Looking for things to do in Hay on Wye? Me (Joel) and an old friend of mine, Rob, headed to Hay on Wye for a bit of a lads weekend to catch up and enjoy a bit of kayaking. Rob came down on his brand new Royal Enfield Himalayan and I went in Bumper, of course. We both came from the Midlands and unfortunately, Rob got caught in severe traffic and heavy rain, which led to a rather wet and late arrival.
So wet, he could wring his gloves out Ha! But despite that, we had a cracking weekend catching up over a few beers, coffees and paddles on the River Wye. Read on to find out more about the town!
Hay on Wye is a real page-turner with so much to discover. See what I did there? Ha! And with this list of things to do in Hay on Wye, you can make the most of your visit to this beautiful little town. If you haven’t visited Hay on Wye, you must! Nestled in Wye Valley, and famed for books, Hay on Wye is the world’s first book town. I read there are over 30 book shops in the town. With a population of around 1500 people, that’s one book shop for every 50 people! We’d love to read your thoughts about the post…your comments below, please!
How Did Hay on Wye Become the World’s First Book Town?
Richard Booth is credited with turning the town into the world’s first book town back in the 1960s. Richard Booth was born in Plymouth and raised in Hay on Wye and had a love of books from an early age. He opened his first bookshop in 1961 and the rest is history, as they say! Remarkably, the transformation of Hay into the world’s first book town has inspired over 40 other towns around the globe to follow suit. Richard Booth died in 2019 and undoubtedly left an incredible legacy that will be remembered for generations to come – something most of us can only dream of.
Hay on Wye sits on the Welsh side of the Welsh and English border, in the county of Powys. Although it’s a Welsh town, the postcodes for the majority of the town are Herefordshire, which is in England. I would go as far as to say Hay on Wye is one of my favourite towns…ever!
It’s large enough to have sufficient things to do to keep you entertained and small enough to maintain its charm. Aside from the charm of the town, the location itself offers a whole host of things to do. With the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons, the winding River Wye, lakes and forests, there is an abundance of options for you to absorb the incredible scenery surrounding Hay on Wye.
How to Spend a Weekend in Hay on Wye
5 Things to Do in Hay on Wye
1 | Peruse the Bookshops and Buy a Book
First up on our list of things to do in Hay on Wye is to visit the book shops! And is it possible to visit the world’s first book town and not buy a book? I often expect things to not be the same as you see on the internet with the amount of misleading content you see on social media that sometimes result in disappointment. You know what I’m talking about. The place where you arrive and there is just the thing you saw on Instagram, with nothing else on offer. Well, Hay on Wye isn’t that place.
It’s not a town that doesn’t fulfil its slogan. There are book shops EVERYWHERE! There are bookshops in passages and book shops where there aren’t even shops! Like under the castle where there’s an honesty bookshop under a shelter. One of the most famous of all the book shops in Hay on Wye is Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Outside the bookshop, there is a cover that reads “Richard Booth World’s Largest Secondhand Bookshop”. I don’t know if this is still true, but it’s an interesting bit of pavement if nothing else!
Richard Booth’s Bookshop is a bit of a masterpiece in terms of architecture, as well as books. There are three floors of books housed in a wooden structure that is the work of a master craftsman. You can hear the creaking of the wood under the footsteps all around you like you’re on some old pirate galleon! And for book lovers, there is every genre of book you could possibly want to read.
Other notable book shops in Hay on Wye include Hay on Wye Booksellers, Hay Cinema Bookshop, The Addyman Annexe and Murder & Mayhem. The latter being a specialist bookshop for everything murder and mayhem related!
Given Hay on Wye is the world’s first book town, there has to be a festival of celebration, right? And there is! It’s Hay Festival and usually falls at the end of May. Check THIS website for more details. Hay Festival has been running since 1988 and has had some famous speakers, such as Bill Clinton.
2 | Canoe the River Wye
Next up on our list of things to do in Hay on Wye is to canoe the River Wye. A trip to Hay on Wye would not be complete without a paddle on the river…unless you hate water, of course! Or you can get in it if you’d prefer! It’s certainly deep enough in parts to get in for a swim. Or, if you’re like my kayak buddy, go for a swim because you can’t stay on your kayak! Ha!
We opted to take our own kayaks to paddle the River Wye instead of hiring some. It was an awesome adventure and we certainly got wetter than planned. Because we hadn’t organised a pick-up, we had to get to the place we started, which meant paddling downriver and back, or vice versa. We started heading downriver and realised we wouldn’t be able to get back, so turned around and headed upriver, which was a far better choice. The water was deeper and led to a beautifully peaceful paddle…aside from Rob ending up in the water, of course! We even spotted a couple skinny dipping!
