Things to do in Hay-on-Wye


Posted by Clare Willcocks on 9th April 2024

The River Wye running through Hay-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye is a characterful town on the Welsh side of the Wales/England border, at the northernmost point of the Brecon Beacons National Park. For many, Hay-on-Wye is synonymous with the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts – an event that has become known worldwide for its fantastic programme which includes author talks, activities, music, workshops and more. This little border town offers much more than this once-a-year extravaganza, however, and is a fabulous destination for a holiday full of culture and outdoor adventure.

A visit to Hay-on-Wye is a must if you’re staying in the Wye Valley or within the local vicinity of South Wales; it has something for everyone. Things to do in Hay-on-Wye include browsing the ubiquitous bookshops, striking out on a scenic stroll, picking up a souvenir or antique, or tantalising your tastebuds in one of the tempting eateries. Step back in time in Hay Castle, get your feet wet at the Warren, and get the adrenaline pumping on a river adventure. Further afield, there are a plethora of exciting days out and things to do across South Wales.

Scroll on to find out about all this and more, and discover the perfect cottage from which to enjoy your Hay-on-Wye holiday by hitting the button below.

Hay-on-Wye holiday cottages

Skip to:

Two photos: Colourful bunting along the roadside fences; and a little girl reading a book sitting at the foot of a tree

Hay Festival

The highlight of the Hay-on-Wye calendar is undoubtedly Hay Festival, which, for many, has put this little border town on the map. The festival, which now runs offshoot events across the world, is held in Hay-on-Wye annually at the end of May/beginning of June.

The packed programme of events includes talks from eminent authors, journalists and experts in their field. There are music and comedy performances, activities such as yoga and family crafts, cookery demonstrations, walks and more.

You may be surprised to discover that the festival site itself is free to enter, so even if you don’t have tickets to an event, you can soak up the atmosphere, sample some of the on-site street food and browse exhibitors’ stalls.

Good to know

  • When is Hay Festival? Hay-on-Wye Festival will take place from 23 May to 2 June in 2024
  • Is Hay Festival family friendly? There are numerous activities for children, from babies right through to teenagers. Interactive workshops, talks by children’s authors and creative activities are all among the delights on offer.
  • How much does Hay Festival cost? Events are individually priced, but the festival site, some live music and the family area are free to enjoy.
  • Is Hay Festival dog friendly? Only assistance/guide dogs are allowed on the festival site.

Close up of an open book with shelves of books in the background

Book shops in Hay-on-Wye

After having raved about Hay Festival, it only seems natural to move on to extol the virtues of the plethora of bookshops at your fingertips in this book-lovers haven. Bookshops are plentiful and eclectic, and enjoying a leisurely browse is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Hay-on-Wye. There are bookshops touting antique and second-hand books, specialist sellers dealing in everything from crime novels to wellbeing guides and even a dedicated children’s store.

Intermingled with the bookshops are complimentary independents selling records, maps, and music. A leisurely walk around town will take you past many of these, but you might want to check out our list of Hay-on-Wye bookshops to make sure you don’t miss your favourite. Read our guide to the Hay-on-Wye bookshops for more information.

Two photos: Girls playing with a boat in a shallow river with their dad; and a group of friends sitting by the river, one playing guitar

The Warren at Hay-on-Wye

When you’re armed with a book or ten, why not head down to The Warren, a gorgeous riverside meadow which is the perfect setting for spreading out a picnic blanket, sticking your nose in a new novel, and dipping into a picky lunch in the sunshine.

The Warren is a dedicated area of Special Scientific Interest, deriving its name from its medieval purpose which is thought to have been the breeding of rabbits for food. Nowadays, rabbits are free to frequent the area without fear of ending up on the dinner table, and other wildlife including kingfishers and otters also call it home.

There is a pebble river-beach, which is ideal for a paddle or cooling dip in the summertime when this section of the River Wye is slow and shallow. You’re likely to spot kayakers gliding along the meandering river, and if you’re in the mood to join them, skip to our section on river adventures in Hay-on-Wye to find out more.

