-Things to Do in Hay-on-Wye-
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 catch-up and to 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, the 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 get to Hay-on-Wye?
Hay-on-Wye straddles the River Wye and is located in Wales in the county of Powys, which happens to be the largest county in Wales, covering a staggering 5,200 square km. You have a few options to get to Hay-on-Wye but I recommend travelling via road. Not only is it the easiest option (unless you don’t drive, of course) but it’s also a lovely drive.
Accessing Hay-on-Wye via rail probably isn’t the best option. The nearest stations are Builth Road (to the west) and Hereford (to the east) and are approximately 20 miles from Hay-on-Wye. If travelling by rail is your preferred option, you will have to connect via bus to get to Hay-on-Wye…
There is a direct bus that runs from Hereford Train Station to Hay-on-Wye. It takes just over an hour and runs several times a day. Click the link at the bottom of this section for more information.
There’s also a Stagecoach bus service that connects Cardiff to Hereford and travels via Hay-on-Wye. Click HERE for route info and times.
We chose to visit Hay-on-Wye via road (because we camped in Bumper!). It’s also the easiest method to get to this beautiful town. It’s also a lovely drive in from the north and south. Thankfully, Hay-on-Wye is prepared by having plenty of parking available! There’s a large car park for long stay (Oxford Road) and a smaller car park for short stay (Market Square, 2 hours max) and both have the same prices at around £1 per hour. For more information on parking, click HERE
The Hay-on-Wye postcode to get you to Oxford Road car park is HR3 5AJ.
For more information or assistance on travel to Hay-on-Wye, visit Traveline by clicking HERE.
When is the best time to visit Hay-on-Wye?
Visiting Hay-on-Wye is worth it any time of year, but if you want to enjoy the surrounding area and make the most of being outside and enjoying outdoor activities, you are best visiting in the summer months, from May to September. You’ll also catch Hay Festival (more on that later) at this time of year. If you want to avoid the crowds though, you may be best visiting in the colder months…the choice is yours!
How to Spend a Weekend in Hay-on-Wye
7 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 that 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 to 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 that 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-on-Wye 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
This is a must of things to do in Hay-on-Wye if you ask us! 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 an 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.
6 | Visit Hay Castle
Hay Castle is a centre for arts, literature and learning, and after a major renovation project, Hay Castle reopened in May 2022 and you can access it for free! You can also book a tour while you are there to get the most out of your visit. Hay Castle is open 10 am – 5 pm, 7 days a week. For more information on visiting Hay Castle, click here.
7 | Visit Llanthony Priory
Last up on our list of things to do in Hay-on-Wye is to visit Llanthony Priory. If you’re heading up to Gospel Pass from Hay-on-Wye, you should consider heading a bit further and visiting Llanthony. Llanthony is a tiny village in Crucorney on the northern edge of Monmouthshire and it’s home to somewhere quite remarkable – Llanthony Priory. You may see it on Google Maps as Llanthony Abbey, but we’re going to refer to it as Llanthony Priory.
In the words of Giraldus Cambrensis, Gerald of Wales, the 12th-century traveller and chronicler, Llanthony Priory is, “truly suited to the monastic life… in a wilderness far removed from the bustle of mankind”.
The 900-year-old ruin, set in the dramatic Vale of Ewyas, is steeped in history and surrounded by beautiful walks up into the Black Mountains. But that’s not the best bit! It’s free to enter AND it has a really cool cellar bar. So, you can head on a walk and return to some bar snacks and a pint of local ale and sit among the ruins to rest your legs.
If a cellar bar isn’t your thing, there are a couple of pubs in the village, just a short walk from the Llanthony Priory
Camping at Llanthony Priory
It’s also worth noting that you can camp at Llanthony Priory. Right next to the ruins there’s a little campsite. It’s a steal at £4 per person per night. Booking is not required but you are advised to arrive early to secure a better spot. Be aware, there aren’t many facilities. You have access to the toilets in the main car park and that’s about it. There are no bins or electric hook-ups, so be prepared and respect the land.
If you’re visiting Hay-on-Wye, it’s definitely worth the effort to visit Llanthony Abbey and you get the bonus of driving to it across Gospel Pass, so it’s win, win, right?!
-Things to Do in Hay-on-Wye-
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!