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What's it like to live in Milton Keynes?

Milton Keynes

Just 45 miles from London, Milton Keynes (MK to locals) is a thriving (not so) New Town. Designed as a modern, efficient, pleasant place to live, it’s become one of the most popular commuter towns in England. Families relocate for cheaper house prices, a relaxed pace of life, and a welcome mix of urban convenience and countryside peace.

Where is Milton Keynes?
What’s Milton Keynes like for families?
Things to do in Milton Keynes
What are house prices like in Milton Keynes?
What are the schools and nurseries like?
Shopping and the town
What are the doctor's surgeries and hospitals like in Milton Keynes?
Getting around
What's planned for Milton Keynes’ future?

Where is Milton Keynes?

Milton Keynes is in Buckinghamshire in South East England. The town is about 50 miles north-west of London and just over 70 miles south-east of Birmingham.

What’s Milton Keynes like for families?

Brilliant, actually. It’s a new town that’s come of age, celebrating its 50th birthday in 2017 – and although it’s only a 35-minute train commute to London, there’s nothing of the dormitory town about it. Thirty years ago it was a byword for anodyne out-of-town-ness, but – through a dynamic and forward-thinking approach to culture and technology, a thriving economy, plus remarkably green credentials – it’s well and truly blossomed into a town with a unique, forward-looking identity.

It ticks lots of boxes: a growth economy for the last five years, lots of green areas, all the shops you'd need, trendy bars and cafés and nearby countryside villages.

Part of its charm lies in its contrasts – with a population of just over 200K it’s big enough to be outward-looking rather than insular, and yet small enough to have a community feel. Mooching around, it feels quite likely that you might bump into someone you know. Unsurprisingly, 92% of local people say they love living in Milton Keynes.

With so many best bits, from culture, 125 miles of cycleway, those Concrete Cows, an easy commute to surrounding cities (including London) and start-ups and relocating companies flocking to the area, Milton Keynes is a family magnet. It’s a brilliant place to bring up nature-loving, active kids – you’re never more than half a mile from a park, and overall it boasts 20 million trees, 5,000 acres of green spaces, and easy access to several rivers and lakes.

Purpose-built in the progressive Sixties, and planned to within an inch of its life, MK is home to every possible flavour of civic and leisure amenity. There’s a large covered shopping centre, a theatre, art gallery, cinema multiplex, hotels, and green mid-town areas which break up the urban landscape.

Tens of thousands of London families have moved there because there's so much to do.

Milton Keynes generally considers itself to be youthful and energetic, and its age demographics back this up – it ranks 11th in the UK for its youthfulness, with an average age of just 37. This means that there’s loads going on for children of all ages, and young families can usually find something fun to do, with plenty of free things on offer.

If you’re a festival fan, there are lots to choose from. Walking with Giants is a huge (baboom-tish) summer extravaganza for the whole community. Biennial Milton Keynes International Festival, next on in July 2018, offers 10 days of quirky events in unusual places – music, dance, contemporary circus, digital projects and other fun stuff for families. Paraffinalia breaks the summer festival mould a bit – it’s an uplifting winter warmer with a children’s lantern parade, hot food, performance fire art and fireworks.

Things to do in Milton Keynes

It’s hard to think of a town with more to offer families in the way of free and paid for fun. Take yer pick of karting, trampolining, indoor sky-diving, wakeboarding, a rope adventure course, multi-screen cinemas, laser tag, Segway, the Xscape complex (for bowling, indoor body-flying and indoor skiing and snowboarding at Snozone), skateboarding at 'The Buszy', and spy mission challenges.

MK Dons Football Club has dedicated family entrances to the stadium, a family seating section, match-day entertainment and mascot activities, and feels like a really safe and welcoming place for younguns.

There are lots of local baby and toddler groups, including Bubba Shakes Disco Playgroup on Saturday morning, where older siblings are also welcome. Picasso Tots is on Wednesdays 2pm-2.45pm at Newport Pagnell, and Telltale Tots has monthly story sessions in venues across the town.

You could also take the kids on a bike ride to explore the great Milton Keynes outdoors. Selsey Forest is beautiful, with the added bonus of tall tree platforms and play ropes. Dunstable Downs, Barton Hills and Wrest Park are all local(ish) spots of outstanding beauty, ideal for picnics and sunny wandering.

