When it comes to the best literary festivals 2023, it seems we’re spoilt for choice this year. 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’s needs. And a great literary festival isn’t just for summer – they’re held throughout the year and across the country, from south London to the Scottish highlands. Here, we’ve rounded up the best London and UK literary festivals 2023 to book tickets for now.
literary festivals 2023 to book now
Wow Festival London
10 - 12 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. This literary festival kicks off with an event that brings together Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, activist and author Laura Bates, author Elif Shafak and activist Josephine Kamara for a riveting session on women, misogyny and power. Elsewhere, you’ll find the likes of Shani Dhanda, Megan Barton-Hanson and Stephanie Yeboah covering everything from mental health and the cost of living crisis to baby loss burnout and fat activism.
17 – 18 March
If you like a blast of salty sea air with your literary offerings, Budleigh Salterton is the festival for you. Held on the beautiful Jurassic Coast and formerly helmed by the late Dame Hilary Mantel, Budleigh is known to attract an impressive array of critically acclaimed authors, poets and playwrights. They all descend on the south west for a weekend of thought-provoking talks, panel events and workshops. This year’s line-up includes leading broadcaster David Dimbleby reflecting on his 50-year career at the BBC, author, broadcaster and structural engineer Roma Agrawal MBE discussing the seven simple inventions that changed humanity forever, and celebrated costume designer Esme Young on the power of creativity.
Deptford Literature Festival
Saturday 18 March
Deptford Literature Festival is a one-day fiesta that celebrates the diversity and creativity of Deptford and Lewisham through stories and performances aimed at local audiences. Every year there’s a new theme, and for 2023 they’re focusing on the topics of nature, climate and food. Featuring a host of talented writers, artists and organisations based in the area, this year’s line-up includes Caleb Femi, who between 2016-2018 was the Young People’s Laureate for London, Natasha Brown, whose debut novel Assembly was shortlisted for the Folio Prize, and Leone Ross, who is best known for her critically acclaimed novel This One Sky Day/Popisho.
25 May – 4 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 Festival always boasts a formidable line-up – past speakers have included Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Benjamin Zephaniah. This year’s crop of guests is as stellar as ever, with Margaret Atwood already announced as part of the festival’s Early Bird events to discuss her new collection of 15 short stories, and Dua Lipa heading to the Welsh countryside to record an exclusive episode of her hit podcast featuring Douglas Stuart, the Booker Prize-winning author of Shuggie Bain.
9 - 11 June
New last year, this literary festival held in the grounds of spectacular stately home Kirtlington Park in Oxfordshire is the first of its kind, blending music and breakthrough ideas to create a unique programme featuring live performances and interactive discussions. Over the Kite Festival weekend, you’ll find Dame Joan Collins opening up about her best-selling novels and memoirs, Rachel Reeves in conversation with James Harding and the award-winning author of Grief is the Thing with Feathers Max Porter sharing his insights on crafting stories. As for the music, electronic pop legends Hot Chip will be headlining on the Saturday night, with Britpop band Suede and Chrissie Hynde’s Pretenders also performing over the weekend.
Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival
20 - 23 July
The award-winning Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival celebrates crime fiction at its very best. Held in Harrogate and curated by multi-award-winning crime novelist Vaseem Khan, it always manages to pull in the biggest names in the genre and this year the line-up is set to be even more incredible than usual, to celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary. Special guests on this year’s programme include Tartan Noir star Val McDermid, Lee Child, Lisa Jewell, Ann Cleeves and Jeffery Deaver. With more authors still 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.
28 - 30 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 highlights included appearances from bestselling author and screenwriter Juno Dawson, TV presenter and writer June Sarpong and superstar musician La Roux.
Chiswick Book Festival
6 - 13 September
This leafy west London enclave might just be London’s most literary borough – or at least, that’s what the organisers of Chiswick Book 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 books – and last year featured talks from Jane Garvey, Sir Vince Cable and Dame Sheila Hancock.
Queen’s Park Book Festival
2 - 3 September
Queen’s Park Book 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 Victoria Hislop, Clover Stroud and Monique Roffey taking to the stage to discuss their latest tomes. Alongside that you’ll find performance poetry events hosted by hip-hop verse maestro Poetcurious and nightly parties once the sun sets.
Wimbledon Book Fest
22 September – 1 October
The hugely popular Wimbledon Book Fest – known as London’s leading community-based literature festival – has hosted some truly incredible names over the years, including Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Emily Maitlis. Held in the leafy environs of Wimbledon Common, they also hold regular literary events throughout the year alongside their summer festival, with Sir Lenny Henry and Francesca Simon already signed up to host special school-based events this year.
Braemar Literary Festival
29 September – 1 October
It was a match made in heaven when the Braemar Literary Festival launched last year, taking place at Scottish art-filled haven The Fife Arms and working in collaboration with Camilla, the Queen Consort’s ‘Reading Room’, her hub for literary communities around the world. While the line-up for this year’s festival is yet to be announced, last year’s speakers included Sebastian Faulks, Kate Mosse, Ian Rankin and Angela Hartnett, so this is definitely one to add to your diaries.
Henley Literary Festival
30 September - 8 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 Henley Literary Festival was their biggest to date, with over 130 events featuring literary heavyweights Melvyn Bragg and Lucy Worsley. 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.
Cliveden Literary Festival
30 September – 1 October
Cliveden House, the glamorous Renaissance-period country estate-turned-luxury-hotel in Berkshire, 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 sixth year, the Cliveden Literary Festival – 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. Particular highlights included former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, author William Boyd, British actor Brian Cox and Ireland’s finest writer Sebastian Barry.
Cheltenham Literature Festival
6 - 15 October
The grande dame of the literary festival scene, Cheltenham Literature Festival 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. It’s held at venues across the city, from cafes and bars to barbershops and tattoo parlours. Highlights of last year’s event included a rare, career-spanning interview with Stephen King and an impromptu set from Bono playing a selection of songs featured in his memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story.
Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival
19 – 22 October
To celebrate their 10th anniversary last year, Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival in North Yorkshire pulled out all the stops to draw a star-studded line-up of speakers, which included President of the Supreme Court Lady Hale, Countdown’s Queen of Dictionary Corner Susie Dent and bestselling author Chris Ryan. No doubt they’ll be working hard to top that stellar roster of guests with this year’s offering. Designed to celebrate great writing and leading thinkers, expect to find some of the country’s finest authors, politicians, historians and journalists topping the bill.
London Literature Festival
19 - 29 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 London Literature Festival focused on the state of the climate and saw Greta Thunberg in conversation with journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed discussing the launch of her hotly-anticipated The Climate Book. Other highlights included Minnie Driver delving into stories from her tell-all memoir and Malorie Blackman in conversation with Candice Braithwaite about her autobiography, Just Sayin’.
27 October – 5 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 star-studded line-up of speakers for its eclectic range of events. Last year, Petworth Festival drew a stellar quintet of headliners that included Ben Okri, Gill Hornby, Kate Mosse, Nicci French and Robert Harris, as well as launching their new annual ‘book club event’, which was led by Elizabeth Buchan. Alongside that there were appearances from the likes of Hugh Bonneville, Al Murray and Jeremy Hunt.