Gothenburg Book Fair

Travel Guide: Top Literary Festivals to Attend Around the World

Literary festivals are a celebration of the written word. And what more could any bookworm want? Books, their favorite writers, more books, readings and more books. Here are a few of the top literary festivals around the world.  

Berlin International Literature Festival

Every September, Berlin hosts one of the top literary festivals in the world, the Berlin International Literature Festival. The festival presents contemporary prose, poetry, graphic novels, non-fiction and international children’s literature, as well as young adult literature. Prominent authors, as well as new talents, present themselves within a broad political programme.

Berlin International Literature Festival.
Berlin International Literature Festival. credit@ Germany Visa

The program of the festival is divided into several subsections. These include Literature of the World, Memory, Reflections, Specials, International Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Speak. Besides the trends, styles, temperaments and forms in literature, contemporary political issues and scientific discourses are also discussed. The aim of this international festival is to address and involve as broad an audience as possible. The entire festival offers a golden opportunity for bookworms and literary addicts a deeper insight into the world of literature. The festival is also committed to multiple perspectives; human rights, dialogue, cosmopolitanism and hospitality.

Programmes cover a wide range of events, from roundtable discussions with Nobel Prize winners of literature to events that aim to promote reading and teaching of literature. The subsections themselves are divided further into sections. The Specials section is divided into the Slam Revue, New German Voices and the Scritture Giovani (international competition for young budding authors). At all events, the authors present their texts in their mother tongue, which are translated by translators.

Buenos Aires International Book Festival

Held every April, the Buenos Aires International Book Fair of Argentina draws the literary community and the general public to gather. The festival is organized by the Fundación El Libro, which is a non-profit organization established by the Argentine Society of Writers (SADE).

Buenos Aires International Book Festival.
Buenos Aires International Book Festival. credit@ Buenos Aires

The festival lasts for almost three weeks. Stands are set up and distributed into around eight halls. They stand for both national and international publishing houses, institutions and organizations, communities, countries and Argentine provinces. Each year, the festival has a specific motto and is open to the public. The events are headed by conferences and meetings by publishers, editors, booksellers and translators and pretty much anyone else from the publishing industry. Apart from this, there are also conferences that are held specifically for librarians and the education field.

While there were earlier book festivals held in Buenos Aires, there weren’t any that were held regularly. These early festivals were hosted at plazas or the Buenos Aires Cabildo. The SADE took it upon itself in 1971 to establish and promote more fairs. The aim was to encourage the publishing industry in Argentina, and thus, between 1971 and 1974 alone, more than 35 fairs were held. These festivals were hosted in many cities of the country, and weren’t just limited to selling books, but also included theatre, poetry, ballet and music performances.

Cheltenham Literature Festival

Cheltenham Literature Festival.
Cheltenham Literature Festival. credit@ The Millennial Runaway

The Cheltenham Literature Festival is an international literature festival held in Cheltenham, an English spa town. The fair is part of the large-scale Cheltenham Festivals, which also hold Music, Jazz and Science Festivals each year.

This literature festival is held in October every year and was first established in 1949. It is the longest-running festival of its type in the world. Founded by the Spa Manager, George Wilkinson, in partnership with John Moore, the Tewkesbury-based author who was the festival’s first director. Ralph Richardson, an actor born in Cheltenham, launched the fair, and the poet Cecil Day-Lewis read a selection from contemporary verse. Presently, the festival features writers from every genre, and even a large number of politicians and journalists, thus interpreting the term literature broadly.

Currently, The Times and Sunday Times is the festival’s ‘title’ sponsor, hence the full name of the festival is The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival. The Artistic Director of the festival is Sarah Smyth, while the Festival Director is Jane Furze. The festival, other than being the top literary event in the world, is also one of the most prestigious ones. It showcases the biggest names of contemporary culture, award-winning writers and rising talents. Apart from welcoming prize-winning authors to discuss their recent works, the festival also presents the Nick Clarke Award for the best broadcast interview.

Conrad Festival

 The Conrad Festival in Poland
The Conrad Festival in Poland. Credit@ In Your Pocket

The Conrad Festival in Poland has been held every year in Krakow since 2009. The festival is the result of a joint effort of the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation and the Krakow Festival Office (the organizers) and the Krakow Municipal Government and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland. Named after the Polish-British novelist, Joseph Conrad, it is the largest literary festival in Central Europe.

Artists from across the globe meet at this top literary festival, who are representatives of various cultures and worldviews. They are creators of not just literature, but also theatre, film, visual arts and music.

Every year, the Conrad Festival accompanies the Kraków Book Fair. And unlike most other Polish events that deal exclusively with Polish literature, the Conrad Festival covers the arts on a more international level. Many of its guests have included Nobel Prize winners. The concept of the festival is of two principles. The events of the festival are devoted to a separate phenomenon connected to literature. The culmination of all the days is a meeting with an international writer, as well as many other related events.

Starting in 2015, with the seventh edition of the Conrad Festival, the Conrad Award has been awarded to debut books that were published in the previous year in the country. The main sponsor of the Conrad Award is the city of Krakow, in partnership with Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation, the Book Institute and the Krakow Festival Office. The prize winners are nominated by publishing houses and the readers themselves.

Hay Festival of Literature and Arts

The Hay Festival is a yearly literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys in Wales. Lasting for ten days from May to June, the festival was founded by Norman and Rhoda Florence and their son, Peter Florence, in 1988.

