Although having a population of less than 1,500, Hay, which is situated on the border with England, is internationally known both as a book centre and as the venue for a major literary festival. There are approximately thirty sizeable bookshops in the town, some specialising whilst others stock more general titles, with a focus on secondhand and antiquarian.
In addition, the Hay Antiques Market is home to over 20 dealers offering an eclectic mix of antiques and collectables, including classical and farmhouse furniture, clocks, vintage clothing and textiles, all manner of china and ceramics, railway memorabilia, coins, jewellery and paintings; a shop selling a large range of teddy bears and jig-saw puzzles is another feature of the town.
From Thursday 22 May until Sunday 1 June 2014, in the region of 85,000 people will come from all over the UK, Europe, the USA and the rest of the world to join a carnival celebration of ideas and stories at the Hay Festival. The programme of some five hundred events takes place in a tented festival village with writers, politicians, poets, scientists, comedians, philosophers and musicians; Bill Clinton dubbed it 'the Woodstock of the mind'. Hay-on-Wye has two Norman castles within a short distance of each other; lying close to St Mary's Church on the western edge of the town is a small but well-preserved motte.
The main fortress within Hay was situated on the great site commanding the town and river under the current ruins of the castle and mansion. The keep of the current structure is approximately 30ft square and was once four storeys high; the corners of the tower have been much rebuilt and the entire south-east corner of the tower has been replaced. In the C12th century the curtain wall was added to the rampart around the site; this gateway is one of the finest carved castle gateways in Wales and the two gates, although of different ages, would appear to be very old. In the 1660s a new mansion was built on the north side of the castle and, like so many other properties in the town, it is now used as a second-hand book shop.
Offa's Dyke Path follows the route of the ancient Anglo-Welsh border defence earthwork built by Offa, King of Mercia, between 757 and 796 AD from the Severn Estuary to the North Wales Coast; it runs along the ridge of the Black Mountains and passes through Hay-on-Wye. The Wye Valley Walk extends from Chepstow, crosses the Offa's Dyke Path at Hay and continues to Rhayader.
The Kilvert Gallery is housed in the former home of the Victorian diarist Reverend Francis Kilvert in the village of Clyro, near Hay-on-Wye. It is well known for its enthusiastic representation of highly original and occasionally provocative work by both established artists and young contemporaries. The gallery houses a constantly changing selection of paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewellery, furniture, papier-mache and more unusual three-dimensional work.
Situated south-west of Hay, near the village of Glasbury, Maesyronnen Chapel is a Grade I listed building, one of the earliest Nonconformist chapels to be built in Wales (at the end of the C17th), and the only one existing from that time to be largely unchanged and still in use as a chapel.