A lovely play park on the edge of Caldecotte Lake comes highly recommended for families, with lots of green space for ball games and picnics, scooting and cycling (and there’s free parking too). Take a ride on the miniature railway – it’s handily near the Caldecotte Arms, which was voted MK’s Family Restaurant of the Year 2017.

In terms of ‘organised’ fun, MK is almost ridiculously over-served: 360 Play is an indoor and outdoor activity centre offering rain-or-shine fun every day, with a carousel, a dodgem track, a three-storey indoor playframe and an interactive play street (blimmin’ heck). For more family friendly activities, nip up to Safari MK in Kiln Farm for some animal magic. Gulliver’s Land, which includes Gully Town indoor play area, Gulliver's Farm and Dinosaur Park and SplashZone indoor water park, is ideal for a big day out with tots and tweens. Woburn Safari Park is a fantastic drive-through safari park, allowing you to get up close and personal with wild animals of all shapes and sizes.

Go-to museums include Bletchley Park, home of British codebreaking and birthplace of modern information technology. It’s got interactive exhibits and great audio guides, and is fantastic for those with an interest in secret codes, coding and espionage; a toddlers’ play area makes it a good bet if you’re bringing a range of ages. The Milton Keynes Museum has lots of hands-on activities, and the tea room is well worth a visit.

The canal museum at Stoke Bruerne is also good, but could be a bit hairy with toddlers – although they might enjoy going on a canal boat.

Aside from numerous cinema complexes, the 1,400 seat Milton Keynes Theatre and performance space on the town’s outskirts, Milton Keynes Arts Centre, is one to visit with the kids for a feast of exhibitions, family workshops and courses.

The usual family friendly chain restaurants are centred around the theatre district, Xscape complex and new area on the grid, The Hub. Taipan offers decent Chinese food, and Jaipur claims to be the largest purpose-built curry house in Europe. For proper posh, The Plough in Wavendon is a new restaurant with its sights set on a Michelin star.

Take a summer evening stroll to the Peace Pagoda, the first in the western world, by Willen Lake. Be at One comes recommended for cocktails – or head to The Stables Theatre for some jazz.

What are house prices like in Milton Keynes?

The many and varied options in and around Milton Keynes range from the original villages of Olney and Wolverton to new-builds in the expanding and newly developed grid suburbs of the town itself.

The popularity of new towns, and particularly MK, has grown exponentially in the last 10 years – they’ve outplayed the snobbery that dogged them in the 80s and 90s, and are now seen as a brilliant and affordable alternative to city living. Alas, this means there’s huge demand for houses in Milton Keynes and prices are rising quickly.

Most local housing stock comprises houses rather than flats. They come in all shapes and sizes: terraced, semi-detached and detached properties. Prices vary markedly by location and property size. Terraced houses sell for an average price of £221K, and detached ones average £409K.

I'd recommend villages between Bletchley and Leighton Buzzard: the Brickhills, Stoke Hammond, Soulbury and Stewkley.

If urban living isn’t your thing, you can avoid the hustle and bustle of Milton Keynes’ grid suburbs and embrace a quieter lifestyle (at a premium price) in villages like Olney, Sherrington and Emberton.

If motorway access is important, Wavendon Gate, Kents Hill and Monkston are convenient and popular areas to live. Broughton is an area to consider too, with family-sized semis selling for around £330K. The local primary school, Brooklands Farm was recently rated good by Ofsted.

We have settled for Broughton – it seems to have a real community feel.

Most grid areas are regarded as safe and pleasant places to live, although some locals consider those close to the town centre (e.g. Netherfield, and Conniburrow) as areas to avoid. So much is down to personal preference though, and it’s always worth checking out an area in person rather than relying on hearsay.

I live on an estate that's walking distance to four primaries, one secondary, a library, a large supermarket, local shops, restaurants, and churches. There's a very strong community group that runs activities, festivals, choirs, book group.

Being in catchment for good, local schools is a major consideration. Along with Loughton (handy for the railway station) and Bradwell, the ‘Shenleys’ (Brook End, Church End and Lodge) are popular areas for families because of their schools. Buy a house locally and your children would be in catchment for Oxley Park Academy (rated ‘good’) or outstanding Two Mile Ash School, both primaries. A family home in the area costs around £400K.

Milton Keynes’ most sought after and best performing secondary schools include Denbigh High (Shenley Church End), Walton High (Walnut Tree) and Ousedale School (Olney). Walnut Tree, to the east of the town, is considered to have “good and affordable housing for families” including this three bedroomed property for £350K.

What are the schools like in Milton Keynes?

