The Best Literary Festivals of 2020 | What's On? By C&TH
Cliveden House Hotel near London

The Best Literary Festivals of 2020: Covid-19 Update

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Reading glasses at the ready; there’s plenty for book-lovers to celebrate at these literary festivals...

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Calling all lit-lovers; in light of the coronavirus pandemic, many of 2020’s literary festivals have sadly been cancelled. Here, we’ll keep you updated with the festivals that are proceeding as planned, have been postponed, and those that have unfortunately had to close their doors until 2021. 

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Best Literary Festivals of 2020: Covid-19 Update

Petworth Festival: Streaming Online For 2020

Nicholas Coleridge, Petworth Festival

Felix Clay

When? 16 October-1 November 2020


What? Although all events are taking place online this year, there will still be a ‘Petworth’ feel to them: everything will be taking place in St Mary’s Church or the Leconfield Hall, and there will be small audiences at each event. The star-studded line-up includes Nicholas Coleridge, Michael Morpurgo and Joanna Trollope on the literary side, as well as music from Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Masona and Patti Boulaye.

Hay Festival Europa28


When? 6-9 October 2020

Where? In Zagreb and Rijeka, Croatia with face-to-face events. The festival will also be streamed digitally.

What? Hay Festival Europa28 is a four day festival celebrating the importance of women in fields such as literature, arts and science. The festival will gives guests the opportunity to hear from 28 talented female authors, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs from across the globe with many events streamed online. Each speaker will also be contributing an essay to an anthology, focusing on the theme ‘visions for the future’ which will be published in English, Spanish and Croatian.

North Cornwall Book Festival: Cancelled


When? 7-10 October 2020

Where? St Endellion Church, Port Isaac

What? Returning for the eighth year, North Cornwall Book Festival offers something slightly different. As an independent, locally-run literary festival, this largely unknown event may not pull some of the bigger names you’ve seen at the country’s larger literary celebrations, however, for what it lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in passion and authenticity. With an abundance of workshops, readings and performances on offer across the weekend, this is certainly not one to miss.

How? Book from 1 July

Where to Stay: Fowey Hall – Fowey, Cornwall. High above the delightful, literary, waterside town of Fowey, which famously inspired author Daphne du Maurier, stands the handsome country house that was also said to be an inspiration for Toad Hall in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. There are 36 rooms and suites, all different, all beautifully furnished with antiques and pretty fabrics; the oak-panelled dining room is the setting for delicious dinners, with special menus for children. But don’t think you have to have a family with you to come to Fowey Hall: cleverly, it’s a hotel that works just as well for couples. Doubles from £140.

Cheltenham Literature Festival

When? 2-11 October 2020

Where? Happening Online for 2020

What? The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival is the UK’s oldest literary festival. Each year’s fantastic line-up welcomes some of the best and brightest of the literary and entertainment spheres for an exciting programme of over 500 workshops, interviews and debates. Last year’s speakers included inimitable Blondie front-woman Debbie Harry, Louis Theroux, feel good-filmmaker Richard Curtis and Helena Bonham-Carter. This year will see the festival taking an alternative hybrid approach, with a combination of live streams and in-person events featuring Caitlin Moran, Kid Normal’s Chris Smith and Greg James, Pandora Sykes, and many more.


Where to Stay: You can still get down to Cheltenham to celebrate the festival, even if you’re logging on from your hotel room. Cowley Manor – Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. From the outside, it’s a stunning Italianate manor house in classical lake and cascade-filled grounds; inside, a flawlessly hip hotel, with 21st-century good looks. And although the style is cool, the welcome is warm from the ever-helpful staff. After checking into your state-of-the-art room – in six categories with plenty for families – you can while away time playing pool in the padded leather Billiards Room, drinking in the funky bar or relaxing on the elegant stone terrace, a suntrap with fabulous views. Doubles from £195

Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival: Streaming Online For 2020

When? 22-25 October 2020


What? Now in its tenth year, Raworth’s Harrogate Literature Festival is returning in 2020, with what is sure to be a sensational lineup, to be announced later this summer. Previous speakers have included a host of literary icons, such as Louise Minchin, Sir Tim Waterstone, and Tom Bradby. In 2019, former Prime Minister David Cameron appeared for an exclusive conversation with James Langlade, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, discussing his controversial new memoir For the Record.

How? or call the Literature Festival box office; 01423 562 303.

Where to Stay? In an ordinary year, it would have to be the hosting hotel of course! The 18th-Century mansion boasts a spectacular historic exterior, delectable afternoon tea and an impeccable location nearby Harrogate’s idyllic Valley Gardens, the Turkish Baths and the charming town centre. Plus, you won’t need to travel far for the festival…

Cliveden Literary Festival: Cancelled

Cliveden House Hotel near London

When? 14-15 November 2020

Where? Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire

What? Situated amongst the spectacular surroundings of British country estate, Cliveden House – renowned for its literary salons since 1666, favoured by the likes of Alexander Pope and Sir Winston Churchill – this historic literary festival is not one to be missed. Keep an eye out for the highly anticipated lineup – last year’s included Emily Maitlis, Elif Shafak, Alain de Botton, and Leila Slimani to name but a few.


