Inspired by a #PTTravel (Part-Time Travel) Twitter conversation a few months ago, I decided to see what my home town of Reading, UK had to offer locals and tourists alike.
Despite living here for the past 4 years, I had no idea what the main sights and attractions were. I often complain that there’s nothing to do here – Reading is a big town in the south of England, but I see it as a bit of a concrete jungle. It’s a good place for shopping (if you like high street shops) and eating (if you like mainstream restaurants) but not a lot else… or so I thought…
So, I turned to TripAdvisor and decided to launch an experiment: how much did I agree with TripAdvisor on things that were practically on my doorstep?
Well let’s take a look at the Top 10 Things to Do in TripAdvisor rating order:
- Basildon Park – As a National Trust property, it’s quite expensive to get into but well worth the money. We went on a beautifully sunny day in April, so we could make the most of the manicured grounds and see the grand building bathed in sunlight. The property itself is an interesting visit, especially if you like Downtown Abbey as a lot of the interior shots were filmed there.
- Beale Park – I was pleasantly surprised to find we had a wildlife park so close to home. Tim and I are huge animal lovers, so we were prepared to spend a cold and rainy day wandering past the enclosures to see lemurs, emus, deer and various exotic birds. Aside from the animals, there’s a lovely little train that takes you on a tour of the whole site, a playground and a gift shop to keep you entertained.
- Reading Station – I did a double take when I first read this. Yes – the train station really does feature in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Things to Do in Reading – and at #3! Much like the town itself, it’s big, confusing, there are a few shops, a few cafes but nothing particularly noteworthy. It’s been refurbished recently, so it might have attracted a few visitors… but enough to make it one of the best attractions in town?! I find it hilarious that one of the best things to do is leave Reading!
- Wellington Country Park – This is one of my favourite places in Reading, and one I actually knew about without TripAdvisor. It’s a bit of a drive outside the centre, but there’s so much to do there to make it worth the journey. You can take a walk around the huge lake, play mini golf, walk with dinosaurs, let the kids loose in the playgrounds and eat picnics/barbecues in the grounds. We spent our minimoon in Wellington Country Park at the onsite camping ground, making this place really close to my heart.
- Silchester – The Roman ruins at Silchester are a good place to walk and imagine what it used to be like back in the days of Julius Ceasar. Though the ruins are not particularly well-preserved, you can still make out the city walls and the amphitheatre, and read about how they were uncovered by archaeologists. The unrelated highlight for me was the random alpaca pen at the back of the site! Remember to pack some wellies if it’s been raining. The place can get very muddy indeed…
- Reading Museum – It turns out Reading has quite a fascinating history that I wouldn’t have known about if it wasn’t for this museum. The museum is set in the Town Hall, which is an impressive building in itself. It houses artefacts from Reading’s industrial times, where it was famous for biscuits, beer and seeds, and there’s even a replica of the Bayeux Tapestry for real history buffs.
- Kennet & Avon Canal – Another outdoor attraction, the Kennet & Avon canal runs from Bristol, through the centre of Reading, and out to join the River Thames on its way to London. It’s possible to walk the entire length as a few of my colleagues did last year for charity. We prefer to do little bits of it, stopping at the lovely villages along the way to admire the scenery and drink at the pubs…
- Stanlake Park Wine Estate – Without a doubt, this was my favourite of the 10. I would recommend a visit, even if you live miles away. Book a hotel. Make the most of the wine. It’s worth it. We went on a gloriously warm and sunny day, so could enjoy touring the vineyard and learning about how the wine is made. At each stop of the tour, we were given a taste of eight different wines they produce on site. I was sold. Our guide was fantastic, with a completely no-nonsense approach to wine, dispelling some common myths about what makes wine good quality. We came away with a bottle of British bubbly and plans to celebrate my 30th birthday back at the vineyard. I can’t wait.
- Caversham Court Gardens – Another bit of greenery close to the centre of Reading, Caversham Court Gardens is set on the River Thames so you can watch the rowers row, runners run and walkers walk. There are some beautiful old trees and pretty flowers that bloom in spring, but I bet it would be just as lovely in autumn when everything turns golden and crunchy.
- Forbury Gardens – This park is a bit of a god send for Reading town centre. In summer, it’s a great place to go for a picnic. In winter, it’s home to probably the worst Christmas market in the country. The rest of the time, it’s remarkably peaceful and a nice place to just sit and ponder. There’s also a giant lion statue in the centre as a memorial to the local soldiers that fought in World War II. Apparently the lion is anatomically incorrect, but when the rest of the gardens are this pretty, who really cares?
All this exploring had made us hungry, so we turned to TripAdvisor to find the best eats in Reading. In the week where Reading people made the news for reviewing McDonalds on TripAdvisor (it’s the #336 ‘restaurant’ in Reading in case you’re interested), I was a bit dubious to find out what the locals would rate, but again I was pleasantly surprised.
- Tutti Frutti – The #1 ‘restaurant’ in Reading is less of a restaurant, more of an ice cream parlour. But, boy, is it good. Set in a tiny retail outlet in Reading Station, it’s a welcoming place with some of the kindest staff I’ve ever come across. As soon as we stepped in, tasters of the most delicious ice cream flavours were thrust into our hands and mouths by a joyful, smiling gentleman. Once I had nearly eaten a whole tub’s worth of tasters, I settled on a full cone of Banoffee ice cream and said a little prayer to the TripAdvisor gods for helping me find this place.
Overall, this turned out to be an incredibly worthwhile experiment. It has made me appreciate my home town so much more, and look beneath the surface for things to keep me occupied on weekends and days out of the office. TripAdvisor uncovered some gems, and some stinkers (the station?! Seriously?!) but I was pleased to find the majority of Things to Do were cultural attractions that I will be returning to again and again.
Do you appreciate your home town? What are the Top 10 Things to Do in your hometown?
*The rankings mentioned in this post were all correct at the time of writing