Hay Festival of Literature and Arts
Hay Festival of Literature and Arts. credit@ Colart

One of the top literary festivals around the world and in British culture, the sessions of the festival have been recorded for radio and television programmes such as The One Show and The Readers’ and Writers’ Roadshow. Even before the festival was launched, Hay-on-Wye was already popular for its number of bookshops. It was Richard Booth who opened his first book shop in 1962, and by the 1970s, the town of Hay had earned the nickname ‘The Town of Books.’ From its very start, the festival was held at various venues around the town, including the town’s primary school. It was in 2005 that the festival was moved to a unified venue towards the south of Hay.

Over the years, the festival has grown to include film previews and musical performances. A children’s festival called the ‘Hay Fever’ is run alongside the main fair. Besides the festival in the hometown, its international expansions are held at Aarhus, Dhaka, Nairobi, Arequipa, the Maldives, Beirut, Belfast, Kerala at Thiruvananthapuram, the Alhambra Palace and Segovia.

Gothenburg (Gotëburg) Book Fair

The Gothenburg Book Fair is one of the top literary festivals on the globe, and also one of the most important events in Sweden. Established in 1985, it initially started as a trade fair for teachers and librarians, but then grew into the largest literary fair in Scandinavia. After the Frankfurt Book Fair, it is the second-largest book fair in all of Europe.

Gothenburg Book Fair
Gothenburg Book Fair. credit@ Catalan Arts

The festival is usually held in the final week of September every year and lasts for four days. For those in the book and publishing industry of Scandinavia, it is the most important festival. This is because the Gothenburg Book Fair is where new books are exhibited at exhibitors’ stands and stages and where deals are finalised at the Rights Centre. It is also a display of the arts and culture where readers and bookworms meet writers and vice versa.

The events of the festival are filled with readings, literary talks, discussions and debates on all topics under the sun. It is a whirlwind of opinions and ideas, a great mix of writers and books, knowledge and joy. The heart of the Fair is the Seminar Programme. Authors and writers get to meet and interact in the seminar halls. Scholars, writers, politicians, journalists, Nobel laureates and scientists from all over the world attend the festival and take part in talks, readings and high-profile debates.      

International Literary Festival of Paraty

Paraty International Literature Festival of 2012
Paraty International Literature Festival of 2012. credit@ The Rio Times

The International Literary Festival of Paraty (FLIP) is one of the top literary festivals held in the city of Paraty in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Held since 2003, the festival is usually held in July and, during the World Cup years, it is held in August.  

The festival is funded by a graduated system of sponsors and organized by the non-profit Associação Casa Azul. Events for the festival include discussions, lectures, and events for children and young people and literary workshops. The international success of the festival since its establishment is mainly because of the involvement of internationally famous authors from many countries.

The festival was founded by Liz Calder, the English Publisher and the co-founder of Bloomsbury Publishing. Calder lived in Brazil and was the literary agent for many Brazilian writers. Calder used the Hay Festival as a model for setting up the International Literary Festival of Paraty. The FLIP is also linked with similar festivals, like the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, Canada, and Festivaletteratura in Mantua, Italy, for displaying intercultural literature.

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. credit@ Gulf News

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. It is run by Ahlam Bolooki. Held every year in March, the festival’s offices are situated within the Dubai International Writers’ Centre.

The book festival is usually held at the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City in partnership with Emirates and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, which is Emirates’ authority for arts, culture and heritage.

The festival features over 250 sessions and other events, including masterclasses, workshops, poetry readings and panel discussions. The entire programme has events for both children and adults in English, Arabic, French and other languages as well. Along with the daily events, the festival also holds a ‘fringe’ for the children to encourage local talent. During the ‘Education Events’, the students also get to meet and interact with international authors.

Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany is the largest book festival or fair in the world, based on both the number of visitors who attend and the number of publishing companies represented. It is regarded as one of the most important book fairs for international trading and deals in the world. The fair lasts for five days in the middle of October and is held on the Frankfurt Trade Fair grounds.

 Frankfurt Book Fair of 2019
Frankfurt Book Fair of 2019. credit@ Frontlist

The Frankfurt Book Fair is organized by Frankfurter Buchmesse GmbH, which is a subsidiary of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. The fair is organized as such-the first three days are exclusively for professional visitors while the general public can attend during the weekend. Thousands of exhibitors who represent book publishing, multimedia and technology companies and content providers from across the world gather at this golden opportunity to negotiate worldwide publishing rights and license fees.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is a tradition that spans more than 500 years. Before printed books came to be, the general trade fair in Frankfurt sold handwritten books. Sometime in the years after Gutenberg invented the printing press, a printers’ and publishers’ trade fair was established. While there is no official founding date documented regarding the fair, it was definitely set up by 1462.

Hong Kong Book Fair

The Hong Kong Book Fair of 2020
The Hong Kong Book Fair of 2020. credit@ Time Out

The Hong Kong Book Fair is a book festival organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. It is an annual festival usually taking place in the middle of July. The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre hosts the festival and it is the place to be for exhibiting and selling books, stationary, printed matter, compact discs, printing and other multimedia publishing.  

It was in 1990 that the first Hong Kong Book Fair was held. The number of attendees grew exponentially as each year passed. Other than inviting the general public, both national and international, to the fair, the organizers of the fair also set up diversified cultural activities. From starting out as just a promotion platform for the publishing industry, the fair has now grown into a yearly major cultural event for the public.


Listed above are only a few of the top literary festivals around the world. Each bookworm will have their own personal favourites, so bookaholics, feel free to add them to the list!

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