The first evidence for Reading as a settlement dates from the 8th century. By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, and tax returns show that Reading was the 10th largest town in England when measured by taxable wealth. By 1611, it had a population of over 5000 and had grown rich on its trade in cloth. The 18th century saw the beginning of a major iron works in the town and the growth of the brewing trade for which Reading was to become famous. During the 19th century, the town grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. It is ranked the UK's top economic area for economic success and wellbeing, according to factors such as employment, health, income and skills. Reading is also a major regional retail centre serving a large area of the Thames Valley, and is home to the University of Reading. Every year it hosts the Reading Festival, one of England's biggest music festivals. Sporting teams based in Reading include Reading Football Club and the London Irish rugby union team, and over 15,000 runners annually compete in the Reading Half Marathon.
In the 2001 census, the urban sub-division of Reading had an estimated population of 232,662, making it the largest settlement in the UK without city status. The borough of Reading has a population of 162,700 (mid-2016 est.). It is represented in Parliament by two members, and has been continuously represented there since 1295. For ceremonial purposes the town is in the county of Berkshire and has served as its county town since 1867, previously sharing this status with Abingdon-on-Thames. It is in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. Reading is 75 miles (121 km) east of Bristol, 25 miles (40 km) south of Oxford, 42 miles (68 km) west of London, 17 miles (27 km) north of Basingstoke, 13 miles (21 km) south-west of Maidenhead and 20 miles (32 km) east of Newbury.
Reading may date back to the Roman occupation of Britain, possibly as a trading port for Calleva Atrebatum. However, the first clear evidence for Reading as a settlement dates from the 8th century, when the town came to be known as Readingum. The name probably comes from the Readingas, an Anglo-Saxon tribe whose name means Reada's People in Old English, or less probably the Celtic Rhydd-Inge, meaning Ford over the River. In late 870, an army of Danes invaded the kingdom of Wessex and set up camp at Reading. On 4 January 871, in the first Battle of Reading, King Ethelred and his brother Alfred the Great attempted unsuccessfully to breach the Danes' defences. The battle is described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and that account provides the earliest known written record of the existence of Reading. The Danes remained in Reading until late in 871, when they retreated to their winter quarters in London.
After the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror gave land in and around Reading to his foundation of Battle Abbey. In its 1086 Domesday Book listing, the town was explicitly described as a borough. The presence of six mills is recorded: four on land belonging to the king and two on the land given to Battle Abbey. Reading Abbey was founded in 1121 by Henry I, who is buried within the Abbey grounds. As part of his endowments, he gave the abbey his lands in Reading, along with land at Cholsey. It is not known how badly Reading was affected by the Black Death that swept through England in the 14th century, but it is known that the abbot of Reading Abbey, Henry of Appleford, was one of its victims in 1361, and that nearby Henley lost 60% of its population. The Abbey was largely destroyed in 1538 during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. The last abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, was subsequently tried and convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered in front of the Abbey Church.
By 1525, Reading was the largest town in Berkshire, and tax returns show that Reading was the 10th largest town in England when measured by taxable wealth. By 1611, it had a population of over 5000 and had grown rich on its trade in cloth, as instanced by the fortune made by local merchant John Kendrick. Reading played an important role during the English Civil War. Despite its fortifications, it had a Royalist garrison imposed on it in 1642. The subsequent Siege of Reading by Parliamentary forces succeeded in April 1643. The town's cloth trade was especially badly damaged, and the town's economy did not fully recover until the 20th century. Reading played a significant role during the Revolution of 1688: the second Battle of Reading was the only substantial military action of the campaign.
The 18th century saw the beginning of a major iron works in the town and the growth of the brewing trade for which Reading was to become famous. Reading's trade benefited from better designed turnpike roads which helped it establish its location on the major coaching routes from London to Oxford and the West Country. In 1723, despite considerable local opposition, the Kennet Navigation opened the River Kennet to boats as far as Newbury. Opposition stopped when it became apparent that the new route benefited the town. After the opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1810, one could go by barge from Reading to the Bristol Channel. From 1714, and probably earlier, the role of county town of Berkshire was shared between Reading and Abingdon.
