Literary masterpieces have been changing our cultural landscape for centuries, transporting us to new worlds, prompting debate and stirring the soul. It’s no wonder, then, that literary festivals remain such an important part of the annual cultural calendar. Whether it’s an agenda-pushing event in the capital, a family-friendly festival in a field or an idyllic book-lovers dream on a grand country estate, there’s something to suit every bibliophile. Here we’ve rounded up the best literary festivals across London and the UK to book tickets for now.
literary festivals to book now
Wow Festival London
11 - 13 March
Wow – which stands for ‘Women of the World’ and is the largest festival on the planet celebrating women, girls and non-binary people – is back at the Southbank Centre to mark International Women’s Day with a line-up that’s bigger and better than ever. Renowned scholar and activist Professor Angela Y. Davis will be joining live from San Francisco for a one-off event ahead of the much-anticipated re-publication of her blazing autobiography, nearly 50 years since it was first published; Booker Prize-Winning author Bernardine Evaristo will journey through time to rediscover lost works about Black Britain and the diaspora; and Lisa Taddeo and Pandora Sykes will join in conversation about what happens when women are pushed to the brink.
26 May – 5 June
Thought of by many as the king of the literary festivals, this is a perennial calendar highlight for any devoted book-lover. Once dubbed ‘the Woodstock for the mind’ by Bill Clinton, Hay always boasts a formidable line-up – past speakers have included Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Benjamin Zephaniah, and this year’s crop of guests is as stellar as ever, with Stephen Fry already announced as part of the festival’s Early Bird events to discuss the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Simon Amstell bringing his critically-acclaimed new stand-up show, Spirit Hole, to the Welsh countryside.
10 - 12 June
This new festival, held in the grounds of spectacular stately home Kirtlington Park in Oxfordshire, is being billed as the first of its kind, blending music and breakthrough ideas to create a unique programme featuring live performances and interactive discussions. Created in partnership with slow news purveyors Tortoise, over the weekend, you’ll find Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown discussing the Royal Family, David Miliband sharing his thoughts on crisis leadership and How To Fail author Elizabeth Day in conversation with award-winning journalist Sathnam Sanghera. As for the music, the legendary Grace Jones will be headlining on the Saturday night, with American girl group TLC and British musician Tom Misch also performing over the weekend.
Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival
21 - 24 July
This award-winning festival celebrates crime fiction at its very best. Held in Harrogate and curated by Scottish author Ian Rankin, it always manages to pull in the biggest names in the genre – Tartan Noir star Val McDermid was a particular highlight last year, returning to discuss her first new series in 20 years. She was joined by espionage expert Mick Herron and Richard Osman, who offered his own insights on writing a best-selling whodunnit after the staggering success of his Thursday Murder Club series. While this year’s line-up is yet to be announced, you can expect a weekend full of household names and exhilarating new talent, as everyone waits to see who will be crowned this year’s winner of the prestigious Crime Novel of the Year prize.
29 - 31 July
Held at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Suffolk, Primadonna prides itself on creating a space for works by women and those whose voices might not otherwise be heard. A firm favourite with budding novelists, there are insightful workshops covering everything from the politics of narration to the ever-evolving tradition of storytelling, as well as sessions on how to get your foot in the door of the publishing world (the odd festival-goer has even been known to walk away with a coveted book deal). The family-friendly event also has plenty to keep kids occupied, from craft activities to campfire stories, alongside entertaining talks from big-name writers – last year’s highlight was Sandi Toksvig and Grace Dent taking to the stage to delve into the British TV foodie scene.
Chiswick Book Festival
7 - 14 September
This leafy west London enclave might just be London’s most literary borough – or at least, that’s what the organisers of this festival would have you think. Their acclaimed Writers Trail lists hundreds of authors who have either lived in the area or written about it, and includes the creators of some of the country’s finest works, from William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair to Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. Held across a range of venues in Chiswick and Ealing, the festival brings together top authors from a variety of genres – including fiction, history, politics and children’s book – and last year featured talks from Gyles Brandreth, Clare Balding and Suzannah Lipscomb.
