10 bookshops and 2 libraries in 23 Hours in Hay on Wye

posted in: Playing by the book | 17

You know how you can climb up the ladder at the top of the Magic Faraway Tree into magical lands, often those which match your wildest dreams? I’ve just spent 23 hours in my own magical treetop land, a place packed with more books than I think I’ve ever seen in such a short space of time and the good news is, I wasn’t imagining it; it was REAL!

Hay-on-Wye is a small town on the border of England and Wales and whilst its resident population is under 2000, it has over 20 bookshops, a library and one of the two biggest book festivals in the UK, bringing in over 80,000 visitors for a week in late May/early June each year.

Here are some of the wonderful bookshops we visited:

1. The Children’s Bookshop

The Children's Bookshop
The Children’s Bookshop

The Children’s Bookshop would be my first recommendation for anyone looking for children’s books which they actually want to read themselves or give to children. Whilst the stock is all second-hand (as is the case in most Hay bookshops), the books here are not primarily collectors items selling for £££. Rather they are simply older books in good condition, many for £1 / £2 / £3.

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2. Rose’s Books

Rose's Books is a specialist children's bookshop, ideal for collectors
Stella and Rose’s bookshop is a specialist children’s bookshop, ideal for collectors

To survive in a town with so many others, most bookshops have carved out a specific niche for themselves. Rose’s specialises in collectible, rare and out of print children’s books and is full of very, very beautiful books. Whilst children are allowed in the bookshop, this is really a place for adult collectors with a bigger budget than most parents buying simply for their kids’ enjoyment.

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3. Hay Cinema Bookshop

Hay Cinema Bookshop (a vast shop with books on almost every subject, and most definitely not just film!)
Hay Cinema Bookshop (a vast shop with books on almost every subject, and most definitely not just film!)

We nearly walked past this bookshop as I thought it might be dedicated only to film books, but how wrong I was. This place is VAST and has books on every conceivable subject. Remaindered books mingle alongside second-hand books, and there’s also a specialist section containing rare and collectible books.

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4. Open air shelves in the Castle grounds

The open air Castle Bookshop
The open air Castle Bookshop

Hay is a very picturesque village, with narrow winding roads and a ruined castle at its heart. There are two sets of open air bookshelves in the castle ground which you can peruse as you picnic.

5. Only for the brave

You can guess what sort of books you might find in here...
You can guess what sort of books you might find in here…

6. Richard Booth’s Bookshop

Booths, said by some to be the best bookshop in Hay.
Booths, said by some to be the best bookshop in Hay.

Richard Booth is credited with having started the book revolution in Hay, and he continues to play a significant role in the town running a cafe and a cinema alongside this beautiful bookshop. The children’s section isn’t enormous, though it does mix new books alongside second-hand books, so if you are looking for more recent publications this is a good place to head.

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7. Addyman Books

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Whilst of course the two specialist children’s bookshops were real delights for me, perhaps my favourite bookshop in Hay was Addyman Books. With a very wide ranging collection of books, including the best selection of children’s books I found outside the two dedicated children’s bookshops, Addyman’s is enormous fun to explore not least because of its themed rooms with interesting and unusual décor.

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8. Broad Street Book Centre

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Broad Street Book Centre had the best selection of children’s non-fiction I found anywhere in Hay.

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9. Greenway’s Corner Bookshop

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Tucked down a little alleyway Greenway’s has only a small children’s section but it will always have a special place in our hearts as it was actually the first bookshop we visited when we arrived in Hay. M was especially delighted as she found one of the books in the Dune series (her current passion).

10. The Poetry Bookshop

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My only disappointment in Hay. But that’s only because it was on my “target list” but by the time we got there it was shut (5pm) so we didn’t manage to get inside.

Hay is lucky to have its own library as well as all these bookshops. I do wonder what it is like to be a librarian here!

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Another library nearby which is very definitely worth visiting is Hereford Cathedral’s Chained Library.

Photo: Rosemary Firman. Click to go to the source.
Photo: Rosemary Firman. Click to go to the source.

Housing many medieval manuscripts (and next door to the incredible Mappa Mundi) this is a powerful space for reflecting on the value, beauty and longevity of books. It’s part of a great exhibition in the Cathedral and whilst it is about 20 miles from Hay (easily reached by public transport), it should be on any book lover’s itinerary.

For more photos from my time in Hay, head on over to Playing by the Book’s Facebook page.

What’s been your favourite ever bookish destination?

17 Responses

  1. Simone Fraser

    Aesthetically, the first one has won my heart. I could visit the UK purely for a bookshop tour.

    • Hi Simone, yes, The Children’s Bookshop was great. Everywhere I went the booksellers were also really good – friendly, very well informed, eager to help. It was great!

  2. rosalyn phillips

    THE ROAD NOT TAKEN! AArrgghh. I, USA children’s librarian and grandmother and collector of children’s books, was on a tour of England and Wales, and it was decided that time was running out and we would skip Hay. Thanks for the photos – how I would have loved it.

    • Oh Rosalyn! How frustrating – you’ll just have to return! Many of these bookshops do have online catalogues, so you could still see what they have, but it’s not quite the same wonderful experience as visiting in person 🙂

  3. I belong in this town!!!!! I absolutely love visiting bookstores and libraries when I travel – to have so many fabulous choices in one small town would make me giddy! 🙂

    • 🙂 Wendy, you’d be very at home here, that’s true. I haven’t even mentioned the fabulous ice cream parlour and great tapas bar we ate in…

  4. Oh, wow, what a heavenly place, so many bookshops!
    Anya recently posted..Final summer postcards

  5. I so enjoyed your post and the pictures of the chained library & the extra pics on Facebook. Hay is my favourite place in the world! We try to visit at least once a year but we never have enough time to see everything. Did you get to Stella Books at Tintern? If not it is well worth a visit.
    Barbara recently posted..A letter from Julie

  6. Love this piece Zoe – can’t believe I didn’t realise that you have a blog! You’ve visited two bookshops that I haven’t even been in (and I’ve lived here for ten years!) so you’ve given me inspiration. It was lovely meeting you and your family…hope our paths cross again.

    • haha Jules – well enjoy doing some more exploring! Certainly hope our paths do cross again. Can also recommend some fabulous bookshops / book places in Orkney for you…. 😉

  7. So glad you had such a wonderful time – hope I get the chance to explore these beautiful bookshops too one day.

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