During the 19th century, the town grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre. The Great Western Railway arrived in 1841, followed by the South Eastern Railway in 1849 and the London and South Western Railway in 1856. The Summer Assizes were moved from Abingdon to Reading in 1867, effectively making Reading the sole county town of Berkshire, a decision that was officially approved by the Privy Council in 1869. The town became a county borough under the Local Government Act 1888. The town has been famous for the Three Bs of beer (1785–2010, Simonds' Brewery), bulbs (1837–1974, Suttons Seeds), and biscuits (1822–1976, Huntley and Palmers).
The town continued to expand in the 20th century, annexing Caversham across the River Thames in Oxfordshire in 1911. Compared to many other English towns and cities, Reading suffered little physical damage during either of the two World Wars that afflicted the 20th century, although many citizens were killed or injured in the conflicts. One significant air raid occurred on 10 February 1943, when a single Luftwaffe plane machine-gunned and bombed the town centre, resulting in 41 deaths and over 100 injuries.
The Lower Earley development, built in 1977, was one of the largest private housing developments in Europe. It extended the urban area of Reading as far as the M4 motorway, which acts as the southern boundary of the town. Further housing developments have increased the number of modern houses and hypermarkets in the outskirts of Reading. A major town-centre shopping centre, The Oracle, opened in 1999, is named after the 17th century Oracle workhouse, which once occupied a small part of the site. It provides three storeys of shopping space and boosted the local economy by providing 4,000 jobs.
As one of the largest urban areas in the United Kingdom to be without city status, Reading has bid for city status on three recent occasions — in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium; in 2002 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II; and 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. All three bids were unsuccessful.
Local government for the town of Reading is principally provided by Reading Borough Council, a single level unitary authority without civil parishes. However some of the town's outer suburbs are in West Berkshire and Wokingham unitary authorities. These outer suburbs belong to civil parishes, in some cases with their own town status. Reading has elected at least one Member of Parliament to every Parliament since 1295. Historically, Reading was represented by the members for the Parliamentary Borough of Reading, and the parliamentary constituencies of Reading, Reading North, and Reading South. Since the 2010 general election, Reading and its surrounding area has been divided between the parliamentary constituencies of Reading East and Reading West. The whole of the town is within the multi-member South East England European constituency.
Reading is the site of both a Crown Court, administering criminal justice, and a County Court, responsible for civil cases. Lesser matters are dealt with in a local Magistrates' Court.
Reading has had some degree of local government autonomy since 1253, when the local merchant guild was granted a royal charter. Since then, the town has been run by a borough corporation, as a county borough, and as a district of Berkshire. The Borough of Reading became a unitary authority area in 1998, when Berkshire County Council was abolished under the Banham Review, and is now responsible for all aspects of local government within the borough.
Prior to the 16th century, civic administration for the town of Reading was situated in the Yield Hall, a guild hall situated by the River Kennet near today's Yield Hall Lane. After a brief stay in what later became Greyfriars Church, the town council created a new town hall by inserting an upper floor into the refectory of the Hospitium of St John, the former hospitium of Reading Abbey. For some 400 years up to the 1970s, this was to remain the site of Reading's civic administration through the successive rebuilds that eventually created today's Town Hall. In 1976, Reading Borough Council moved to the new Civic Centre. In 2014, they moved again to civic offices in a refurbished existing office building on Bridge Street, in order to facilitate the demolition and redevelopment of the previous site.
The government of the Borough of Reading follows the leader and cabinet model. Following the 2011 local elections, a Labour minority administration replaced the previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition on the casting vote of the mayor. The borough also has a (largely ceremonial) mayor. Cllr Sarah Hacker has been the mayor of Reading since May 2015.
