Literary Festivals in the UK
Have you ever bought yet another book, knowing full well that there’s no way it will fit in your suitcase? This might become a serious issue after visiting one of these literary festivals in the UK. After all, they offer endless talks, panel discussions, readings, and workshops, so you’re sure to leave the festival with a couple of additions to your personal library. Luckily, these events are also pretty affordable, so you’ll have enough money left to spend on all your new discoveries. The festivals are also easily accessible, with most venues accommodating wheelchair users and those with other disabilities.
In short, there’s nothing stopping you from ticking a book festival off your literary bucket list! If you want to meet the writers who shaped your childhood or solve crimes with true masters of the genre, we’ve got you covered. Join us as we make our way north through the UK to visit our eight favourite literary festivals!
Bath Children’s Literature Festival (September/October)
The first stop on our tour of literary festivals in the UK is the Children’s Literature Festival in Bath. It is the largest one of its kind in Europe and has been running for almost 15 years now. The festival’s past line-ups have featured the creators of many childhood classics, such as Meg Cabot, Jacqueline Wilson, and Axel Scheffler.
You can get tickets to the festival online, by phone, or at the box office. Prices start at £5, but there are also various concessions available. Whether you have kids yourself or just want to meet your childhood heroes, this festival is the place to be!
Oxford Literary Festival (March/April)
Oxford might be the most obvious place on this list to hold a literary festival in the UK. After all, the city is not only famous for its university. It’s also the birthplace of one of the most iconic stories of all time, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Continuing this legacy, the ten-day Oxford Literary Festival takes place every year in the university’s colleges and libraries. Here, you can attend talks, workshops, and performances covering both fiction and non-fiction genres. You’ll also get to meet literary greats such as Donna Leon, Delia Smith, Ben Okri, and Zadie Smith.
You can buy tickets to each event either online, on the phone, or in person. Luckily, they’re fairly affordable, with prices starting at £7. There’s also a student discount available. So, if you want to explore the famous university and meet your favourite authors, book your tickets to the Oxford Literary Festival now!
Cheltenham Literature Festival (October)
The third literary festival on our journey north is a particularly special one, as it’s the oldest one in the world. The Cheltenham Literature Festival has been running since 1949. It has always provided a stage for both newcomers and established literary voices, including Toni Morrison, Nick Hornby, Bernadine Evaristo, and even Hillary Clinton!
Most of the festival’s events cost a small fee (usually between £6 and £12), although many of those aimed at families are also free. They happen in various locations throughout Cheltenham. It’s therefore the perfect opportunity to also stroll through the spa town between events and discover its beautiful Regency architecture.
Hay Festival (May/June)
The Hay Festival might be one of the smaller events on this list, but it’s also one of the most famous ones, thanks to its unique location. The festival takes place in Hay-on-Wye, a small town on the Welsh border. The site was famous even before the Hay Festival started in 1988 because of its many bookshops. Although it only has a population of about 2,000 people, there are more than 20 second-hand bookshops in Hay-on-Wye! During the festival, you’ll not only have the chance to make your way through all of them. You’ll also get to hear guests like Ian McEwan, Stephen Fry, and Caitlin Moran discuss and read from their works. There’s also an accompanying exhibition where local businesses showcase their products and services, including many different options for lunch.
Can’t make the trip to Wales? Don’t worry — the Hay Festival has several sister festivals with similar programs all around the world! Alternatively, you can watch most of the events online, either live or at a later time. Ticket prices to both in-person and online events typically range from £5 to £15.
DESIBlitz Literature Festival (September)
The next stop on our tour of literary festivals in the UK is in Birmingham, where the DESIblitz Literature Festival is celebrated. This event focusses entirely on works by British Asian and South Asian authors – a group that is underrepresented on many otherwise well-stocked bookshelves.
Since its formation in 2017, the DESIblitz Literature Festival has welcomed authors such as Imtiaz Dharker, Sathnam Sanghera, and Nikesh Shukla. Have we mentioned that it’s also free? That’s right! Apart from the headline acts, whose shows normally don’t cost more than £3, all of the festival’s events won’t cost you a penny.
Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival (July)
The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival takes place in a location that has a special place in crime fiction history. The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate was Agatha Christie’s hideout when she mysteriously disappeared for a few days in December 1926. The festival that happens here over a long weekend every July is similarly exciting for literary enthusiasts. With previous speakers such as Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, Ruth Rendell, and P. D. James, the festival truly attracts many masters of the genre.
Its programme is exceptional, too. Although it includes the usual talks and workshops, you can also try your hand at a crime-themed quiz or at a murder mystery dinner. Luckily, you won’t be the only expert on your team, as some of the guest authors will be right there with you.
Tickets to the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Festival usually start at £13 and can be bought online, on the phone, or in person. You can, of course, also spend the whole weekend at the festival. In this case, however, you should be prepared to spend upwards of £600.
Belfast Book Festival (June)
The next entry on our list of literary festivals in the UK requires a quick flight to Northern Ireland, seeing as it’s the Belfast Book Festival. This event has been running at the Crescent Arts Centre in the south of the city for over 10 years. Its previous guests have included bestseller authors such as John Boyne, Ian Rankin, and Reni Eddo-Lodge.
Tickets to the Belfast Book Festival normally start at £7 per event, although the organisers have recently tried out a pay-what-you-want approach to make the festival more accessible. Its programme not only includes the usual book-based events, but also music, theatre, and comedy performances. So even if you need a break from all the books, you will still find a way to enjoy your time in Belfast!
Edinburgh International Book Festival (August)
Our final and most northern festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is located in a city with a strong literary tradition. After all, how many other cities can claim to have their central train station named after a novel?
The Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place every year in August. Finding somewhere to stay can be quite difficult during this month, as the city’s other festivals are happening at the same time. We therefore recommend booking your accommodation as early as possible. However, if you really can’t find a spare bed anywhere, don’t worry, as all of the events are livestreamed as well. The festival organisers also offer activities and events all around Scotland to ensure that everyone with a passion for reading can participate.
Tickets to the events in Edinburgh are no more than £16, and a creative workshop won’t cost you more than £35. Some events are even free or pay-what-you-can (including the online livestreams). All readings, performances, and workshops take place at the university’s College of Art. It’s the perfect location, as it’s only a few minutes by foot from both the Old Town and the Meadows. Whether you hope to meet the likes of Ali Smith, Irvine Welsh, and Anthony Horowitz or just want to enjoy Scotland’s wonderful capital, the Edinburgh International Book Festival is the place to be!
Have you enjoyed our little tour of literary festivals? They’re the perfect opportunity for you to discover new books, meet like-minded people, and discover a new city all in one day. Plus, their diversity means there is something for everyone, from small children and non-fiction fans to crime enthusiasts and poetry lovers. No matter what you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it at one of the fantastic literary festivals in the UK!