK’s top destination for bibliophiles the world over. It’s a small town but, despite this, Hay on Wye is home to over 30 bookstores! In fact, visiting these stores is easily one of the best Hay on Wye things to do!

Given its location on the border, Hay on Wye is a bit easier to get to than Snowdonia, and as it’s so close to the Brecon Beacons you don’t have to compromise on outdoor adventures either. In my eye, this makes it pretty perfect for a weekend getaway.

Read this Hay on Wye blog for more information on my favorite things to do there.

The best things to do in Hay on Wye, UK

The best things to do Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye, or ‘Hay’, is a small market town with over 20 bookshops. For this reason, it’s often described as the “town of books”. It’s the National Book Town of Wales and also hosts a very popular literature and arts festival every year.

Many of the bookshops at Hay on Wye sell specialist and second-hand books, with others also selling antiques too. If you’re someone who loves exploring second-hand book stores (um, me), then you’ll love travelling to Hay on Wye! 

hay on wye when to go

Best time to go to Hay on Wye

Any time of the year is a great time to visit Hay on Wye, but if you want to experience the town in its element then time your visit with the Hay Festival which runs every year from the end of May to the beginning of June.

Hay Festival has been going on for over 30 years. The Hay on Wye book festival brings together writers, speakers, lyricists, and poets from around the world. The people behind the festival believe that the exchanging of views and meeting of minds inspires political, personal, and educational revelations.

I visited the festival for a day several years ago and was amazed at the number of different talks going on. There’s something for everyone too so don’t think you have to be a poetry lover.

Best things to do in Hay on Wye Wales

While the town is famous for its bookshops, it’s not all about the books in Hay on Wye. The town is close to beautiful outdoor spaces including hills and rivers and is full of antiques to browse and shop too!

If you’re planning a trip and are wondering what to do in Hay on Wye then be sure to check out these best things to do in Hay on Wye Wales!

Go hiking in the Brecon Beacons

One of the things to do near Hay on Wye is to visit the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales.

With the Brecon Beacons just a stone’s throw away from Hay on Wye, it’d almost be rude not to go and explore.

There are tonnes to do but a few suggestions of things to do near Hay in the Brecon Beacons are:

The Warren, Hay on Wye

When it comes to Hay on Wye walks, this is one of the more popular ones. This walk takes you to the meadow and river beach just outside of Hay and Wye.

The area is locally known as The Warren and it’s a great place for a summer picnic. It’s easy to get to, just follow the path along the side of St Mary’s Church.

Hiking Hay Bluff

For something longer, head to Hay Bluff. Hiking Hay Bluff will give you gorgeous views out over the Welsh Hills!

Navigating while on the trail: You can find this hike on AllTrails which is my usual go-to for planning my hikes, navigating, checking trail conditions and, if hiking solo, making sure others know I’m safe. The OS Map app is one of the best hiking apps for trails in the UK and is just like having hundreds of OS maps in your pocket!

Canoeing and kayaking near Hay on Wye

If a water-based adventure is more your thing then hire a canoe or kayak from Wye Valley Canoes and head downstream from Glasbury to Hay. This is 100% one of my top picks for places to visit near Hay on Wye.

This is a particularly idyllic stretch of the river, with small beaches to stop at on the way when you’re in need of a break.

It’s such a fun idea if you’re looking for things to do in Hay-on-Wye.

Shop for Hay on Wye Antiques

Over the years some of the bookshops have pivoted and become antique stores rather than bookstores.

They’re fun to wander around as you browse furniture, jewels, and more.

Visit Hay Castle

One of the best things to do around Hay on Wye is to visit the Castle.

Hay Castle stands tall above the rest of the small town. Once a medieval stronghold, the castle ruins tell a story of a period of time when the area was full of battles and people fought for control of the area.

At the moment the castle is undergoing massive repairs with the aim of making visiting safer and more informative. It’s expected to reopen in 2020.