Since 1887, the borough has included the former villages of Southcote and Whitley and small parts of Earley and Tilehurst. By 1911, it also encompassed the Oxfordshire village of Caversham and still more of Tilehurst. A small area of Mapledurham parish was added in 1977. An attempt to take over a small area of Eye and Dunsden parish in Oxfordshire was rejected because of strong local opposition in 1997. Today the borough itself is unparished, and the wards used to elect the borough councillors generally ignore the old parish boundaries and use invented ward names.
Reading's municipal boundaries do not include all of the surrounding suburbs, some of which (Tilehurst, Calcot, Earley and Woodley) are, at least partly within West Berkshire or Wokingham Borough. This unusual configuration creates difficulties. The diminishing amount of land available and suitable for development within the borough's boundary can bring the council into conflict with its neighbours' development plans. This particularly affects education (many schools have catchment areas that cross administrative boundaries), and transport. A perennial example is whether to construct a third road crossing of the Thames, which South Oxfordshire's politicians and residents oppose. On this subject, Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, said in a House of Commons debate in January 2006:
"However, the process has been painfully slow and it appears that, for every two steps forwards, there are three steps backwards—mainly because of the view of South Oxfordshire district council, which is being incredibly parochial about this matter. Meanwhile, Reading Borough Council is adopting strategies that prioritise local traffic in Reading, obviously to the detriment of through traffic. We have now reached the point at which we desperately need direct Government intervention to break the logjam between those local authorities."
'As the crow flies' Reading is 36 miles (58 km) due west of central London, 24 miles (39 km) southeast of Oxford, 70 miles (110 km) east of Bristol, and 50 miles (80 km) north of the English south coast. The centre of Reading is on a low ridge between the River Thames and River Kennet, close to their confluence, reflecting the town's history as a river port. Just above the confluence, the Kennet cuts through a narrow steep-sided gap in the hills forming the southern flank of the Thames floodplain. The absence of a floodplain on the Kennet in this defile enabled the development of wharves.
As Reading has grown, its suburbs have spread: to the west between the two rivers into the foothills of the Berkshire Downs as far as Calcot, Tilehurst and Purley; to the south and south-east on the south side of the Kennet as far as Whitley Wood, Lower Earley and Woodley; and to the north of the Thames into the Chiltern Hills as far as Caversham Heights, Emmer Green and Caversham Park Village. Outside the central area, the floors of the valleys containing the two rivers remain largely unimproved floodplain. Apart from the M4 curving to the south there is only one road across the Kennet floodplain. All other routes between the three built-up areas are in the central area, which is a cause of road congestion there.
The floodplains adjoining Reading's two rivers are subject to occasional flooding. However, in the 2007 floods that affected much of the UK, no properties were affected by flooding from the Thames and only four properties were affected by flooding from the Kennet.
Depending on the definition adopted, neither the town nor the urban area are necessarily coterminous with the borough. Historically, the town of Reading was smaller than the borough. Definitions include the old ecclesiastical parishes of the churches of St Mary, St Laurence and St Giles, or the even smaller pre-19th century borough. Today, as well as the town centre Reading comprises a number of suburbs and other districts, both within the borough itself and within the surrounding urban area. The names and location of these suburbs are in general usage but, except where some of the outer suburbs correspond to civil parishes, there are no formally defined boundaries. The Reading town area, sometimes referred to as Greater Reading, incorporates the town's eastern and western suburbs outside the borough, in the civil parishes of Earley, Woodley, Purley and Tilehurst. The Reading urban area (officially Reading/Wokingham) additionally includes Winnersh, Wokingham and Crowthorne with an overall population of around 320,000 inhabitants.
Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Reading has a maritime climate, with limited seasonal temperature ranges and generally moderate rainfall throughout the year. The nearest official Met Office weather station is located at the Reading University Atmospheric Observatory on the Whiteknights Campus, which has recorded atmospheric measurements and meteorological observations since 1970. The local absolute maximum temperature of 36.4 °C (97.5 °F) was recorded in August 2003 and the local absolute minimum temperature of −14.5 °C (5.9 °F) was recorded in January 1982.
