Europe > Britain and Ireland > United Kingdom > England > South East England > Berkshire > Reading (England)
Reading (pronounced like "redding", not "reeding") is a large, historic town in Berkshire in the South East of England. It is the largest town in the United Kingdom with just under 235,000 inhabitants. Its main attractions are the medieval abbey ruins and minster church, the rivers Thames and Kennet and surrounding countryside of the Berkshire Downs and Chiltern Hills. It is a major regional shopping centre with a wealth of restaurants and pubs.
There are several possible derivations of Reading's name, however the true source is obscured. Reading holds several Royal Charters permitting Parliament to be held there during times of plague or rebellion in London.
Reading grew rich through the medieval and Tudor periods thanks to a booming trade in cloth. The siege imposed by Parliament on the town during the English Civil War crippled the town's economy which never recovered. The economy of the town is historically most famous for the "three Bs" of biscuits (US English: cookies), beer and (flower) bulbs. However, information technology and insurance have replaced these traditional businesses. As such, it is not an obvious travel destination in its own right, but if you happen to be here on business, there is plenty to see and do.
The Forbury Gardens, near the centre of town, have been restored to their original Victorian splendour. The adjoining ruins are the remains of a once powerful abbey, sacked by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Reading is also home to the former jail in which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality and where he composed his famous "Ballad of Reading Gaol". The prison closed in 2013 but the buildings remain and are to be preserved and redeveloped.
Reading is at the heart of an attractive area of the Thames Valley, sitting across the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet amid green rolling hills, thatched cottages and pubs. It is surrounded by numerous small towns and villages such as Caversham, Thatcham, Pangbourne, Purley on Thames and Streatley, many of which are of great age and beauty. Much of it is now part of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with the Cotswolds being easily reachable.
It is a long-inhabited and well domesticated area that sits at the junction of several major transport rail and road routes. As such, Reading serves as a major hub for commuter traffic into and out of London.
Incidentally, describing Reading as a city could raise the odd eyebrow locally. Despite its size and population, it is not designated as a city. To become a city in the UK a royal charter is required, and to gain a charter the town used to have to contain a cathedral. Because of Reading's large abbey, a cathedral was never built there, so Reading was never made a city. This law was changed in 1889, but many people still believe it to be in force. Charters are now granted periodically with Reading losing out, such as to Newport, Wolverhampton and Brighton and Hove. However, none of this has stopped a number of signs and services referring to the "city centre".
Reading has become more famous as the local football team was promoted to the Premier League, at least in part thanks to benefactor John Madejski, who built the Madejski Stadium south of the town. This has raised awareness of the town throughout the United Kingdom. The promotion also led to a resurgence in the south of the town with new commercial properties, new housing developments and new superstores such as B&Q and Costco.
The town centre has been transformed over the past 10 years with a modern shopping centre called The Oracle. Further developments and apartment blocks continue to be built.
Reading is well served by London's collection of airports. For travellers coming directly to Reading, here are the most convenient (in increasing travel time) ones. The times given for road travel assume no hold-ups - at busy times or in case of bad weather, road maintenance or traffic accidents you should allow considerably longer, especially if travelling to the airport to catch a flight.
- Heathrow Airport (LHR IATA) is about 40 min via the M4 motorway. It is also linked directly to Reading rail station by the RailAir express coach service running every 20 min or so and taking about an hour and, indirectly, by the Heathrow Connect train service (change at Hayes & Harlington station).
- Luton Airport (LTN IATA) is about 65 min away via the M1, M25 and M4 motorways. Luton Airport Parkway connects the airport to Kings Cross station every 35 min, the tube to London Paddington station and then follow the directions below.
- Gatwick Airport (LGW IATA) is about 70 min away via the M23, M25 and M4 motorways. There is an hourly direct train service to Reading from the rail station in the South Terminal with a journey time of 75 min.
- Stansted Airport (STN IATA) is about 90 min away via the M11, M25 and M4 motorways. By train you will need to catch a Stansted Express train to London Liverpool Street station, the tube to London Paddington station, then follow the directions below.
- Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
1 Reading station is served by inter-city and regional train services from many different directions, including through services from Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Newcastle upon Tyne, Manchester, Oxford, Plymouth, Exeter, Penzance, Portsmouth, Southampton, Swansea, Winchester, York, and the airports described above.
From London, you should travel from London Paddington station and catch an intercity train whose first stop is Reading (there are several of these an hour); the travel time will be about 30 min. Slower direct services can be taken from London Waterloo station (journey time approximately 80 minutes).
