A low-key, mostly residential suburb, Reading is a North Shore town no more than 12 miles from downtown Boston.
At the start of the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Lexington and Concord (1775) took place close by, and there are several locations in the town that are steeped in revolutionary history.
One is the Parker Tavern, the oldest building in the town, opening as a museum during the summer months.
Something that brings a lot of people to Reading is the branch of Jordan’s Furniture, which has a 500-seat IMAX theater, and a gigantic indoor ropes course.
1. Reading Center
On a couple of blocks, Reading’s commercial center on Main Street has a lot of flourishing independent businesses.
At the tip of this district is a cute Town Common, with lawns, benches and hardwood trees. Presiding over this space is the Colonial Revival Town Hall, which was dedicated in 1918 as a Carnegie Library.
The Town Hall was originally in the Reading Municipal Building (1883) at 49 Pleasant St, which housed the town offices, fire station and jail, and is now a Senior Center.
Main Street deserves a little exploration for its enticing food scene, covering Irish pub food, Italian, sushi, New England seafood, sandwiches and contemporary American.
There are some fantastic independent shops here too, led by Comically Speaking (comics) and Whitelam Books, which we’ll talk about later.
2. Parker Tavern
The Parker family features prominently in Reading’s early history. One of the town’s founder’s was the deacon Thomas Parker (1609-1683), and his great-grandson Ephraim (1728-1804) ran a tavern in what is now the oldest extant structure.
A Colonial saltbox, the Parker Tavern was built in by the farmer and blacksmith, Abraham Bryant.
Ephraim Parker’s license ran from 1770 and 1785, and he is remembered for taking part in the Battle of Concord and Lexington (1775) at the dawn of the American Revolutionary War.
Later in the conflict he hosted the British officer Archibald Campbell (1739-1791) at the tavern as a prisoner of war. This and many other stories can be uncovered on a visit, and the tavern opens to the public, May to October on Sunday afternoons.
3. Jordan’s IMAX Theater
In 2004 the retailer Jordan’s Furniture unveiled an IMAX theater at its Reading location. This is one of two such theaters run by the chain, and the screen here is the larger of the two, at 80 feet by 60 feet.
Over time the 500-seat theater has been updated with the latest technology, including a dual 4K laser projection system, immersive Temur-Pedic seating and a 12,000-watt sound system.
In short, this is the ultimate way to experience a first-run Hollywood blockbuster. Also in this immense complex is a branch of Fuddruckers, a Richardson’s ice cream parlor and an indoor ropes course, which we’ll come to later.
4. Lake Quannapowitt
On Reading’s southeast side is a Great Pond, more than 250 acres in size. Lake Quannapowitt, together with its green shores, is a constant feature of community life for the neighboring town of Wakefield, including during its famous 4th of July festivities.
There’s a 3.6 miles long trail around the shore, popular with walkers and joggers, with fine views from the Reading side when the sun’s coming up.
On the southern shore you’ll find Wakefield Community Boating, which offers kayak and pedal boat rentals until as late in the year as October.
5. Reading Town Forest
In the north of Reading there’s 290 acres of unfrequented nature, bounded on its north side by the Ipswich River.
The Reading Town Forest was established in 1930, and on Arbor Day that year, thousands of residents gathered to plant trees here.
On the town website you can find detailed trail maps for the forest, including an interactive guide to all of Reading’s trails and natural spaces.
The forest is interspersed with wetland areas and meadows, and has four interconnected blazed trails, with a stretch of boardwalk, lovely views of the river and an unblazed path that traces the contours of a glacial esker.
6. Quannapowitt Players (QP)
A part of cultural life in Reading for close to a century, the Quannapowitt Players are a high-quality community theater group, with hundreds of patrons.
The QP puts on four productions each season, carefully designed to suit all audiences, with a drama, comedy, mystery and farce.
This is an all-volunteer organization, from the talent on the stage to the technical minds behind the scenes. The venue is special too, in the converted Little Red Schoolhouse, built in 1853 and holding audiences of 150.
7. BeanStalk Adventure Ropes Course
There’s no shortage of active things to get up to around Reading, and along those lines there’s a whole indoor ropes course awaiting you at Jordan’s Furniture.
The main course here is suspended 24 feet in the air, and designed for people 48 inches and taller.
This challenge has more than 30 obstacles and tricky transitions to overcome, from criss-cross walks to zig-zag beams, angled rope ladders and a zip-line.