We got on the River Wye at Wyeford Car Park but be aware, it’s a busy car park! It’s free, so I expect people use it to visit the town, but it’s also a really popular spot for canoeists and kayakers because of its convenient location to the River Wye.
If you don’t want the effort of kayaking upriver, I suggest you hire some canoes that come with a drop-off and pick-up in different locations. You get the pleasure of paddling the River Wye without the insane effort required to paddle against the flow, unless you like a challenge, of course! If you do decide to return to the same spot, definitely make the effort to get under the bridge and upriver – you won’t regret it.
3 | Wander the Wonderful Streets or Somewhere Further Afield
Just wandering is one of my favourite things to do anywhere. Getting lost and getting off the beaten track is my priority anywhere I go and Hay on Wye was no different. Although it’s not a huge town, there are plenty of streets to wander. There are loads of little details around the place, like this little bit of graffiti below.
A point I mention in my travel photography tips post is photography changed the way I see the world and now I notice the quirky details wherever I go and Hay on Wye has a ton of little details. I loved Hay so much I visited three separate times in less than 48-hours! This way, I could see the town at different times of day, get a better feel for the place and get any pictures I might have missed on the first and second visit! Ha!
And you can always go a bit further afield if you fancy a more challenging walk. There are tons of walks around Hay. You can walk from the town itself and try the River and Rail Trail Circular Walk. It’s a 2-mile circular walk (well, just over!) that takes you to Wye Beach, Hay Bridge and back to Hay on Wye. Or, if you’d prefer, jump in the car or on the bike and head up to Gospels Pass. Did you know Gospels Pass is actually the highest public road in Wales? Be warned though, the road up is a bit of a nightmare.
It’s pretty much a single track all the way up. There are passing places, but be aware of the cyclists and sheep on the road! It’s definitely worth the drive up to enjoy the spectacular views if nothing else. On the east side sits the Black Mountains and on the west sits the rolling hills all the way to Brecon. For more info on walks around Hay, take a look HERE.
4 | Enjoy the Coffee Shops & Independent Retail
Have you ever wondered why we are so fascinated with coffee shops? What draws us to them? According to the internet, we just love the “relaxed and open feel” of a coffee shop. And I think I’d be inclined to agree. Thankfully, to meet demand, Hay on Wye has a handful of really awesome coffee shops.
We stopped for coffee at Shepherds Parlour…twice! They do an almond blondie too, which is beyond delicious! It’s super sweet to suit those with a sweet tooth. They do a range of homemade cakes and lunches and they also have their own locally made ice cream – Shepherds ice cream!
Other notable cafes are The Old Electric Shop, which also doubles up as a really cool interiors boutique and The Granary, which has a beautiful little outdoor seating area. The seating area is also covered, so on the off chance it’s raining…you won’t get soaked through!
There are a ton of cool shops in Hay too. Some are rather eclectic, such as Bain and Murrin, which is full of vintage clothing, accessories and furniture. I do wonder where places like this get their stock from…Ha! Hay also features a ton of antique shops, galleries and homeware shops. You won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer. In fact, I think we’re rather spoiled!
5 | Camp in Hay on Wye
Are you a camper? We are, of course! Camping is always fun, no matter where we are. There’s something about camping that I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s being closer to green spaces and nature, or further from technology or being occupied because things take longer to do, like cooking, maybe. Or maybe it’s because it removes you from your normal life and presents something unique to the way we all live our lives..who knows, but we love it!
There are a ton of campsites in and around Hay on Wye. No fewer than ten, by the look of it on Google Maps, which is quite a lot when you consider the size of Hay on Wye, I think. We chose to stay at Borders Hideway, which is just outside Hay, a couple of miles to the west in Clyro…like Biffy Clyro the band. Remember them? Turns out they are from Scotland, not Wales, and there is zero connection in the name. Ha!
I digress… Borders was a lovely little site with clean and tidy facilities, although slightly on the expensive side. We paid £56 for two nights, including electric hook-up. A minor point, but worth noting – the field we were in was fairly uneven. We don’t have levelling blocks but thankfully, the site provided some wood to level Bumper out. They also had these really cool wooden sculptures around the site, which was a nice touch.
Got anything to add to our list of things to do in Hay on Wye? What did you get up to and do you have any recommendations for our next visit? Comments below, please!
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