The route between Reading and Paddington is one of the most overcrowded rail routes in the UK. If you board in Reading during the peak morning commuter period into London, expect to be standing the whole way.
There are other stopping services from Paddington with travel times of up to an hour. Reading is also served by twice-hourly direct stopping services from London Waterloo. The typical journey time on this route is 1 hr 25 min and so is only suitable for travellers from south west London.
Train times can be found on the National Rail Planneror by calling 0845 748 4950 from anywhere in the UK.
By coach and bus
- National Express, ☎ . Coach services from around the country; advanced ticketing is necessary. They serve a stop called Reading Coachway, which sounds grand, but is actually a drafty bus stop near M4 J(12) with nearby amenities including a large Sainsbury's supermarket (known locally as "Savacentre"), a McDonald's restaurant, a petrol station and a chemist. You will have to catch a local bus or taxi (if you can find one) to take you into Reading. Buses to the station in the town centre are quite frequent during the week.
Reading is served by the M4 motorway (US English: freeway) which runs from London to Bristol and South Wales. It is about an hour's drive from central London. The best junction to use for central Reading is junction 11 and then follow the signs.
If you are visiting for the day by car, consider using the Park & Ride site at the Madejski stadium complex (just north of M4 J11 and well sign-posted) and catching the dedicated express bus from there. An alternative Park & Ride site is found at Loddon Bridge at the north end of the A329(M) (signposted "Woodley" from the motorway). The site is extremely susceptible to flooding and closures are common in bad weather.
There are a number of car parks in the town centre, including Oracle Riverside, Oracle Holy Brook, Broad Street Mall, Queen's Road and Garrard Street. Oracle Riverside is the most convenient for visitors as it is large and open 24 hours. Oracle Holy Brook is not open 24 hours but is in the same building as the Oracle Shopping Centre itself (which the Riverside car park is not). Broad Street Mall is the oldest and relatively small. All of these car parks are pay-on-exit and none require validation; they are explicitly intended to be used by town visitors as well as shoppers. Broad Street Mall is also directly opposite the Hexagon theatre and is used as the car park for visitors there. On-road parking in central Reading is available only to disabled badge holders and is in the area near Friar Street. Reading railway station also has a multistorey car park, though this is the most expensive public car park in the town.
The central area of Reading is easily traversable on foot. From the main rail station, you will be able to take in the Abbey Ruins, the Forbury Gardens, both rivers, both shopping centres, most (but not all so check) hotels, pubs and restaurants without needing more than shoe leather.
Buses provide a moderately good way of getting around Reading (say 3–5 miles out), with several buses an hour on most routes during weekdays, and hourly services in the evenings and on weekends. Beyond that distance, bus routes are much less frequent, with often only a handful of buses per day. Route 17 (Earley Wokingham Road—Tilehurst via town centre) was extended to 24-hour operation in 2008, possibly with other major routes to follow.
- Reading Buses, ☎ . Provide bus services within Reading and some adjoining rural areas. Adult: single £2.00, all-day £4.00, 7-day £17 (£15 online), some discounts with smartphone app.
Their fares are not particularly cheap, however, if going with a group of people, between 2 and 4 people, you can buy a group ticket for £9 (reduced to £6 in the school holidays or weekends).
Reading's local bus drivers do not give change, so if all you have is a note, you will need to break it by buying a newspaper or chocolate bar from the petrol station next to the bus stop. When you board the bus, the driver will issue your ticket once the correct fare in coins is inserted into the slot. You can be smart though and buy either single, return, day or group tickets.
For a trip planner see Planning your trip section at the United Kingdom page.
There are two sorts of taxis operating in Reading, although only black cabs are strictly allowed to call themselves taxis:
- Taxis (Black cabs). The taxis proper (which are not always black but are always London style taxi vehicles) in theory operate from taxi ranks around the town and can be hailed in the street. In practice, the only place you can reliably find them is on the rank outside the rail station. They are always metered.
- Minicabs (Private hire cars). They look like ordinary cars except they have a Reading Borough Council plate on the rear (never even contemplate getting in one unless it does). They have to be called by phone (check the yellow pages telephone directory) and do not normally have a meter; you should agree a price before getting in. Never get in a minicab that you haven't booked, because you may be robbed and they are uninsured in an accident.
Whilst not as bad as either London or Oxford, Reading's roads can get very congested at peak periods, in particular London Road. Especially if you are not used to driving on the left, central Reading is probably best avoided.
On the other hand, a car is one (possibly along with cycling) of the only really practical ways of seeing a lot of the local countryside and villages. Here the roads are quieter too.
