Off-the-beaten-path: things to do in Reading

Looking for a day-trip that doesn’t involve a London commute, or a night out that doesn’t involve Park Bar? Here are 9 potential ideas that are in (or around) Reading if you’re bored, or after a change of pace. 

Reload Reading

One word: LASERS. Located close to Rivermead Leisure Complex, the weapons and equipment at Reload are an updated take on traditional clay pigeon shooting, using infra-red, and reusable plastic disks. This is a MUCH cheaper and environmentally friendly methodology, and a great, accessible way to engage in some harmless competitive shooting with friends for 90 minutes. The range is open until mid-evening, and sells soft drinks, hot drinks, and booze (including prosecco by either glass or bottle). Note that rentals are by the BAY, not by person – meaning the more people you bring, the cheaper it’ll be between you. Bookings are required, so check them out online, or give them a call!

Price: £50 per bay. Again, price is per BAY not per person – so booking with 4 other mates will work out to £10 per person, 2 people to £25 per person, etc. Booze ranges from £3-£4, soft-drinks/tea/coffee are £1-£2.

Hours: 1500-1930 (Mon-Fri); 1200-1930 (Sat); 1330-1630 (Sun).

Notes: Cashless business.

Travel time from campus: 20 minutes by car.

Eclectic Games

This specialist store is a retail outlet with games of every variety, from easy-going tile-laying house-party games, to card-based ice-breakers for a large group of new people, to hardcore, multi-hour co-op strategy challenges. Staff are friendly and knowledgeable – tell them what kind of game you’re after, your level of experience with board-games, and they’ll whip out helpful suggestions in no time. Eclectic Games goes beyond just retail, however – it’s also a family-friendly play-space with a game-room, where the owners host game nights and open events where you can try of the shop’s insane roster of 1800+ games (check their calendar!). It’s also the one of the central points of Reading’s thriving, highly active board-gamer community.

Price: Game nights are free for first-timers, then £3 per person. Game purchases run the gamut from a few quid all the way up to a hundred pounds or more.

Hours: Generally 1000-2300 on weekdays, 1000-1700 on weekends.

Notes: Note that there is a code of conduct, especially as it’s a family-friendly location.

Travel time from campus: about 20 minutes by bus via the 21 – it’s right off Friar St.

Feathers and Fur Falconry Centre

Owned and headed by passionate falconer Sadie Shepard, this licensed falconry centre houses a broad variety of falcons, owls, hawks, buzzards, and other birds of prey, most of whom are featured on the centre’s Instagram (side- note: Pip’s a real cutie, and Dobby is bewildered by your decisions) alongside the centre’s other, non-bird residents. The location offers a wide variety of experiences, including Hawk Walk, Half-Day Bird of Prey Experience, Family Falconry Experience, and a LONG list of others. All are AMAZING opportunities to learn about birds of prey, the basics of falconry and handling, watching the birds in action, and also to get some sweet, sweet photo opportunities (though if you’re doing this specifically for the ‘gram, I’d recommend their dedicated photography sessions). Informative, entertaining, and peaceful, this one is VERY well worth the day out!

Price: Centre is free to visit, experience ranges from £35- £125. If you’re going with children – there’s also a £15, one -our Owl experience for juniors.

Hours: 1000-1600 (Tues- Fri), 1000-1730 (Sat)

Notes: Attached to Ladd’s Garden Centre, which might be easier for your GPS to locate – check their directions if you’re unsure!

Travel time from campus: About 20 minutes by car via the A4.

Whittington’s Tea Barge

High tea on a boat! Owned and operated by Lesley and Andrew Banks, this airy barge was converted into an unusual tea-room in 2012, with the goal of preserving the tradition of British tea-rooms – as well as cooking some damn good food.

Consistently rated as one of the top activities in Reading by TripAdvisor, the barge is comfortable and cosy, and the love put into this project shows. The home-made food (ingredients all sourced locally) is simple, yet consistently excellent and wholesome (even the Full English, somehow), cakes/cream teas are sweet and satisfying, and the tea is AMAZING. This isn’t PG Tips chucked in a mug, but properly infused, fragrant tea-leaves served in real china tea-sets (this place had a significant hand in converting me from coffee to good tea as my hot drink of choice, and not least because of the aesthetic). Most of all though –Whittington’s Tea Barge is laid back, friendly, and relaxed, and hanging out for food here is a great way to spend a weekend morning and/or afternoon by the river. Note that they’re only open Fri-Sun, and only from early Spring to Christmas-time, so check their website before you visit. You don’t generally need a reservation, but it can get busy during holidays when the weather is nice and sometimes gets rented out for events – consider giving them a call before you go!

