AD – Press Trip – As always, all words, photos and experiences are my own.
Milton Keynes is officially a city!
I was delighted when Sophie from Sophie Etc (the go to blog for all things Milton Keynes, especially small biz) and the founder of Social Etc dropped me a message to see if I’d like to visit her home town of Milton Keynes and see what it has to offer. Now we have a lively toddler I’m all about the mini breaks, especially as he gets a little restless on long car journeys. Cambridge to Milton Keynes takes just over an hour which is ideal for us.
I’ll be totally honest and say that before taking this trip to explore Milton Keynes the most I knew about it was that it had the nearest Ikea to us since our relocation to Cambridge. I also knew there was a Tim Hortons but that was about it. However, after a little more research before our trip in September I realised just how much the newly appointed city has to offer for kids and families. I’m so surprised it’s only just become a city.
Milton Keynes has so much going on and there was no way we could fit as much as we’d have liked into 24 hours although we gave it a good go. We’ll certainly be making plans to return to MK (after my second baby arrives) especially now we have a good idea about the layout of the city. There are so many things I want to take my little boy to with Gulliver’s Dinosaur & Farm Park, sledging at Xscape, Climb Quest and the Snail Park being right at the top of our list. I did try to make that list smaller but it’s not possible, there’s just so many things we want to check out but with it just being an hour away from Cambridge there’s really no excuse for lots of future day trips.
Milton Keynes has over 40 parks and green open spaces around the city, plenty of activities for all ages including theme parks and museums, excellent shopping and due to the grid layout of the city it’s really easy to get around by car. The first thing I noticed was how the layout of the roads made me feel like I was in America. This type of grid system of roads is unique to the UK and it meant we quickly learnt our way around the city by car. It also meant we were able to squish lots of different things into our 24 hours because it was so easy to get around. I read that the grid system was designed to separate traffic from travelling through housing districts and in-turn reducing traffic nice and pollution from pedestrian areas which makes a lot of sense and is something I can totally get on board with.
Where to stay in Milton Keynes
There are lots of places to stay in and around Milton Keynes. For this trip, we stayed at the Double Tree by Hilton which is built into the Stadium MK, home to MK Dons Football Club. It’s a really good location if, like us, you’re planning on packing as much into your visit as possible because it’s so easy to get to lots of different places. Also, the Ikea is just an 8 minute walk away, there’s an Odeon Cinema across the road, a retail park surrounding the stadium and loads of places to eat. It’s also just a 10 minute drive to Centre:MK which is a huge shopping centre filled with over 190 shops, cafes and restaurants including the likes of Harrods Beauty, Lego, John Lewis and much more. I’ll tell you more about that later.
When we arrived at the the Double Tree it was very easy to find a parking space. We’d already had a very full day exploring the green spaces around the city so we were ready to dump our bags and squeeze in one more activity before going for dinner. They have complimentary onsite guest parking directly outside the stadium hotel and then an overflow car park across the road. Both of which take just minutes to walk to the entrance, perfect. There were lots of people coming and going when we were there and we love the hustle and bustle of city life so this worked out well for us.
We were met by the friendly reception team who helped us to check in quickly and easily and gave us a rundown of everything the hotel had to offer. The best bit? Well, they handed us a delicious warm cookie each, the perfect start to our afternoon at the hotel. I really like little touches like this. It makes all the difference especially after a day of exploring or travelling.
The hotel has a well equipped gym but unfortunately being 37 weeks pregnant I wasn’t able to make use of it.
We stayed in a Junior Suite which had a separate lounge, desk area and sofa bed. This is the ideal set up for a family on a weekend away or equally for someone away on a business trip. We did try to tempt our little one into his own bed but as always, he was happy to be snuggled up between us and because the beds were so big and comfy this was no problem at all.
In the video above you can see a little walk through of our room including the fantastic view.
Our room had a stadium view and although I’m not a particular football fan it was still a really fun and interesting experience. My little boy was very impressed too and kept running to the window to look out at the pristine pitch. If you’re planning to stay at this hotel then I think it’s worth going for one of these inner rooms just have the experience of overlooking a stadium, there won’t be many times you get to do that. I can imagine on a match day excitement levels are even higher.