Named after Reading Old Cemetery, the junction of London Road with King's Road/Wokingham Road is locally known as "Cemetery Junction", which is the origin of the name used by the Ricky Gervais film.
The local authority has published a cycle map, which shows off-road and low-traffic routes around the town. In practice, if you are a reasonably confident cyclist you can comfortably use most of the roads in Reading.
That said, there are a few places that may be a little daunting - these are mostly near or outside the edge of town, and include the A33 (especially difficult) and A4 crossings of the M4, parts of the A33 between the M4 and the town centre, and parts of the Inner Distribution Road. If you need to pass these places and are uncomfortable cycling, there are easily-found alternative routes.
The town centre can be confusing. There are a number of one-way streets. You are not supposed to cycle in the central pedestianised areas, even though motor vehicles are allowed access at certain times to service the businesses there, and there are cycle parking stands in the middle of the area; in practice, if you cycle slowly and give way to all pedestrians it is unlikely anyone will seriously object.
Cycle parking is generally adequate, with "Sheffield" stands in the town centre and elsewhere. If no stands are available, you can usually lock your cycle to railings or street furniture provided it is not explicitly forbidden (there will be signs) and provided you don't cause an obstruction to pedestrians or vehicles. The exception to the adequate provison of cycle parking is the area immediately around the train station, which can get seriously overcrowded. You may find it easier to park your cycle a couple of hundred metres away (e.g. in Friar Street) and walk to the station. Make sure your bike is locked as discreetly and securely as possible, as bike thefts in Reading are above the national average, and the number of thefts recorded by the regional police force (Thames Valley Police) is second only to Greater London.
Reading has several interesting sights to see within the central area.
- 1 Reading Minster (Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin), Chain Steet, RG1 2HX, ☎ . A historic church from 11th century.
- 2 Reading Abbey Ruins & Forbury Gardens. These beautiful formal gardens were once part of Reading Abbey, and the ruins of the Abbey itself can be found between the park and the river Kennet. The Abbey's founder and benefactor was Henry I and he was buried in front of the high altar in 1136. The Abbey went on to become one of the most important religious and political centres in England. A few of the Abbey's buildings still exist intact, including St Laurence's Church and the Gateway, and the ruins themselves offer a fascinating glimpse of the abbey. Open during daylight hours. Free. The gardens were restored to their former glory and reopened in Spring 2005. The Abbey Ruins are closed due to the risk of falling masonry.
- 3 Reading Museum, The Town Hall, Blagrave Street, RG1 1QH, ☎ . Tu-Sa 10AM-4PM; Su 11AM-4PM. In Reading's Victorian Town Hall, the museum explores the history of the area, from the Roman city at nearby Silchester through mediaeval Reading and its Abbey to the coming of the railways and Reading's 3Bs (Biscuits, Beer & Bulbs) economy. Free.
- 4 The Museum of English Rural Life, 6 Redlands Rd, Reading RG1 5EX (A 20 minute walk from Reading station. The nearest bust stop is stop AS outside the Royal Berkshire Hospital), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-F 9:00-17:00 Sa Su 10:00-17:00. A museum about the history of food, farming and the countryside in England. It has several galleries showing how the countryside is shaped by nature and human activities. There is also a garden and a cafe. Free.
There are also many interesting things to see around Reading.
- 5 Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, RG8 9NR (7 miles west of Reading on the A329; grid reference SU611782), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Open Feb-Dec: daily 10AM-5PM. This beautiful Palladian mansion was built in 1776-83. The interior is notable for its original delicate plaster work and elegant staircase. The early 19th-century pleasure grounds are currently being restored, and there are waymarked trails through the parkland. Accessible by road or take the Thames Travel 132 bus from Reading (see 'Get Around' section for contact info). Adult £11.50; child £5.75; family £28.75; National Trust members free.