The borough has a population of 162,700 and a population density of 4,026 per square kilometre (10,427/sq mi) (mid-2016 est.), while the Office for National Statistics' definition of the urban sub-division/town of Reading is significantly larger at 232,662 (2001 census) people in an area of 51.14 square kilometres (19.75 sq mi), ranking ranked 23th in the United Kingdom. This urban subdivision is itself a component of the Reading/Wokingham Urban Area which had a population of 318,014 in the 2011 census, and is the most populous town in the United Kingdom not to have city status.
According to the 2011 census, 74.8% of the borough population were described as White (65.3% White British), 9.1% as South Asian, 6.7% as Black, 3.9% Mixed, 4.5% as Chinese and 0.9% as other ethnic group. In 2010 it was reported that Reading has 150 different spoken languages within its population. Reading has a large Polish community, which dates back over 30 years, and in October 2006 the Reading Chronicle printed 5,000 copies of a Polish edition called the Kronika Reading.
Reading is an important commercial centre in the Thames Valley and Southern England. The town hosts the headquarters of several British companies and the UK offices of foreign multinationals, as well as being a major retail centre. Whilst located close enough to London to be sometimes regarded as part of the London commuter belt, Reading is a net inward destination for commuters. During the morning peak period, there are some 30,000 inward arrivals in the town, compared to 24,000 departures.
Major companies BG Group, ING Direct, Microsoft, Oracle Hibu (formerly Yell Group), have their headquarters in Reading. The insurance company Prudential has an administration centre in the town. PepsiCo and Wrigley have offices. Reading has a significant historical involvement in the information technology industry, largely as a result of the early presence in the town of sites of International Computers Limited and Digital. Other technology companies with a significant presence in the town include Agilent Technologies, Cisco, Ericsson, Symantec, Verizon Business, and Commvault These companies are distributed around Reading or just outside the borough boundary, some in business parks including Thames Valley Park in nearby Earley, Green Park Business Park and Arlington Business Park.
Reading town centre is a major shopping centre. In 2007, an independent poll placed Reading 16th in a league table of best performing retail centres in the UK. The main shopping street is Broad Street, which runs between The Oracle in the east and Broad Street Mall in the west and was pedestrianised in 1995. The smaller Friars Walk in Friar Street is closed and will be demolished if the proposed Station Hill redevelopment project goes ahead. There are three major department stores in Reading: John Lewis Reading (formerly known as Heelas), Debenhams and House of Fraser. The Broad Street branch of bookseller Waterstone's is a conversion of a nonconformist chapel dating from 1707. Besides the two major shopping malls, Reading has three smaller shopping arcades, the Bristol and West Arcade, Harris Arcade and The Walk, which contain smaller specialist stores. An older form of retail facility is represented by Union Street, popularly known as Smelly Alley. Reading has no indoor market, but there is a street market in Hosier Street. A farmers' market operates on two Saturdays a month.
Every year Reading hosts the Reading Festival, which has been running since 1971. The festival takes place on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend and is the largest of its kind in the UK aside from the Glastonbury Festival. For some twenty years until 2006, Reading was also known for its WOMAD Festival until it moved to Charlton Park in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The Reading Beer Festival was first held in 1994 and has now grown to one of the largest beer festivals in the UK. It is held at King's Meadow for the five days immediately preceding the May Day bank holiday every year. Reading also holds Reading Pride, an annual LGBTA festival in Kings Meadow.
The Frank Matcham-designed Royal County Theatre, built in 1895, was located on the south side of Friar Street. It burned down in 1937. Within the town hall is a 700-seat concert hall that houses a Father Willis organ. Reading theatre venues include The Hexagon and South Street Arts Centre. Amateur theatre venues in Reading include Progress Theatre, a self-governing, self-funding theatre group and registered charity founded in 1947 that operates and maintains its own 97-seat theatre.
The demonym for a person from Reading is Redingensian, giving the name of the local rugby team Redingensians, based in Sonning, and of former members of Reading School. An alternative demonym is Readingite.
