31 January 2021
Hay-on-Wye may be small but we think it’s a perfectly formed market town, especially as it’s nestled in a picture perfect spot at the top of the Brecon Beacons National Park, close to the Welsh border. Lots of lovely bookshops and a world-famous annual literary festival mean Hay-on-Wye is known as the town of books, but with medieval town walls, a popular market, and a gently flowing river that’s perfect for canoeing, there’s so much more to discover during a visit.
We have compiled some of the best things to do in Hay-on-Wye during your next short break or holiday to the Brecon Beacons.
⭐ The Hay Festival
⭐ Hay-on-Wye bookshops
⭐ Shopping in Hay-on-Wye
⭐ Things to do
⭐ Hay-on-Wye cafes and restaurants
⭐ Hay-on-Wye pubs
⭐ Hay-on-Wye walks
⭐ Where to stay in Hay-on-Wye
The Hay Festival
Once described by Bill Clinton as a ‘Woodstock for the mind’ The Hay Festival has become one the world’s leading art and literature events. Each year, authors, poets, philosophers and historians flock to Hay-on-Wye to hold workshops and give talks to legions of avid readers.
Typically more than 100,000 people attend the annual event which has long grown out of the pub car park where it was originally held and now takes place in a series of specially constructed marquees at the edge of Hay-on-Wye. A green field at the centre of the tented village is strewn with deck chairs for visitors to relax in and there is an assortment of cafes and pubs where you can catch up with the speakers between sessions.
You can’t come to Hay-on-Wye without taking a mooch around some of its magnificent bookshops; almost unbelievably, there are around 30 of them dotted around the town. Whether you’re looking for vintage classics, fancy stocking up on some new upcoming authors or want to seek out a rare hidden treasure, you’ll find it in Hay-on-Wye. Here are some of our favourite bookshops to visit:
Richard Booth’s Bookshop
Row upon row of chunky wooden shelves in this characterful building are filled with thousands of second-hand books with comfy seating where you can sit and read them. Regular events are held amongst the eaves of the pitched roof studio room and there’s also an on-site cafe where you can stop for refreshments. Richard Booth’s Bookshop is where the title 'town of books' all started, so it is well worth stopping by.
This treasure trove of English literature classics and modern first editions started life back in 1987 in a room of the Blue Boar Inn. It’s since moved into a lovely shop on Lion Street and is a great place for seeking out rare novels and out-of-print books. Across the road, you’ll find the Addyman’s second store - a small bookshop called Murder and Mayhem that specialises in detective fiction.
Hay Cinema Bookshop
What was once the cinema in Hay-on-Wye has been transformed into a book shop that’s so large that maps are available at the counter to help you find your way around. Lots of the books at Hay Cinema are surplus stocks from publishers so there are plenty of bargains to be had, and friendly staff are on hand to help you find any titles you are interested in.
The wonderful Honesty Bookshop is actually more like a collection of shelves that have been built onto the historic fortified walls of Hay Castle. The shelves are available to browse 24/7 and, as the name implies, there is an honesty box where you can pay for any titles you choose to take.
Image credit: abcbritain
Aside from the many bookshops, there are lots more places to shop in Hay-on-Way if you fancy indulging in a spot of retail therapy.
There has been a market in Hay for more than 700 years and, each Thursday, visitors can browse around 50 stalls selling everything from local artisan food to crafts and clothing. The main hub of the market is centred around Memorial Square, which has the backdrop of the majestic Hay Castle, but there is also a selection of indoor stalls within the historic Butter Market and Cheese Market Halls.
This quirkily named independent shop specialises in selling Fairtrade items and environmentally friendly pieces made by small-scale businesses and talented craftspeople from around the world. There is lots of ethical clothing, jewellery and homeware to browse in the store, with all items carefully handpicked by the Eighteen Rabbit team.
Satori Designs and Otherworldz
This pair of independently owned Hay-on-Way gift stores are both well worth visiting - you’ll find all sorts of interesting items hidden inside. Satori Designs sells crystals, healing bracelets, incense, candles and Welsh Green Man items while Otherworldz stocks a range of colourful clothing and fun festival items.