- 6 Mapledurham House and Watermill, Mapledurham (4 miles west of Reading on the north bank of the River Thames; grid reference SU766670), ☎ . Easter-Sep: Sa Su 2PM-5:30PM. Mapledurham is a village with a special charm of its own, set in the valley of the River Thames, below the Goring Gap. Its cottages, church, almshouses and Watermill, with the old brick and flint walls, backed by the Elizabethan mansion and the still older manor house of Mapledurham Gurney, together retain an ancient village pattern which is rare today. The Watermill produces flour for sale, with wheat still ground by the traditional millstones. Accessible either by boat (see Thames Rivercruise in the 'Do' section) or a 15-minute drive from Reading
- 7 Silchester Roman Town (8 miles south east of Reading; grid reference SU643624). Open every day sunrise-sunset. Known to the Romans as Calleva Atrebatum, the town was abandoned after the Roman era which means that much of the archeology remains. All that is left on the surface now are a complete ring of city walls and the amphitheater. Nearby is an attractive little mediaeval church. Away from the rivers that have dictated the area demographics, Calleva Atrebatum is about as isolated a place as you will find in south-east England; on a spring weekday you are likely to find yourself sharing the ruins only with cows. Parts of the walls are on private land with no public access. Unfortunately there is no bus service between Reading and the site. You can take the train to Bramley and follow the Silchester Trail from there. Alternatively, take the no.2 bus from Reading to Mortimer, and walk from there along quiet lanes and footpaths (about 3.5 km (2.2 mi) - you may need a map to find the way). There is some car parking space at the church and a larger car park at grid ref. SU637629. The site is some distance away from the modern village of Silchester. Free.
- 8 Museum of Berkshire Aviation, Mohawk Way, Woodley, ☎ . small but has a number of old aircraft
- 9 Beale Park, Lower Basildon, Pangbourne, RG8 9NW, ☎ . Mar & Oct: 10AM-5PM; Apr-Sep: 10AM-6PM. A 350-acre park dedicated to the conservation of birds and a smaller selection of mammals, with children's playgrounds, cafeteria and a narrow gauge railway.
There are lots of things to do in and around Reading. You could try taking a river trip:
- 1 Salters Steamers, ☎ . May-Sep: daily. Day trips from Reading to Henley-on-Thames and return with 3 hours ashore in Henley (or you can return by train). Also less frequent trips from Wallingford to Reading. Depart from outside the Riverside Restaurant just downstream of Caversham Bridge. £8.50-11.
- 2 Thames Rivercruise, ☎ . Run cruises to Mapledurham House & Watermill (see the 'See' section) at 2PM on Sa Su & public holidays from April through September; and shorter trips during the same days. Depart Thameside Promenade just upstream of Caversham Bridge. £3.50-5.
Or there are many possible walks in the area:
- 3 Thameside walk to Sonning. A very attractive walk can be had by leaving Reading on the Thames towpath from Reading Bridge and Caversham Lock (both about 5 min walk from the downtown area) and simply following the towpath to the old village of Sonning. This walk is about 4 miles in length, and traverses both open landscape and wooded river margins. Return the same way, or catch a bus back (buses roughly hourly; no service on Sunday).
- 4 Thameside walk to Tilehurst. Another attractive walk is to leave Reading on the Thames-side Promenade from Caversham Bridge (about 10 min walk from the downtown area) and follow the towpath to the point where it abruptly ends (the site of an old ferry where the towpath crossed to the other bank). From here a path brings you up to the main Reading to Oxford road in the suburb of Tilehurst. A five minute walk towards Reading on this road brings you to Tilehurst rail station, from where there are frequent buses and trains back to Reading. This walk is about 3 miles in length.
- Views of the Thames. A series of walks from Goring Railway Station (15 minutes by train or 10 miles by road). The walks are from 4 to 10 miles in length and a leaflet is available by calling +44 1844-271316 or from the website.
- 5 The Marlow Donkey & River Walk. A trip by train. Catch the train from Reading to Bourne End station and then take a delightful 6-mile stroll along one of the most attractive stretches of the River Thames to the pretty Thameside town of Marlow before catching the train back.
- 6 Kennet and Avon Canal. Provides a walking (or cycling or even horse-riding) route from the Thames in Reading all the way to Bath. Even the part of the canal within Reading is quite pleasant and sometimes seems positively rural, in contrast to the commercial developments nearby. Since the Reading Westbury train line more or less follows the canal, it is possible to plan a trip on foot in one direction and return by train to your starting point.
Reading is the home of one of Europe's major annual music festivals, held on the Rivermead site (an open area alongside the River Thames) over a period of several days. The festival can be guaranteed to fill the town with visitors and happening things; if you are planning to visit during these festivals do book your accommodation and festival tickets well in advance.
- Reading Festival. Even bigger than the Womad festival which were held in the town until 2006 (now held near Malmesbury in Wiltshire is the Reading Festival, held at the end of August.
Reading also hosts a number of smaller, community based events during the year:
- Reading Beer and Cider Festival (2012: 2nd – 6th May).
- Water Fest. A variety of events and craft stalls wind their way through the Abbey ruins and along the Kennet. The event is a particular favourite with children.
Reading has a well-established professional football team. Reading FC, who compete in the Championship.
