Reading was established in the 8th century as a market town and river port, with its centre set on a low ridge between the rivers Thames and Kennet.
When Henry I founded an abbey in Reading in 1121, the settlement soon became a place of pilgrimage. Reading Abbey was destroyed in 1538 during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monastries and its ruins, located beside Forbury Gardens, are now a popular attraction for visitors.
In Medieval and Tudor times Reading grew wealthy with its cloth trade and by the end of the 16th century it was the largest town in Berkshire. In the 18th century the town was known for it's iron works and breweries.
Reading was also an important staging post on the major coaching routes from London and Oxford to the West Country.
River traffic increased after 1723, when the Kennet Navigation enabled boats to travel as far as Newbury. In 1810 the opening of the Kennet & Avon Canal meant that barges could navigate from Reading to the Bristol Channel.
During the 19th century Reading grew rapidly as a manufacturing centre and was famous for its 'Three Bs' - beer, bulbs and biscuits. Only the brewing of beer has survived to the present day.
The town also became a major railway junction, with the Great Western Railway arriving in 1841, the South Eastern Railway in 1849 and the London and South Western Railway in 1856.
In the 20th century the town continued to expand, absorbing neighbouring settlements including Caversham across the river in Oxfordshire. The urban area of Reading has now spread a far as the M4, which acts as the southern boundary of the town.
Lying beside the M4 and on major rail routes Reading serves as an important hub for commuter traffic in and out of London.
The town has developed as a significant business centre, housing the UK offices of a significant number of IT companies including Microsoft and Sage.
Reading is also a good regional shopping centre, set around the pedestrianised Broad Street. The Oracle and Broad Street Mall shopping centres lie at either end of Broad Street. Reading boasts a wide range of restaurants, cafes and bars.
The town has a number of arts centres with concert halls, general use spaces and galleries. Recently the town has become famous for two annual music festivals: the Reading Festival, first held in 1971, and WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) which found a home in the town in 1990.
Reading is home to the Thames Valley University and the University of Reading.
The town is associated with the writer Oscar Wilde, who was imprisoned at Reading (HM Prison) from 1895 - 97. After his release Wilde lived in exile in Paris where he wrote 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' (published in 1908).
Visitors can enjoy a stroll along the Thameside Promenade and admire the many swans that gather near Caversham Bridge. There are also attractive walks along the towpaths of the River Thames and the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Narrow boats can be hired at Reading to travel along the canal or Thames.
Reading Football Club (known as 'The Royals') has played in the town since 1871, based at the Madejski Stadium since 1998. Reading is also known as a centre for rugby union football with the team the London Irish, also based at the Madejski Stadium.
As a Thames-side town Reading boasts several rowing clubs. Dorney Lake, the internationally rowing venue set 17 miles east of Reading, hosted some of the rowing events of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Several sailing lakes, also popular with water-skiers and jet-skiing enthusiasts, are located to the south and south-west of Reading. The largest is Theale Lake, lying close to Junction 12 on the M4.
The town is also home to the Reading Bulldogs Speedway and Reading Greyhound Racing.
Reading has seven sport and leisure venues including the AcademySport Leisure Centre and swimming pools.
At Swallowfield stands Swallowfield Park and just north-west of Reading is Basildon Park
Palmer Park Sport Stadium The stadium provides a focal point for a variety of indoor and outdoor leisure activities.
AcademySport Activities and sports including a swimming pool.
Beale Park Wildlife Park and Gardens Fun and adventure on the River Thames for all the family.
Englefield House Gardens This Tudor mansion, part of the Englefield Estate, has 9 acres of gadens you can visit.
Mapledurham House 3.3 miles Nestling on the Thames at Mapledurham in Oxfordshire lies this late-16th century house and full-restored watermill.
Chantry House 6.4 miles A nice old building next to the church.
Reading Museum Located in the splendid Victorian Town Hall, the museum illustrates the history of the town and its industries.
Riverside Museum The museum is set in a picturesque location beside the River Kennet, in two former industrial buildings.
Museum of English Rural Life Founded in 1951, this intriguing museum, run by the University, illustrates the changing face of agriculture, rural crafts and the countryside.
Cole Museum of Zoology Specimens, arranged in a taxonomic sequence, illustrate the diversity of the animal kingdom.
The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology Contains one of the largest collections of Greek ceramics in the UK.
Museum of Berkshire Aviation Standing on the edge of the former Woodley Airfield, the museum traces the history of aviation in the county.
Reading is a great base for exploring the beautiful valleys of the Thames and Kennet. Much of the surrounding area lies in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You could also try a day trip to Stratfield Saye House.
Towns Near Reading To Visit - straight line distance:Pangbourne (5.28 miles) Henley-on-Thames (6.27 miles) Wokingham (6.97 miles) Waltham St Lawrence (7.43 miles)