Jane Austen attended Reading Ladies Boarding School, based in the Abbey Gateway, in 1784–86.
Mary Russell Mitford lived in Reading for a number of years and then spent the rest of her life just outside the town at Three Mile Cross and Swallowfield. The fictional Belford Regis of her eponymous novel, first published in 1835, is largely based on Reading. Described with topographical accuracy, it is still possible to follow the steps of the novel's characters in present-day Reading.
Reading also appears in the works of Thomas Hardy where it is called 'Aldbrickham'. It features most heavily in his final novel, Jude the Obscure, as the temporary home of Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead.
Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol from 1895–97. While there, he wrote his letter De Profundis. After his release, he lived in exile in France and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, based on his experience of the execution of Charles Wooldridge, carried out in Reading Gaol whilst he was imprisoned there.
Ricky Gervais, who is from Reading, made the film Cemetery Junction, which, although filmed elsewhere in the UK, is set in 1970s Reading and is named after a busy junction in East Reading.
Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crimes Division novels, The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear are also placed in Reading, Berkshire.
BBC Two Sitcom Beautiful People based on the memoirs of Simon Doonan is set in Reading in the late 1990s.
The Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens, an unofficial symbol of Reading, commemorates the 328 officers of the Royal Berkshire Regiment who died in the Battle of Maiwand in 1880. The Blade, a fourteen-storey building completed in 2009, is 128 m (420 ft) tall and can be seen from the surrounding area. Jacksons Corner with its prominent sign, former home of Jacksons department store, occupies the corner of Kings Road and High Street, just south of the Market Place.
Reading has six Grade I listed buildings, 22 Grade II* and 853 Grade II buildings, in a wide variety of architectural styles that range from the medieval to the 21st century. The Grade I listed buildings are Reading Abbey, the Abbey Gateway, Greyfriars Church, St Laurence's Church, Reading Minster, and the barn at Chazey Farmhouse on the Warren.
Reading has a local newspaper, the Reading Chronicle, published on Thursdays. The town's other local newspaper, the Reading Post, ceased publication on paper in December 2014, in order transition to an online only format under the title getreading. An online magazine, Alt Reading, publishes articles focusing on arts, entertainment and culture in Reading. A local publishing company, the Two Rivers Press, has published over 70 book titles, many on the topic of local history and art.
Three local radio stations broadcast from Reading: BBC Radio Berkshire, Jack FM Berkshire and Heart Thames Valley. Other local radio stations, such as London's 95.8 Capital FM, Basingstoke's The Breeze and East Berkshire's Time 106.6, can also be received.
Reading has one local television station, That's Thames Valley which broadcasts local news throughout the Greater Reading area. Local television news programmes are the BBC's South Today and ITV's Meridian Tonight are available on BBC One and ITV.
Reading has over 100 parks and playgrounds, including 5 miles (8 km) of riverside paths. In the town centre is Forbury Gardens, a public park built on the site of the outer court of Reading Abbey. The largest public park in Reading is Prospect Park, previously an estate owned by Frances Kendrick but acquired by Reading Corporation in 1901. Reading has five Local nature reserves: Clayfield Copse in Caversham, with the other four McIlroy Park, Blundells Copse, Lousehill Copse and Round Copse all in Tilehurst
The principal National Health Service (NHS) hospital in Reading is the Royal Berkshire Hospital, founded in 1839 and much enlarged and rebuilt since. A second major NHS general hospital, the Battle Hospital, closed in 2005. Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust runs a NHS hospital, Prospect Park Hospital, which specialises in the provision of care for people with mental health and learning disabilities. Reading has three private hospitals: the Berkshire Independent Hospital in Coley Park, the Dunedin Hospital situated on the main A4 Bath Road, and the Circle Hospital at Kennet Island.
The Reading Borough Public Library service dates back to 1877. Initially housed in Reading Town Hall, the central branch of the library relocated in 1985 to a new building on King's Road.