Reading also has a long tradition of rugby, with many clubs in the town and surrounding areas. The three senior clubs of the town are Reading RFC, Reading Abbey RFC and Redingensians RFC.
In 2000 London Irish, a professional rugby union club in the Aviva Premiership with its administrative HQ in Sunbury, contracted to play their home matches at Reading FC's Madjeski Stadium until 2026. With a strong rugby heritage and a thriving Irish community, Reading has proved a good home for London Irish who beat the premiership attendance record in 2007 with over 23,000 people attending the annual St Patrick's Day match. London Irish also play in Europe-wide club competitions each year—either the top-level Champions Cup or second-tier Challenge Cup, depending on their performance in the Premiership in the previous season.
Reading is the home of The University of Reading which is ranked as one of the UK’s 10 most research-intensive universities and as one of the top 200 universities in the world. The main campus, Whiteknights Campus, is two miles from the town centre and is based on the beautiful 321-acre (1.3 km²) Whiteknights Park, which includes lakes, conservation meadows and woodlands, and most of the university's academic departments and several halls of residences. The university provides a full set of university courses, and enjoys a world-class reputation for teaching, research and enterprise.
Associated with Reading University is Gyosei International College, a Japanese/British bi-cultural institution which has led to Reading having a significant Japanese student population. Around 1988, Gyosei International College's links with the Japan-based Gyosei organisation were broken, and the College became a charitably funded institution called Witan Hall. It appears that this has also failed and Witan Hall has been purchased by the University of Reading, who have closed down student recruitment.
Reading is also host to one of the largest universities in England, Thames Valley University (renamed University of West London). Although the university is spread across the Thames Valley, the campus in Reading serves 20,000 students alone.
Formerly Reading College and School of Arts and Design, TVU merged with the College in 2004.
Reading is also the home of several commercial English language summer schools, including:
Reading is a significant commercial and information technology centre and if you have skills in these areas and the appropriate legal paperwork then finding a job should not be a problem. Reading also suffers from staff shortages in public service areas such as teaching or nursing, and campaigns are regularly run to attract overseas candidates for such posts. Otherwise there is the usual selection of jobs in pubs, restaurants, etc.
Reading is a major regional shopping centre, with most of its shops clustered in a fairly compact downtown area. Shops are split between those on outdoor pedestrianised shopping streets, of which the principal is Broad Street, and those in indoor shopping malls such as the Oracle Centre and the Broad Street Mall.
There are three major department stores, John Lewis on Broad Street (often still known locally by its old name of Heelas), Debenhams and House of Fraser both in the Oracle Centre.
- 1 Oracle Centre, RG1 2AG.
- 2 Broad Street Mall, Broad St, RG1 7QE, ☎ .
- 3 John Lewis, Broad St, RG1 2BB, ☎ .
One store that should definitely be visited is Waterstones in Broad Street, if only to see the way this old United Reformed Church has been reused as a good bookstore. This store stocks a good selection of local maps and guides.
Eclectic Games on Butter Market is a specialised hobby board-gaming store that does regular game nights. It stocks a wide range of Magic and role-playing materials as well as eurogames.
In general stores open M-Sa 9:30AM–5:30PM and Su 11AM-4PM although many stay open longer on some days and some do not open on a Sunday. The stores in the Oracle Centre are open M-F 9:30AM-8PM; Sa 9AM-7PM; Su 11AM-5PM. The John Lewis department store has now discontinued Heelas's reputation for benign eccentricity and is now open on Mondays and Sundays.
If it's pampering you're after Reading has a great town centre option. Ayurveda Retreat on Friar Street is a medispa offering health and wellbeing consultations as well as therapeutic massage treatments, facials, manicures and pedicures.
Nearly all major British banks and building societies have branches situated in Reading, and most of them are based around the eastern end of Broad Street or around the adjacent Market Place which is also where most of the major financial institutions that make the town their home are based. These branches normally open M-F 9AM-4PM and Sa 9AM-noon.
Most bank and building society branches have 'through the wall' type ATMs that are open 24x7. There are also clusters of stand-alone ATMs in the Oracle Shopping Centre (see above) and the Rail Station.
The following restaurants are all within walking distance of central Reading.
- Bel and the Dragon, Blakes Lock (just outside the centre). This is a friendly restaurant with a good atmosphere and reasonable food. Around £25.
- Bina Tandoori, 21 Prospect Street, Caversham, ☎ . noon-2:30PM and 6PM-11:30PM. Housed in the charming village of Caversham just over the river from Reading on the north side (just over Caversham Bridge and turn right and then left into Prospect Street; 20 min walk from town centre - but worth it). The food is authentic Indian and Bengal cuisine. Tastes divine and the service is exemplary. Ladies receive a rose on departure. Decor is contemporary with deep blue glass being a signature of the restaurant. Takeaway service is also available. £10-25.
