I first heard about Hay-on-Wye last year. It’s a small village in Wales known as “The Town of Books.” When I asked Graham if we could go there on our next trip to England, he readily agreed, because he is the sort of boyfriend who will drive his girlfriend to a town of 26 bookstores and patiently wait while she endlessly browses, and will carry all the book bags too. He’s a keeper.
We drove into town on a rainy afternoon, and started out at the first bookstore we came across after we parked the car: the appropriately named Hay-on-Wye Booksellers. It’s a warm, cozy store, with lots of rooms filled with books sorted by subject matter. I got a copy of Living Dangerously by F. Spencer Chapman, from their excellent selection of travel & adventure titles.
We then strolled around town, popping into bookstores and browsing the stacks. Here are some assorted photos from our afternoon:
We ended our afternoon at the mothership: Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Richard Booth is pretty much responsible for Hay-on-Wye becoming a bookstore paradise. (Click on his name to read his wiki page, he’s a pretty interesting dude. In 1977 he declared Hay-on-Wye “an ‘independent kingdom’ with himself as king Richard Cœur de Livre and his horse as Prime Minister.”) Booth’s Bookshop is wonderful: extremely cozy and packed full of new and used books.
Then we checked into our B&B, the beautiful Radnor House:
Here are my books from the first day of shopping (extremely restrained, I must say!):
We walked to dinner that evening at the oldest pub in Hay-on-Wye, Three Tuns. It dates back to the early 16th century. It was very small and cozy, with a warm fireplace. I had a burger and chips, and Graham had a pork roast. We had a lemon crème brûlée for dessert, but ate it too fast to take a photo of it.
The next morning we had a stunning (and delicious) full English breakfast.
After breakfast, Graham relaxed in the room for a bit while I went back out for a few more hours of book shopping before our check out time. Next door to our B&B was an enormous shop called Hay Cinema Bookshop. I could have stayed there all day – it was magnificent. They had incredible travel / history sections divided up by region and country, with an extensive selection of rare and out of print titles in every section. It was wonderful. I first admired all their adventuring books, and then focused on the polar exploration section and picked out several lovely arctic & antarctic exploration travelogues to buy.
Then I collected Graham from the B&B and we went to Addyman Books, a fantastic shop with themed rooms decorated to reflect their contents: the Science Fiction room, a Bat Cave full of vampire books, and a Steampunk room.
Our last stop was back to Booth’s to pick up some back issues of Slightly Foxed. We had a great 24 hours in Hay-on-Wye, and I’m so glad we could visit this lovely bookish town.
After Hay-on-Wye we headed north – more photos from Wales in an upcoming post!
Recommendations for a trip to Hay-on-Wye:
- The Radnor House B&B is a complete delight. Try to book room 1: it’s the best room by far. If you can’t get a room there (there’s only 3), the Bear B&B looks wonderful too.
- Three Tuns is a super cozy pub to grab a pint. The food’s good too.
- There are many cute shops inside Hay Castle, including a beer shop called Beer Revolution.
- There are many festivals and events in Hay-on-Wye, so be sure to factor that in your decision of when to go. The Hay festival is the biggest, and there are mini Hay festival weekends throughout the year. It’d be fun to visit during a festival, but it will also be hard to book accommodation, and prices will be much higher.
- Try to get to as many of the 26 bookstores as you can, but don’t miss Booth’s, Addyman’s, and Hay Cinema Bookshop. If you like vintage & rare children’s books, you must go to Stella & Rose’s Books as well.