Book towns look gorgeous on the pictures shared in social media, but they look way better in real.
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– April 15, 2021
And you may be surprised how close they are to world’s most popular tourist destinations. In most cases, the book towns (or villages) are located up to 200 kilometers from capital cities or major international airports.
Wikipedia lists almost 40 book towns. 36 of them have a known date of operation. Among them, you’ll find the most famous names: Hay-on-Wye, Redu, or Wigtown.
You can also check out the list of members of The International Book Towns Movement. Only cities and villages that had notified the movement have been added to the directory.
Hay-on-Wye is widely considered as the first book town in the world, established in 1961. However, Tokyo neighborhood Jinbōchō became a flourishing bookshop center much earlier – at the beginning of the 20th century.
The youngest book town in the world is Óbidos, Portugal, founded in 2013. Nowadays it hosts one of the biggest book festivals in Europe, called Fólio.
The list below includes a selection of the most attractive book towns. We were trying to find the pictures that describe in a best possible way how books became a vital part of towns and their communities.
Each description includes distance from major cities and airports so that you can easier plan your trip. So, when you see any of the pictures below, don’t think “Oh, it’s an amazing place, but I will never see it.” Think about how to get there.
If you’d like to add a book town and village to this list, please leave your recommendation in the comments below. And add a couple of pictures. Thank you!
10 of the world’s prettiest book towns and villages
1. Urueña, Spain
Only a two-hour drive from Madrid, in the community of Castilla y Leon is a beautiful small medieval town – Urueña.
The town is a home to 200 inhabitants and 12 secondhand and antique bookshops. It’s a first Spanish Villa del Libro – book village.
The idea of transforming Urueña into a book village was brought to life in 2007 by Jorge Manrique, the professor of the University of Valladolid. After the town’s council accepted the idea and provided funding, Villa del Libro attracts a growing number of book lovers from around the world.
A place especially worth visiting in Urueña is E-LEA Center, a 1,200 square-meter space with a specialized library, workshops, gardens, and exhibitions, devoted to reading and writing.
Bookshops specialize in used and rare books. In El 7 bookshop you can find a large collection of books about bullfighting.
Location: 219 kilometers northwest of Madrid. 28 kilometers from Valladolid Airport.
2. Bécherel, France
When you visit Brittany, France, make sure to devote some time for a trip to a charming medieval town in the Ille-et-Vilaine department – Bécherel.
The town has 700 inhabitants and as much as 15 bookshops. Plus there are a few art galleries and bookish cafes.
The history of this place dates back to 12th century when Alain de Dinan built the fort. Nowadays, the city reinvented itself as Cité du Livre. The idea of turning Bécherel into a book town was raised by Bernard Le Nail, the director of the Cultural Institute of Brittany.
The first book festival took place in 1989 and became an annual event organized in spring around Easter. It’s being complemented by other book events, including book markets (first Sunday of every month), and a reading festival (October).
Location: 35 kilometers northwest of Rennes. Closest airport: Rennes–Saint-Jacques Airport.
3. Hay-on-Wye, Wales
Hay-on-Wye is a picturesque town located on the Welsh-English border. It’s the most recognizable book town in the world, famous for its open-air Castle Bookshop and numerous literary events.
With just 1,600 inhabitants, Hay-on-Wye accommodates several bookshops, although their number has decreased in the recent years, many becoming general antique shops.
Hay-on-Wye is said to be the oldest book town in the world. In 1961, Richard Booth, credited with transforming the town into a global attraction, named Hay-on-Wye the World’s First Book Town.
The town is especially worth visiting during Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, held between May and June. It’s one of the top literary festivals, founded in 1987. Since that time its audience has grown from 1,000 to over 250,000 visitors.
Location: 3 hours by car from London, 1.5 from Bristol. Nearest major airport: Bristol.
4. Jinbōchō, Japan
Jinbōchō is not a separate town, but a neighborhood in central Tokyo, in a special ward Chiyoda. It’s the largest antique and used bookshop area in Japan. Several shops offer English-language books.
Nowadays, over 170 bookstores, second-hand book shops, and publishing houses are located in Jinbōchō. Most of them can be found around the crossing of Yasukuni and Hakusan streets.