- The Cerise Restaurant and Bar, The Forbury Hotel, 26 The Forbury (in town center), ☎ , toll-free: 0800 789789. Perhaps a little style over substance, frequented by Reading 'glitterati' and business professionals. Decor is very stylish and cocktails are to die for. Check out the restrooms with their unique artwork displays and piped comedy. Prices are at the top end. Open Information needed. £30-50.
- Forbury's, ☎ . Opposite the above, is probably the best restaurant in Reading itself with two AA rosettes and a very creditable 5 in the Good Food Guide. About the same price as The Cerise and opposite it on Forbury Square. Service is far superior to Cerise, with a definite French air. Their set menu is available all day Monday to Friday and until 7:15PM on Saturdays at only £10 for 2 courses for lunch and £13.95 for dinner.
- The Griffin, 10-12 Church Road, Caversham (just over Caversham Bridge and turn left; 15 mins walk from town centre), ☎ . M-Sa 11AM-11PM; Su 11AM-10:30PM (last food orders 1hr before close. A pub chain owned English pub, with a strong emphasis on traditional pub food favourites, vegetarian, fish and meat specialities. £6-20.
- The Gulshan, 20-24 Station Hill (opposite rail station), ☎ . Despite being off a wind-swept walkway under an empty office block, the Gulshan provides tasty Indian and Bengali food at a reasonable price and with friendly service. £6-15.
- Loch Fyne, Bear Wharf, Fobney St (on River Kennet about 200yds west of the Oracle Centre), ☎ . M–Sa 9AM-10PM; Su 10AM-10PM. Housed in an old brewery maltings, this restaurant provides excellent (and apparently eco-friendly) seafood in an attractive environment with friendly staff and overlooking the boats passing through County lock. £10-25.
- London Street Brasserie, ☎ . At the foot of London Street, with views out to the Kennet and Oracle this is a young and informal restaurant serving modern European food. The atmosphere is relaxed and service is always friendly if occasionally haphazard. The set menu is particularly good, at £15 for two courses or 3 for £19, as prices a la carte can be relatively high. This is served noon-7PM every day. £30-350 including wine, a la carte.
- Mya Lacarte, 5 Prospect Street, Caversham, ☎ . A relative newcomer to the Reading restaurant scene, Mya Lacarte offers British food "with a twist". Ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, the menu changes seasonally and the decor is more Brighton than Reading with relaxed but polished service. The food is delicious and well worth the trip out of the town centre for. Note that the address is in Caversham (there is also a Prospect Street in central Reading). £30-50 per head including wine. There is also a set menu at £13.95 (2 courses) which is very good value: M-W dinner and lunchtimes daily.
- Sweeney & Todd, 10 Castle St (in town center), ☎ . Open until 11PM; closed Su. A well known Reading establishment, which specialises in a huge range of delicious pies ranging from the traditional to new and innovative. Originally just a small pie shop, the restaurant has now extended into a conservatory out back, and into a maze of whitewashed cellars that must extend under several adjoining shops. Service is friendly and chatty, and really shows off the family-run atmosphere. Pies are baked on-site, and served fresh from the oven, though there is a takeaway service as well. If you order a pie that has not recently been baked, they will be happy to heat one up for you from the cold selection. It also has a real ale bar. £6-15.
- Wok on Wheels. Chinese takeaway.
The following chains have branches in central Reading:
- Burger King (Broad Street Mall and Kings Walk Arcade - this is a little-used shopping arcade with an entrance just beyond Debenhams on the Riverside)
- Giraffe (Oracle Riverside)
- Jamie's Italian (Oracle Riverside)
- KFC (Broad Street)
- McDonalds (Oracle Riverside and Friar Street)
- Nando's (Oracle Riverside)
- Pizza Express (Oracle Riverside)
- Pizza Hut (Oracle Riverside)
- The Slug and Lettuce (Oracle Riverside)
- Subway (Friar Street)
- Tampopo (Oracle Riverside)
- TGI Friday's (Caversham Road Roundabout - walkable from the town center, but has its own car park)
- Wagamama (Oracle Riverside)
Many of the villages surrounding Reading have interesting restaurants or country pubs that serve food, and here is a selection. You will probably need to use a car or taxi to get to most of them.
