Held each year in May,I found it to be an Excellent event and worth the lovely drive from London to get there - a small town in lovely countryside in Wales - and an excellent lineup of events to attend.
In May 2006, I got hold of a schedule of speakers and prebooked tickets and enjoyed the stimulation of an interesting variety of comedy (Jo Brand) and informative entertainment and promotion of books by their authors. Its an opportunity to met and hear the writers of the books, their motivations, their interesting experiences eg life changing events and buy their books and get them signed.
I found it rather stimulating to hear of a range from map charting in the 15 th century through to vocanic eruptions and the lack of scientific evidence but lots of ego involved in the evolution debate.
As I had my own wheels (rental car) I took advantage of the cheaper accommodation rates available at the nearest youth hostel with a bed available and stayed in the lovely countryside of Capel-y-ffin. lovely drive to and from Hay only 8 miles away.
When I first knew Hay back in the early 70s it was a quiet place, on the border of England & Wales, fringes of the National Park, & edge of the Wye. A weekly market, 'normal' shops, an occasional pony sale. Richard Booth had just set up his first book shop.
The majority of tourists come to Hay because of its reputation as a Town of Books and the Tourist Info Centre by the car park has a useful 'bookshop map' . The vast Cinema Bookshop on Church St was the first of the invaders.
There's a specialist Poetry Bookshop, a Childrens Bookshop, Crime bookshop - they come and go. Not a place to look for bargains, but ther's a £1 bookshop at the start of Castle St & books for 50p are sold in grounds of Castle : condition varies.
'Marijana Dworski Books', behind the castle, has a good collection of travel books.
Thursday is Market Day - local produce, organic meat, French Baker, W.I. jams & preserves, a Greek guy selling olives. Sit outside Kilverts with a drink & watch the world go by: Hay has a long history of atttracting the eccentric.
Place stop serving early (8.30 - 9pm). If you get stuck after food curfew, the fish n chips are only 'OK', but chinese takeaway good. 'Granary' near Town clock is long established & good for lunch (tho' its hippyish bar is, sadly, long gone). Shepherd's is great (see special tip); Wheatsheaf good for lunch. The only time I ate at Kilvert's, I think I was unlucky. Blue Boar has a lovely bar - rather overpriced food; Oscar's strikes me as a bit staid. A newish place 'The Grapes' has pretty views from its back dining room & good food.
Chemist used to be an off licence as well as pharmacy: still sells local cider brandy and wine. You'll also find a Rug shop, binders, craft gallery, saddlers, camping shop ... and lots of twee shops.
The 3 Tuns pictured (house with scaffolding - it caught ablaze!) was one of the most eccentric & interesting bars in Hay. It was recently sold at auction and will re-open with a new owner - watch out!
In a town like Hay looking for books is not a shopping tip, but a things to do one. I don't know how many bookstores there are, close to 40 I think, so it would take a lot of time to go to all of them.
Some shops are for collectors, who are willing to spend some money. These are well organized, the books are protected by foil, the rooms are well aired and you can walk around without bumping in some cases all the time.
Then there are some shops who give you the impression of an old, dusty attic, complete with cobwebs. There were lots of boxes standing around, some with cobwebs and the occasional spider. (I skipped these boxes).
You are sent up to the attic on very narrow staircases or , in other shops, down to the cellar. Some ceilings are so low, I had to duck - and I'm not very tall.
Some stores have just about any kind of book, other specialize in for example children's literature. The town is not very big, easy to walk around , so there's no problem getting an overlook first and then go back to the stores you want to see more of.
There is a map of the bookstores, which you can get in the stores and in the tourist information.