17 Literary Festivals You Won't Want To Miss In 2024
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17 Literary Festivals You Won’t Want To Miss In 2024

Lovely literary events, far and wide

If there’s one thing book lovers like to do (aside from reading), it’s talking about their favourite reads – or meeting the authors behind them, or hearing about new novels, or generally being surrounded by books. One place all of these magnificently bookish things come together is a literary festival, and the UK has this down to an art. From the nation’s oldest festival to the most famous (which is free to visit, fyi), here are the top literary festivals on the UK’s agenda in 2024. Happy reading.

UK’s Best Literary Festivals 2024

Southbank Centre’s Summer Literature & Spoken Word Season, London

While it’s not technically a literature festival, book lovers will certainly enjoy the Southbank Centre’s newly announced Summer Literature & Spoken Word Season, featuring an unmissable programme of UK-exclusive launches, non-fiction talks and poetry readings. There’s already an array of huge names on the roster, including Gillian Anderson, Richard Ayoade and Hari Kunzru. Sally Rooney, Matt Haig and Elif Shafak will all be launching new novels, while the European Poetry Festival, Outspoken and the National Poetry Library’s Special Edition series will all celebrate the diversity and vibrancy of the spoken word scene.

Details: Various events between 28 April–6 October 2024 at the Southbank Centre (Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX), ahead of the Southbank Centre’s annual London Literature Festival beginning on 23 October (more on that below). See the full line-up of events at southbankcentre.co.uk

'HAY' sign at Hay Festival in Wales

© Sam Hardwick

Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye

Hay Festival is an annual literary festival and festival of ideas, drawing readers and writers together to inspire, examine and entertain. Situated in the little town of Hay-on-Wye on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the annual festival has brought bookish fame to the area, which is also home to plenty of secondhand and antiquarian bookshops. Expect to hear from world renowned and early career writers across fiction and non-fiction alongside policy makers, pioneers and innovators exploring global issues and big ideas across eight stages. There are also school days and family events and, come nightfall, the festival makes way for music, comedy and entertainment.

Details: Hay Festival will take place from 23 May–2 June 2024 in Hay-on-Wye. You don’t need a ticket to enter the vibrant site, but tickets for specific talks and panels should be booked in advance. hayfestival.com

Aerial view of river Cam in Cambridge, United Kingdom

Cambridge

Cambridge Literary Festival, Cambridge

Cambridge Literary Festival will once again host the best writers, thinkers and speakers in the famed university town (and its beautiful historic venues) next spring. Previous speakers have spanned the arts, from Theresa May to Grace Dent, Sebastian Faulks to Lemn Sissay, Rick Stein to Afua Hirsch & Elif Shafak. Already confirmed for 2024 are Armistead Maupin, Caroline Lucas, George The Poet, Christian Lewis and Jackie Kay, with more to be announced soon. Alongside household names, debut and emerging writers of fiction and poetry will be showcasing their wares to entertain, inspire and shine a light on pressing current issues.

Details: 17–21 April 2024 at venues across Cambridge. cambridgeliteraryfestival.com

Cliveden House Hotel near London

Cliveden Literary Festival, Berkshire

Situated amongst the spectacular surroundings of British country estate, Cliveden House – renowned for its literary salons since 1666, favoured by the likes of Alexander Pope and Sir Winston Churchill – is a historic literary festival not to be missed. Last year, top speakers included Zadie Smith, Tom Holland, Mary Beard and Maggie O’Farrell – but incredible writers fill the lineup every year.

Details: 21–22 September 2024 at Cliveden House (Taplow, Berkshire SL6 0JF). clivedenliteraryfestival.org

The river in Henley on Thames

Henley-on-Thames

Henley Literary Festival, Henley

Henley Literary Festival is a highlight in the literary festivals calendar every year, drawing a vast selection of big names to this pretty town. Visitors can expect a range of talks, panels and workshops with poets, authors and other literary figures – including, in 2023, former British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Details: 28 September–6 October 2024 across a series of fantastic venues including Phyllis Court and The Hibernia at Hobbs Boat Yard in Henley. henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk

People walking under an archway reading 'Cheltenham Literature Festival'

Cheltenham Literature Festival, Cheltenham

The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival is the UK’s oldest literary festival. Each year’s fantastic line-up welcomes some of the best and brightest of the literary and entertainment spheres for an exciting programme of over 500 workshops, interviews and debates. Incredible writers on 2023’s line up included Andi Osho, Elizabeth Day, Jaqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Judy Murray.