The Thursday market at Hay on Wye

If you’re not visiting during the Hay Festival, then make sure to visit on a Thursday at least! The Hay on Wye market is held in the center of town every week.

It’s not just a fruit and veg market but a flea market with books, locally produced produce, vintage items, and more. It’s a weekly highlight of living in, or near, Hay!

hay on wye weekend culture
Bookshops: One of the best things to do in Hay on Wye, UK

Browse the many Hay on Wye bookshops

Hay on Wye has over 20 bookshops which makes it the perfect destination for book lovers.  Some of the bookshops specialize in second-hand books or books of particular genres.

One thing’s for sure, you can spend hours trawling through the books here (which sounds like a pretty fun way to while away a day to me!).

5 Best Bookshops in Hay on Wye

When it comes to what to see in Hay on Wye, the bookstores are a must.

Richard Booth’s Bookshop, 44 Lion St

Richard Booth’s bookstore is huge with books spread across three levels. Some say it’s one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and Richard Booth is often given credit for being the person who introduced the idea of Hay on Wye as a book town!

You could easily spend a few hours flicking through the pages of numerous books. I recommend making the most of the bookshop’s cafe.

This Hay on Wye Bookseller is also sometimes referred to as the Hay on Wye cinema bookshop since it has a cinema screen where they place independent and popular films. Buy a book, sit down with a pot of tea and enjoy a couple of hours to yourself, or catch a film!

The Poetry Bookshop in Hay on Wye

This bookshop is the only second-hand bookstore in the UK dedicated entirely to poetry. Filled with hundreds of books on, and around the subject of poetry, this is a must visit in Hay on Wye for poetry lovers!

Hay on Wye Booksellers, 13-14 High Town

This Hay on Wye bookshop is one of the most iconic in town. It has a timber-framed façade, two floors of wooden shelving and a vintage sign outside too.

 If you feel like wandering inside, then make sure to set aside plenty of time to peruse the shelves, sit in the comfortable armchairs and bring a bit of cash to buy a book or two. We ended up staying in this cosy store for well over an hour during our visit to Hay! And you may well find that you will as well…

Murder and Mayhem, 5 Lion St

Murder and Mayhem in Hay on Wye sells books of the horror, true crime and detective genres. If you love a good murder mystery then you’ll find plenty to entertain you in here!

Addyman Books, 39 Lion St

Owned by the same people as Murder and Mayhem, Addyman Books specialises in rare, vintage and unique finds. This is one of my favourite types of book shop to browse, as I love seeing if there’s a dedication in the front of the book and seeing just how old the copies are!

Attend the Hay on Wye festival

Each year, an annual Hay on Wye literary festival is held to celebrate books, as well as the town itself. Bill Clinton once called it the ‘Woodstock of the Mind’ and the festival has been held for two weeks each year for over thirty years.

Cut off from the rest of the world by a dismal phone signal and lacking in chain stores, a wander through Hay on Wye is a step back into the past and an adventure of literary proportions.

Usually, the festival is held at the end of May/beginning of June. It attracts book lovers, writers, artists, among others.

A normally tiny population of around 1500 permanent residents increases to up to half a million during the festival season.

Live performances are held in the evenings (typically costing around £10 per event), plenty of food stalls serve freshly made food, and the festival itself is free to enter.

Top Hay on Wye restaurants

Check out some of the best places to eat in Hay on Wye below.

Shepherds Parlour

For an afternoon snack, head over to Shepherd’s for some sheep’s milk ice cream. There are 16 flavours to choose from each day. These vary from the classics to the slightly unusual with seasonal ingredients.

Depending on when you visit this Hay on Wye cafe, you could try lavender, damson or rhubarb crumble flavoured ice cream! Plus, sheep’s milk ice cream has less than 7% fat. That makes it healthy, right?