Mains water and sewerage services are provided by Thames Water Utilities Limited, a private sector water supply company, whilst water abstraction and disposal is regulated by the Environment Agency. Reading's water supply is largely derived from underground aquifers, and as a consequence the water is hard.
The commercial energy supplier for electricity and gas is at the consumer's choice. Southern Electric runs the local electricity distribution network, while SGN runs the gas distribution network. A notable part of the local energy infrastructure is the presence of a 2 megawatt (peak) Enercon wind turbine at Green Park Business Park, wired to the local sub-grid. It has the potential to produce 3.5 million units of electricity a year, enough to power over a thousand homes.
The dialling code for fixed-line telephones in Reading is 0118. BT provides fixed-line telephone coverage throughout the town and ADSL broadband internet connection to most areas. Parts of Reading are cabled by Virgin Media, supplying cable television, telephone and broadband internet connections.
Reading's location in the Thames Valley to the west of London has made the town an important location in the nation's transport system.
The town grew up as a river port at the confluence of the Thames and the Kennet. Both of these rivers are navigable, and Caversham Lock, Blake's Lock, County Lock, Fobney Lock and Southcote Lock are all within the borough. Today, navigation is exclusively for purposes of leisure: private and hire boats dominate traffic, while scheduled boat services operate on the Thames from wharves on the Reading side of the river near Caversham Bridge.
Reading was a major staging point on the old Bath Road (A4) from London to Avonmouth, near Bristol. This road still carries local traffic, but has now been replaced for long distance traffic by the M4 motorway, which closely skirts the borough and serves it with three junctions, J10-J12. Other main roads serving Reading include the A33, A327, A329, A4074 and A4155. Within Reading there is the Inner Distribution Road (IDR), a ring road for local traffic. The IDR is linked with the M4 by the A33 relief road. National Express Coaches run out of Reading Coachway, at Junction 12 of the M4. The Thames is crossed by both Reading and Caversham road bridges, while several road bridges cross the Kennet, the oldest surviving one of which is High Bridge.
Reading is a major junction point of the National Rail system, and hence Reading station is a major transfer point and terminus. In a project that finished in 2015, Reading station was redeveloped at a cost of £850m, with grade separation of some conflicting traffic flows, and extra platforms, to relieve severe congestion at this station. Railway lines link Reading to both Paddington and Waterloo stations in London. Other stations in the Reading area are Reading West, Tilehurst and Earley. Green Park railway station is planned on the Reading to Basingstoke Line to serve Green Park Business Park.
There have been two airfields in or near Reading, one at Coley Park and one at Woodley, but they have both closed. The nearest airport is London Heathrow, 25 miles (40 km) away by road. An express bus service named RailAir links Reading with Heathrow, or the airport can be accessed by rail by taking the Paddington train and changing to the Heathrow Connect rail service at Hayes and Harlington railway station.
Today local public transport is largely by road, which is often affected by peak hour congestion in the borough. A frequent local bus network within the borough, and a less frequent network in the surrounding area, are provided by Reading Buses. Other bus operators include First, Arriva South East, Stagecoach and Thames Travel. ReadiBus provides an on-demand transport service for people with restricted mobility in the area.
The OYBike bicycle sharing system operates in Reading, with approximately 15 bicycles and with docking stations at Reading station, Holiday Inn (Basingstoke Road) and Green Park. In March 2011, Reading Borough Council approved a larger scheme similar to Santander Cycles in London, with 1,000 bicycles available at up to 150 docking stations across Reading.
Reading School, founded in 1125, is the 16th oldest school in England. There are six other state secondary schools and 37 state primary schools within the borough, together with a number of private and independent schools and nurseries.
Reading College has provided further education in Reading since 1955, with over 8,500 local learners on over 900 courses.
The University of Reading was established in 1892 as an affiliate of Oxford University. It moved to its London Road Campus in 1904 and to its new Whiteknights Campus in 1947. It took over the Bulmershe College of Higher Education, a teacher training college, in 1989, becoming Bulmershe Court Campus. The Henley Management College, situated in Buckinghamshire and about 10 miles (16 km) from Reading, was taken over in 2008, becoming Greenlands Campus. The University of West London maintains a presence in the town for its higher education students, principally in nursing, but has now divested itself of its previous ownership of Reading College and its further education students.