Details: 4–13 October 2024 at select venues across Cheltenham. cheltenhamfestivals.com

Sherborne Travel Writing Festival, Dorset

Following last year’s successful debut, The Travel Writing Festival is returning to Sherborne in April 2024. Festival Director Rory MacLean has assembled a stellar cast of travel writers and photographers covering destinations such as Sicily, Kerala, China, the Brazilian Amazon, North Korea, Roman Gaul, Nigeria, Burma’s Shan Hills … and, nearer home, the Cotswolds. Benedict Allen, Hilary Bradt, Katie Carr, Nick Danziger, Tim Hannigan, Brian Jackman, Don McCullin, Caroline Mills, Bijam Omrani, Tom Parfitt, Davina Quinlivan, Monisha Rajesh, Kassia St Clair, and Noo Saro-Wiwa will all be speaking at the Festival.

Details: 5–7 April 2024 in Sherborne. For further details, tickets and prices visit sherbornetravelwritingfestival.com

Firsts London's Rare Book Fair at the Saatchi Gallery

(© Clare Hughes Photography)

Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, London

If old and rare books are your bag, this literary festival might be the one for you. The 2024 theme is still TBC, but the 2023 fair celebrated four centuries since Shakespeare’s First Folio was published under the theme ‘Shakespeare: 400 Years of Influence’. Over 100 international antiquarian dealers showcased a wide range of material, and we expect a similar turnout in 2024.

Details: 16–19 May 2024 at the Saatchi Gallery (Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Rd, London SW3 4RY). firstslondon.com

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace. (James Park-Watt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Queen’s Reading Room Festival, Hampton Court

The inaugural Queen’s Reading Room Festival took place in 2023, set against the stunning Hampton Court Palace. A one-day literary festival, it pulled together street food, spoken poetry, literary tours and Q&As with the likes of Dame Judi Dench – and a follow-up edition has been confirmed for 2024. Details are still TBC, so stay tuned for updates.

Details: 8 June 2024 at Hampton Court Palace (Hampton Court Way, Molesey, East Molesey KT8 9AU). thequeensreadingroom.co.uk

Southbank Centre London Literary Festival

Southbank Centre

London Literature Festival, London

There’s always a heavy-weight line-up of the biggest authors and speakers at the capital’s most talked-about literary festival of the year. Previous speakers have included the likes of Hilary Clinton, Philip Pullman and Tom Hanks take to the stage for individually-ticketed events. The equally sensational programme for 2023 included George the Poet, Yu Miri, Teju Cole, Sir Patrick Stewart, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, Jacqueline Wilson and more, plus a panel of climate voices hosted by Greta Thunberg. Stay tuned for all the 2024 details.

Details: 23 October–3 November 2024 at the Southbank Centre (Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX). southbankcentre.co.uk

World Book Day 2023 at The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Bradford Literature Festival, Bradford

The City of Culture for 2025, Bradford Literature Festival changes lives through widening access to world-class arts and literature for all. Inspiring over 100,000 children and young people through their events since 2014, the 2024 edition will be the 10th anniversary of this annual literary festival, which is a leader in social inclusion, accessibility and representation, and showcasing trailblazing voices from the UK and beyond.

Details: 28 June–7 July 2024 in Bradford, West Yorkshire. bradfordlitfest.co.uk

Petworth Festival, West Sussex

You can always guarantee a star-studded line-up of guests at this illustrious literary extravaganza. The 2022 instalment featured a whole host of big names, from Hugh Bonneville to Ben Okri and Kate Mosse, Charlotte Mullins discussing the power of art, Michael Parkinson on the world of sport, Andrew Gimson on being Boris Johnson’s biographer, and much more. 2023 was just as jam-packed, and it’s time to get excited for the 2024 edition, with new summer dates confirmed.