St John’s Place

For dinner give St John’s in Hay on Wye a try. It’s a fairly new restaurant in an old chapel where each dish and ingredient has been carefully selected to ensure the best flavour and presentation.

The menu changes every week and St John’s is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. If you’re keen to visit make sure you book as it’s always busy!

The River Cafe

Just out of the town along The River Wye is the village of Glasbury. Here there’s a very good cafe, the River Cafe. It’s a great spot for coffee next to the river.

This is also the place for canoe hire in Hay on Wye. You can launch into the river here for some Hay on Wye canoeing or get mountain bikes and Vespa scooters to explore the trails!

Where is Hay on Wye?

Hay on Wye is in Wales. More specifically it’s in the county of Powys in Southern Wales. It’s also very close to the England-Wales border and the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales.

A bit easier to get to than Snowdonia National Park if you’re coming from the south of England or London, a trip to Hay on Wye will not only provide the opportunity for adventure but culture too.

How to get to Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye is easy to reach from London and most major cities thanks to good public transport options.


When I visited, my parents drove to Hay on Wye. Directions obviously vary depending on where you’re coming from.

From London to Hay on Wye, the drive is roughly 3.5 hours depending on traffic. You’ll take the M4 westbound towards Bristol and Newport and then head north towards Abergavenny and Hay on Wye.

I use comparison sites like DiscoverCars and RentalCars to book my car rentals as it’s easy to check prices and compare the best deals!

Trains to Hay on Wye

There isn’t a Hay on Wye train station, the nearest train station to Hay on Wye is Hereford. Trains run regularly between London and Hereford as well as other major cities.

Hereford is just over 20 miles away from Hay on Wye and, from there, you can catch a bus that will take you from Hereford to Hay on Wye.

During the Hay Festival, there are extra bus services put on to make getting to Hay on Wye from Hereford and other towns easier. You can find more information about getting to the Hay Festival here.

You can book trains online in advance by using which makes it super easy to plan your journey ahead of time!

And, if you’re under 30, consider getting a railcard to save up to 1/3 on train fares for a whole year.


Getting the bus to Hereford often works out to be cheaper than getting the train. The bus leaves from London Victoria Coach Station and takes about 4.5 hours to get to Hereford.

Then you’ll need to get the Hereford to Hay on Wye bus (T14 towards Brecon), which takes about 1 hour.

Omio is a great platform for booking European and UK travel on. You can check train and bus prices and schedules and book super easily!

Where to stay in Hay on Wye

If you’re planning to spend more than one day in Hay on Wye check out these cute cottages and Hay on Wye hotels for your literary-focused retreat.

The Smithy, B&B Hay on Wye

The Smithy is one of the top rated bed and breakfasts in Hay on Wye on Rooms here come with a patio or balcony, free wifi and a TV. The B&B also has a garden and lounge for some chilled out evenings.

Kilvert’s Inn

The Kilverts, Hay on Wye has a garden and a bar and is only 600 m away from Hay Castle. It also gets great reviews and is without a doubt one of the top hotels near Hay on Wye.

Seven Stars, Hay on Wye

This beautiful guest house, Seven Stars, has an indoor pool and sauna as well as many of the original features such as oak beams and stone walls. It’s close to the centre of Hay and offers everything you need for a relaxing weekend away in Hay on Wye.

FAQson Hay-on-Why Wales

Is Hay on Wye worth visiting?

If you’re a book lover, or looking for a cute town to explore that’s close to the Brecon Beacons then Hay on Wye is definitely worth visiting.

Is Hay on Wye in Wales?

Yes. Hay on Wye is very close to the border of England and Wales, but it’s in Wales.

Last Updated on November 24, 2023 by Hannah

Leave a comment

  1. Haydn Squibb says:

    This looks like the cutest place!! Will have to add to my list of places to visit in the UK!

    Haydy || Squibb Vicious

  2. Vertoe inc says:

    A fantastic post. You have shared great information about visiting places of the UK.

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