English language schools located in Reading include Gateway Languages, the English Language Centre, ELC London Street and Eurospeak Language School.
The Museum of Reading opened in 1883 in the town's municipal buildings. It contains galleries relating to the history of Reading and to the excavations of Calleva Atrebatum, together with a full-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry, an art collection, and galleries relating to Huntley and Palmers.
The Museum of English Rural Life, in East Reading, is a museum dedicated to recording the changing face of farming and the countryside in England. It houses designated collections of national importance. It is owned and run by the University of Reading, as are the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, the Cole Museum of Zoology and the Harris Botanic Gardens, all of which can be found on the university's Whiteknights Campus.
The small Riverside Museum at Blake's Lock tells the story of Reading's two rivers, the Kennet and the Thames. In the suburb of Woodley, the Museum of Berkshire Aviation has a collection of aircraft and other artefacts relating to the aircraft industry in the town.
Reading Minster, or the Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin as it is more properly known, is Reading's oldest ecclesiastical foundation, known to have been founded by the 9th century and possibly earlier. Although eclipsed in importance by the later Abbey, Reading Minster has regained its importance since the destruction of the Abbey.
Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121. He was buried there, as were parts of his daughter Empress Matilda, William of Poitiers, Constance of York, and Princess Isabella of Cornwall, among others. The abbey was one of the pilgrimage centres of medieval England; it held over 230 relics including the hand of St. James. Today all that remains of the abbey are the inner rubble cores of the walls of many of the major buildings of the abbey, together with a much restored inner gateway and the intact hospitium.
The medieval borough of Reading was served by three parish churches: Reading Minster, St Giles' Church, and St Laurence's Church. All are still in use by the Church of England. The Franciscan friars built a friary in the town in 1311. After the friars were expelled in 1538, the building was used as a hospital, a poorhouse, and a jail, before being restored as the Church of England parish church of Greyfriars Church in 1863.
The Bishop of Reading is a suffragan bishop within the Church of England's Diocese of Oxford. The bishop is based in Reading, and is responsible for the archdeaconry of Berkshire. There are a total of 18 Church of England parish churches in Reading.
St James's Church was built on a portion of the site of the abbey between 1837–40, and marked the return of the Roman Catholic faith to Reading. Reading was also the site of the death of Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Catholic missionary to England in the 19th century who received John Henry Newman into the Catholic faith. There are now a total of 8 Roman Catholic parish churches in Reading.
In addition to Catholicism and the Church of England denominatons, the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination is also represented in the town - particularly by Reading West SDA Church on Loverock Road, Reading Central SDA Church on Tilehurst Road, and various other churches around Reading.
Reading has had an organised Jewish community since 1886. At least one Jewish family living in the area has been traced back as far as 1842. The group grew to 13 families, who in 1886 declared themselves a community and commenced building a synagogue. On 31 October 1900, Reading Hebrew Congregation officially opened in a solemn public ceremony, packed to capacity with dignitaries, led by the Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler. Reading Hebrew Congregation, which still stands on its original site at the junction of Goldsmid Road and Clifton Street near the town centre, is a Grade II-listed building, built to a traditional design in the Moorish style. The community is affiliated with the Orthodox United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. In 2015, the Jewish Community of Berkshire (JCoB) was formed in order to continue such communal functions such as Jewish education for children (cheder) and Rabbinic Services for the region after Reading Hebrew Congregation downsized its workforce. JCoB now serves as the center of activity for younger Jews in the region. Reading also has a Liberal Jewish community which convenes in the Reading Quaker Meeting House an active Jewish Society for students at the university, as well as being served by a Reform Jewish community which convenes in nearby Maidenhead Synagogue.