Dates yet to be announced
If you like a blast of salty sea air with your literary offerings, this is the festival for you. Held on the beautiful Jurassic Coast and helmed by president Dame Hilary Mantel, Budleigh is known to attract an impressive array of critically acclaimed authors, poets and playwrights, who descend on the south west for five days of thought-provoking talks, panel events and workshops. Last year saw Women’s Prize founder Kate Mosse, Dame Darcey Bussell and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel novelist Deborah Moggach take to the stage, while anti-racism campaigners Kehinde Andrews and Anita Sethi led a powerful discussion on the meaning of belonging.
Queen’s Park Book Festival
17 - 18 September
This charming festival – held in Zadie Smith’s old stomping ground – is the only one in the capital to be held in a public park and takes place in one of north west London’s prettiest green spaces. A low-key affair that feels more like a garden fete than a full-blown festival, last year saw writers like Elif Shafak and Andrew O’Hagan signing books in the bandstand and local residents Annie Mac and Alexandra Shulman taking to the stage. Alongside that you’ll find performance poetry events hosted by hip-hop verse maestro Poetcurious and nightly parties once the sun sets.
Henley Literary Festival
1 - 9 October
While Henley might be better known for its boating regatta, it’s also home to an impressive literary festival, which takes places at various venues throughout the town, including the grand riverside private members’ club Phyllis Court and the historic town hall. Held over a week in October, last year’s festival was their biggest to date, with over 130 events featuring literary heavyweights Alexander McCall Smith and Sir Michael Morpurgo, as well as a star turn from Joanna Lumley discussing her book A Queen for All Seasons. Alongside the main event there’s also a hugely popular children’s festival, where budding bookworms get the chance to come face-to-face with their favourite authors.
Cheltenham Literature Festival
7 - 16 October
The grande dame of the literary festival scene, Cheltenham holds the accolade of being the longest-running festival of its kind in the world. No wonder, then, that it never fails to bring in the big names – every year they welcome the best and brightest of the literary world to join their jam-packed programme of over 500 interviews, debates and workshops. Held at venues across the city, from cafes and bars to barbershops and tattoo parlours, highlights of last year’s event included interviews with double Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead and acclaimed Latin American author Isabel Allende as part of the festival’s new three-year theme, ‘Read the World’, as well as talks from Jonathan Franzen, Leïla Slimani and Sebastian Faulks.
29 October – 6 November
Held in the perfectly preserved West Sussex market town of Petworth – nestled in the heart of the South Downs National Park – this relatively under-the-radar festival always features a stat-studded line-up of speakers for its eclectic range of events. Last year saw festival-goers take part in a poetry breakfast with Louis de Bernières, sign up to a Harry Potter wand-making workshop for the whole family, play along to a quiz hosted by Andrew Pettie, the author of Listified, Britannica’s much-loved book of 300 lists, and listen to talks from the likes of Richard Dawkins, Joan Bakewell and Jeffrey Archer.
London Literature Festival
20 - 30 October
This is the capital’s most talked-about literary festival of the year, and with good reason – held at the Southbank Centre, the annual showcase of cultural talent always attracts literary big hitters, with past speakers including Hillary Clinton, Salman Rushdie and Louis Theroux. While the programme for this year’s event has yet to be released, you can expect a similarly starry line-up and a thought-provoking theme. Last year’s festival drew inspiration from Sally Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations with Friends, to dive into the joy and meaning friendship brings to our lives, as well as the challenges of maintaining our closest relationships – a perennially pertinent topic, particularly given the enforced isolation of recent years.
Cliveden Literary Festival
Dates yet to be announced
Cliveden House, the glamorous Renaissance-period country estate-turned-luxury-hotel in Berkshire (perhaps best known as the place where the Duchess of Sussex spent the night before her wedding), has been renowned for its literary salons since 1666 and Lord Tennyson, H.G. Wells and Rudyard Kipling were all entertained within the walls of the Italianate mansion. Now in its fifth year, the sophisticated event – which has been dubbed ‘Glyndebourne for book lovers’ – featured a wide-ranging line-up of high-profile writers, historians, politics and cultural mavens last year, from Oscar-winning filmmaker and writer Emerald Fennell and author Lionel Shriver to historians Dan Jones and Antonia Fraser.