Milton Keynes is a new town in Buckinghamshire, south-east England. Designated as a new town in 1967, the town has developed over the last 50 years. Whether you are visiting for business or for pleasure, we have lined up 15 great things for you to do in Milton Keynes.
History of Milton Keynes
Only fifty years ago, Milton Keynes was just a very small village. There was a local pub, a church and a gathering of houses. The village was surrounded by green farmland and several nearby brickworks. Other than that there was not much there at all.
During the 1960s, it was decided that a big new town was needed. This was because of a shortage of affordable housing in London. Incorporating the existing towns of Wolverton, Bletchley, and Stony Stratford, as well as many small villages, the new town of Milton Keynes, was designated in 1967. The Milton Keynes Development Corporation was set up and construction began. Today, the town is also known locally as a city even though it is not. Milton Keynes is now home to almost a quarter of a million people and as the town has developed, the number of great things to do in Milton Keynes has grown too.
The capital is only about 45 miles away (just over 70km) to the south, and the existing railway line already provided an excellent railway connection from both the towns of Wolverton and Bletchley.
The planners and developers had a blank canvas and were, therefore, able to design the town with the future in mind. Most large towns and cities suffer from heavy traffic. Drivers face a constant stop/start caused by endless traffic lights. Not in Milton Keyes though, where the entire road network was based on a grid system. At the intersections, there are roundabouts instead of traffic lights. This combination of the two keeps the traffic running well most of the time. It is normally possible to get from anywhere in the town to anywhere else in the town within 15-20 minutes.
1. Centre: MK and intu Milton Keynes
In Milton Keynes, you get two shopping centres for the price of one! Centre:MK and intu Milton Keynes are located next to each other. Other than the signage, you most likely would not notice that you no longer were in the same one.
Centre: MK was the original shopping centre in Milton Keynes. When it opened in the late 1970’s it was reported to be the longest indoor shopping mall in Europe. Built with a glass exterior it was way ahead of its time, and still looks modern today. Centre: MK is home to more than 150 stores, including M&S, John Lewis, Boots, House of Fraser, River Island and Next.
2. Milton Keynes Museum
The Milton Keynes Museum, near Wolverton, is a great place to visit with the whole family. It is located inside an old Victorian building that used to be farmstead. Inside you will find exhibits showing the history of Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas of northern Buckinghamshire and southern Northamptonshire, from 200 years ago right up to the modern day.
At the Milton Keynes Museum, you can really get your hands on history because the exhibits are not protected behind glass. You are invited and even encouraged to touch.
Start by exploring the various rooms in the farmstead itself and then make your way down the Victorian High Street and take a glimpse at the groceries, clothing and medicines that our ancestors had to choose from. Spend a while in the old schoolroom and see how children used to learn in the days when there were no computers.
The absolute highlight for me was the Connected Earth gallery, which maps out human communications throughout the ages. Try out making telephone calls through an old manual telephone exchange. You’ll have to plug in the cable for yourself though!
You won’t want to miss the transportation section though, with old trams and buses, a canal barge and even a Sinclair C5 to try out.
All in all, the Milton Keynes Museum is a great place to visit. It will take a couple of hours at least, and longer with kids. You probably still won’t have a chance to see everything.
3. Bletchley Park
Another really fascinating thing to do in Milton Keynes is a visit to Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park is famous for the code-breaking work that was done there during World War Two. Most notably, this is where the German Enigma code was broken by the British intelligence service.
During your visit to Bletchley Park, you will find out how the location first came to have become the secret home of the Codebreakers in 1938. In 1939, operations were ramped up and there was a staff of around 150 people. The Codebreaking team worked under Dilly Knox together with mathematicians Alan Turing, Peter Twinn and John Jeffreys.
You will discover how, over the coming years, not just the German Enigma code was cracked. Italian and Japanese codes were also broken at Bletchley Park as well as another German code: The Lorenz Code. The work carried out at Bletchley Park was a significant contributing factor to the Allied victory in World War Two.
Code-breaking at Bletchley Park continued until 1946. After this, the location continued to be used until 1987, not just by GCHQ. It was also used as a school/training centre for air traffic control system engineers and Post Office workers too.
Following its closure, Bletchley Park was saved from demolition (a supermarket had been proposed). Today it is a major point of interest, with more than 250000 visitors a year to this historic attraction. You can either join one of the guided tours or if you prefer to wander and explore at your own pace then an audio tour is also available.
4. The National Museum of Computing
Today, we take computers, tablets and smartphones for granted. They are a part of almost everything we do. Youngsters could not possibly imagine a time before the digital age of computers.
The National Museum of Computing in Milton Keynes takes you on a journey through 70 years of progress. The museum is in the grounds of Bletchley Park.