Good to know

  • Where is the Warren in Hay-on-Wye? The Warren lies in a bend in the river on the west of Hay-on-Wye (postcode: HR3 5EL).
  • Is there parking at the Warren in Hay-on-Wye? There is a small gravel car park at the Warren, but it can get busy. Alternatives are the large public car park on Oxford Road (0.8 miles), or on-street parking within 600 metres.
  • How do you get to the Warren in Hay-on-Wye? There is a small bridle path off Gypsy Castle Road. The location of the head of the path is what3words ///surveyors.node.urban.

Two photos: A shop in Hay-on-Wye; and a lady browsing a clothing rail

Shopping in Hay-on-Wye

We’ve covered the bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, but the town caters for retail therapy of all kinds. There are antique shops aplenty, one of the most renowned being Hay Antique Market which has proudly purveyed antiques and collectables for over 30 years. Artists will find inspiration and plenty to spend their pennies on in shops including Old Forest Arts and Oil and Oak.

If fashion is your passion, a host of delightful independent boutiques await your perusal, and you won’t be short of gift shops, galleries and lifestyle shops to stock up on souvenirs and goodies to take home a little slice of Hay. Check out The Lion Street Gallery, Bluestone Gallery and The Hay Makers for beautiful art, ceramics and one-of-a-kind handmade pieces. Spend a wonderful couple of hours dipping in and out of the Hay-on-Wye shops, stopping for refreshments in one of the many cafes.

View of Hay Castle

Hay Castle

A centre for arts, literature and learning, Hay Castle occupies a central spot within the town. Legend has it that the original medieval keep on the site was constructed in a day by a woman called Matilda during the late 12th century. The keep was added to over time, becoming a grand Jacobean mansion, which was subsequently a residence in Victorian times.

In the 1960s, Hay-on-Wye Castle was bought by Richard Booth, who declared himself king of Hay and was instrumental in the town becoming a recognised hub for book shops. The castle itself has experienced multiple devastating fires and has required extensive restoration, but today, now owned by the Hay Castle Trust, it’s a lovely place to explore, and hosts regular exhibitions and events.

Good to know

  • How much is entry? A castle visit for adults is £5, children under 16 are free. A visit including a tour is £10 for adults, and free for children.
  • When does Hay Castle open? It is open daily, 10am–5pm.
  • Is Hay Castle accessible? There is a lift to access all floors apart from the cellar, and accessible toilets on the ground floor and first floor.
  • Is Hay Castle dog friendly? Dogs are welcome on the ground floor of the castle, in the cafe, and outside in the grounds.
  • Which other castles are there in Wales? Take a look at our blog about the top ten castles in Wales.

A cheerful market stall holder selling pottery

Hay-on-Wye Market

Every Thursday for 700 years, Hay-on-Wye Market has taken place in the centre of the town. From 9am to 2pm over 40 stalls sell everything from food to vintage items, and it’s a great way to stock up on produce and souvenirs during your stay. The stalls are spread across the Memorial Square, the Cheese Market Hall, Butter Market Hall and by the clock tower.

There is also a Saturday market on the first Saturday of the month from April to October (except for June), which gathers in the market square. Small, regular markets are held on many Saturdays throughout the year in the Cheese Market Hall and Butter Market Hall – you’re sure to catch one of them as you’re wandering around the town. To top off Hay-on-Wye’s market offerings, a flea market is held in the Butter Market on most Fridays.

At a glance

  • Weekly market: Every Thursday, 9am2pm, Memorial Square, Cheese Market Hall, Butter Market Hall, clock tower
  • Saturday market: First Saturday of the month, April–October (except June), 10am–4pm, Memorial Square
  • Friday flea market: Most Fridays, 9am–4pm, Cheese Market Hall

Two photos: A burger and chips; and a close up of tapas

Dining out in Hay-on-Wye

When you’re out and about and looking for something tasty to keep you going, you’ll find an abundance of places to eat in Hay-on-Wye to cater for any occasion. If you’re looking for coffee and cake, why not try Oscars, The Cosy Cafe or Angies? A hearty lunch can be found at The Granary, or if you’re in the mood for delicious burgers, head for The Globe where you’ll find Burger Me.

In the evening, your options are equally plentiful. Expect mouthwatering pub grub at The Old Black Lion and The Three Tuns or, tuck into tapas at Tomatitos, and modern British fayre at Chapters restaurant. For a deep dive into the best places to eat in Hay-on-Wye, take a look at our blog about the town’s top restaurants and pubs.

