Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121. He was buried there, as were parts of Empress Matilda, William of Poitiers, Constance of York, and Princess Isabella of Cornwall, among others. The abbey was one of the pilgrimage centres of medieval England, it held over 230 relics including the hand of St. James. The abbey was largely destroyed in 1538 during the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry VIII had the abbot, Hugh Cook Faringdon, hanged.
The mediaeval borough of Reading was served by three parish churches. Besides Reading Minster, these were St Giles' and St Laurence's churches, both of which are still in use as Anglican churches. The Franciscan friars built a friary in the town in 1311 and after the friars were expelled in 1538, the building was used as a hospital, a poorhouse and a jail, before being restored as the Anglican parish church of Greyfriars Church in 1863. There are several other Anglican parish churches in areas that are now part of suburban Reading.
St James' Church was built on a portion of the site of the abbey between 1837 and 1840, and marked the return of the Roman Catholic faith to Reading. The town contains many other churches and religious centres of varying faiths.
Reading School, founded in 1125, is the tenth oldest school in England. It is based in Victorian buildings designed by Alfred Waterhouse on Erleigh Road. There are 6 other state secondary schools and 37 state primary schools within the borough, together with a number of private and independent schools, kindergartens and nurseries. Some of the designated schools for pupils in the borough's catchment areas are actually in the neighbouring boroughs. Besides mainstream schools the Reading area has a Steiner-Waldorf school and an active Education Otherwise home schooling network.
The University of Reading was established in 1892 as an affiliate of Oxford University, and moved to its London Road Campus in 1904. It was chartered as an independent university in 1926 and moved onto its new Whiteknights Campus in 1947. It took over the Bulmershe teacher training college in 1982, creating its Bulmershe Court Campus. All three campuses are still in use, although Whiteknights is by far the largest.
The more recent Thames Valley University, which also has campuses in Slough and Ealing, now runs what was previously Reading College & School of Arts and Design on two sites in east Reading.
The Reading Borough Public Library service dates back to 1877. The Central Library which was opened in 1985 contains the Reading Local Studies Library which provides books, maps, and illustrations of the history of the town and Berkshire.
The Museum of Reading opened in 1883 in the Town Hall, parts of which date back to 1786. The museum contains galleries relating to the history of Reading and its related industries and to the excavations of Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester Roman Town), together with a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry, an art collection, and galleries relating to Huntley & Palmers
The University of Reading runs the Museum of English Rural Life, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, the Cole Museum of Zoology, and the Harris Garden. In the suburb of Woodley, the Museum of Berkshire Aviation has a collection of aircraft and other artifacts relating to the aircraft industry in the town.
The principal National Health Service (NHS) hospital in Reading is the Royal Berkshire Hospital, originally founded in 1839 but much enlarged and rebuilt since. Until recently there was a second major NHS general hospital, the Battle Hospital, but this closed in 2005 with the patients and most staff moved to the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust runs a NHS hospital, Prospect Park Hospital, that specialises in the provision of care for people with mental health and learning disabilities.