Welcome to the tiny Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye, situated on the River Wye on the Welsh-English border. From afar, it looks like any other small European town. But Hay-on-Wye has a delightful quirk that sets it apart from other small towns. It’s home to 1,400 people and hundreds of thousands of books, making it the largest center for secondhand books in the entire world.
You won’t find a Barnes and Noble in Hay-on-Wye, but what you will find is over 30 charming, cozy secondhand bookshops rich with the smell of old books. (By the way, there’s a scientific reason you love that smell.) There’s a bookstore specializing in out-of-print children’s books. A shop called “Murder and Mayhem” sells mainly crime and detective literature. And one outdoor bookshop, the Hay Castle Bookshop, is built around the walls of—you guessed it—a castle. How could a book lover possibly ask for anything more? (Though this is a Welsh town, it would be very easy to develop this Japanese literary habit here.)
One of the town’s most unique features is its “honesty bookshops.” These are basically just bookshelves sitting out in the open, without a cashier or employee to speak of. A sign announces the prices of the books (which are often less than one U.S. dollar), and a collection box for money sits nearby. Customers are trusted to pay, on their honor. There are no security cameras or anything; just good old-fashioned trust.
Aside from being a popular tourist destination for literary fanatics throughout the entire year, Hay-on-Wye also throws a literary festival each year at the end of May. Bookworms from all over the world flock to this tiny village to hear famous writers speak, attend book signings, and, of course, stock up on reading material. And there’s plenty for the kids to do (and read) too! Here are some tips to make sure your child grows up loving to read.
2018’s Hay Festival will be held from May 24 until June 3. Learn more about the Hay Festival here.
If Wales is a little far for you, never fear—you can still get your secondhand-book fix at this Connecticut restaurant that gives free books to every patron.