Some of the best things to see and do in Reading
PUBLISHED: 09:38 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:39 25 June 2019
A historic abbey, must-visit museums, green spaces and gastronomic delights on the waterfront… it can only be Reading
There are countless reasons why you may visit our county town of Reading. Perhaps it's time to stock up on candles from IKEA, maybe you're taking a tour of the historic Abbey Quarter, or going on a shopping spree at The Oracle? Reading has always been a centre for innovation and industry, thanks to its location between London and Oxford and its position on the Kennet and Avon Canal and River Thames.
Since the 1700s, manufacturing in the town had centred around the 'three bs': beer (thanks to Simonds Brewery), bulbs (produced by Suttons Seeds) and biscuits baked by Huntley & Palmers. These days it's home to multi-national companies such as Microsoft, Cisco and Prudential.
Despite being one of the largest urban areas in the UK, Reading has never been able to gain city status. The first time they tried was in 2000, to celebrate the Millennium, then again in 2002 to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The third attempt came 10 years later to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee; alas, still no success. More frustrating than that must be that the reasons why they were unable to become a city have never been revealed…
It did however win City/Town of the Year in the recent Thames Valley Property Awards 2019. And Reading's 2050 Vision has been developed to support Reading's economic growth and evolution as a smart and sustainable city. Business-led, it has engaged with 21,000 people, 350 businesses and the local authority, supporting the Local Plan in its ambitions for "living within environmental limits and ensuring a strong, healthy and just society". The Vision is already shaping Reading's development, with initiatives such as the Reading-on-Thames Festival; the newly re-opened Reading Abbey being used as a cultural space; a vision for Reading Prison; Reading becoming part of the Great West Way national tourism trail; a Reading-led Smart City project; a trial of new river services and proposals for a new commuter river service.
Other ways in which we think the town fulfills the 'city status' criteria are its cultural centres including the Hexagon, South Street Arts Centre and Progress Theatre. And within the town hall is a 700-seat concert hall. It's also got a plethora of green spaces, with over 100 parks and playgrounds, including over five miles of riverside paths.
The Museum of Reading in the municipal buildings takes visitors through the history of the town, plus it has a full-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry and a gallery dedicated to biscuit makers Huntley & Palmer.
The Reading Festival is the largest of its kind in the UK aside from Glastonbury, and the Reading Beer Festival in King's Meadow has also grown to be one of the largest beer festivals in the UK. Reading also holds Reading Pride, an annual LGBTA festival.
The Madejski Stadium hosts Reading Football Club and London Irish rugby union team, and over 15,000 runners compete in the Reading Half Marathon each year.
So, perhaps it doesn't matter what the decision-makers conclude, to residents and visitors alike, Reading has it all.
Many might automatically think of Broad Street or The Oracle when it comes to shopping in Reading, but there are three smaller shopping arcades and many little independent stores with lots to offer shoppers. There's also a street market in Hosier Street, plus take a look down Union Street, otherwise known as Smelly Alley.
The historic Harris Arcade, located on Friar Street in the centre of Reading, dates from the 1930s and is named after the businessman who owned and
developed the site.
Inside there is an eclectic mix of shops and cafes; the perfect place to buy products that are unavailable on the high street.
"As independent traders we are all focused on helping our customers enjoy the experience of coming to the arcade," says Adrienne Henry, of Adrienne Henry Millinery. "As traders, shop owners and employees we support each other wherever and whenever possible."
Adrienne opened a shop in the arcade by chance. "It suited both myself and the style of hats I design and make. While we are quite central in Reading, the arcade is peaceful and away from the hustle and bustle of the High Street," she says. Adrienne's company offers a bespoke handmade hat service suitable for all occasions.
"Our designs are inspired by styles dating from the 1920s to present day, although my favourite period is the 1950s." If you don't yet have your hat lined up for Ascot this month, perhaps Adrienne and her team could help.
Local chef Paul Clerehugh converted three derelict shops on the riverside by Duke Street Bridge into London Street Brasserie. The building dates back to 1752, originally being the tollhouse into Reading. As you would expect, it is full of character. London Street Brasserie (or LSB as it's commonly known) quickly became a popular foodie destination, winning Michelin recognition and Britain's Best Restaurant.
Owner Paul explains why it remains such a popular gastronomic destination: "The Brasserie is a little riverside sanctuary in the grit and commerce of Reading. People come to experience the wonderful cookery, well-sourced ingredients, as well as the slick, personable service. We have an eclectic menu, British with a twist, Mediterranean flavours, with the occasional oriental nod."
