A bibliophile's paradise set in Britain's finest natural scenery
On the Wales side of the English border, along the River Wye, sits Hay-on-Wye, a mecca for bibliophiles the world over. The town of roughly 1,600 book-loving souls inspired Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry to collect thousands of antiquarian books in the empty buildings of his rural Texas hometown. Hay-on-Wye's biggest local annual event, the Hay Festival, is one Bill Clinton once described as "Woodstock of the mind."
In turn, the booksellers in this little town celebrate language and knowledge from around the globe -- mysteries, crime dramas, historical romances -- with a fervor that makes the whole place a veritable open-air library. Not so long ago, more than 60 bookstores thrived here. That's a ludicrous number. New York City, no literary slouch, has roughly one bookstore for every 10,000 residents. Hay-on-Wye still supports about two dozen such stores, which works out to one for every 70 townsfolk.
When you visit, you'll also find antique stores, pubs and restaurants, and some wonderful family-run B&Bs where you can preface your daily book-browsing with a hearty, full Welsh breakfast. If somehow you tire of the dusty stacks and eccentric locals, Hay-on-Wye is also flat-out pretty. It sits between the ruins of two Norman castles and at the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park. There you can hike, bike, or take a train through some of Britain's most beautiful scenery. I recommend bringing along a good paperback. -- Mike Mooney, Thrillist contributor