Find out about Reading
PUBLISHED: 20:21 06 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:50 20 February 2013
So why is Reading worth a visit? The county town of Berkshire and capital of the Thames Valley, Reading is now ranked among the country's top ten shopping destinations...
Once famous for producing the three Bs - beer, biscuits and bulbs - it now owes its prosperity to the IT boom and its position at the heart of Britain's 'silicon valley.' It's Premier League football team isn't doing too badly either. The town centre is a mix of architectural styles: mostly Victorian and Edwardian redbrick with a touch of Georgian here and there, juxtaposed alongside a stylish contemporary shopping mall.
Denied 'city status' at the Millennium celebrations, it is nevertheless a hugely busy town recognised not only for its shopping potential, but also for its rich mix of restaurants, bars, pubs and cafés. But amidst all this hustle and bustle, there are quiet havens. Just steps from the centre are the beautiful, recently-refurbished Victorian Forbury Gardens and the 12th century Abbey Ruins, leading to the pretty Chestnut Walk alongside Reading's 'other' river, the Kennet, which flows through the town. The main river, of course, is the Thames and to take a walk along the towpath or hire a boat is yet another pleasure that this vibrant town has on offer.
How do we get there?
Reading is 40 miles from London. Fast trains to Paddington leave every 15 minutes or so and the journey time is around 25 minutes. Stopping trains take ten minutes to Twyford, 15 to Maidenhead and 20 to Slough. There are also good services to Oxford and Newbury with journey times of 30 minutes. By car, the town centre is a ten minute drive from Junction 11 of the M4. A regular bus service operates between Reading Station and Heathrow airport.
So where do we park?
There are several large multi storey car parks within the town centre. For those who don't mind a walk, there are pay and display car parks in Kings Meadow and Hills Meadow ten minutes away alongside the river.
What will we find?
Like all principal towns and cities, Reading is home to many high street chains, most of which can be found in the main shopping streets - Broad Street, West Street, Friar Street - and the Broad Street Mall shopping centre. The stylish Oracle Centre, which sits on the banks of the river Kennet is home to 90 top brand stores plus numerous cafes and restaurants. A few independent shops can be found in arcades and side streets. The Harris Arcade, for example, contains quirky stores, including the Reading Collectors' Centre which sells everything from model soldiers to Royal Doulton to classic jazz on vinyl and Puss in Boots with all kinds of boots from retro platforms to colourful Sixties Go-Go boots.
Foodwise, most of the larger supermarkets are located out of town but Sainsbury's has two town centre stores, in Friar Street and Broad Street. The County Delicatessen in St Mary's Butts is excellent and there is a street market in nearby Hosier Street from Wednesday to Saturday.
What's on offer?
Broad Street, the main pedestrianised shopping thoroughfare, is home to John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and other well-known brands such as Monsoon, Next, River Island, Principles, BHS plus several shoe shops. An 18th century non-conformist chapel now houses a Waterstone's bookshop. Union Street, known colloquially as Smelly Alley, links Broad Street and Friar Street and is probably Reading's oldest shopping passage. Shops include a butcher, optician, nail bars and market stall-style greengrocer. Frosts, the fishmongers, have had a shop here for more than 50 years and is the place to come for the town's best selection of fresh fish and seafood sold by knowledgeable, 'proper' fishmongers.
More fashion stores, including niche brands such as Karen Miller, French Connection, Mango, Disney Store, Mamas and Papas plus popular outlets like TopShop, H & M, Gap and La Senza can all be found in the Oracle along with department store giants House of Fraser and Debenhams. Jigsaw is located in Gun Street alongside the Holy Brook, an ancient underground watercourse that runs under the town.
If it's rings and things you are after, then Reading has an excellent range of jewellers catering for all tastes and pockets, from the middle of the road to the trendy to the upmarket and expensive. Many, such as Pravins, are in the Oracle.
Jacobs, the long-standing family-run jeweller in King Street, has an exquisite collection of jewellery, clocks and watches. They also offer a bespoke design and make-up service, sourcing loose stones and precious gems to exact customer requirements. They have just opened their new exclusive Bulgari concession, which joins existing luxury brands already in situ, such as Cartier and Longines.
In Chain Street you'll also find Robert Gatward, another designers jeweller's that sells fabulous selections, including Hearts on Fire - said to be the world's most perfectly cut diamond - the work of only a select group of artisans world-wide have mastered the necessary skills.
For fashion, the Oracle and John Lewis in Broad Street really dominate, selling all the major labels from Principles to Prada. If you're after something special in the underwear department, however, take a trip to Pudding Lingerie (www.puddinglingeries.com) in The Walk, just off King Street. Here you'll find names such as La Perla, Rigby & Peller, Hoola and Chloé and there's an expert fitting service should you need it. Check out their fabulous swimwear, too.
For interiors, Lombok (www.lombok.co.uk) is a recent addition to Broad Street selling an attractive selection of handmade furniture from Indonesia and other Far Eastern countries. Stylish accessories include silk and velvet quilts and throws, bed linens, unusual lamps and objets d'art. The company also offers an interior design service.
Out of the centre, but worth a drive if you're looking for high-quality tiles, and ideas of bathrooms and kitchens take a trip to Porcelanosa at their Bridgewater Close showroom. (www.porcelanosa.co.uk)
And for art lovers, the Lemon Grove Gallery (www. thelemongrovergallery.co.uk) in Minster Street carries a wide selection of contemporary fine art originals, limited editions and sculptures. Customers can also commission work from the gallery's artists.
When you've shopped till you've dropped
With any number of Oracle restaurants to choose from, visitors are spoilt for choice. If it's more than caffè latte and a croissant you're after, stylish Cerise next door to the Forbury Hotel in Forbury Square is popular for a late-morning G&T as well as fine dining. Or Forbury's Restaurant & Wine Bar is another up-market destination that's earned itself a place in the top five restaurants in England, according to Hardens. New to Reading is Malmaison, just by the station. Further along the river, Loch Fyne serves tasty fish dishes, then why not round off your retail therapy with a film at the centre's ten-screen Vue cinema? Venturing out of the town centre, you'll find the Jazz Café, near the Madejski Stadium, is a popular evening venue, or take a trip to the nearby village of Shinfield is the Michelin-starred L'ortolan.