Smaller adventurers won’t miss out, as there’s a lower course, allowing parents to walk alongside kids as they make their way.
8. Whitelam Books
One store tempting you inside on Main Street is a lovable independent bookshop, selling a curated selection of titles across a diversity of genres.
There’s a rewards program f0r regular shoppers, while for young families, the children’s section is exceptional.
This colorful area has kid-size furniture and an assortment of toys and games to keep young minds inspired. Whitelam Books also stocks an enticing array of gifts, from greeting cards to toys, board games, prints, mugs and t-shirts.
As a lively community hub, there is almost always something interesting going on, be it a panel discussion, author signing, reading, book club or story time for children.
9. Bagel World
A North Shore success story, Bagel World has been on the scene for more than 30 years now, and the Reading location has been going for a quarter of a century.
Things have changed a lot since the early 90s, but each store continues to make its dough fresh every morning, to the founder’s old-fashioned Polish-inspired recipe.
The Reading branch has a drive-thru window, but it’s often worth your while to simply go inside and wait in line. There’s an enormous variety of bagels on offer, from ‘everything’ to marble.
These come as singles, in half-dozens or baker’s dozens, and there’s a wide choice of spreads, available on your bagels or to-go. If you want a prepared bagel sandwich, you can’t go wrong with an old-school classic like nova lox & cream cheese.
10. Capt. Nathaniel Parker Red House
At 77–83 Ash Street, a minute or two on foot from the shops in Reading Center, you could easily fit this house into a walking tour.
The Capt. Nathaniel Parker Red House is a private residence, but is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has a compelling story to tell.
Built in a vernacular Georgian style in the mid-18th century, this was a popular tavern on the coach road, run by militia captain Nathaniel Parker, and standing out at the time for being painted.
Minutemen and revolutionaries, among them Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, are known to have met here. The house remained in the Parker family late into the 19th century.
11. Burbank Ice Arena
This local rink is open throughout the year and offers public sessions at least six days a week, if you’re on the hunt for an affordable activity.
Burbank Ice Arena hosts high school hockey games, and is used by a number of regional organizations, offering anything from basic skating lessons to figure skating and advanced hockey lessons.
If you just want to enjoy the freedom of the ice for a while, the public skate schedule is posted on the rink’s website, and rental skates are available for $7 from the pro shop.
For a casual game of pick-up hockey there’s also stick practice several days a week, all year round. And for a fun piece of trivia, this facility was built over a decommissioned Nike missile site.
12. St. Athanasius Church
Still an eye-catching sight on Haverhill St, north of downtown, this Roman Catholic church was dedicated in 1962, soon after the creation of the new St. Athanasius Parish in 1960.
The building is an interesting example of Modernist architecture, designed by Louis A. Scibelli and Daniel F. Tully.
With a rhomboid footprint, 155 feet long by 120 feet wide, the church is noted for its concrete hyperbolic paraboloid roof, which was claimed to be the largest of its kind in the western hemisphere at the time.
13. Reading Fall Street Faire
Deep into its second decade, this annual event gives a platform to independent businesses and local organizations.
Transforming Main Street, the Reading Fall Street Faire has more than 100 booths for everything from local restaurants to community groups.
As well as sampling great food and discovering the amazing breadth of businesses in the town, you can enjoy live entertainment on three stages, check out an antique car show and watch or take part in a range of contests and tournaments.
For kids there’s a children’s area with crafts and games, as well as two different inflatable zones.
14. XtremeCraze Woburn
A unique family entertainment center, XtremeCraze Woburn is under ten minutes away and combines a variety of attractions.
The headline is a multi-level laser tag arena, touted as one of the most advanced in New England, allowing for multiple gaming scenarios modeled on the hit video game, Fortnite.
A new arrival here is the Air Park, similar to a trampoline park, but using 100% inflatable surfaces, providing a soft and safe environment for kids to expend their energy.
Finally there’s the Game Zone, with interactive games, ticket redemption machines and classic arcade games like skee ball.
15. Memorial Park
Towards the north of Reading Center there’s a park for active recreation, with a roster of facilities.
On the east side is a pond, which is primed for ice skating in the winter, and for the rest of the year becomes a haven for waterfowl, including plenty of feisty geese.
Trails lead to all corners of Memorial Park, and there’s a bandstand, which hosts occasional events, including a summer concert series. For sports facilities you’ve got a basketball court and tennis courts on either side of the trail.