The student guide to Reading

Reading student guide

By Chloe de Lullington

Welcome to Reading, England’s biggest town.

Beloved of music fans for the famous Reading Festival (with the added bonus of Reading students being able to work with NME for the duration of the festival as filmmakers and journalists), literature fans for the rather less fun connection with Oscar Wilde, and tv buffs for the fact that that Julian Barratt, one half of the Mighty Boosh, is an alumnus of the university, Reading has something for everyone.

During your time here, you’ll no doubt make friends for life and find your own favourite haunts in the university and town alike. Here, to start you on your journey, are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of Reading as a brand new arrival to the area!

The Bagel Man

As a student at the University of Reading, you’re going to want to know where to grab breakfast on those days when, despite your best efforts, that 9am lecture was a mad rush and you didn’t have time to eat beforehand. Reading University’s Student Union (RUSU) building, on the main Whiteknights campus, houses just the place for you: Cerealworks.

No one calls it Cerealworks, however, because the person we all go there to see is the Bagel Man, and it isn’t uncommon for tired students to motivate themselves by dragging themselves onto campus and rewarding themselves with a Bagel Man lunch. As his name suggests, he makes the best bagels around (and the frequent queues spilling out of the shop are proof of this!) but you can also get delicious milkshakes there with flavours including Oreo and Jaffa Cake.

Bagel Man is an icon of the university and the saviour of Reading students everywhere, and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be a loyal customer by the end of your first year!

Café Mondial

On Wednesdays and Saturdays this lovely little café forms one of the rooms of the university nightclub, 3Sixty, but during the cold light of day it is a Starbucks outlet, as well as selling sandwiches and light snacks, making it an ideal and more social alternative to the library if you work better in a plush armchair with a muffin to hand!

Arguably, the best part of Mondial is its rewards scheme, whereby customers can pick up one of their loyalty cards, receive a stamp for every hot drink purchased, and claim a tenth hot drink on the house.

Café Yolk

A fond favourite of students living off-campus in the main student area, Café Yolk recently topped a TripAdvisor list of the best places to get breakfast in Reading. The café is famous among students for its delicious range of breakfasts- as the name suggests- but lunches, snacks and a wide range of drinks are also available, including healthy smoothies and less-healthy treat milkshakes.

The only downside of Cafe Yolk is the limited seating; if all the slightly hungover students living nearby have the same idea on a Sunday morning, you could be queuing for quite some time!

For more information on the other venues that made the TripAdvisor list, check out GetReading’s article here.

Student banking

The University of Reading has its own branch of Santander on campus; if location is a consideration when applying for your student bank account then look no further (literally) as it is in the very centre of campus, and easily accessible from all halls of residence. There is also a separate ATM in the RUSU building, which is especially useful on Union nights, although the queues there do, obviously, build up quite fast!

Read the SMS guide to student bank accounts if you’re unsure of who to bank with.

No matter which bank or building society you’re with, you can of course use any of the ATMs on campus, but if you need face-to-face banking for any reason, then Santander is definitely closest to home.

Getting into town

Moving away from the campus itself, it’s worth noting that although the university’s main site is about a half an hour walk from the town centre - with the London Road campus being a few minutes closer - there are plenty of buses running frequently into town and you don’t feel isolated at all from the hubbub of town life.

The 21 and 21a buses run straight from Whiteknights Campus to the train station, passing through the town, with a bus stop designated as the closest access point to the Oracle shopping centre (more on that in a bit). The buses have automatic announcements about the names of the stops and which one to use for the Oracle, making it a whole lot easier to find your way around than the little rural towns I was more used to when I first moved to Reading!

The major issue with the otherwise helpful 21 and 21a buses is that their drivers do not carry change, and so students soon become used to nipping into one of the university’s many cafes or retail outlets to make sure they have the right change for the fare. To avoid this, however, I recommend getting one of their Smartcards which can be topped up online or in the RUSU building.