There is presently one mosque, the Central Reading Mosque on Waylen Street. The £3–4m Abu Bakr Islamic Centre, on Oxford Road in West Reading, was granted planning permission in 2002. The community-funded project began construction in 2006, but, as of July 2008, had no estimated completion date. A second Islamic centre in eastern Reading has also been granted planning permission. This £4m project has garnered some controversy.
Reading also has places of worship of other religions, the Shantideva Mahayana Buddhist centre, a Hindu temple, a Sikh gurdwara, a Salvation Army citadel, a Quaker meeting house, and a Christadelphian Hall.
Reading is the home of Reading Football Club, an association football club nicknamed The Royals, formed in 1871. Formerly based at Elm Park, the club plays at the 24,161 capacity Madejski Stadium, named after chairman Sir John Madejski, and which opened in 1998. After winning the 2005–06 Football League Championship with a record of 106 points, Reading F.C. spent two seasons in the Premier League before being relegated to The Championship. For the 2012–2013 season, the club again competed in the Premier League, after securing first place in the Championship in the 2011–2012 season, but were relegated back down to the Championship at season's end.
Reading Town Football Club, formed in 1966, played at Scours Lane and were playing in the Hellenic League Premier Division but were dissolved in 2016, while fellow Non-League football club Highmoor Ibis F.C. now play at Scours Lane after moving from Palmer Park Stadium at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Reading is a centre for rugby union football in the area, with the Aviva Premiership team London Irish as tenants at the Madejski Stadium. Reading is also home to another three senior semi-professional rugby clubs: Reading Abbey R.F.C., Redingensians R.F.C. and Reading R.F.C..
The Reading Rockets are the town's professional basketball team. They compete in the second tier English Basketball League Division 1, though they have tried several times in recent years to move up to the top tier British Basketball League. They play home games at the Rivermead Leisure Complex, and are coached by Manuel Peña Garces. In 2016-17 the club embarked on an 18-game winning streak.
The town hosts Australian Rules football team Reading Kangaroos and American football team Berkshire Renegades. Palmer Park Stadium has a velodrome and athletics track. It is used by Reading Athletic Club and the Berkshire Renegades for training. The Reading Hockey Club play in the Men's Premier Division and in Women's Division One of the English Hockey League. The Reading Rockets basketball club plays in the English Basketball League.
Rowing is pursued by the Reading Rowing Club and the Reading University Boat Club, both next to Caversham Bridge, whilst Reading Blue Coat School trains at Sonning adjacent to the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake in Caversham, which provides training facilities for the GB National Squad. However almost all club rowing is done on the River Thames. The annual Reading Town Regatta takes place near Thames Valley Park, with the Reading Amateur Regatta taking place in June, usually two weeks before the Henley Royal Regatta.
The town was home to a motorcycle speedway team, Reading Racers. Speedway came to Reading in 1968 at Tilehurst Stadium, until the team moved to Smallmead Stadium in Whitley, which was demolished at the end of 2008. The team is inactive pending the building of a new stadium, which was once hoped to be completed in 2012.
The Reading Half Marathon is held on the streets of Reading in March of each year, with 16,000 competitors from elite to fun runners. It was first run in 1983 and has taken place in every subsequent year except 2001, when it was cancelled because of concerns over that year's outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The British Triathlon Association was formed at the town's former Mall health club on 11 December 1982. Britain's first ever triathlon took place just outside Reading at Kirtons's Farm in Pingewood in 1983 and was revived 10 years' later by Banana Leisure with one of the original organisers as Event Director. Thames Valley Triathletes, based in the town, is Britain's oldest triathlon club, having its origins in the 1984 event at nearby Heckfield, when a relay team raced under the name Reading Triathlon Club.
The Hexagon theatre was home to snooker's Grand Prix tournament, one of the sport's "Big Four", from 1984 to 94.
Reading is twinned with: Düsseldorf, Germany (since 1947, officially since 1988)
Clonmel, Ireland (since 1994)
San Francisco Libre, Nicaragua (since 1994)
Speightstown, Barbados (since 2003)
Reading is also a sister city of: Beruwala, Sri Lanka (since 2004)