Reading (England)

Reading (pronounced like "redding", not "reeding") is a town in Berkshire in the South East of England. Its main attractions are the medieval abbey ruins, the rivers Thames and Kennet, the surrounding Thames Valley countryside, a major shopping center, restaurant and pubs.

Reading Minster, St Mary's Butts in the centre of Reading

Understand

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, in recent years, 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, located near the center of town, have recently been restored to their original Victorian splendor. 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 jail in which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality and where he composed his famous ballad. These days it is mainly a remand prison for young offenders.

Reading is at the heart of an attractive area of the Thames Valley, sitting across the confluence of the Thames and Kennet rivers amid green rolling hills, thatched cottages and pubs. It is surrounded by numerous small towns and villages such as Thatcham, Pangbourne and Streatley, many of which are of great age and beauty. Much of it is now part of the Chilterns 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 routes, both rail and road. 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 technically a city. To become a city in the UK a royal charter is required, and to gain a charter the town previously to have to contain a cathedral. Because of Reading's large abbey, a cathedral was never built there, so Reading was never formally 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, most recently 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 recently 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 located 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.

Get in

By plane

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.

By train

Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.

Reading is served by inter-city and regional train services from many different directions, including through services from Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Oxford, Plymouth, Exeter, Cornwall, Portsmouth, Southampton, Swansea, Winchester and York as well as 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.

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 one hour 25 minutes and so is only suitable for travellers from south west London.

Train times can be found on the National Rail Planner or by calling 0845 748 4950 from anywhere in the UK.

By coach and bus

By car

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.

Get around

By foot

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.

By bus

Buses provide a moderately good way of getting around Reading itself (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.

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 £8 (reduced to £5 in the school holidays or weekends).

NB: Be warned that 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.

By taxi

There are two sorts of taxis operating in Reading, although only black cabs are strictly allowed to call themselves taxis:

By car

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.

By bicycle

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.

See

Central Reading

The Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens
The ruins of the abbey

Reading has several interesting sights to see within the central area.

Surrounding Area

There are also many interesting things to see around Reading.

Do

River trips

There are lots of things to do in and around Reading. You could try taking a river trip:

Walks

Or there are many possible walks in the area:

Festivals

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 also hosts a number of smaller, community based events during the year:

Sports

Reading has a well established professional football team. Reading FC, who, after winning promotion from the Championship in 2012, currently compete in the Barclays Premier League in the 2012-2013 season.

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. Renewed in 2008, the contract is now extended 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.

Learn

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 situated two miles from the town centre and is based on the beautiful 321 acre 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. Recently, 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. 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 mergered with the College in 2004.

Reading is also the home of several commercial English language summer schools, including:

Work

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.

Buy

Shopping

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.

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.

Jackson's Corner is an old-fashioned department store with the original wooden shelves and an Are You Being Served vibe - there is only one card payment machine in the whole store. It is an excellent place to shop for knitting wool or handicrafts as it carries several lines that John Lewis does not.

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.

Money

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 ATM's in the Oracle Shopping Centre (see above) and the Rail Station.

Eat

Central Reading

The following restaurants are all within walking distance of central Reading.

The following chains have branches in central Reading:

Surrounding Villages

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.

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.

Drink

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.

Sleep

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.

Stay safe

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.

Connect

Phone

Reading's area code (for landline numbers) is 0118 when dialled from within the UK or +44 118 from outside the UK.

Cellphone coverage is generally good within the town and surrounding area; not surprisingly as most UK cellphone companies are headquartered in the vicinity.

Internet

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. A list of pubs, bars and cafe's in Reading with free WiFi hotspots can be found here

There are also several places that offer web and other internet access if you are travelling without a laptop. These include:

Cope

Maps

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:

These maps can be found in any good bookshop in Reading (see 'Buy' section below), or can be bought online .

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, January 16, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.