There are over 100 primary schools and 20 secondary state schools in Milton Keynes and their numbers continue to grow as the town expands. The quality of state education provision in the town, particularly at secondary school level, is much debated locally. MK operates the traditional infant, junior (with some combined primaries) and secondary school education pathway, although there are still a few remaining lower, middle and upper schools on the outskirts of town, just to confuse!

Nursery schools in Milton Keynes

MK residents are spoilt for choice in terms of nursery provision for the under-fives. Woodlands Day Nursery (Ofsted outstanding) is highly recommended. Parents of children at Shenley Church End Day Nursery have rated it one of the best nurseries in the region. Kiddi Caru’s Walnut Tree Day Nursery recently celebrated an Ofsted outstanding rating: “Staff were seen to be highly responsive to the needs of babies and very young children, intuitively offering reassurance and providing stimulating resources for them to explore.”

What are primary schools like in Milton Keynes?

I'd say most of the primary schools in Milton Keynes are fine. I wouldn't say there's much difference between them so it's not worth busting a gut to get your DC into a specific school.

The following primary schools get outstanding ratings from Ofsted: New Bradwell Primary School, Loughton Manor First, Priory Rise (“The Head is warm, friendly and approachable”) and Shepherdswell Academy. Middleton Primary is highly thought of for its stellar SATS results and because it’s a feeder for popular Oakgrove secondary school too. Many primary schools tend to feed into specific secondaries, so do your research thoroughly.

What are the secondary schools like in Milton Keynes?

MK secondary schools are modern, large and purpose built. A select few are super sought after, massively oversubscribed and consequently have very small catchment areas. Denbigh (about to open a second ‘partnership’ secondary school) and Oakgrove (Middleton) are Ofsted outstanding. Ousedale and St Paul’s RC (Bletchley) are both rated good – the first is the more popular of the two.

Stantonbury Campus might be one to consider. The largest school in the country has fantastic facilities – including a swimming pool, theatre and athletics stadium. It divides opinion, so you do need to visit to get a feel for what it offers. “Personally I love the ethos of the school – everyone is equal.” The good news is that a three bedroomed terrace in the area sells for under £300K.

There aren't any grammar schools in Milton Keynes but children can apply to go to the grammar schools in Buckingham, Aylesbury or Leighton Buzzard.

As MK is a relatively new town, the number of independent schools in the area remains small.

Private preps include Milton Keynes Prep School (co-ed) operating with some nursery provision across three sites in MK, Broughton and Walton. The Grove (TGIS) in Loughton has an intake spanning nursery level to Year 9. Further afield in Milton is Swanbourne House, a co-ed prep school with nursery, day and boarding options for pupils aged 3 to 13.

If you’re looking for cradle to A-levels, Milton Keynes co-educational Webber Independent School teaches children from the age of 3 to 18. Further afield, Cognita-owned Akeley Wood School educates girls and boys aged 12 months to 18-years-old across three sites. Catholic Thornton College near Buckingham is a day and boarding school educating girls across pre-prep, prep, senior and sixth form departments.

All the local secondary schools, state and private, have sixth form provision. Additionally, MK College “offers an aspirational alternative to traditional sixth form.”

Shopping and the town

Milton Keynes is shopping centre heaven. Centre:MK and intu Milton Keynes, two adjacent town centre retail hubs, make for one of the largest covered shopping centres in Europe, with over 400 shops like John Lewis, House of Fraser, M&S and Debenhams, and youth-friendly brands like Hollister and Superdry. There are pricey car parks in the centres but plenty of cheaper parking spots three to five minutes’ walk away too.

“Because it's all properly planned, the shops are all next to each other and there’s plenty of parking nearby.”

Kingston Centre and MK1 Milton Keynes (with a large Primark) are the other shopping hubs, and a big plus for anyone setting up home in Milton Keynes is the IKEA in Bletchley, just off the A5.

If malls aren’t your shopping bag, head to nearby market towns and villages such as Olney and Stony Stratford. It’s home to retro arcades, bijou boutiques and galleries selling antiques, crafts, designer clothes and gifts, and you’ll be supporting independent traders too.

If markets are your thing, Milton Keynes has lots to offer. There’s the central Outdoor Market which gets the thumbs up for clothes, ethnic goods from all over the world, foreign food and street food, gadgets and hardware stalls. Regular continental markets are good news for foodies, and there are monthly farmers’ markets in Newport Pagnell, Olney, Stony Stratford, Woburn, and Wolverton.