View of canoes beside the river in Hay-on-Wye

River adventures in Hay-on-Wye

Meandering its peaceful way through the town of Hay-on-Wye is the River Wye – it’s hard to miss, and you wouldn’t want to! Offering gentle riverside strolls, perfect picnic spots and a variety of water sports, you can craft your experience of the river to suit you. Stand-up paddleboarding is a lovely way to explore the river’s curvaceous and leafy course, although at first you might be doing more falling in than standing up! But the fun is in the learning, and you’ll soon be cruising along merrily under your own steam.

There are a number of experienced companies offering canoe and equipment hire, and tours, as well as exhilarating activities including gorge walking, white water rafting and raft building. Take a look at our list below to find out where you can hire a canoe on the River Wye and more!

Water sports companies

Two photos: Elevated view of the River Wye; and walkers on a countryside path

Walks in Hay-on-Wye

You’d better not forget your walking boots when heading to Hay-on-Wye, because the opportunities for walking here are plentiful. Whether you’re looking for sedate riverside walks, or wanting to challenge yourself with a more strenuous route, you won’t be disappointed by the variety of trails on offer. Venture south and you’ll also find no end of walks in the Brecon Beacons – routes which are breathtaking in more ways than one.

The long-distance Offa’s Dyke Path passes through Hay-on-Wye on its meandering 177-mile route between Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, and the coastal town of Prestatyn. Unless you’re feeling particularly energetic, it’s possible to pick up a short stretch of this path, for example, the scenic route from Hay-on-Wye into the Black Mountains.

The Wye Valley Walk is another long-distance trail, from the mountains of Mid Wales to the River Severn near Chepstow. If you’re looking for walks near Hay-on-Wye, try the Glasbury to Hay-on-Wye stretch, or the longer ramble from Hay-on-Wye to Bradwardine.

View of a house on the river at Glasbury, with hills in the distance

Guided walks are offered by Walk Hay; an interesting way to discover more about the history and landscape in great company. Or if you’d prefer to admire the countryside on horseback, try Bryngwyn Riding Centre or Radnor Riding (among others) for treks with knowledgeable and experienced guides. 

Best family walk in Hay-on-Wye

Other things to do in Hay-on-Wye

Besides the activities listed above, there are many more things to do in Hay-on-Wye and the surrounding area. Below are a few places not to miss.

Close up of shiny distillery equipment

Hay-on-Wye Distillery

Hay-on-Wye Distillery is the home of Wild Knapp Gin and Dr Beaky’s, and in their little shop in Hay-on-Wye, you can see some of the distillation equipment, and purchase a bottle or two to take home.

Good to know

  • Opening times: Wednesday and Sunday 11am–3pm, Thursday 11am–8pm, Friday 11am–9pm, Saturday 11am–10pm, Monday closed
  • Location: Brook Street, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5BQ

Two photos of glass blowing

Eirian Studio Glass

Be mesmerised by watching the glassblowing at Eirian Studio Glass, a small studio workshop and gallery which sells unique handmade glassware, including glass lighting.

Good to know

  • Opening times: Saturday 11am–4pm; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday by appointment only
  • Location: 5 The Craft Centre, Oxford Road, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5DG

Close up of a person playing the guitar

The Globe at Hay

The Globe at Hay is a hub for creativity and performance, with workshops, talks, live music, comedy and lots more filling their fabulous calendar of events. There’s a cafe, bar and burger restaurant for pre- or post-show meals too.

Good to know

  • What’s on?: See their events calendar
  • Location: Newport Street, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5BG

Map of things to do in Hay-on-Wye

Find all of the above places and things to do in Hay-on-Wye on our handy map.

Please enable cookies via the cookie preference centre to view this content.

Holiday cottages in Hay-on-Wye

Our holiday cottages in Hay-on-Wye are perfectly positioned for exploring this delightful town and its surrounds. It’s one of the best places to stay in the Brecon Beacons if you want a side of culture with your scenic walks. Whether you’re getting excited about Hay Festival, or making an off-peak pilgrimage to the Book Town, we’ve got a cosy and comfortable abode ready to welcome you and your family or friends.

If you’re after something a little out of the ordinary for a romantic break, why not plump for one of our gorgeous shepherd’s huts? Or if you need to fit in the whole family, our group properties come in all shapes and sizes. Click the button below to find your next home-away-from-home.

Hay-on-Wye holiday cottages

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.