10 wonderful experiences in Hay on Wye

Local resident Emma Balch, a design specialist who works with Arts Alive Wales, shares a few of her favourite things to see, do and experience in South Wales’ quirky, characterful book town.

  • A Hay Tours tour guide looking at a book
    Hay Tours, Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk by Hay Tours

    Learn about Hay’s fascinating history and quirky characters with Hay Tours. Throughout the year, local volunteers offer expert talks on four different routes lasting an hour or two. Each one brings Hay’s history to life, from medieval times right to the present day.

  • Exterior shot of Hay castle
    Hay Castle, Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk

    Plans are underway to restore this part Norman, Jacobean and Victorian castle in the centre of Hay into a lively cultural space. For now you can explore Hay Castle's grounds and visit the Honesty Bookshop and other eclectic shops. I love the view from the top of the steps – it’s one of the best in Hay. 

  • Jams and pickles on sale at Hay Market
    Produce at Hay Market, Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk by WordShore

    Every Thursday, Hay Market is a bustling place with shoppers working their way around stalls piled high with tasty fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, fish, bread, cakes – even falafels! Other stalls sell plants, vintage wares, clothes and gifts. There’s also a smaller Saturday market in the newly renovated Hay Cheese Market

  • Interior image of 'The End' shop and gallery
    Hay's 'The End' shop and gallery, Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk by Claire Sambrook

    In a league of its own among Hay’s many vintage and secondhand boutiques is The End at 20 Castle Street, a small shop packed with interesting and unusual objects, textiles and antiques. The owner, Marina Rendle, is a fabulous curator, full of stories and a very talented stylist. Something for every budget.

  • Close up of a tub of Sheperd's ice cream
    Sheperd's ice cream in Hay on Wye, Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk by Anders B

    Shepherd's is made locally with sheep’s milk, there are 16 flavours to choose from each day, both seasonal and classic. Depending on the time of year, try unusual varieties like tayberry, damson, lavender and cardamom, or rhubarb crumble. With less than 7 per cent fat, there’s no need to feel guilty about ordering an extra scoop!

  • This menu at this new restaurant in an old chapel changes every week, with each dish and ingredient meticulously selected with flavour and presentation in mind by chef Julia Robson. It’s a real boost for the Hay food scene. St John's is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s always busy, so book ahead.

  • Canoeists on The Warren, River Wye
    Canoeists on the river Wye, Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk by imaginedhorizons

    For a dreamy way to burn off a few calories, canoe or kayak downstream from Wye Valley Canoes in Glasbury to Hay. This is a particularly idyllic stretch of the river, with small beaches to stop at on the way. Hay Deli sells very tasty locally made sausage rolls which make great picnic fare.  

  • G

    Stroll down to The Warren

    Hay locals like to think this pretty meadow and river beach is their best kept secret, but the word is out. Accessed by the path beside St Mary’s Church or along the Wye from the bridge, it’s a charming walk. Find a quiet spot and read a book, have a picnic, skim stones, spot kingfishers, and watch canoeists negotiate the rapids! 

  • Interior shot of Richard Booth's bookshop in Hay on Wye
    Richard Booth's book shop, Wye Valley and Vale of Usk by Duncan c

    This huge, welcoming space, formerly owned by ‘King of Hay’ Richard Booth, has been restored with aesthetic flair by the new owner, making Richard Booth's arguably one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. It includes a café and a 48-seater cinema. Use this handy map to find the other bookshops in Hay.

  • A hiker on Hay Bluff
    Hay Bluff, Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk

    South of Hay are two striking hills, Hay Bluff and the Twmpa. Take a full day and walk both, starting from town. Or hire a Renault Twizy through the Eco Travel Network for £45 per day and drive to the parking area just below Hay Bluff for a brisk, 30-minute walk that even young children can manage. You’ll be on top of the world, with spectacular views across to Pen-y-Fan. 

More information on the Wye Valley