Hay Festival of Literature and Arts 2024 travel guide

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The town of Hay-on-Wye is ready for a crowd of book lovers to descend on the Powys community for the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts.

Celebrating creativity, literature, writing and words, the second-hand book capital of the world is hosting the annual Hay Festival for the 36th year.

For 2024, guest speakers include novelists Colm Toibin and Jeanette Winterson, actor Lenny Henry, and comedians Julian Clary and Sara Pascoe. Gary Lineker, Dame Judi Dench, Miriam Margolyes and Stephen Fry are also set to pop up in Britain’s leading town of literature during the 11-day gathering.

Dame Judi Dench, Miriam Margolyes and Stephen Fry will talk at the 2024 Hay Festival
Dame Judi Dench, Miriam Margolyes and Stephen Fry will talk at the 2024 Hay Festival (Sam Hardwick)

This year’s programme is bursting with more than 600 events – there are eight stages in the free-to-enter Dairy Meadows festival site, performances all week at St Mary’s Church, and even the festival’s first-ever Sports Day.

Aside from flipping pages, catching a stand-up set and getting crafty with the kids, there will be plenty of outdoor adventures, plates of local produce and, of course, bookshops to browse in historic Hay-on-Wye.

Here’s everything you need to know about where to stay, how to get there and what to do when the chapter ends for bibliophiles headed to Hay Festival.

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When is Hay Festival 2024?

This year’s edition of the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts spans 11 days, from 23 May to 2 June, and tickets are available to book at hayfestival.com.

The best of bookshops

Fiction, non-fiction and children’s books stock shelves across Hay-on-Wye
Fiction, non-fiction and children’s books stock shelves across Hay-on-Wye (Sam Hardwick)

Richard Booth’s

The creator of Hay – a beloved town of books – as we know it is immortalised in his own Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Booth opened his first bookshop in Hay-on-Wye in 1961, and his love of second-hand literature led to the establishment of the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts by Peter Florence in 1988.

The Poetry Bookshop

Open since 1979, The Poetry Bookshop houses the “most comprehensive” selection of new, second-hand and antiquarian poetry in the UK and is a top hit with lovers of stanzas by John Keats, William Wordsworth and Carol Ann Duffy.

North Books

Newcomer North Books on Castle Street hosts author events, book clubs and craft groups, and is bursting with nooks for reading. They also hold “bookshop breakfasts” for out-of-hours access to the seriously stocked shelves.

Gay on Wye

In 2023, bookshop and community centre Gay on Wye opened on Lion Street as a sanctuary for LGBT+ literature and queer storytelling.

What to do in Hay-on-Wye

There are more than 600 events on the 2024 Hay Festival programme
There are more than 600 events on the 2024 Hay Festival programme (Adam Tatton-Reid)

Hay Market Day

Held in the centre of Hay every Thursday for more than 700 years, Hay Market welcomes 40-plus independent traders in craft, cheese and record stalls, often complete with live music and street food.

Canoe on the River Wye

If the Welsh weather isn’t matching up to your wild swimming plans, a cagoule-wearing paddle of the River Wye with Wye Valley Canoes starts from £35 per person.

Hike the Brecon Beacons

Step outside the festival for two-foot tours of the Brecon Beacons National Park (Bannau Brycheiniog) to escape the crowds, or walk the 136-mile Wye Valley route and pass through Hay as you border hop between Wales and England.

Paraglide off the top of Hay Bluff

For a different kind of cliffhanger, Crickhowell Paragliding has tandem floats off the top of Hay Bluff and over the peaks and troughs of the Brecon Beacons from £185.

Where to eat and drink

Hay is home to more than just festival street food
Hay is home to more than just festival street food (Adam Tatton-Reid)

Inside the festival, street eats meet jugs of Pimms and sweet treats, with everything from coffee shops to woodfired pizzas and sheep’s milk ice cream.

As for the town’s top spots…

The Old Black Lion

For elevated pub grub and old-world charm, the Old Black Lion B&B is a historic haunt on the Welsh borders. Think jazz nights and traditional Sunday roasts wrapped up with spoonfuls of indulgent treacle sponge.

Hay Distillery

This mico-distillery sells locally sourced Wild Knapp and Dr Beaky’s gin, biodynamic wine and creative cocktails from a shop and tasting room in the centre of Hay.

Chapters

Make it Michelin guide quality with a weekend visit to Chapters restaurant on Lion Street for seasonal local menus of pickles, purees and sustainably sourced fish.

Artistraw Cider

Just outside of Hay, natural cider makers Tom and Lydia at Artistraw Cider offer tastings and tours from £40. The cidery and orchard is full of apple and perry pear trees with views of the Black Mountains – dreamy for sips of cider on a summer day.

Where to stay

There’s a riot of bookshops to browse on Hay’s high street
There’s a riot of bookshops to browse on Hay’s high street (Billie Charity )

By the Wye

Follow the festival vibe to By the Wye for riverside glamping in eco-friendly safari tents and treehouses built for a cwtch. There’s woodland wellness massages, scavenger hunts and bespoke hampers of local produce for traditional Welsh flavours at the rustic Herefordshire spot.

Two-night stays for five adults from £370.

Book now

Duke’s Farm

For cosy holiday cottages in the Black Mountains, three barn conversions at Duke’s Farm sleep couples or families looking for mountain views, oak timbers and fireside armchairs (perfect for curling up with a good book).

Four-night stays for two adults from £284.

Book now

Kaya at Blackhill Farm

Hunker down at Kaya at Blackhill Farm for glamping in a Dark Sky Reserve away from all the action. Tucked between the Wye Valley and Brecon Beacons, there are yurts kitted out with all the home comforts, firepits for keeping warm and stars for gazing.

Two-night stays for two adults from £315.

Book now

In the heart of Hay-on-Wye, The Old Cider House has been renovated with a Japanese flair that spills into the furnishings, with hospitality from hosts Simon and Kazuko, and sushi-centric dinner menus. It’s also the ideal base to explore Hay Market and the riot of bookshops on Castle Street.

How to get there

From central London, it’s a four-hour drive to Hay-on-Wye, but with 185,086 tickets sold for last year’s event, expect attendance to be high and the roads to be busy.

The nearest railway station is at Hereford (21 miles from Hay) and Great Western Railway services depart from London Paddington via Newport for a five-hour journey to Hay.

A festival bus service will run between Worcester, Hereford and Hay for the duration of the festival, with an adult day return costing £14. A regular shuttle bus will also operate between the festival site and the town centre from 8am to 11.15pm; £5 per day.

Read more on Hay Festival 2024: Our guide to this year’s highlights

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