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 dispassionate comments are those who have neither lived 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. Now 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; it really does have something on offer for everyone--and yes, it really does have concrete cows!
Milton Keynes is conveniently located on both the M1 motorway (at junction 14) and the West Coast Main Line, and as a result there are many ways to both enter and leave the town.
The M1 motorway connects London with Birmingham, before continuing north to Liverpool and Manchester. Milton Keynes is approximately half-way between London and Birmingham. There are also links east and west on the A421 to Bedford, Cambridge and Oxford.
Coach services to many cities (including Oxford and Cambridge) can be taken from either the train station, town centre or the Coachway, which is located near the motorway junction. National Express buses from the M1 stop at the Campbell Park (temporary) Coachway on Silbury Blvd, approx 1Km E of the shopping centre. This is walkable, a walk made more pleasant by going through Campbell Park itself.
Rail connections are maintained by Virgin and London Midland, and frequent trains connect to London, Northampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and farther north.
If driving into the central area, be careful not to get stung by the parking system. Adjacent to the major shopping centres are Red Zones (£1 per 30 mins), but the much less obvious purple zones are often literally just across the street and much cheaper (50p per hour). SatNav has a lot of trouble finding good parking in MK, so be prepared to hunt a bit.
Public transport within Milton Keynes has never been great, but it is getting better all the time. The bus operator, MK Metro, has recentlly been purchased by Arriva, and standards are improving. Buses in Milton Keynes are more 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!
Be warned that the redways are often not well signposted, and that traversing them without a map can lead to you getting lost quite quickly!
Milton Keynes has a claim to being the home of the modern computer, as the German Enigma codes were cracked by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. The historic value of this site and its importance to the development of the computer has now been belatedly recognised in the form of a museum with a significant number of things to do for both adults and children. The site is also home to The National Museum of Computing . Visitors should be aware that as of early 2012 public access is not 7 days per week.
In the UK, the city is famous/notorious for its concrete cows, an art installation created by Liz Leyh (just off the H3, in Bancroft).
Another feature is the giant Xscape dome, home to a sixteen screen cinema and the largest indoor ski slope in the United Kingdom.
The Peace Pagoda in Willen Park, the first example in the Western world, is also worth a visit for a more tranquil experience. The nearby temple also provides an interesting attraction.
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 restuarants both in the City Centre and in the outlying areas.
In the city centre the restaurants are centred around the the theatre district, Xscape and a new area called "The Hub".
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 strictly within Milton Keynes itself, is well worth a look for some excellent pub-restaurant food with a delightful atmosphere.
On a summer evening a trip to the theatre district / 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 its 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
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.
Night life Nightlife (pubs and clubs) in Milton Keynes is focused around the theatre district, Snow Dome and The Hub areas.
The Pitz: Woughton Leisure Centre, Rainbow Drive, Leadenhall. A 500 capacity venue catering mainly for rock based acts; large supporter of local music.
The Stables Stockwell Lane, Wavendon. A 450 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 DJ's to live bands