Why Reading is worth a visit

PUBLISHED: 16:25 11 June 2008 | UPDATED: 14:34 20 February 2013

The Oracle is a spectacular complex on both banks of the river Kennet

The Oracle is a spectacular complex on both banks of the river Kennet

It's Berkshire's shopping mecca, with all the chains, plus a few surprises, says Lucy Allen...

It's Berkshire's shopping mecca, with all the chains, plus a few surprises, says Lucy Allen...

So why is Reading worth a visit?

Once a small market town, Reading is now one of the country's top ten shopping destinations, thanks mainly to The Oracle, a spectacular complex on both banks of the river Kennet. But the essence of the original town remains, especially in the area around the imposing Victorian Gothic Town Hall and St Lawrence's Church.

This is where the old market was held, and these days stalls are once again being set up occasionally in the pedestrianised Butter Market, which was refurbished last year. If you haven't been to Reading for a few years, you'll be surprised to see the new Forbury Square, with al fresco eating space overlooking the impressive Forbury Gardens.

Above: Create your own bear at the Build-A-Bear Workshop

What will we find?
Like any town of its size, Reading is home to all the major high street chains, but many shoppers are drawn by the three huge department stores, John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser.

The latter two are in The Oracle, which is also home to 90 stores ranging from fashion to music and books. John Lewis is on Broad Street, the pedestrianised main shopping street, which also houses a large Marks & Spencer, Next, East, Monsoon and a new H&M newly opened on the corner of Union Street, otherwise known as Smelly Alley.

In King Street, at the end of Broad Street, look out for The Walk, a collection of restaurants and boutiques including Pudding Lingerie, which features labels such as Rigby & Peller, S.P.A.N.K and La Perla.

How do we get there?
From the M4, take junctions 10 or 11 for easiest access to the town centre, allowing about 15 minutes from the motorway. Trains converge on Reading from all over the country, with a fast service running to and from London taking 25 minutes.

Where do we park?
There are car parks in The Oracle and Broad Street Mall, as well as Queen's Road. Coming from north of the town, park in the pay and display at Hill's Meadow and walk across Reading bridge to avoid the traffic in the town centre and pay less. Coming from the east, use the Park & Ride at Winnersh for easy access to the town centre.

Above: Pravins chocolate Tahitan cultured pearl, £1750

What's on offer?
If it's designer fashion you want, head to Debenhams or House of Fraser, both of which have many concessions. High street fashion brands are in The Oracle and on Broad Street, with the high end, like Hobbs, Jigsaw and Coast all at the Minster Street end of the shopping complex. Zara, Mango and Reiss also make The Oracle worth a visit.

Don't miss the Italian market on the banks of the river at the end of this month (June 27 -29) featuring Italian foods and goods.

For interiors, New Heights has recently opened in Chain Street, a tiny street running past the back of the St Mary the Virgin, Reading's Minster Church, while at the Minster Street entrance to The Oracle, there is also a Pier.

Brides can find plenty of inspiration in Reading, with a branch of website-turned-real store Confetti in Friar Street, as well as two independent bridal shops, Bride to Be in the Broad Street Mall, and Gio in Cheapside.

Those searching for gifts should head for one of Reading's oldest and quirkiest shops, But Is It Art?, which moved last year to Queen Victoria Street, a quaint pedestrianised street linking Broad Street to Friar Street.

Speaking of art, The Lemongrove Gallery in Minster Street, showcases a number of popular contemporary artists, including Bray-based Rolf Harris. Other well-known and highly collectable artists include Jack Vettriano and Sherree Valentine Daines.

In The Oracle, Build-A-Bear Workshop is a favourite with children, who get the chance to select a bear's body then stuff it and stitch it up before naming it and dressing it.

For jewellery, there is a range of options, with family jewellers Jacobs in King Street one of the best known locally. Pravins in The Oracle and Robert Gatward in Chain Street are also worth a visit.

When you've shopped till you've dropped
Head for Forbury Square, where you can choose from a Carluccio's restaurant with outside tables, or the upmarket Forbury's Restaurant & Wine Bar. On one side of the square, the new Forbury Hotel, in the converted Old Shire Hall building, features Cerise, a relaxed, yet sophisticated place for lunch.

If you're in The Oracle, there is a huge range of eateries including Tootsies, Wagamama and La Strada. Those in the know will make a beeline to the London Street Brasserie, though, lured by its popular owner Paul Clerehugh, the man who cooked bangers and mash for Kate Winslet's wedding.

Above: Flame from Amelie at Pudding

If the sun is shining, you can drink champagne on its small terrace by one of the oldest bridges over the Kennet and watch the ducks glide by while the madness continues in The Oracle just a stone's throw away.


If you drop into Edwards & Godding, the authorised Aga distributor for the area, on May 31 between 10am - 2pm at their Reading showroom in Loverock Road, you can catch home economist James McIntosh hosting an open day, giving visitors a chance to taste his delicious food with Edwards & Godding staff on hand to answer any questions.

Purchase an Aga from Edwards & Godding between 19 May and 31 July and they will offset the carbon emissions of the Aga's fuel consumption for a whole year. For more information call 01189 393046.

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