Incorporated as an independent town in the 1850s, North Reading has a history of European settlement going back two centuries before.
The venerable, 200-year-old meeting house in the historic center is the third on this site, and stands at the highest point of a dignified common edged by historic buildings.
North Reading’s premier park is another picture-perfect space, sitting on the tree-shaded bank of the lazy Ipswich River.
In the center you can call in at businesses that have been on the scene for decades, while there’s a host of attractions nearby, at mini golf courses, an indoor playground for under-10s and a karting track.
1. Town Common
The nucleus of North Reading’s can be found at the Town Common, on a triangular plot and sloping southwards from the Third Meeting House (1829), built in the Greek Revival style.
This is one of a clutch of buildings that contribute to the North Reading Center Village Historic District.
The oldest, on the east side, is the Reverend Daniel Putnam House (1730), which we’ll talk about below, and some other fine structures are the McLean House (1818), and the French Second Empire-style Flint Memorial Library from 1875.
At the foot of the slope there’s a bandstand, and within a short walk of this space are some local businesses that have been around for decades, like the Hornet’s Nest Sub Shop and the Ryers Store, a country store.
2. Harold Parker State Forest
North Reading is on the south side of a 3,320-acre landscape of ponds, swamps, and wooded rolling hills laden with glacial erratics and rocky outcroppings.
Harold Parker State Forest’s immense stands of softwood trees were planted in the 1910s, as one of the state’s earliest land acquisitions for the sake of reforestation.
In theory you could spend days traversing these woods—the network adds up to 35 miles and includes a section of the 230-mile Bay Circuit Trail.
Some of the best mountain biking on the North Shore can be done, especially on the Yellow Diamond Trail, looping around Salem Pond, and accessed from Middleton Rd.
The campground here has 89 sites, and is attached to a secluded beach on Frye Pond, one of 11 large bodies of water in the forest.
3. Ipswich River Park
North Reading is rightfully proud of this excellent community park, landscaped on the south bank of the Ipswich River in the 1990s.
As a place of real natural splendor, Ipswich River Park can be somewhere to take a quiet walk along the trail that hugs the riverfront on the north side, lined with benches if you want to linger for a while.
Ipswich River Park is also a vibrant center for active recreation, endowed with amenities for junior baseball, softball, tennis, soccer, basketball, street hockey, skating, and horseshoes.
There’s a seasonal concession stand, extensive picnic facilities, and a gazebo, which sets the scene for North Reading’s BBQ & Entertainment Series, on Wednesday evenings, late June to late July.
4. Clarke Park/Martins Pond
One of the loveliest natural scenes in North Reading is this 89-acre great pond, fed by the Skug River, and drained by Martins Brook, a tributary of the Ipswich River.
The pond’s wooded east and west shores are lined with homes, and there are boat launches here on both sides, at 89 Travelled Way and 65 Lakeside Boulevard.
On a small tab of the south shore is Clarke Park, which has a beach that wasn’t open to swimming when we wrote this article.
Still, it’s a picturesque place to get down to the water, accompanied by a dock, a sheltered picnic area, a basketball court, a sand volleyball court and a children’s playground.
5. Hillview Golf Course
In the last few years this daily fee course, owned by North Reading, has come through a host of improvements, renovating the tees, greens and fairway landing areas.
Hillview Golf Course is 5773 yards from the tips, and is designed to offer a balance between playability for newer players and difficulty to get the best out of more accomplished golfers.
Precision is vital, and arguably the biggest challenge here is putting, and making your approach shots stick on the fast greens.
The course is also known for its affordability, at just $47 for 18 holes on weekends, and there’s a driving range with a large bucket costing $12 when we compiled this list.
6. Reverend Daniel Putnam House
The North Reading Historical and Antiquarian Society is headquartered at this Colonial residence that has stood on the east side of the Town Common for more than 300 years.
The house was purpose-built as a way of persuading a pastor to settle in the parish. Reverend Daniel Putnam (1696-1759) served here from 1720 until he died, and as part of his agreement had 20 acres of land, two of which surround the house to this day.
Also on the property is the West Village School House (1845), a one-room schoolhouse relocated to this site in the 1980s. You can visit the Reverend Daniel Putnam House house during open days and society events.
7. BFM Driving & Mini Golf
If you want to fine tune your game, or are looking for a family activity, there’s a combined driving range and mini golf course at 327 Main Street in the northwest of Reading.
The 18-hole mini golf course at BFM is set among rock gardens, inhabited by models of animals. The holes themselves are fun for kids, but also free of wacky obstacles, so serious putters will be able to test themselves.
The driving range meanwhile has 28 hitting stations, newly laid mats, Pinnacle and Top Flite balls, various targets to choose from, and lighting for play after dark.
8. The Big Dipper Ice Cream Stand
Families playing a round of mini golf at BFM can follow it up with a frozen treat at this ice cream stand next door.
