Milton Keynes is a city of 245,000 people (2019) in the South East of England. Milton Keynes is well known in the UK as a planned city built in the 1960s with emphatically modernist architecture. Milton Keynes is a thriving city of contrasts; from innovative new business and entertainment hubs, to theatre, cinema, walks in natural parkland, pub lunches and peaceful canal trips; and yes, it really does have the famous concrete cows (as well as real ones)!
Imagine being able to design the perfect city almost completely from scratch. This is the premise under which internationally renowned urban planners and architects set out to create Milton Keynes in the 1960s and '70s. Of course, when mentioning Milton Keynes, people will often be met with "Ugh, it’s a soulless new city" or "What, is that the place with the concrete cows?" Most irritating is that often, the people that make those comments have neither lived there nor indeed spent much time there. Yes, it is a new city and yes, the centre of that city could be described as a little soulless with its chain restaurants and large shopping centre, but it was built on 150 million years of history and dotted around the 22,000 acres of countryside it resides in are many things to do, see and explore. Sites dating back to 2000 BC have been unearthed along with the remains of a major Roman villa, then dispersed amongst the city, itself built amongst many old towns. Also are numerous green spaces, a plethora of indoor and outdoor activities, and fabulous shopping opportunities. The Ministry of Housing and Local Governments brief in 1967 requested a new town that could accommodate an incoming population of 150,000 Londoners over a period of 20 years.
The city includes a number of pre-existing settlements and villages including Wolverton, Bletchley and Stony Stratford, all of which have expanded as part of its development. Stony Stratford in particular has fabulous British pubs serving good food and beer, a good variety of quaint shops to browse and beautiful river walks just behind the high street. Stony Stratford claims to be the place where the phrase ‘Cock & Bull Story’ was coined (from the name of two pubs/hotels on the High Street).
- 1 Milton Keynes Central station. Rail connections are maintained by Virgin and London Midland on the West Coast main line, and frequent trains connect to London Euston, Northampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and farther north.
Local and slow services also stop at Wolverton in the north and Bletchley in the south. Trains from Bedford (the Marston Vale line) serve Bletchley and Fenny Stratford. Most local bus services connect with the central train station, with more limited services to Bletchley and Wolverton.
- 2 Bletchley railway station. Next to Bletchley Park and the National Computing Museum.
- 3 Wolverton railway station.
National Express services provide regular connections with coach services to many cities and regional airports, as well as larger ones such as Heathrow.
Regional coach services are provided linking Northampton, Aylesbury, Oxford and Cambridge, and can be taken from either the railway station, town centre or the 4 Milton Keynes Coachway, which is located near junction 14 of the M1.
Milton Keynes is on the M1 motorway and on the A5 trunk road. From London, Luton and the south, Milton Keynes can be accessed via junction 13. From Leicester, Northampton and the north, Milton Keynes can be accessed from junction 14.
The Park and Ride service has 200 buses run every 30 minutes from Central Milton Keynes to MK Coachway (located near junction 14 of the M1) Sunday to Friday and every 15 minutes on Saturdays, see National Park and Ride Directory
London Luton Airport (LTN IATA), 25 miles south via the M1.
London Heathrow Airport (LHR IATA), 55 miles south via the M1 and M25.
London Stansted Airport (STN IATA), 58 miles to the east via the A421 and A1.
Buses in Milton Keynes are frequent, and all estates are quite well covered. There are regular buses from most places to the city centre, train station, and Bletchley. Travelling by car is usually preferable as one of Milton Keynes's saving graces is its road network, although during rush hour, it can get somewhat congested in some areas.
The dominance of the car is greatly helped by the road layout – the main roads of the city are laid out in a grid system with roundabouts at the intersections, so getting about is quick, although predictably less so in rush hour. The grid is formed of numbered 'H' roads running horizontally on the map and 'V' roads running vertically. Visitors who drive to Milton Keynes often get lost on these roads because they all look the same—the main roads are in tree-lined linear valleys to reduce road noise so there are few landmarks visible to navigate by. A map is recommended for people who are new to the town.
Pedestrians and cyclists have their own network of 'redways' – paths made of red tarmac that broadly follow the grid roads but never meet them, either crossing over or underneath. The redways are a good way to get about. As with any place you are unfamiliar with, caution is advised, and as many of the redways cross minor roads cyclists and those with children should beware of traffic!