- 1 L'ortolan, Church Ln, Shinfield, RG2 9BY (just of Junction 11 of the M4), ☎ . Tu-Sa for lunch and dinner. L’Ortolan, in the beautiful village of Shinfield, is Reading’s only Michelin starred restaurant. Chef Patron Alan Murchison is passionate about his cooking, but also ensures that the same quality of interpretation extends right through the whole experience and is as integral to the wine, the service and the style of the environment as it is to his food.
- Blue Cobra, High Street, Theale (4 miles west of Reading on the A4; grid reference SU714644), ☎ . M-Sa noon-2:30PM and 6PM-11PM. This award winning restaurant is in Theale's attractive High Street. Fresh ingredients are used to create contemporary dishes with influences from Thailand, Bangladesh and south Asia.
- 2 Cross Keys, Church Rd, Pangbourne, RG8 7AR (4 miles west of Reading on the A329; grid reference SU765634), ☎ . M-Sa 11AM-11PM and Su noon-10:30PM. This old-fashioned country inn has low-ceilings, oak-beams and roaring fires for winter dining, and a delightful open-air terrace backing onto the babbling River Pang for balmy summer evenings. The food is good too; try the smoked haddock chowder if it is available. £10-20.
- 3 Great House, Thames St, Sonning-on-Thames, RG4 6UT (4 miles east of Reading on the River Thames; grid reference SU758756), ☎ . £20-£30. Housed in the old White Hart Hotel at the center of the Great House estate are two restaurants and two bars, an intriguing mixture of the historic and the contemporary. Both restaurants have outdoor terraces overlooking the river. The Regatta offers contemporary food with Mediterranean and pacific rim influences; whilst the Ferryman offers a barbecue menu on summer weekends. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
See also the Goring and Streatley article, for details of several other restaurants in these attractive twin villages which are some 8 miles west of Reading on the A329.
Reading, as a sizeable town, has many and varied pubs and bars. A healthy population (numberswise at least) of students and young city workers makes sure that pubs, wine bars and cocktail lounges are all well represented. The compact centre of town ensures stiff competition between establishments, which works well for the consumer, who has many drinking options within stumbling distance of each other.
Several formulaic wine bars and cafe bars are bunched around the east end of Friar Street and Station Road. These provide reasonably civilised drinking at lunchtime but becoming fuelling stations for binge drinkers in the evenings. Predictably, the area is heaving on Friday and Saturday nights.
The town's waterways provide atmospheric drinking: to the north, the Thames riverside hosts well-established pubs and bars in the well-to-do Caversham suburb. The Kennet runs through the Oracle mall, which hosts chain and independent bars jostling for positions along its banks.
Outside the centre, East Reading used to be largely Quaker and so was dry until the students moved in. A couple of pubs have cropped up since, not to mention the students' union. West Reading is less restrained, edgy and very cosmopolitan. It hosts a lively representation of the global village – there's a Jamaican restaurant, Asian supermarket, and Polish pub! Traditional British drinkers will like it here too: just off Oxford Road is Reading's best pub for real ale.
- 1 The Alehouse (formerly The Hobgoblin), 2 Broad St, RG1 2BH (at the east end of Broad Street), ☎ . This favorite among locals serves a huge and often changing (4,000 to date) selection of real ales and ciders, many local. Try to get there very early if you'd like to take up one of the rooms around the back. Otherwise you'll be standing in front. Also do please shut off your cellphone before entering: if it rings in the Hobgoblin you may well find yourself tossed on the street.
- 2 The Butler, 85-91 Chatham St, RG1 7DS (just west of downtown), ☎ . A central pub that still retains a traditional flavour. There are bare wooden floors and decent beer and a mixed but reasonably adult crowd of regulars.
- 3 The Nag's Head, 5 Russell St, RG1 7XD (just off the town-end of Oxford Road), ☎ . A new rival to the Hobgoblin as Reading's premier real-ale pub with 12 ales on tap, limited but excellent food (pies and filled baguettes) and a convivial atmosphere.
There are a large number of hotels and guest houses in the Reading area, but sadly prices are often akin to those in London and getting a room can sometimes be difficult.
For mid or up market hotels, your best bet is to use one of the online booking services, such as those found in our article on Finding accommodation.
- 1 Crowne Plaza, Caversham Bridge, Richfield Avenue, Caversham, RG1 8BD, ☎ . This hotel was burnt out and left derelict for some years before becoming the Holiday Inn. It has now been fully refurbished and has become the Crowne Plaza. It is owned by Prince Charles (Royal heir to the throne) as part of the Princes Trust - as disclosed in March 2007 on a BBC television program. It includes a swimming pool and fitness centre and overlooks the river. The river walk up river towards Pangbourne is delightful. Parking for 200 cars and 122 rooms.