Starting back in the World War 2 era, when the world’s first electronic computer was used by the Lorenz codebreakers, you will see a rebuilt replica of Colossus. In the Tunny Gallery, you can experience the entire code-breaking process starting with the intercept of the radio signals at the Knockholt receiving station in Kent, through to their decryption at Bletchley Park. You will see a working reconstruction of the machine that was used to break Enigma-coded messages, which is thought to have saved many lives due to World War 2 ending earlier than it otherwise would have.
Moving on with your journey through time, you will see huge mainframe systems of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Some of these mainframe systems fill entire rooms. They transformed the way the world does business. Remember though, the smartphone in your pocket has far more computing power than any of them!
Next, onto my absolute highlight and for me the entire attraction of The National Museum of Computing. Anyone who had a home computer in the 1980s can take a nostalgic trip down memory lane in the PC Gallery, and their kids and grandkids can try out the computers and the games on which they whiled away many hours in years gone by.
Forwards in time again, and you will learn about how the internet was conceived in the late 1960s and 1970s and how it built up, leading to global adoption by the late 1990s and beyond.
On many days you can go on a guided tour, but exploring for yourself will leave you with great memories of your family days out in Milton Keynes.
5. Milton Keynes Snozone
The Milton Keynes Snozone is located at Xscape, right in the heart of the town centre. At Snozone you can ski or snowboard on real snow slopes all year round. Snozone is completely under cover so you can come whatever the weather. Whether you want to take skiing (or snowboarding ) lessons, or whether you just want to get some practice in before your annual skiing trip, Snozone is the place for you.
Skis, poles, boards, boots & helmets can be hired for free, as they are included with your ski-pass. You will just need to wrap up warm. The temperature is a constant minus 5 so that the snow doesn’t melt. Jackets and salopettes are also available to hire if you need them, and gloves and socks can be purchased.
Also in Xscape, you will find a variety of restaurants, a bowling alley and a multiplex cinema.
6. The Stables Theatre
If you are looking for live music in Milton Keynes, The Stables Theatre in Wavendon is the best place be.
The Stables was founded by John Dankworth and Cleo Lane in 1970. In the early years, the theatre housed within the old stable block at the back of their home. The Stables was rebuilt in 2010 and the new Jim Marshall Auditorium has the capacity for 398 people. The stage was named after Jim Marshall of Marshall Amplification.
The Stables hosts over 300 concerts/gigs per year. The concerts are for one-night-only.
Famous acts that have performed live at The Stables include Craig David, 10cc, Beverly Knight, Amy Winehouse, Joan Armatrading and Jamie Cullum, among hundreds of others.
7. Milton Keynes Theatre
8. Willen Lake
If you are looking for some outdoor activity, Willen Lake is the place to head for. Willen Lake is manmade and was built to prevent flooding further down river on the River Ouzel.
The lake is in two main parts. The north basin is a wildlife reserve and an excellent place to visit for bird watching or just a nice walk around the lake, away from the hustle and bustle of the town.
The southern basin is available for leisure activities, with several different possibilities both in the water and on dry land in the lovely parkland surroundings.
Whether you fancy swimming, or trying out paddle sports, hiring a power boat or having a go at sailing, wakeboarding or windsurfing. You will find so many possibilities at Willen Lake.
Beside the lake, you could test your nerve and balance skills at Treetop Extreme, or get your adrenaline going at Aqua Splash. For something more serene there is fishing and archery to consider.
There really is something for everyone, even it is just a gentle 2.5 mail walk around edge of the lake. It is flat and level, and the paths are good.
9. Segway Tours in Milton Keynes
If you have ever seen people on Segways and considered trying it out, a Segway Tour in Milton Keynes is a great place to do so. Having tried out riding a Segway, you’ll be left with memories of a great day out that you will never forget.
Segway tours in Milton Keynes run from Willen Lake and last about an hour.
10. Gulliver’s Land
11. Milton Keynes Arts Center
12. Big Rock Hub
13. Formula Fast Indoor Karting
14. Woburn Abbey
15. Woburn Safari Park
Whatever you are visiting for, there are many great things to do in Milton Keynes. Whether you want to visit the many stores or restaurants in the shopping centres, want to experience the thrills and action of the Snozone, go climbing, indoor karting or zoom around the towns extensive network of cycle paths on a Segway you can be sure to find something fun to do. Don’t forget to visit the surrounding area to see the contrast between old and new.
Picture Credits for “15 Great Things to do in Milton Keynes”
- Main image: “The Centre MK, Queen’s Court” by Cnyborg licensed under CC BY SA 3.0
- Centre: MK and intu Milton Keynes: Midsummer Place, Milton Keynes by Paul Harrop licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
- Bletchley Park: Bletchley Park, created by Magnus Manske licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
- The National Museum of Computing: TNMOC Press Release used under fair dealing