The redways are often not well signposted, and that traversing them without a map can lead to you getting lost quite quickly!
- 1 The Peace Pagoda, Willen Park. The first example in the Western world, is also worth a visit for a more tranquil experience.
- 2 Concrete Cows. In the UK, the city is known for its concrete cows, an art installation created by Liz Leyh (was once just off the H3, in Bancroft, but now is in the Centre:MK shopping centre).
- 3 Stony Stratford. A charming and picturesque market town and centre of its eponymous district. It contains a number of buildings in the 'Arts and Crafts' style, notably The Old School House pub, 'The Retreat' alms houses and 'Nisi Domus' beside the RC Church.
- 4 Iron Trunk Aqueduct. Built in 1811, cast iron trough navigable aqueduct that carries the Grand Union Canal over the River Great Ouse,
- 5 Bletchley Park, The Mansion, Bletchley Park, Sherwood Dr, Bletchley, MK3 6EB (next to Bletchley railway station), ☏ . During World War II this country estate was the headquarters of a code-breaking project named ULTRA. This was a huge triumph for British Intelligence; they broke nearly all the codes used by the Germans and Italians and read most of their supposedly secret communications throughout the war. This was of enormous value to Allied commanders.
Arguably the Colossus machine — built at Bletchley to crack the Lorenz cipher used by parts of the German army — was the first programmable digital computer. Certainly Alan Turing — a Cambridge mathematician who was a key code-breaker during the war — made large contributions to the theory of computation before the war, and to both theory and practice after it. Several other ex-Bletchley people also became computer pioneers in the postwar years
The historic value of this site has now been belatedly recognised in the form of a museum with a significant number of things to do for both adults and children. All tickets are annual passes with unlimited entry for up to a year. Adult: £24.50, Concession (over 60s and students with valid ID): £22, Child (12 to 17): £16, Family (2 adults and 2 children): £65.50, Child (under 12): free.
- 6 The National Museum of Computing. Bletchley Park is home to the National Museum of Computing. Only the Colossus Galleries of the NMC are open 7 days per week; the full museum is open most weekends and some weekdays.
Milton Keynes has attractions for the adventurous. Willen Lake has a wakeboard tow rope system; the Xscape has an indoor snow slope, a climbing wall and an indoor skydiving tower; the central bus station has a skate park' and the town has also a BMX track at Pineham.
- 1 Xscape, 602 Marlborough Gate, MK9 3XS, ☏ . A giant dome, home to a 16-screen cinema and Snozone, the largest indoor ski slope in the United Kingdom.
- Families with younger children might like to head for the Gulliver's Land theme park or Eco Park next door or take a stroll and have a picnic at the nearby Willen Lake.
- Football: 2 Milton Keynes Dons, Stadium:mk, Stadium Way MK1 1ST, ☏ . The Dons were relegated in 2023 and now play soccer in League Two, England's fourth tier. They play at Stadium MK, capacity 30,000, two miles southeast of the railway station. In 2022 this hosted games in the UEFA Women's Euro Finals, postponed from 2021.
- Because of the local value of the car culture, a growing car cruise and meet is staged in the car parks around the Network Rail head office on Sunday nights, and it is popular both with modders and the police.
- 3 Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, MK9 3NZ. Billed as the country's "most popular" since it has the most people attending for any theatre in the country. Travelling shows and longer running productions are staged here, often large productions will come here as a final dry run before they take their shows to London's West End.
- Stony Stratford is worth a visit to experience the more tranquil and traditional side of Milton Keynes. About 10 min from the City Centre by car, you will find a quaint high-street with some quirky independent shops, lots of pubs where you can get good old-fashioned British grub, a pint of beer and warm yourself by a real fire during colder months. If you feel like taking a stroll, you can walk out of the town and take a pleasant stroll along the river.
- Woburn Village is about a 15-minute car journey from Milton Keynes and is well worth a visit.
- 4 Milton Keynes Lightning, Planet Ice Arena, South Row, MK9 1DL, ☏ . From September to late March you can see ice hockey most Saturday nights in Milton Keynes at the new Arena MK next to the railway station. The MK Lightning play in the top English Elite league.
- 5 National Bowl (Milton Keynes Bowl), Watling St, MK5 8AA, firstname.lastname@example.org. Known for international artists, this amphitheatre regularly hosts live music events.
