For bibliophiles, the quaint settlement of Hay-on-Wye likely needs no introduction. The book town of Wales is famous for its many bookshops, shelving on the streets, and of course, Hay Festival, an annual literary festival celebrating all book-related affairs.
Today, the Hay Literary Festival is one of the world’s top cultural and literary festivals and has inspired similar events in destinations as far afield as Cape Town in South Africa and Xalapa in Mexico. Indeed, such a staple of the Welsh annual calendar is this event, that hundreds of thousands of people now flock to the town at the end of May each year…
Hay Festival Address | Dairy Meadows, Brecon Road, Hay on Wye, HR3 5PJ
What is the Hay Festival and where is it held?
The Hay-on-Wye Festival is held in the book town of Wales (known in Welsh as Y Gelli- ‘the Grove’) on an annual basis towards the end of May and beginning of June (exact dates vary year on year). Typically taking place for 10 days, thousands of people flock from all over Europe and beyond to enjoy book events, speeches, signings, and more.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 50 % of the festival’s attendees actually come from Wales itself. Meanwhile, a children’s festival called “Hay Fever” is held simultaneously to the main event. Though the book festival is undoubtedly the most famous event to take place in Hay each year, what you may well not realise is that there are plenty of other festivals held throughout the year too!
In total, there are over 600 events at the literary event, with the full programme of events being released at around Easter time. Hay-on-Wye itself can be found on the border between England and Wales in the county of Powys. The permanent population of Hay is around 1500, though this swells to significantly more during the late spring festival.
Who Started the Hay Festival? (and a brief history of the event!)
The full name for the ‘Hay on Wye Festival’ is actually Hay Festival of Literature & Arts. Founded in 1988 by Norman, Rhoda and Peter Florence, the event has since gained plenty of international recognition. Perhaps most notably is that, in 2001, Bill Clinton described the festival as “The Woodstock of the mind”.
In the beginning, only around 1000 people attended the event. Now, the festival counts well over 250,000 annual attendees, making this one of the most popular dates on the Powys calendar! Over the years, the festival has been held in a variety of venues, including in the town’s tiny primary school! Now, it’s held on the fringes of the historic town.
By the late 1980s, Hay-on-Wye had already been established as a hub for books thanks to an initial push by Richard Booth. Visit today at any time of the year and you can expect to find around 30 bookshops! Though the Guardian publication was the main sponsor of the publication from 2002 to 2010, the festival now has a plethora of sponsors, including the BBC, the British Council, and the Arts Council of Wales.
Hay Festival Accommodation Suggestions
Of course, you should know before you go that while there are plenty of wonderful hotels and B&Bs in Hay-on-Wye and the surrounding countryside. However, due to the popularity of the festival, the best accommodation fills up fast and so you’ll want to book your place to stay well in advance (i.e. as soon as you know you want to attend the Book Town Festival). Check the best prices for Hay-on-Wye accommodation here.
Things to know before attending the Hay on Wye Book Festival
There are numerous ways in which you can get to the Hay on Wye festival; though bus and car are the easiest options. The nearest train station to the Welsh town is that of Hereford, which is some 21 miles away. Luckily, regular buses serve Hay-on-Wye, with extra services being provided during the event period.
During the Hay-on-Wye festival, bus services are held between Hereford coach and bus stations, as well as Worcester Crowngate Bus Station and Hay itself. Single tickets are £7.50, while return tickets are priced at £10. Contactless payment is available on the bus. (Prices correct as of May 2019)
For those who are travelling between the festival site and the town of Hay-on-Wye itself, it’s worth noting that there are regular ‘Book Town Shuttle’ buses, where day tickets are priced at just £2. Otherwise, you should know that admission to the Welsh Festival is free for students. Finally, if you want to buy specific event tickets, then you should check the Hay website.