In 1961, a bibliophile from Hay-on-Wye, Wales, brought new life to his crumbling home town by turning unoccupied buildings and storefronts into used bookstores to encourage more pride in his community. Many like-minded towns and villages in Europe started doing the same, and collaborators across the world have created the International Organisation of Book Towns and the International Book Town Festival as a sustainable way for book towns to collaborate in the secondhand bookselling and antique books industry, while bringing life back to ghost towns left over from the Gold Rush.
More official — and unofficial — book towns are joining the book town festival every year; usually, book towns achieve recognition through their summer literary festivals, remote setting, and abundance of booksellers. These literary oases can make any book-lover feel right at home, even if home is oceans away.
Check out the list below for some much-needed summer vacation inspo. Dare we say it’s self-care?
Wigtown is another one of Europe’s best-known book towns with a thriving tourist industry, much-anticipated annual book festival, and an internet-famous AirBnB where patrons can rent a bookshop for a day. (We covered the Wigtown’s tourist-run AirBnB/bookshop here.)
hay-on-wye, powys, wales
The first International Book Town, tiny Hay-on-Wye is home to fewer than 2,000 people and upwards of 20 bookshops. Do the math, and that’s about one bookshop for every 100 residents. The fun doesn’t stop there, however, as Hay-on-Wye usually hosts two world-famous festivals that encourage a steady seasonal flow of tourists, the Hay Festival and HowTheLightGetsInFestival.
Featherston, New Zealand
Featherston is a “fledgling member” of the International Organisation of Book Towns, according to their website, but this year the town’s book festival drew more than 6,000 visitors in one weekend and sold out of many of its events. Hikers and cyclers can bring books with them on the trails just outside of Featherston around Palliser Bay.
paju book city, south korea
Paju Book City is a planned industrial and cultural municipality in South Korea designed as a “harmonious” environment where books could be written, printed, and sold — all in the same place. Paju attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists for its two annual book festivals and awards prestigious literary prizes to Korean writers.
Often considered Hay-on-Wye’s sister village, Redu is the only recognized book town in Belgium and boasts easy access to two of the European Space Agency’s most prominent attractions, the Euro Space Center and an ESA communication satellite.
Clunes, victoria, australia
Clunes is the seat of literary pride in Victoria, Australia, and hosts a recurring annual book festival with booths set up in historic buildings on the town’s main strip.
Interested in learning more about International Book Towns? Visit the organization’s website here.
Featured Image Via Scottish Field.