Start your day at the town museum, which will give you lots of ideas for other places to see. It forms part of the red-brick town hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1875, and among the items on show are a Victorian copy of the Bayeux tapestry and vintage Huntley & Palmers biscuit tins (the firm was based in Reading until the 1970s). In the Sir John Madejski Art Gallery there are changing exhibitions of contemporary British art.
Museum of English Rural Life
This museum is also in the centre of town and has a huge collection of antique rural artefacts. There’s everything from picnic baskets to old tractors and a giant teapot that holds 29.5 litres of tea, made in the 1940s by art potter Michael Cardew. Once you’ve seen all the curiosities, head outside for the medicinal herb garden, a shepherd’s hut and activities for little ones.
Pack your swimming costume and head to the Thames Lido. Thought to be the oldest Edwardian outdoor public pool, it reopened just a few years ago following a Grade II listing and a refurbishment. Now, as well as the open-air pool (which, happily, is heated to a pain-free swimming temperature), there’s a steam room, sauna, hot tub and cafe, as well as spa treatments to make the most of. It’s open to all at certain times of the day, but, if you’re a local, membership is definitely a good idea.
This farming estate, five miles north-west of Reading, dates back to the 12th century. The Elizabethan manor at its centre isn’t open to the public, but there’s plenty else to see: fine parkland, a 15th-century working watermill (there are tours three times a week) and a tea room serving cream teas (the scones are made with flour from the mill).
Kennet and Avon Canal
If you have time for a proper walk, do the three-mile loop around Reading’s leafy, historic waterways. Start at the Town Hall; along the way you’ll see a railway bridge designed by Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the surviving buildings of the Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory. The walk ends in the grounds of Reading Abbey.
Dinton Pastures Country Park
This park, seven miles east of Reading, is a mix of heathland, lakes and meadows. Take a picnic or stop at one of the two cafés serving coffee and homemade cakes. There’s a big events programme – wildlife safaris and lessons in bushcraft for children, and walking tours and wild swims for grown-ups.
Reading doesn’t have lots of independent coffee shops, but tucked just behind St Mary Minster is this small café, where the coffee is said to be the best in town. The décor is simple but stylish – think industrial lighting and tan leather stools – and the place is always busy. Try the excellent Greek-style salads and pastries (including bougatsa, or custard pies).
The Hand and Flowers
It will take you just over half an hour to drive here from Reading, but chef Tom Kerridge’s pub is worth the journey. In the 17th-century dining room, enjoy traditional English lunches with a twist – roast pork and lamb are served with unusual side dishes. If you’re staying overnight in the area, there are 11 simply decorated guest rooms a short walk away.
Bel & the Dragon
Bel & the Dragon is set in an old biscuit factory overlooking the Kennet and Avon Canal and makes an atmospheric spot for lunch or dinner. The restaurant has a ‘root to table’ approach, supporting sustainable UK producers: Chalk Stream trout, Devonshire mussels and West Country beef are all on the menu. The interior is simple, so the focus is on the architecture and the stained-glass windows.
The Old Grain Barn
This antiques centre is about five miles south east of our store. Once a farm, it now sells everything from furniture to architectural salvage and vintage eiderdowns. If there’s something specific you’re after, you can ask the dealers to keep an eye out for the right piece.
Pangbourne Cheese Shop
Take a trip to the village of Pangbourne, six miles west of Reading, for this cheese store, with its 1920s-style shopfront. Owners Ali and Jen Grimstone-Jones sell over 100 different types of fine cheese, made all over Europe. Try the Thomas Hoe Rutland Red, which is about as different from supermarket Red Leicester as it’s possible to get.