Price: £7 for a Full English; £6 for a traditional cream tea; sandwiches and other breakfast items range form £3-£6; Whittington’s/Whittington’s Vintage/Whittington’s Vintage Special Occasion Cream Teas range from £11-£19. Totally worth it for an occasion (especially the Vintage Special Occasion Cream Tea, which includes some nice bubbly)

Hours: 1100-1600 (Fri), 1030-1630 (weekends)

Notes: Vegetarian and vegan options available. Also – you MIGHT spot Neo-Soul and Jazz artist Naomi Banks hanging out inside (Whittington’s belongs to her family).

Travel time from campus: 11 minutes’ drive, or 25 minutes by bus (plus a bit of walking)

Reading Climbing Centre

Looking for a sport, but not feeling anything on RUSU’s roster? Consider a walk to Reading’s family-friendly indoor climbing centre, where you can try either bouldering (low-moderate height, crash pads underneath, no extra equipment beyond climbing shoes and chalk for your hands), or belay-climbing (medium-high climbs, harnesses and ropes, and someone holding the rope at the bottom). Half test of endurance, and half 3-D puzzle, I’d recommend climbing to anyone after a zen, addictive, highly physically and mentally challenging activity that isn’t quite as punishing on the lungs as the University’s more cardio-heavy, traditional sports. Different grips, techniques, and difficulty are sorted in color-coded routes of progressive challenge, meaning you can track and manage your progress (and leave the whackier techniques for when you feel more ready. Climbing takes patience, perseverance, and the ability to push your body safely and methodically, often over the space of weeks. Tips for newcomers: use your legs more, rely on your upper body strength less, and if you can’t land a route, go rest and come back another day, when your body has had a chance to heal, and your fingers and forearms a chance to strengthen. Also – the Café is REALLY nice, with artisan coffee, cakes, donuts, and home-made pizzas (I’ve spent more than one day there, alternating between studying/eating and climbing). If you find yourself going regularly, consider investing in chalk and maybe some shoes at the centre’s equipment store.

Price: £20 for an adult intro class. Thereafter (or if you’ve climbed before) – day pass for £11 + equipment rental (but ask about student prices). Chalk and shoes rental will bring it up to £17, belay climbing gear up to £23.

Hours: 0930-2200 (Mon-Fri) 0930-1900 (Sat and Sun)

Notes: Often crowded in the evenings and weekends (as families and after-work crowds turn up). The Mountaineering Society makes weekly trips here so join up if you’d like to go with a group!

Travel time from campus: Half-hour walk.

Basildon Park

One of Berkshire’s several National Trusts, Basildon Park makes for a lovely day-trip at a really popular filming location for period-pieces: visitors might recognise locations Pride and Prejudice (2005), Marie Antoinette (2006), and (most importantly) the interior of Downtown Abbey’s Grantham House. Basildon Park is much more than just a pretty space however, and features a tea-room, home-ware shop, a wide roster of family-friendly events, a dog-friendly 400-acre parkland, and several hiking trails ranging from 3-7 miles. The trails go through great examples of Berkshire’s woodland habitats, including several large examples of Britain’s rare and endangered grasslands. With panoramic views of Thames Valley, quaint villages, and some of the best views of West Berkshire’s downlands, Basildon Park and its hiking routes are well worth a visit.

Price: £13 entry for non-members.

Hours: Generally 1000-1700.

Notes: There are occasional closures for filming, so check the calendar before you head out!

Travel time from campus: About 30 minutes by car (realistically, a car is necessary to get here).