Stock up on artisan Welsh meats and cheeses, freshly baked bread, organic vegetables and local ciders at the Hay Deli, a food store that’s based on Lion Street. There’s also a wide range of wine, teas, coffees, chocolates, sauces and chutneys - many of which are sourced from small-scale Welsh producers.
As you would expect from such a historic market town, there is also a good selection of antique shops where you can find all sorts of vintage items and one-of-a-kind pieces. Our favourite stores include Hay Antique Market, Bull Ring Antiques, Timeless Treasures and Fleur de Lys Antiques and Collectables.
Hay-on-Wye cafes and restaurants
You’ll find vegan dishes, flavours from around the world, home-made ice cream and local seasonal produce on the menu at these Hay-on-Wye eateries:
The regularly changing set menu at Chapters celebrates the best local seasonal produce in a selection of inventive and elegantly crafted dishes. This lovely Hay-on-Wye restaurant is located just off the town’s market square and is a perfect choice for a romantic dinner or an evening outing with friends.
The Salad Project
The Salad Project is a wonderful vegetarian and vegan restaurant selling daily specials such as falafels, curries and Mexican food served with a variety of sauces, breads and loads of tasty salad. The healthy, freshly prepared food is just right for lunch - especially as there is no need to feel guilty afterwards.
Tomatitos Tapas Bar
Spanish flavours and Welsh produce are beautifully combined in a series of small and very tasty dishes at Tomatitos Tapas Bar in Hay-on-Wye. There’s a pretty garden at this bar and restaurant which even includes a shelter from the rain and a relaxed ambience whether you’re calling in for food or drinks.
Shepherds Parlour is an ice cream parlour, coffee shop and cafe all rolled into one, serving toasted sandwiches using local baker Alex Gooch’s sourdough bread, daily home-made soup of the day and freshly brewed coffee. You can’t visit though without sampling their signature sheep’s milk ice cream which comes in 16 different flavours.
The Bean Box
This tiny shack is located on the edge of the River Wye with outdoor seating so you can enjoy a scenic coffee and cake when the weather is sunny. It’s a perfect spot to sit and watch the boats go by and there is a selection of Welsh specialities to enjoy including traditional bara brith.
Pubs in Hay-on-Wye
Whether you fancy an evening out with your other half, catching up with friends in front of a roaring log fire or immersing yourself into local life, here are some of the Hay-on-Wye pubs to call in for a drink (or two).
The Blue Boar
If you’re looking for a characterful pub that’s full of original features and cosy snugs, The Blue Boar is the place for you. Enjoy a peaceful pint and a good book in front of the fire with a four-legged friend relaxing by your side at this lovely dog-friendly pub on Castle Street.
The Old Black Lion
This historic 17th-century coaching inn is located just a stone’s throw from Hay-on-Wye’s ancient medieval walls and is reputed to be where Oliver Cromwell stayed while Hay Castle was besieged by his roundheads. Regular jazz nights are held at the Old Black Lion and you can enjoy a selection of local ales and ciders in the charming bar.
The oldest pub in Hay-on-Wye, the Three Tuns dates back to the 16th century and the gorgeous Grade II-listed timber building contains lots of original features such as a large inglenook chimney and dog-leg staircase. A roaring fire warms the cosy bar area during winter and there’s a lovely beer garden for al fresco drinks in the warmer summer months.
The Castlefields is located just a few miles from Hay-on-Wye in the pretty village of Clifford. The classic country pub features a quirky glass-covered well in the welcoming bar and there’s also a large beer garden where you can make the most of stunning views across the Merbach Hill.
Things to do in Hay-on-Wye
With a wonderful combination of culture and countryside, there are lots of things to do during a getaway to Hay-on-Wye:
The Globe at Hay
A hub for creativity and community events, The Globe at Hay is an independent arts centre where you can find anything from regularly changing exhibitions to open mic nights and theatre shows. There’s also talks, classes and an on-site bar where you can relax with a locally brewed beer or a cocktail.