What’s Happened in 2020?

Essex Book Festival

Abi Dare

Abi Dare | Photo: AMP

When? 28 February – 31 March 2020

Where? 40 venues across the county of Essex

What? Spanning over 300 speakers and 100 events, the Essex Book Festival is returning this year in celebration of the 400th anniversary of The Mayflower, under the brand-new theme ‘Brave New Worlds’. Expect appearances and author talks from the likes of Jess Phillips MP (on her bestselling book Truth to Power), renowned Scottish crime writer Val McDermid, and author of The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Dare, as well as progressional talks and events surrounding climate change, workshops fashioned for writers, poetry performances and much more, all for an entire month.


London Book & Screen Week

Joe Dunthorne

Joe Dunthorne | Photo: Tom Medwell

When? 9-15 March 2020

Where? A series of venues across London. Visit the website for the full programme.

What? Back for its sixth edition, the London Book & Screen Week spans seven days of literary, film and TV celebrations. This year, the festival honours 40 years of the political comedy Yes Minister, as well as author, screenwriter, former actress and festival ambassador Lynda La Plante’s remarkable career, and the extraordinary impact of the iconic series Doctor Who. From ‘Regenerating the Doctor’ talks, to cooking demos from chef and author Miguel Barclay and poetry conversations with poet Scarlett Sabet and music legend Jimmy Page, the festival is a must-visit for book worms, poetry pundits, TV, music and film enthusiasts alike.


Words Weekend Festival: Cancelled

Words Weekend Lowry 2020

When? 27-29 March 2020

Where? The Lowry, Salford

What? This buzzy, busy weekend at Salford’s iconic Lowry venue has just announced its first crop of exciting speakers, including, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, TV presenter and music critic Stuart Maconie and author Emma Jane Unsworth. This being Salford, the programme also nods to the city’s hugely influential musical output, featuring Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder in conversation and an in-depth panel on legendary post-punk band The Fall. While there will be plenty of opportunity to curl up with a new favourite book, the festival also hosts creative workshops on writing for radio and TV. What’s more, every event on the programme is accessible and BSL interpreted.


Hay Festival Digital

Hay festival

When? 22-31 May 2020

Where? Online

What? This year’s Hay Festival has gone virtual. The annual two-week-long literary celebration, which brings together some of the most renowned writers, creatives, historians and politicians, has entered into the digital sphere due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the circumstances, the festival programme continues to excite, comprising a jam-packed schedule of live-streamed talks and interactive events with the likes of feminist writer Laura Bates, actress Lily Cole, and Sandi Toksvig in discussion with chair of the Virago Press, Lennie Goodings. Plus, it’s all completely free.


Where to Stay? At home of course!

Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival

Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival

Ravinder Bhogal | © Rahil-Ahmad

When? 16-20 September 2020

Where? Online

What? This year’s Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival is set to take a novel ‘hybrid’ approach – one adhering to social distancing measures. Lit-lovers will be able to digitally tune into the festival free of charge, whilst two key events – both available to stream online – will take place live in the picturesque Devonshire town in front of a limited audience. Headlining the festival is author and festival president Dame Hilary Mantel, writer and former Great British Bake Off presenter Sandi Toksvig, food writer Ravinder Bhogal, and Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, among many others, with topics of discussion spanning identity and racism, our digital footprint, Russia’s global influence, the natural world and more.

How? Register to tune in online at

London Literature Festival

When? 17-27 September 2020

Where? South Bank Centre

What? There’s always a heavy-weight line-up of the biggest authors and speakers at the capital’s most talked-about literary festival of the year. Previous speakers have included the likes of Hilary Clinton, Philip Pullman and Tom Hanks take to the stage for individually-ticketed events, and last year saw Elizabeth Day, Armistead Maupin, Brett Anderson, Heather Morris, Lemn Sissay, Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Nikki Giovanni, Fatima Bhutto and Jung Chang take to the stage. Stay tuned for what is sure to be an equally illustrious 2020 line-up.


Where to Stay? Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, Tower Hill. The latest addition to the Four Seasons’ dazzling portfolio is this exquisitely restored former HQ of the Port of London Authority. You will want for nothing in any of the 100 gorgeous bedrooms, spread over the hotel’s first three floors. Those above are dedicated to 41 apartments and a private members’ club. Doubles from £430.

Henley Literary Festival

Henley Literary Festival

When? 26 September – 4 October 2020

Where? A series of fantastic venues including Phyllis Court and The Hibernia at Hobbs Boat Yard.

What? Henley Literary Festival returns this autumn with what is sure to be an impressive line-up of speakers, workshops performances and Q&As with a long list of illustrious authors. Last year’s star guests included Mary Berry, Nadiya Hussain, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Julian Clary to name a few. This year’s festival is set to go virtual with a range of live-streamed author talks starring the likes of Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, celebrated author Michael Morpurgo, and writers of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Candice Brathwaite, Florence Given & Bryony Gordon.


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