The Herb Farm

The Herb Farm is a cozy plant nursery, display garden, and peaceful haven for the aspiring gardener – the extensive collection of tender herbs, saplings, specialist plants and seeds are stocked here seasonally, and the store also sells gardening equipment. It also stocks a selection of rustic homeware, and a pretty good selection of gift-worthy foods such as artisanal jams, chutneys, local honey varieties and a selection of traditional sweets. And if you’re feeling a walk, check out the Farm’s impressive Saxon maze. Developed in 1991, this hedge-maze occupies over a mile’s worth of twisting beech hedge paths, grown into the shape of a Saxon-style representation of sea creatures. It’s undergoing long-term regeneration at the moment, but is still fully accessible and lovely during warmer weather. The Herb Farm Café is also worth visiting on its own merits – occupying a converted barn house, their lunch and breakfast menus are hearty, filling, and all made fresh with locally produced/grown ingredients. Their cream tea is also lovely though if you’re after something different, try the gardener’s tea (with savory scones, caramelized chutney, and cheddar). If you can drive, and you’re blessed with good weather –this is a potentially cute date location.

Price: Free entry

Hours: 0900 – 1700 (Mon- Sat), 1000 – 1630 (Sun and Bank Holidays)

Travel time from campus: about 20 minutes by car (again – largely impractical by public transport)

The Hexagon

For theatre buffs, Reading’s got a pretty active live performance scene, and the town’s big theatre is The Hexagon, located just off St. Mary’s Butts (5 minutes from Purple Turtle). Check out their website for offerings, be it live classical music, touring performances, or even just cultural open days. And if theatre is your scene – check out Reading Arts and RUDS for more events and performances! Want to make a full evening of it? Pair a trip to The Hexagon with the pre-theatre menu deal at Clay’s Hyderbadi Restaurant, or an early dinner at Pepe Sale.

Price: Dependent on event, but a seat in the arena generally ranges from £15-£30+.

Hours: generally 1000-1700 (Mon-Fri), but dependent on event

Notes: Hexagon Café, Coffee Bar, and Balcony Bar collectively sell food, drink, snacks, and both cold and hot meals. You can order certain drinks at the bar before the show so you don’t have to queue during the interval!

Travel time from campus: About 25 minutes from campus on the 21.

Pennybridge Alpaca Experience

ALPACAS! No further explanation necessary.

Price: alpaca.

Notes: alpaca.

Travel time from campus: alpaca.


Bonus ideas:

Night at the cinema!

Vue Cinema  – with £5.99 tickets, and located at Oracle Riverside (right in town centre) – you’ll be hard-pressed to beat this for convenience and price.

Reading Film Theatre – located right on campus (Palmer building), Reading Film Theatre is open to the public, and it is also the region’s only independent cinema. You can catch lower-budget, independent, and foreign language films alongside the usual blockbusters, for just £5 per student (or, if you purchase an annual membership- £1 for a single ticket. Unbelievable steal).

Showcase Cinema de Lux – a bit further out (about 20-30 minutes from near Bridges Hall, if you’re going by bus), tickets here are pricier, starting at £11.35 for general entry. The experience reflects the price though– styled after an American Movie Theatre, Showcase is a huge, multi-tiered, 14-screen cinema.

General entry tickets will get you customizable recliner seats, 360 Dolby Atmos sound, and ultra-HD projection (while more expensive tickets give you an array of further options including real-D 3D, and Sony Digital 4k screens). The cinema even has a lounge, bar, and rentable party space, alongside a wide selection of sodas, hot foods, sweets, ice-cream flavors, and popcorn – as well as free parking in an enormous lot, and a café.

Summer Screens – this outdoor film screening at Reading Abbey Ruins is a seasonal event (running from June – August). You can bring your own blankets with a general entry ticket (though some ticket options include the use of beanbags and blankets, if you don’t feel like carrying). Meanwhile deckchair, beanbag, double-deckchair, and double-beanbag ticket options will get you complimentary snacks and a drink, as well as prime viewing spots.  There’s also a bar, bar-snacks, and hot food options available. This event is wildly popular and books out very quickly – so keep an eye on the website (or one of their social media accounts), and buy early when you see an opening!

One of Reading’s Escape Rooms!

For the uninitiated – escape rooms are an immersive blend of gaming and interactive theatre, where you and a group of your friends are locked into a series of rooms, which you must escape by solving a range of puzzles – all of varying complexity – before the clock runs out. Escape rooms are themed, and can range from ‘Dr. Who’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’, to Vikings, monsters, and serial killers – each comes with unique challenges and storylines. Tense and challenging, these are great exercises in lateral thinking, and fast teamwork. Reading’s town centre has several escape room organisations, all within walking distance from one another. Check out Time Trap, Escape Hunt, or Escape Reading, and book a session with friends!

Written by Elliot Kim

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