The Centre: MK is the main shopping centre for the surrounding area and is where most of the shopping in Milton Keynes is to be had. It features branches of many high street chains, with over 230 stores. The centre is undercover with good disabled access.
The High Street in Stony Stratford offers a pleasant but small alternative. Most residential areas have their own convenience store.
There are various retail parks with the larger DIY, carpet, furniture and warehouse-style clothes shops.
Milton Keynes has a wide variety of restaurants both in the City Centre and in the outlying areas.
In the city centre the restaurants are centred around the theatre district, Xscape and a new area called "The Hub".
- 1 Taipan, 5 Savoy Crescent, MK9 3PU, ☏ . This is an excellent Chinese restaurant in the heart of the theatre district
- The Centre: MK, John Lewis restaurant is convenient.
There is a wider range of smaller independent restaurants in outlying areas such as Stony Stratford, Wolverton, and Fenny Stratford. There is also decent pub food (and somewhat better beer) at The Plough in Simpson, and Ye Olde Swan in Woughton on the Green. Pub grub at the Old Beams in Shenley Lodge can not be beaten.
The Salford Swan, while not in Milton Keynes, is well worth a look for some excellent pub-restaurant food with a delightful atmosphere.
Treat yourself to an English fry-up at Kay’s Kitchen in Stony Stratford.
On a summer evening a trip to the theatre district or Xscape almost transports you to a Spanish holiday resort, such are the number of bars and clubs with people walking between them. Not much for a CAMRA member here though, as it's more for the bottle of Bud or Smirnoff Ice crowd.
More traditional pubs can be found along the Stony Stratford high street, popular for pub crawls at weekends. Newport Pagnell, a few miles from the city centre, is also a good option with many good pubs and a good atmosphere
The night life
The nightlife (pubs and clubs) in Milton Keynes are focussed around the theatre District, Xscape snow dome and The Hub areas.
- 1 Craufurd Arms, 59 Stratford Rd, Wolverton, MK12 5LT, ☏ . M-Th Su 1PM-midnight, F Sa 1PM-2AM. This pub with a large room attached has a series of bands, comedy, open mics sessions and other acts every week. Voted the Best Live Music Pub in the South East 2011.
- The Pitz, Woughton Leisure Centre, Rainbow Drive, Leadenhall. A 500-person capacity venue catering mainly for rock acts, large supporter of local music.
- The Stables, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, ☏ (box office). A 450-person capacity venue a few miles outside of Milton Keynes. It is focused on Jazz music but attracts many musicians of all genres.
- Sabotage, Refurb, Margaret Powell Square Theatre District Central Milton Keynes (Friday) & Station Square Elder Gate Milton Keynes (Mondays). City-based alternative promotion with a wide range of music from DJs to live bands.
Milton Keynes offers a variety of chain hotels, including Holiday Inn, Hilton, Ramada, Jury's Inn, Travelodge, and Holiday Inn Express. Some are located in the bustling town centre and others in more peaceful spots, including the Holiday Inn Express adjacent to Willen Lake.
- 1 Horwood House, Mursley Road, Little Horwood, MK17 0PH, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM.
- 2 Holiday Inn Express, Tongwell St., MK15 0YA, ☏ .
- 3 [dead link] The Cock Hotel, 72-74 High St, Stony Stratford, MK11 1AH.
- The Annex Guest Guardens, Guest Gardens, New Bradwell, Milton Keynes, MK13 0AF, firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Self-contained large annex. Max 4 people. 1 king bed and 1 sofa bed. Lounge, kitchen, bedroom and shower room. From £75.
- The Butterfly Loft, 1 Clare Stables, Vicarage Rd, Stony Stratford, MK11 1BN, ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 4-9PM, check-out: 10AM. First floor apartment for one or two people. Formerly part of the stable block of an old coaching inn, it has a comfortable king size bed, with ample storage space for clothes and shoes, a well stocked kitchenette, dining area, sitting room and even a desk and adjustable desk chair, shower room and toilet. There’s also central heating, a little wood burner, free-standing electric heaters, ‘cool towers’ for those hot summer nights, hair drier, towelling bathrobes and slippers, books, games, DVDs, CDs and USB electric sockets. Minimum two nights stay. £85 per night.
|Routes through Milton Keynes|
|Leicester ← Northampton ←||N S||→ Luton → London|
|Rugby ← Towcester ←||NW SE||→ Woburn → Leighton Buzzard|