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Berkshire’s biggest town has the feel of a city, and an extremely liveable one, with riverside shops and restaurants, vibrant nightlife, and acres of green spaces and urban lakes. Reading owes its 1,400-year history to its prime position where the River Thames meets the River Kennet. The ruins of a 12th-century abbey where Elizabeth I once stayed sit amid the beautifully Victorian Forbury Gardens, which hosts a bustling street food market on Wednesdays.
The nearby Town Hall, with its eye-catching terracotta Gothic design, is home to an eccentric museum collection, including a full-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry, while just a few minutes’ walk away the parkland of Kings and Christchurch meadows offers refuge from the busy streets. Just to the north of the Thames across a stunning pedestrian bridge is Caversham, whose vast lakes are a hub for watersports and whose leafy surroundings and village vibe reflect the charms of the Berkshire countryside.
Reading is incredibly well served for international flight connections. London Heathrow (LHR), with its four runways, is just 30 miles to the east, and you can reach it within an hour on public transport (a short bus ride to Hayes and Harlington, and then a direct train). Rail links to Reading and its surrounding towns are excellent, and the station is in the centre of town, where the major attractions are close to each other and easily walkable. The riverside and nearby lakes have great cycling routes, too, not to mention an easy-to-use bikeshare scheme. Local buses can help you get to and around the suburbs, and taxi and rideshares are widely available.
Spring and summer are both lovely times to be by the water, when the parks and surrounding countryside are a rich green and there’s the best chance of a sunny day. In June, there’s the annual Water Fest, with boat displays, trading stalls, and live entertainment along the Kennet and Avon Canal. The town’s arguably most famous for its huge music festival when 100,000 fans descend with their tents, face paint, and full-lunged enthusiasm at the end of August. But this is an energetic town, and there’s always plenty going on all year round. Try Caversham for autumn walks among the falling leaves, while in winter, the abbey and Forbury Gardens are illuminated as part of the Christmas celebrations.
These recently restored swimming baths are an absolute gem. Built in 1902 as a ladies’ pool, its Edwardian style has been beautifully restored while also housing saunas, spa rooms, and a restaurant. While the outdoor pool is sheltered from view, small windows allow swimmers to see the green surroundings of Kings Meadow and the Thames towpath as they splash about.
The towpath along the Kennet and Avon Canal offers a fascinating urban trail, punctuated by locks and bridges, shops and cafes, and busy wharves whose apartment complexes still preserve some of the area’s former factories and breweries. County Lock is a great place to see boats passing only a stone’s throw from the High Street.
This tiny nature reserve in the middle of the Thames was once a boatyard. Its four tree-covered acres are now a pleasant retreat and a favourite lunchtime spot for locals. You have to cross the rushing Caversham weir to reach it; wander round the path and you’ll find tree stumps carved into faces, or sit still to be rewarded by some excellent bird-spotting.