GPs, hospitals and health services in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes has 30 GP practices, including some with minor injuries clinics on site – particularly helpful for families whose children are of the scrape-getting-into variety. It’s also home to the centrally located University Hospital, an NHS general hospital with A&E on site. BMI Saxon Clinic provides a range of private healthcare services locally.

In 2016 the Care Quality Commission rated maternity and gynaecology services at MK University Hospital as good: “The culture within the nursing and midwifery teams was caring, supportive and friendly.” The lack of maternity care choices available to women under Milton Keynes CCG remains an issue – but there are plans to create a dedicated home birth team and improve local perinatal mental health services.

Across 17 Children’s Centres, Milton Keynes offers support and a pretty good range of health and wellbeing services for expectant parents and families with young children (zero to five years). Moorlands, Hedgerows and Rowans have been upgraded to Family Centres which include services for older children and grandparents too.

Getting around – local transport links

Milton Keynes is a bit of a transport dream, with excellent transport links around town and to surrounding areas and cities. Strategically placed between London, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Coventry and Peterborough, it’s brilliantly served by six local railway stations, M1 and A421 road links, and Luton Airport just forty minutes away.

The ‘redways’ network enables pedestrians and cyclists to navigate their way around Milton Keynes away from cars. Following, but separate from, MK’s famous grid roads, they’re ideal for kids to scoot and cycle safely away from traffic. Joggers love them too.

There's a fantastic bus service. I know loads of people who don't drive at all.

Regular and reliable bus services run in and around MK. PLUSBUS tickets gives you unlimited bus travel on Milton Keynes, Wolverton or Bletchley operators’ services.

The town’s famed roads and many roundabouts make car travel quick and easy. There are plenty of alternative routes to get into, and bypass, MK so traffic tends to flow freely, although some routes do get congested at rush hour.

The grid system mean that traffic jams are almost unheard of and getting across the city takes no more than 20 minutes.

Milton Keynes has great major road links. The M1 connects the town to London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. The A421 links east and westwards to Bedford, Cambridge and Oxford. The A5 provides direct routes to London to the south and as far north-west as Bangor and Holyhead.

How long is the train journey from Milton Keynes to London?

Local and inter-city rail links serve MK well. Services run by Virgin, London Midland and Southern provide frequent trains connecting the town to London, Northampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. During the week, 200+ trains per day run to Euston, with fastest services taking just 35 minutes. Train travel is costly though, with an annual Milton Keynes to London season ticket currently costing £5,209.

Is there a coach service?

Frequent coach services operate from the out-of-town Coachway (M1 Junction 13) direct to major cities including Oxford and Cambridge. The nearby Park and Ride makes for cost-effective and easy interconnecting travel with the town centre. Half-hourly services run Sunday to Friday and every 15 minutes on Saturday.

How far is Milton Keynes from the nearest airport?

For holiday getaways and business flights, Milton Keynes is within a 90-minute drive of five international airports.

What's planned for Milton Keynes’ future?

The Gravity Trampolining Centre at the Xscape complex is due to open later on this year for ‘bouncing Tiggers’, big and small.

Good news for commuters: new and direct passenger trains within the region and connecting with national mainline routes. It’s hoped that Bedford to Oxford, Milton Keynes to Oxford and Milton Keynes to London Marylebone (via Aylesbury) services will be running by the early 2020s.

Milton Keynes will be part of the Oxford Cambridge Economic Growth Corridor initiative – a global showcase for science, technology and innovation.

A main player in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford ‘knowledge arc’, MK is set to double in size to a population of 500K by 2050. Plans for the town’s expansion will need to include the building of affordable, supported or specialist housing, improvements to the grid road system and the green space infrastructure throughout the area.

In 2020 a new secondary school (for 11 to 16-year-olds) will open its doors on a site in the new Whitehouse development, with a catchment area covering the west of town. It will form a partnership with Denbigh School (Shenley), currently the best-performing secondary school in Milton Keynes, “sharing the same ethos of education, care and opportunity.”

After recent trials, driverless cars are coming to town. This summer, a fleet of 40 four seat ‘pod’ driverless taxis, using the town’s broad pavements, will change how people travel around MK. The future is here!

Milton Keynes is home to the most successful theatre outside the West End, its own orchestra and the first multiplex cinema in the country, and is bidding to become European Capital of Culture in 2023. Alas, BREXIT negotiations with the EU may have scuppered its chance of success – but watch this space!