Alongside these Smartcards, Reading Buses also offer a Boost scheme which is available to people 18 and under, or 19-21 year olds in education. These are reduced ticket prices, but the 19-21 year olds may be asked to show proof of identity as a University of Reading student, so always keep your campus card on you just to be sure.

For more specific and up-to-date information, check out the Reading Buses site.

The nightlife

So, you’ve had a bagel, some coffee, worked out your bus fare, and now you’re in the town itself.

Like most student towns, it boasts an array of clubs and bars for all tastes and budgets, but a highlight of the student nightlife scene is Lola Lo’s, located tantalisingly close to a McDonalds and therefore ideal for the post-club junk food cravings.

A student favourite, Lola Lo’s is just one of a series of nightlife venues in the town centre, but is notable for the exotic décor, at its finest on Hula Tuesdays, and the famous heated smoking area, which, while outside, is designed to make clubbers feel like they are still in the warmth of the indoors. It not only has heaters in the wall which can be activated at the touch of a button, but also canopies with lights in strung overhead. The smoking area also incorporates a second bar, which is useful when the one by the dancefloor gets crowded.

Other bars and clubs popular with the student populace include Q Club, Public, Sakura, and Matchbox. As ever, clubbers should be on their guard and look after one another when out and about at night, with Matchbox having a particularly low rating when it comes to the safety of female customers, to my knowledge.

Retail therapy

Reading town centre has two shopping malls in which to spend chunks of your student loan, namely the Oracle and Broad Street Mall.

The Oracle is home to the Student Sessions, where students receive boosted discounts and freebies for one night only, and also has some seasonal and some year-round vacancies for retail workers. Students interested in working in retail while at the University of Reading should also consider Campus Central, the RUSU-run supermarket on campus, staffed by students, for flexible hours and easy access from uni accommodation.

The Oracle also includes a long stretch of restaurants and bars along the river- appropriately named the Riverside-, many of which offer student discounts (such as Pizza Express) or student menus (such as Bella Italia). When the sun goes down and the venues are all lit up, the Riverside is definitely the most picturesque, Instagrammable part of Reading to be in!

Broad Street, a five minute walk along from the Oracle, is equally useful to students as it has both a large Wilko and a large TK Maxx, both of which are excellent value for money. You can kit your student digs out from Wilko, and then nip downstairs for some new threads in TK Maxx, and there are also two Primark stores within five minutes walking distance which is ideal for homemade fancy dress costumes for those wild Freshers Week nights out!

For more information about the next Student Sessions event, check out the Oracle’s website

Grocery shopping

An important part of transitioning from home life to university life is definitely the responsibility of feeding yourself! It sounds obvious, but budgeting, cooking, and making regular, sensible food shops are important skills to master; Dominos will flood you with delectable deals during Freshers Week, and if you’re in St. Patrick’s, Benyon or Sherfield halls, there’s a chance Uni Grill will become a second home, but junk food isn’t the best fuel for the brightest minds of the generation!

I suggest getting into a routine, placing online orders with whichever supermarket is cheapest for your needs- definitely compare prices first- and consider somewhere with a rewards scheme, such as a Tesco Clubcard or Sainsbury’s Nectar card.

If you prefer to purchase in person, with the added exercise bonus of the walk there and back, it’s worth knowing that within walking distance of the university are two Co-op stores, with a handy 10% NUS cardholder discount, and a Tesco, which is usually cheaper overall.

In conclusion…

Reading is an excellent town, with a superb campus university full of places to eat, drink, and find a part-time job.

The RUSU building provides all the student services you might need, and there is even a small branch of Santander right there on campus as well.

The town itself boasts two shopping centres and a riverside crammed with sparkling, discount-offering restaurants, and Reading Festival offers an unparalleled level of work experience and cool points by allowing students to broadcast and report from backstage, in partnership with NME. For more information on that, and see what they get up to, click here.

The nightlife is buzzing, the campus is pretty, and we can’t wait to welcome you into the Reading family!