This beautiful riverside meadow is one of Hay-on-Wye’s hidden gems and a perfect spot for either a family picnic, an outdoor game, a paddle or even a swim in the river. The Warren has been used for recreational purposes by generations of people and was specially purchased by the residents of Hay-on-Wye during the 1970s to prevent the land ever being developed on.
Canoeing and kayaking
Canoeing or kayaking along the River Wye is an exhilarating outdoor activity and you’ll pass through stunning Welsh countryside as you make your way through the Brecon Beacons National Park. The river is easily accessible from Hay-on-Wye with both boat hire and guided half and full-day canoe tours available. A typical route to the nearby village of Glasbury, which is about 5 miles along the river, will take about 2 hours paddling each way.
Currently undergoing a major renovation project, Hay Castle is a grand medieval fortress that is located right in the heart of Hay-on-Wye with a collection of charming shops housed on a cobbled courtyard. Parts of the building date back to Norman, Victorian and Jacobean eras and the current work will transform the castle into a centre for arts and culture in this wonderful book town.
Bike hire is available from Drover Cycles in Hay-on-Wye and there’s lots of scenic cycling to try in the surrounding Welsh countryside. A popular Brecon Beacons cycling route to try is along the Gospel Pass which winds through the Black Mountains and, at its peak, is the highest road in Wales. There are also lots of off-road trails through the Brecon Beacons National Park and Drover Cycles can give lots of advice and information to help you select the best route and cycle for your needs.
The Brecon Beacons National Park is one of only a few places in the UK to hold International Dark Sky Reserve status and, on a clear night, you can spot meteor showers, twinkling stars and the wondrous spectacle of the Milky Way. One of the best places in the Brecon Beacons to go stargazing is Hay Bluff where you can park up and find a peaceful spot to make the most of the sheltered night sky.
With two long-distance walking routes that pass through Hay-on-Wye and the peaks of the Black Mountains just a few miles away, you’ll find plenty of walking options on your visit to this Brecon Beacons town:
If you’re looking for an easy-going walk that’s just right for families, we recommend taking a 1.5-mile stroll along the banks of the River Wye to nearby beauty spot The Warren where you can relax with a picnic or enjoy a paddle in the river before heading back to town.
Offa’s Dyke Walk
Offa’s Dyke is a 177-mile National Trail path that passes through Hay-on-Wye as it weaves along the Welsh border. Serious hikers can follow the Offa’s Dyke Path to the beautiful and remote Llanthony Priory which is around 12 miles away. Alternatively, you can follow a more manageable circular Offa’s Dyke route that takes in Hay Common and Wren Wood Ridge.
Black Hill and Hay Bluff
Hay Bluff and Black Hill are two of the most prominent hills in the Black Mountains and you can tackle them both in a 7.7-mile walk from the Standing Stones car park which is just south of Hay-on-Wye. The climbs aren’t too strenuous so can be tackled by anyone with moderate fitness and there are pretty streams, wonderful waterfalls and gorgeous views of the Brecon Beacons throughout the circular walk.
Wye Valley Walk
The Wye Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and you can follow riverside pathways through undulating meadows, open fields and woodland as part of the 136-mile Wye Valley walk which passes through Hay-on-Wye. We recommend either walking to the village of Lowes which is around 3 miles away or extending it further to Glasbury which is around 7.5 miles away.
Where to stay in Hay-on-Wye
Here is just a small selection of the Hay-on-Wye cottages available if you fancy visiting this historic Welsh market town:
This charming little bolthole has a prime location in Hay-on-Wye and is just right as a couple’s retreat or for solo travellers looking to explore the area.
Immerse yourself in the rich history of Hay-on-Wye with a stay at this characterful former gatehouse which has gorgeous views of the Wye Valley from a lovely large garden.
Hay House | Sleeps: 6 guests + 2 dogs
This contemporary detached holiday home is located on the edge of Hay-on-Wye and is perfect for either a family holiday to the area or a trip with friends to the annual Hay Festival.
Whether you’re planning to visit Hay-on-Wye for a romantic break or for a dog-friendly family adventure in the Brecon Beacons National Park, you’ll find lots of lovely holiday cottages where you can rest your head. Browse our full collection to find your perfect base.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.