Details: 10–27 July 2024 in venues across West Sussex. petworthfestival.org.uk

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate

This award-winning festival celebrates crime fiction at its best. The 2023 edition celebrated the 20th anniversary, drawing Val McDermid, Lee Child, Andrew Child, Lisa Jewell, Ruth Ware, Ann Cleeves, Jeffery Deaver, Lucy Worsley, S. A. Cosby and Chris Hammer up to Harrogate for engaging talks. Keep your eyes peeled for news about 2024, with Ruth Ware curating the programme.

Details: 18–21 July 2024 in Harrogate. harrogateinternationalfestivals.com

Marlborough LitFest, Wiltshire

This year sponsored by Fermoie, Marlborough LitFest will return in 2024, championing new and upcoming writers alongside established names. Irish author Sebastian Barry was 2023’s Golding Speaker – but you’ll have to check back later to find out who is topping the bill for 2024. With a focus on encouraging a love of reading in children, expect author talks, competitions and fun for all the family.

Details: 26–29 September 2024 in Marlborough, Wiltshire. marlboroughlitfest.org

North-Cornwall-Book-Festival2

North Cornwall Book Festival, Cornwall

North Cornwall Book Festival offers something slightly different. As an independent, locally-run literary festival, this largely unknown event may not pull some of the bigger names you’ve seen at the country’s larger literary celebrations, however, for what it lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in passion and authenticity. With an abundance of workshops, readings and performances on offer across the weekend, this is certainly not one to miss.

Details: 27–29 September 2024 at St Endellion Church (St Endellion, Port Isaac PL29 3TP). ncornbookfest.org

Queen’s Park Book Festival, London

Queen’s Park Book Festival boasts a wonderful literary history as a home to authors, artists, poets, and actors, carrying on this legacy by creating a platform for other young aspiring writers to be discovered. Visitors in 2023 had the chance to see names like Robert Harris, Clover Stroud and Juliet Rosenfeld, plus Oskar Jensen and Dr John Woolf discussed the hidden stories of marginalized Victorians.

Details: 31 August–1 September 2024 in Queen’s Park, London. queensparkbookfestival.co.uk

Ilkley Literature Festival at Kings Hall, Ilkley

Ilkley Literature Festival, Ilkley

The 50th anniversary edition of the north’s oldest literary festival took place in October 2023 – and we can’t wait to see who’s on the bill for the 2024 edition. Launched by poet W. H. Auden in 1973, the 2023 Ilkley Literature Festival welcomed a plethora of poets, novelists, journalists and biographers to the Yorkshire spa town this autumn, from children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson to TV presenter Clare Balding to Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

Details: Date TBC (likely October 2024). Venues across Ilkley. ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk

Composition with books on the table

What Happens At A Literary Festival?

A literary festival usually involves a variety of talks, panels and discussions celebrating the written word. As these bookish festivals have evolved over time, they’ve come to incorporate politics, comedy and science, the latter typically covering sustainability and the climate crisis. They typically take place on a large site, but often span multiple venues. Authors frequently host specific talks about their latest releases, with book signings a common occurrence, too. Some literary festivals are one-day affairs, but most stretch across a number of days or a weekend.

What Is The Best Literary Festival In The UK?

Hay Festival is widely regarded as the UK’s best literary festival thanks to its longstanding legacy, welcoming atmosphere, and ability to attract a roster of big names from the publishing industry and beyond. Before the festival’s inception, the small border town of Hay-on-Wye was already well-known for its impressive array of secondhand and antiquarian book shops, but the Hay Festival – which first occurred in 1988 – has cemented the town’s place as one of the literature capitals of the UK.

What Is The Oldest Literary Festival In The UK?

Cheltenham Literature Festival is the oldest literary festival in the UK, having first taken place in 1949. It was founded by George Wilkinson and John Moore, the latter of whom was an author and who served as the festival’s first director. The first instalment was launched by actor Ralph Richardson (who was born in Cheltenham) while famed poet Cecil Day-Lewis was one of the speakers.