Best UK literary festivals and book fairs in 2023

A look at some the biggest events for book lovers in Britain in 2023

A book tent at Cheltenham Literature Festival
A book tent at Cheltenham Literature Festival
(Image credit: Rob Lacey/Alamy Stock Photo)

Edinburgh International Book Festival

12-28 August 2023

Set up in a “pop-up village” in the heart of the Old Town, Edinburgh’s literary festival offers both a “seriously impressive programme” and a “utopian hideout” for book lovers during festival season, said Claire Biddles in the Big Issue. Visitors can “browse the bookshops” and “attend inspiring talks” from authors and world-leading thinkers. There has, however, been some controversy in the build-up to this year’s festival, The Telegraph reported, after climate activist Greta Thunberg “pulled out” after accusing organisers of allowing “greenwashing”.

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Queen’s Park Book Festival

2-3 September 2023

A small neighbourhood event in northwest London that attracts some big names, the Queen’s Park Book Festival returns with Sebastian Faulks, Michel Roux and celebrated local resident Zadie Smith among the speakers on the bill.

Jane Austen Festival, Bath

8-17 September 2023

Home to a “few classics” and “inspiration to many more”, Bath hosts the annual Jane Austen Festival, said VisitBritain. Come for the Regency-era dress and stay for the 10-day long immersive experience. Join fellow Jane Austen enthusiasts on guided walks, lavish balls, theatre shows, and teleport back to the Georgian era for a chance to truly dive into Austen’s world. The 2024 edition will be held from 13-22 September.

Bath Children’s Literature Festival

29 September-8 October 2023

Bath will be “buzzing”, said Total Guide to Bath, as more than 100 children’s authors and illustrators are welcomed for the city’s popular children’s literature festival. This year’s line-up will include the likes of Rob Biddulph, Cressida Cowell, Lenny Henry, Robin Stevens and Dermot O’Leary.

Cliveden Literary Festival

30 September-1 October 2023

Cliveden continues to be the “most glamorous literary festival on the map”, said Tatler. Set at England’s “most dazzling Italianate mansion” it brings together the “greatest thinkers, writers and politicians” to “chew the fat” before a “fabulously well-dressed audience”. Speakers this year include Zadie Smith, Mary Beard, Tom Holland, Maggie O’Farrell, and Peter Frankopan.

Henley Literary Festival

30 September-8 October 2023

Founded in 2007, Henley Literary Festival has “firmly established itself” as one of the UK’s most popular literary festivals, said Featuring talks, performances and conversations for adults and children, 2023’s speakers include Theresa May, Ben Okri, Sophy Henn, Robert Peston, Jacqueline Wilson, Gary Younge and Judy Murray. There will also be pop-up events with Rick Stein, Sara Pascoe, Liam Brady, Philippa Gregory, James O’Brien and Phil Tufnell.

Cheltenham Literature Festival

6-15 October 2023

It’s not just horse racing that Cheltenham is “best known” for, but also its annual literature festival, said Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey on Fodor’s, which was, in fact, the “world’s first literature festival”. Having started in 1949, this makes it the “longest-running festival of its kind”. Held over ten days, the festival celebrates the written and spoken word, and hosts the new voices in fiction and poetry alongside literary greats and high-profile speakers.

London Literature Festival

18-29 October 2023

The capital’s “most talked-about literary festival of the year” always has a “heavyweight line-up” of the biggest authors and speakers, said Rebecca Cox in Country & Town House. A “sensational” programme for 2023 includes George the Poet, Yu Miri, Teju Cole, Patrick Stewart, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, Jacqueline Wilson and more.

Stratford Literary Festival – autumn edition

27-29 October 2023

As the “much-lauded” birthplace of William Shakespeare, it’s therefore “fitting” that the ancient market town of Stratford-upon-Avon plays host to “one of the most significant literary festivals in the UK”, said Bolthole Retreats. Twice a year, in May and October, “the great, the good and the unsung” of the literary world participate in a “diverse schedule of literary debates and ideas interwoven with celebrity author events and interactive workshops”. Names confirmed for autumn include Michael Morpurgo, Matt Lucas, Clive Myrie, Richard Eyre, Timothy West, and Maggie Aderin Pocock. The dates for next year’s spring edition have also been confirmed for 1-5 May 2024.

Kendal Mountain Book Festival

16-19 November 2023

Held alongside the “hugely successful” and “multi award-winning” Kendal Mountain Festival each year, said, Kendal Mountain Book Festival celebrates the “very best in nature and mountain literature". A festival bookshop, literature awards and talks can be enjoyed by visitors in Cumbria.

Cambridge Literary Festival – winter edition

16-19 November 2023

Cambridge Literary Festival has already confirmed some high-profile headline names for its winter edition including Theresa May, Timothy West, David Reynolds and Andrew Marr, Polly Toynbee, Rick Stein, and Grace Dent.

London Book Fair

12-14 March 2024

Organisers of the London Book Fair have announced that its 2024 event will be moved to 12-14 March, Publishers Weekly reported, to avoid any clash with the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April. Held at Olympia London under the theme “defining the future of creative content”, London Book Fair will host more than 100 seminars across three days as well as conferences and awards.

Oxford Literary Festival

16-24 March 2024

Taking place each spring in “one of the world’s oldest cities of learning”, the Oxford Literary Festival is “one of the best around”, said Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey on Fodor’s. “One reason to attend” is the “prestigious” schedule of talks, debates, and performances by well-known authors and thinkers.

Hay Festival

23 May-2 June 2024

One of the “most famous and prestigious” literary events in the world, the Hay Festival takes over a “lovely small town” in Wales each year, said Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey on Foder’s. Bringing together literature and the arts, UK names “dominate” the event, but global authors are “always present”. The “best thing” about this festival is the setting. Hay-on-Wye is a “book town filled with antiquarian and second-hand bookstores, little pop-up libraries, and many specialist stores”.

Borders Book Festival

13-16 June 2024

Held in the Scottish Borders town of Melrose, this “four-day extravaganza” welcomes some of the “biggest names from the world of literature, entertainment, and politics”, said Scotland Starts Here. Organisers of the Borders Book Festival are expected to release an “early peek” at some of the headliners in the first quarter of 2024.

Bradford Literature Festival

28 June-7 July 2024

Yorkshire’s biggest literary event offers talks from “famous names” alongside “intriguing mini-fests”, said Claire Biddles in the Big Issue. The festival has introduced “ethical ticketing”, allowing free entry to anyone who may not have the opportunity to attend otherwise.

Penzance Literary Festival

3-6 July 2024

Dubbed the “friendliest literary festival in the UK”, the Penzance LitFest is expected to take place at an array of venues “around the beautiful Cornish town”, said Proper Cornwall. It has grown into a “diverse and fascinating” celebration of the “wonderful written word” and it should be “pretty star-studded” in 2024, too.

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

18-21 July 2024

The UK’s “largest event for fans of crime and thriller writing” takes place each summer in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, said the Harrogate Advertiser. Expect a programme of special guests, talks, workshops and crime writing’s “most wanted accolade”, the Crime Novel of the Year Award.

Literature Festival at Sea

13-20 November 2024

Take a chance to “set sail in more than the imagination” on this seven-day cruise from Southampton, said VisitBritain. Dive into more than just a few pages aboard Cunard Line’s flagship Queen Mary 2 and explore the high seas with fellow bookworms and mingle with authors, journalists, critics and historians. Celebrate literature and culture surrounded by like-minded peers.

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