Insider's Guide to: Reading

Image credit: Andrew Smith

Ok, I’ll admit it straight off. Reading, on the surface, is not a very famous or notable place. It doesn’t have the sheer powerhouse quality of London, nor the idyllic serenity of rural England. When Reading-born Ricky Gervais set the film ‘Cemetery Junction’ in his hometown, he portrayed it as a stifling and inward-looking dump.

However, that was based on a Reading that doesn’t really exist anymore. In actual fact, Reading is now one of the fastest growing towns in England, and is even bigger than some cities - including Cambridge.

It may be one of the best places to be if you’re under the age of 25. Bars and pubs, in addition to a pair of very serviceable Wetherspoons, range from the idiosyncratic ‘The Alehouse’ to the seedy yet stylish ‘The Purple Turtle’ and the grimy ‘Pavlov’s Dog’. For clubbing, look out especially for ‘Skint Mondays’ at Sakura, which is still the best club night I’ve ever been too. The sizeable university helps with this, by stimulating a steady stream of youth-friendly events and establishments.

If you’re looking for a place to eat, Reading is crammed with all the usual chains. Nevertheless, there are some surprises amidst the Pizza Expresses. If you want an independent restaurant, with award-winning pies, ‘Sweeney and Todd’ is the place to go. The pies are to die for, although I wouldn’t worry: they haven’t mimicked the musical too literally. Other notable eateries include ‘The Royal Tandoori’, a fast-food joint called ‘Mekka Hut’, and a fantastic coffee and ice cream shop named ‘Tutti Frutti’. For shopping, Reading is pretty darn good. It has one of the biggest malls in the South – ‘The Oracle’. A huge factor in the town’s regeneration, this place contains every type of store imaginable.

Reading is a very multicultural town. One quarter of its population were not born in the UK, including this writer. Hence, you are never far away from experiencing an entirely different culture. Along Oxford Road lies a whole plethora of shops stocking foreign and exotic foods. Polish, Irish, African and Bangledeshi communities rub shoulders, creating the best type of melting pot.

Admittedly, Reading does not have many “sights”. Still, you can certainly see one or two things while you’re visiting. You could head to the Madejski Stadium for a game of football or rugby, and whilst you’re here, you should probably visit the recently-shut Reading prison. This was where Oscar Wilde was sent after being convicted for homosexuality, and is the source of his ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’. Relax afterwards in the nearby Forbury Gardens: this well-maintained public space is a little oasis of calm amidst the busy town centre.

Reading may quietly do its own thing, but that is increasingly putting it on the map. If you want to discover a growing town in the south of England, but don’t want to go bankrupt after five minutes, Reading town should be your primary destination.

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