- 2 Hillingdon Prince Hotel, 39 Christchurch Road, RG2 7AN, ☎ . A privately owned and managed hotel built in the 1890s, The Hillingdon Prince Hotel is centrally located by the Oracle Shopping centre and Reading business park, with Thames Valley, Warton Grange and Green Park close by. It is a short drive from Madjeski Stadium and within walking distance of the University and Royal Berkshire Hospital.
Reading is perfectly safe to visit, and most visits should be trouble-free. That said, Reading has an above-average violent crime rate and incredibly high rates of drug-related crime. Be careful not to get drawn into any confrontations, as these have been known to turn nasty (knife crime being pretty high in Reading). Also be careful if in the town centre on a Friday or Saturday night as binge drinking, with the associated violent crime, is on the rise in the UK, and Reading is no exception.
The riverside area in Newtown (just east of the town centre) is a known trouble spot, especially after dark, so it may be best to stay away. Suburban areas with seedy reputations include Whitley, Coley, Southcote, and Newtown. Of these, Whitley has a reputation for being the worst and should be avoided if possible.
Reading's area code (for landline numbers) is 0118 when dialled from within the UK or +44 118 from outside the UK.
Mobile phone coverage is generally good within the town and surrounding area; not surprisingly as most UK mobile companies are headquartered in the vicinity.
If you are travelling with a laptop then you will find broad-band internet access in the rooms of most, but not all, medium to high end hotels. If this is important to you check before booking. Alternatively there are many WiFi hot spots in and around Reading and WiFinder provides a register.
There are also several places that offer web and other internet access if you are travelling without a laptop. These include:
- Caversham Library, Telephone: +44 118 901-5103, . The library is a Carnegie building which opened in 1907. It is a busy branch library situated in the heart of Caversham. It has a very distinctive clock tower. Internet access. Check out the Costa coffee bar opposite. Open: M F 9:30PM-5PM; Tu Th 9:30AM-7PM; Sa 9:30AM-4PM. Access by bus: Caversham Library can be visited using bus numbers 9, 27,44, 45, 329. By car: The nearest car park to Caversham Library is in Chester Street. Disabled customers may use the car park at the rear of the library. There is a wheelchair ramp at the front entrance.
- Quarks, Union Street (pedestrian alley between Broad Street & Friar street in town center also called Smelly Alley to the older locals ), . Cybercafe and online gaming centre. £3 /hour. Open M-Sa 7:30AM-9PM; Su 10AM-7PM.
- Reading Central Library, Abbey Square (eastern edge of city center), . Open M W F Sa 9:30AM-5PM; Tu Th 9:30AM-7PM. Offers (free) web access, although this requires (free) library membership which in turn requires proof of address; not sure if they will take a foreign address, but worth trying.
If you are planning to do any visiting or exploring beyond central Reading, you will probably want to obtain a decent map of the area. You should ensure that any map you buy clearly shows the national grid reference lines and explains how to use them, as grid references are frequently used to indicate out of town locations. The best maps for this purpose are those published by the Ordnance Survey (Britain's national mapping agency) and the following maps cover all the locations mentioned below:
- Ordnance Survey Landranger 175. This map covers the area around and between Reading and Windsor at a scale of 1:50000 and is best for exploration by car or cycle.
- Ordnance Survey Explorer 159. This map covers the area around Reading at a scale of 1:25000 and is best for walking.
These maps can be found in any good bookshop in Reading (see 'Buy' section below), or can be bought online.
- Bath – a historic resort (spa) town and World Heritage Site (approx 1 hr by train)
- Bristol – a large port city on the river severn and the unofficial capital of the west country (approx 1 hr 15 min by train)
- Caversham – across the river from Reading on the north side of the Thames River. Caversham has been mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as one of the areas where some of the earliest evidence of mankind in England has been found. Be sure to check out the Holy Well if you are a historian or religious. It is to be found, appropriately, on Priest Hill just next to the junction with St. Anne’s Road.
- Goring and Streatley – a pair of Thameside villages with great views and country walks
- Henley-on-Thames — a picturesque town "round the corner" of the river, within 15 minutes drive
- London – only half an hour on a fast train
- Oxford – a nearby Thameside city with its famous university
- Swindon – The heart of the Great Western Railway, only half an hour on the train (or an hour by car on A417/A419 trunk road)
- Winchester – a cathedral city within easy day-trip distance and with many interesting and historical sights
- Windsor – a nearby Thameside town with a splendid castle and royal residence