Books, on books, on books. Hay-on-Wye was a town that instantly attracted me when I was doing research on places to visit in South Wales, and when I learned that I’d have my own driver and guide when visiting recently, this was obviously the perfect opportunity to go off-the-beaten-path and see this town for myself.
Being one of the places I was most excited for on my one-week trip to Great Britain and three days in Wales, I was kind of expecting to be disappointed. Since usually when you really build something up in your head, it can often times be a letdown, but I was pleasantly surprised when this place lived up to my expectations.
Hay-on-Wye is a small town of under 1,500 people located in the northeastern most tip of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Southern Wales. The town is nicknamed “the town of books” and you’ll quickly see why as you walk down the streets. Every single corner of this town is filled with books and bookshops. When you visit the castle in the middle of town, you’ll notice community bookshelves sprinkled around that they call the Honesty Bookshop. The town trusts that if you take a book, you’ll put the money into the box to pay for it.
As you walk into the town you’ll notice all the many bookshops sprinkled amongst the antique and other artsy shops. The bookstores are lined with books in every crevice. New books, old books, collector books, just about everything you can imagine! I had my eye on buying an old copy of Romeo & Juliet (one of my favourites) if I found it. Of course it was one of the first books I spotted in the Shakespeare section of Booth’s Bookstore, rumoured to be one of the world’s largest secondhand bookstores. I was so excited until I saw the price tag—250 GBP (aka almost $500 CDN). Lets just say I carefully placed the book back where it belonged.
Every year in May/June Hay-on-Wye hosts a book festival which has brought in around 80,000 visitors over the weeklong event to this tiny town and its surroundings. Since most of the hotels book up quick (and there are very few to begin with), local farmers open up their fields to campers.
I absolutely fell in love with this town. It gave the fairy tale vibe that you just don’t find in too many places, and the best part was that I didn’t feel like I was in a tourist trap. Since Hay-on-Wye isn’t super easy for people to reach, it’s often skipped, but it’s one of those towns that leave you with that tingly feeling in your chest because it just feels so magical, and you feel so grateful for getting to experience it.
Words of advice: If you’re ever in Southern Wales, find your way to Hay-on-Wye. Even if you have to hire a driver, rent a car, hitchhike—whatever you have to do. I promise it’ll be worth it.