Learn everything you need to know about visiting The MERL galleries, shop and café, garden, and reading room.

KEEPING THE MERL SAFE FOR EVERYONE Visit England's Good to Go logo - a green tick on white background

Like last year, it is crucial for us that The MERL is a comfortable space for all our visitors, volunteers, and staff. We want everyone to enjoy their time with us with peace of mind.

Whilst Government requirements are changing from the 19th July, our priority is to maintain the lowest level of risk possible and ensure safety and comfort for all. To do this, in line with our parent organisation the University of Reading, we will be keeping our current safety measures in place across The MERL and reading room for the weeks to come.

This includes:

  • continuing to limit the numbers of visitors throughout the building. Our booking system will remain in place, and we strongly advise you to keep pre-booking. Drop-in visits will be possible, but only if numbers on-site are at a low enough level.
  • encouraging you to check in with the NHS COVID-19 app when you arrive.
  • keeping our one-way system and social distancing signage in place throughout the building (including our wonderful homemade hurdles in the galleries), together with hand sanitiser stations for your use.
  • requesting that you keep wearing face coverings indoors, unless seated at café tables.
  •  …and asking that you please continue to keep one absolute unit apart!
Image of the absolute unit with the caption 'please keep one absolute unit part'.

Thank you for helping us keep The MERL safe for everyone.


Since May, we have been delighted to be seeing our visitors’ faces once again throughout our galleries.

The galleries are open six days a week: from 9am to 5pm Tuesday to Friday, and from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Click here to book your timed entry slot online!

In generally, we are able to accommodate drop-in visits, but we do have to monitor numbers in order to keep everyone safe. To avoid disappointment, booking is strongly advised, particularly if you plan to visit the galleries. If you don’t book in advance, all members of your party (aged 16+) will be asked to check in with the NHS Track and Trace app or to leave details at reception.

Two visitors in The MERL galleries.


Whatever the weather, The MERL café has a treat in store for you, from perfect hot chocolates to delicious ice creams, alongside our tasty range of biscuits, snacks, cakes, sandwiches and more.

We have plenty of outdoor seating in our beautiful urban garden, including tables on the patio and picnic benches for your use, with parasols to protect you in style from sun, rain and (possibly even) snow. We also have some indoor seating for your use, but this is limited so that we can maintain social distancing.

As always, the garden offers a peaceful and safe place to relax, picnic, and play. From benches in the herb garden, to a large lawn, raised beds and play-on tractor, there’s space for all visitors to spread out and enjoy. It is a magical place to spend some time with a coffee and a book, or to explore with all the family.

Photograph of The MERL café.

Our gift shop is also back with a new and improved choice of artisanal products from a range of local and independent companies and makers. We are particularly excited to introduce you in person to our new ranges of MERLchandise, including products made in partnership with Art UK. And you need look no further than our new Absolute Unit t-shirts for the perfect post-lockdown look.

Image of The MERL gift shop.

Please note: like last year, we are only able to accept card or contactless payments. We are unable to accept cash payments.


For researchers, the reading room reopened for general access from the 14th April, with booking required. We will also continue to provide our digital access to collections service.

For the latest news on reading room reopening, please visit the reading room page.

Have any questions about our reopening or visiting The MERL shop, café, garden, or reading room? Please reach out to us via social media or by using our contact form. We would love to help!