You can walk here from the parking lot, and there’s a cluster of picnic tables in front. As well as serving high-quality dairy ice cream, the Big Dipper caters to a variety of dietary needs and preferences with delicious vegan, non-fat, sugar-free and non-dairy options.
There are around 40 flavors of hard ice cream, from toasted coconut to mint choc chip, as well as low-fat frozen yogurt, a choice of sherbets and sorbets, and soft serve, so you’re sure to find something to tempt you.
9. Hornet’s Nest Sub Shop
A few steps from the Town Common you’ll come to a sandwich shop that has been in business for more than half a century and never uses shortcuts.
The Hornet’s Nest Sub Shop first opened in 1972, and quickly made a name for its cheese steak subs. These are still the star menu item, and, as with all the steak subs sold at the shop, are made with only the best beef loins.
The steak is hand-shaved daily, and never frozen and pre-cut, while the bread is also freshly baked, and the meat for the turkey subs is oven roasted on site. Another must-try is the pizza, which is Italian-style thin crust, with a hand-tossed and home baked dough.
10. Ryers Store
At the southwestern tip of the Town Green is an old-time country store that was established as long ago as 1912.
Ryers Store has a deli, a hot bar, a salad bar, fresh baked breads, hot and cold sandwiches, fresh Pierce Brothers’ coffee, Richardson’s Ice Cream, a wide choice of beer and wine, gourmet specialty groceries, and an assortment of candies.
A unique strong point here is Ryer’s own lineup of in-house marinated meats, while the roster of specialty sandwiches are made with premium Dietz & Watson cuts.
The daily specials are posted on the store’s website, and there’s always a set of fresh hot soups, served Monday to Friday.
11. Damon Tavern
Just south of the Reverend Daniel Putnam House on the east side of the Town Common is another building owned by the North Reading Historical and Antiquarian Society.
The Damon Tavern was built in 1817 for Captain David Damon, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
In the first half of the 19th century this 21-room inn was a rest stop on the Boston-Haverhill and Salem-Lowell coach routes, but also served as the local post office.
In the 1830s, the traveling artist Rufus Porter (1792-1884) painted murals of pastoral scenes on the plastered walls of the ballroom, which are some of the few around New England that have been preserved.
Later, at the turn of the 20th century, North Reading’s first telephone switchboard was located here, and the building was home to the public library from the 1950s to the 1980s.
12. Reading Town Forest
The town’s southwestern corner abuts an inviting, 290-acre expanse of conservation land along the Ipswich River.
Reading Town Forest was created in 1930 when untold evergreen trees were planted on this site by organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Massachusetts Forestry Association and the 4-H Club.
This is a varied landscape with wetlands, a glacially formed esker, meadows and those large stands of pines.
There are four different blazed trails, taking you to an overloop above the river, across a pine ridge and over a section of boardwalk. Something to look out for is the Old Council Ring, a circle of pines, 100 feet in diameter, planted in 1930 as a symbol of unity.
13. K1 Speed
The Boston branch of this national chain of indoor karting tracks is a few minutes away in Wilmington. K1 Speed opened here in 2015 and has two challenging tracks and a fleet of high-performance electric karts.
Differing from gas-powered karts with lawn mower engines, these environmentally friendly machines have maximum torque from zero RPM, able to accelerate out of corners like a missile.
The simplest way to get on the track is with an Arrive & Drive package, and after each race you’ll get a result sheet, breaking down your times against riders from this session and over the previous week or month.
K1 Speed is primed for corporate events and group parties, and has a cafe for snacks and drinks, along with an arcade with pool and air hockey tables.
14. Cowabunga’s Inflatable Playground
Inspiration for parents with children aged ten and under, there’s an indoor inflatable park at the Atlantic Plaza shopping center in North Reading.
Safer than a trampoline Park, Cowabunga’s Inflatable Playground is a small world of inflatable attractions for a high-energy hour or two of bouncing, climbing, and sliding.
There are open bounce areas, giant slides, all kinds of inflatable obstacles, and a massive climbing structure equipped with foam ball blasters.
The playground is a go-to for birthday parties, whether you want to rent out a whole section for a private party, or want to use the public space on a do-it-yourself basis.
15. Shriners Auditorium
Opened in 1977, this capacious event facility on the North Reading/Wilmington town line was built by the Boston-based Aleppo Shriners as their HQ, and is still owned by the fraternity today.
The Shriners Auditorium has close to 40,000 feet of exhibit space in the arena, which has staged a huge variety of events over the last 45+ years, from conventions, antique shows, banquets and concerts to wrestling, mixed martial arts, and boxing.
A landmark in the calendar is the annual Shriners Circus in April, which dates back to 1951 and is known for its aerialists, dancers, death-defying stunt men on motorbikes and the famous Aleppo Clowns.