Escape rooms are themed, immersive, puzzle-solving experiences. Just one of the escape rooms to visit in the centre of Reading is TimeTrap, owned by Andrew Ingle and Katie Falcon-Uff. "At TimeTrap, our time-travelling facility, we send you back to the most important points in history to rewrite wrongs and become the hero in your own story," says Andrew. "We have three time periods to travel to... In 1136 you'll become rebels in a period named 'The Anarchy', fighting to recover the crown for the rightful Queen, Matilda (Rebellion). Or take a trip back to an alternate 1863 and into the whacky mind of Lewis Carroll to help restore the forgotten idea for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Imaginarium). Finally, it's wartime 1942 and they might need your help to uncover a spy who's been operating undercover at Bletchley Park and is trying to escape from the station (Station X)!
"Our games are full of exciting puzzles and mind-tingling conundrums woven into awesome themed sets that make it feel like you're in your very own Crystal Maze!"
The Abbey Quarter
The new Reading Abbey Quarter is the place to be right now. It has so much going on, with an exciting and varied events programme for families, adults and groups. Learn about the fascinating 900 years of history in the Abbey Quarter; there's museums and exhibitions to exlore, talks and tours, workshops and more.
Everyone's looking for something fun to do outdoors and with the school holidays coming up it's time to plan something to do that the whole family can be involved in. At the Wokefield Estate, you can experience anything from archery to Zorbing and laser combat. It's all run by Fraser Edmond of Unique Outdoors. "There's so much to do for all ages six years and above," Fraser says. "Battle against family, friends and other guests on the Woodland Laser Combat, test your head for heights on the ropes course or learn the art of archery with our recurve bows. Our experienced instructors will provide a safe experience, support and re-assurance at every stage of your visit."
Activities start from £16 per person.
In Love With The Lido
The Thames Lido reopened to the public on the site of the historical King's Meadow baths in Reading in October 2017. The renovation transformed the Grade-II listed baths into a spa, outdoor pool, restaurant, bar and event space.
If you're looking for somewhere to indulge yourself for a whole day, or just a couple of hours, then the spa is where you should visit. Facilities include the pool, of course, along with a hot tub and sauna. Plus don't forget to treat yourself to a massage.
If you're more of a foodie than a water baby, visit the restaurant or tapas bar. It's open seven days a week and has great views over the pool. On Tuesdays, you can bring your own wine.
Restaurant manager Matt Siadatan sums up the experience: "We are all so busy watching out for what is ahead of us that we don't take time to enjoy where we are. Visit us at Thames Lido and you'll love where you are."
The Haslams building used to be the home of Reading Gas Company's showroom. It was designed by architect George Webb, who also designed The French Horn in Sonning and the Jubilee Fountain in St Mary's Butts. Managing Director Steve Woodford worked with architects Icewit and contractors Triton to realise his vision of transforming the c. 1905 building into a sleek, edgy office, with reclaimed whisky barrel walls and exposed brickwork, retaining some original features. It has a suspended floor and dug-out basement, creating a split-level space, home to Haslams' team.
Claire Slobodian set up the website, Explore Reading, to share her love of the town with other people
Claire Slobodian moved back to Reading in 2016 after six years spent working as a journalist in China. "I was rediscovering my hometown and got fed up of people moaning that there was nothing to do here. So I founded the website, Explore Reading, to share my love of Reading with the rest of the town," she says.
For Claire, Reading isn't just another "clone town". "I love the community and passion. We've got a vibrant indie business scene and a growing cultural community with a real sense of pride in our town. And it's small enough to walk pretty much everywhere," she says.
For those who might be visiting Reading for the first time, or might not know what the town has to offer, Claire could be considered the person in the know to ask what is a must-see.
"First and foremost, walk the Abbey Quarter," she says. "You'll get a sense of Reading's history with a wander around the lovingly restored Reading Abbey, Forbury Gardens, Reading Gaol, St Laurence Church and Reading Museum.
"After all that walking, eat at one of our indie restaurants. Skip the chains, as Reading's got a growing international food scene: Nepalese, Georgian, Lebanese and beyond. Clay's won Explore Reading's best New Restaurant Food Award this year for their delicious, innovative and unique Hydrabadi cuisine.
"For entertainment, you can't beat a show at South Street Arts Centre. Our most exciting cultural hub, it has a brilliant selection of edgy stand-up comics, alternative gigs and award-winning drama."
Editing a website is certainly a demanding task, with plenty of long hours and stress. So what does Claire choose to do in her valuable time off? "I'm a swimmer, so when it's sunny, I love an outdoor dip in the peaceful Thames Lido. I can't brave it in the cold months though, so then I'll get lunch at Shed cafe or Blue Collar Street Food Market and take a walk around our wild and beautiful green space, View Island, followed by a stop at my local, The Nag's Head."
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