The beginnings of Jinbōchō as a publishing district date back to 1913, when the university professor Shigeo Iwanami opened a small publishing company and inspired other publishers to do the same. Bookshops and cafes followed soon.
By 1920s, the district attracted many students and people with higher education and became the home of liberal thinking.
Among the bookshops worth visiting are: At Wonder (the one with open-air bookshelves), Bunken Shoin, and Yaguchi Bookstore.
Location: Jinbōchō Subway Station, north of Imperial Palace. 25 minutes by foot from the main Tokyo Railway Station.
5. Saint-Pierre-de-Clages, Switzerland
Saint-Pierre-de-Clages is located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, in the heart of the Swiss Alps.
This picturesque village was founded “the Swiss Book Village” in 1990 by the Friends of St-Pierre.
The village is famous for the book festival. Held for the first time in 1993, it’s an annual celebration of the love for books, taking place during the last weekend of August. The festival brings together about 100 exhibitors (used bookstores, publishers, authors, literary agents) and 15,000 visitors.
The book festival is the biggest literary attraction of Saint-Pierre-de-Clages, but you can visit this beautiful book village any time. For instance, you can join Literary Saturdays every week.
There are ten bookshops located around the main square, offering a wide range of titles from rare used books, to new editions covering several topics.
Location: 150 kilometers east of Geneva (1.5 hours by car), about the same distance and travel time from Bern.
6. Mundal, Norway
Mundal is situated in the center of Fjærland, by the Sogne Fiord, and close to Jostedalsbreen glacier. It was named The Norwegian Book Town in 1995.
The village has only 300 inhabitants, and is “quite possibly Norway’s most beautiful bookstore.”
Antique and used books stores are located in abandoned buildings, from ferry waiting rooms, grocery stores, banks, to post office.
In total, Mundal book town offers to visitors about 2.5 miles of shelving, filled with books. Bookshops are open from 10 am to 6 pm every day from May to September.
Location: 250 kilometers northeast of Bergen. 4-5 hours by car or boat from Bergen. 45 minutes by plane to Sogndal.
7. Redu, Belgium
Redu is a small village (400 inhabitants) in the Ardennes, Belgium. It’s the first book village on the European continent, established in 1984, when, during Easter, the book exhibition attracted over 15,000 visitors.
Currently, there are as much as 24 bookshops in Redu, offering used and antique books and comic books. Add to if cafes, restaurants, and craftsmen. It’s no surprise the village is visited by over 200,000 book lovers a year.
The village is especially worth visiting during the book festival – Fête du Livre – that takes place annually during Easter.
Location: 130 kilometers southeast of Brussels. Closest airport: Brussels South Charleroi.
8. Óbidos, Portugal
Óbidos is the youngest of the registered book towns, although its history begins in early Roman times.
The project of turning the town into Vila Literária started in 2013 and was initiated by Óbidos City Hall and Ler Devagar bookstore.
In October, Óbidos welcomes the book lovers from around the world who want to take part in Folio International Literary Festival of Óbidos. It’s the biggest literary festival in Portugal
Location: 85 kilometeres north of Lisbon (45-minute drive). The closest airport: Lisbon Portela Airport.
9. Bredevoort, Netherlands
Bredevoort is a delightful medieval city in the municipality of Aalten, the Netherlands. The earliest document that mentions the existence of the habitat comes from 1188.
The town is inhabited by 1,500 people. It was named the National Book Town in 1993, in an effort to bring the historic center back to life.
Nowadays Bredevoort houses about 20 antique and used bookshops. They are open from Tuesday to Saturday and on Sunday afternoons.
Every month a book market takes place, offering books in Dutch, French, and English.
Location: 160 kilometers east of Amsterdam, 100 kilometers north of Düsseldorf. Closest major airport: Düsseldorf International Airport.
10. Wigtown, Scotland
Wigtown is a picturesque Scottish town that was officially selected as Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998.
There are ten bookshops in Wigtown, offering well over 250,000 books. Compare it to a bit more than 1,000 inhabitants.
In September, Wigtown Book Festival takes place, with attractions for adults and children, including not only literature, but also music, theater, and performing arts.
One of the biggest attractions of the town is The Open Book – a cozy apartment with a bookshop downstairs that you can run during your stay.
Location: 150 kilometers south of Glasgow. 1,5-hour drive from Glasgow Prestwick Airport.
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