The world-famous Hay Festival, which started in Wales in 1987, has been described as everything from the "Woodstock of literature" to the "Christmas of the book world". So local bibliophiles will have something to celebrate when Abu Dhabi’s spin off to the festival begins today.
The festival is bringing some major names to the capital, including pioneering Syrian poet, Adonis, who will celebrate his 90th birthday with a poetry gala, and Man Booker International Prize winner Jokha Alharthi.
Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will also take a page from its Welsh counterpart's book, hosting music performances alongside literary interviews and panels. Beirut rockers Mashrou' Leila will return to the UAE for a concert, while Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife will set Mahmoud Darwish's words to music in an evocative show.
We've put together a handy guide with everything you need to know about the festival, from where to eat and how to get there to how to book tickets.
When is Hay Festival Abu Dhabi?
The festival will run from Tuesday, February 25 to Friday, February 28.
Where will the festival take place?
While it was initially going to be spread across Abu Dhabi, the festival will now be held solely at Manarat Al Saadiyat on Saadiyat Island. The talks, panels, music and poetry performances will be spread across a number of halls at the venue, including the Atrium, the Tolerance Majlis, the Theatre and the Etihad Garden Stage.
Check in advance where your favourite talk or workshop is taking place, to make sure you’re at the right location at the right time.
Getting to the festival
If you're coming from downtown Abu Dhabi, follow signs for Yas Island from the Mina Zayed area and take Sheikh Khalifa Bridge to Saadiyat Island. Follow signs off Sheikh Khalifa Highway E12 to Manarat Al Saadiyat.
You can also get to Manarat Al Saadiyat by bus, from the Central Bus Station (located on the backside of Al Wahda Mall). The 170, 120, 121 lines will all take you to the venue in a bit more than thirty minutes. A taxi ride should take about half that time but will cost significantly more than the Dh3 bus fare.
If you're coming from Dubai on the E11 highway, take Saadiyat Island Yas Island exit on to the Sheikh Khalifa Highway E12 and drive across Yas Island to Saadiyat Island. You'll soon see signs guiding you to the venue. There are two car parks available at Manarat Al Saadiyat, so parking should not be an issue.
Where can you eat?
Manarat Al Saadiyat has a restaurant, Larte, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cakes, pastries and desserts are also available all day.
There are plenty of restaurants located at the hotels in the Saadiyat Island area. The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort has a number of eateries, ranging from Shakespeare and Co, to the seafood and sushi spot Koi Restaurant and Lounge. If you're craving Mediterranean, head to the Beach House at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi. For a more healthy option, Circle Cafe at the Saadiyat Community Centre is a good choice.
One thing to note is that the festival is going green, so visitors are encouraged to bring their own water bottles with them. There will be plenty of water refill points available around the venue.
Where do you get tickets?
Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office located at the festival site. The box office will be open daily from the beginning of the first event until the beginning of the last event each day.
Please note that tickets can only be purchased with a credit or debit card. You'll be issued an e-ticket to gain access to the site.
Tickets are free if you are under 25 years old or in full time education.
What should you see?
There is so much to see at the inaugural festival. Classicist and historian Bettany Hughes will tell the story of extraordinary projects that are helping refugee stonemasons rebuild the shattered treasures of Syria.
The lecture is illustrated with film footage from Hughes’s documentaries about the project. Hughes’s talk will take place at 4.30pm on Tuesday, February 25 at The Theatre stage.
Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka talks about the rewriting of history, the making of language,and the storyteller's duty to speak up. His talk will take place at 7.30pm on Tuesday, February 25 at the Tolerance Majlis.
Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif will discuss her writing and the Palestine Festival of Literature she founded. Soueif's award-winning fiction includes In the Eye of the Sun and The Map of Love. Her non-fiction work includes Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed. Her talk will be held at The Theatre on Wednesday, Feburary 26, at 4pm.
There will be a number of film and documentary screenings at the festival. The Children After War session presents a series of short films that explore how war affects young people, whether through animation, performance or the involvement of those who lived the events they recount. The session will take place at 1pm on Thursday, February 27, at The Theatre.
Jokha Alharthi made history when her novel Celestial Bodies became the first Arabic-language book to win the International Man Booker Prize. Her novel follows the intertwined tales of three sisters and the secrets and conflicts – both internal and external – of their small Omani society. Her talk will take place at 5.30pm on Thursday, February 27, at the Etihad Garden Stage.
Palestinian Canadian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish's three daughters were killed by Israeli shells in 2009, during the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. Instead of seeking revenge or sinking into hatred, Abuelaish called for the people in the region to start talking to each other. His response to this tragedy made news and won him humanitarian awards around the world. His talk will take place on Friday, February 28, at 4pm at the Etihad Garden Stage.
What to listen to: the music at Hay
It's not just authors and talks featured at the inaugural festival. There will be a series of music and dance performances across the festival's four-day takeover of Manarat Al Saadyiat, too.
Kicking off the festival is the leading UK contemporary dance group 2Faced Dance Company. The all-male group mixes elements of break dance, contemporary styles and acrobatics. They will be performing their Power set at 1.30pm on Tuesday, February 25, at the Tolerance Majlis stage.
Algerian folk icon Souad Massi will perform her comeback album Oumniya at the festival. Her music prominently features the acoustic guitar, blending rock and Portuguese fado influences with Arab and African stylings. Her sixth studio album is anchored in current events, covering Algeria, politics, love, freedom and emancipation. Massi sings in classical Arabic, Algerian Arabic, English, French and the Kabyle Berber language. She will be performing at 7.30pm on Tuesday, February 25, at the Etihad Garden Stage.
Formed during a late-night jam session at the American University of Beirut in 2008, Mashrou' Leila have become one of the biggest bands from the Middle East.
They will be returning to the UAE in a performance at The Atrium on Tuesday, February 25, at 10pm.
Bachar Mar-Khalife will perform with his father Marcel Khalife, the renowned Lebanese composer, oudist and singer, in a musical tribute to his friend the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. The concert will take place at the Etihad Garden Stage on Thursday, February 27, at 9.30pm.
Where can you buy the authors' books?
There will be a pop-up in Magrudy's Bookshop at Manarat Al Saadiyat throughout the festival, with a wonderful selection of participating writers' books. Make sure you go and meet the writers at book signings taking place after each event.