They offer a full buffet breakfast which we all enjoyed before our second day of exploring Milton Keynes. Seriously, the breakfast buffet was really good and I think it was my son’s first time experiencing one so he had a lot of fun filling up his own orange juice and having fruit, a hash brown and a muffin for breakfast. There was a selection of cereals with regular milk and several milk alternatives to pick from, a porridge station with lots of toppings, fresh fruit, continental style meats and cheeses, a full English station and of course, a sweet selection of pastries and muffins. Everything had labels to say what they contained but if you have severe allergies then it’s always important to double check with the staff. There was something for everyone and it was the perfect way to fuel up before our day exploring more of Milton Keynes.
I always want to mention that the staff were very friendly, especially with my little boy. They’d stop and chat to him and keep him distracted from running away from the table.
They also have a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill restaurant on-site. We didn’t use the hotel restaurant this time but have eaten at Marco Pierre White’s places quite a few times and always enjoyed the food. It’s good to have something on-site but with plenty of options just a stones throw from the hotel we thought we’d take the opportunity to try something new.
Things to do in Milton Keynes
I think I mentioned this at the start of my post but I was so surprised at how many different things there are to do in and around Milton Keynes with a toddler or as a family with kids of varying ages. I’ll be dedicating a whole post to this because there really are so many options and the run-up to Christmas has some particularly fun things on offer.
So, as I mentioned, we arrived in Milton Keynes on the Thursday and spent the day visiting several parks, Ikea, TheCentre:MK. Then the following day we headed to one of the best soft plays I’ve been to, Safari MK soft play followed by another visit to TheCentre:MK for lunch and a couple of random stops at parks before heading back to Cambridge.
Ouzel Valley Park
We did a lot of research before our trip to MK and had a long list of parks and green spaces to keep an eye out for. We’d planned to try and fit quite a few in but with so much to see and do around the city we only managed a couple on this occasion.
On our first day we stopped by Ouzel Valley Park which is huge and perfect for families of all ages. There’s lots of green space to run around, recreational parks with lots of climbing frames and swings, long walks and a community orchard filled with lots of varieties of apple trees which are there for anyone to pick.
There’s a circular route walk which we’d have liked to have done but due to being heavily pregnant we decided it wouldn’t have been the best idea. However, there’s lots of walking to be done around the park, plenty of picnic spots and it’s an excellent place to bring a scooter or bike.
Willen Lake is one of Milton Keynes most popular parks and with a quick look at their IG page it’s not hard to see why. I’d love to take Xander to the Splash ‘N’ Play next summer, it’s one of the largest outdoor splash parks and looks so much fun. There are lots of guided walking routes to explore the lake as well as the biggest free play area in the city.
Safari MK Soft Play
We love a soft play, especially one that is kept clean, fairly new and has lots to do. Safari MK Soft Play ticks all our boxes because it has both soft play and role play, went through a refurbishment last December, is lovely and clean and they also serve up a good coffee.
Xander went straight for the role playing rooms first. He has a good imagination and loves being able to stack up bricks in the construction site and make dinner and cake in the kitchen. There was also a fire station which went down a treat.
Then he was onto the jungle themed soft play and he had the added bonus of daddy being with us. I think this might have been their first time to a soft play together so excitement levels were high. Nearly as high as the 3 tier floors available to climb and play on. The slides were fast, the baby was big which makes a nice change as they can often be quite small and the toddler area was huge with lots to swing, climb and jump on.
We all had a lot of fun at this soft play and wouldn’t hesitate to go back again.
I never expected Milton Keynes to be a shopping destination but as soon as you set foot in Centre:MK you’ll see that it has much more going for it shop wise than Cambridge. It’s one of the UK’s top shopping destinations with over 190 shops, cafes and restaurants. I tried to get X to go into the Upside Down House but he was having none of it.
The shopping centre is huge and all on one floor so it’s easy to get around with a pram. There are maps dotted all over the place so you can quickly figure out which direction you’re heading in. It was bright, cheerful and clean throughout the mall as well as the toilets.
I was particularly surprised and excited to stumble across a Harrods Beauty during our browse of the shops. It was packed full of skincare, make-up and perfumes that I’ve only ever seen in London stores (HELLO La Collection Privée). The staff were lovely and more than happy to talk through the brands, products and dish out samples.
They had lots of big name restaurants and coffee shops throughout the mall but there were also lots of independent food trucks and market stalls too, something for everyone.
Gulliver’s Dinosaur & Farm Park
We had hoped to visit Gulliver’s during out stay in Milton Keynes but we were visiting during the week during term time when unfortunately they don’t open. It looks like such a fun place to visit with giant animatronic dinosaurs, a petting zoo and play areas.
I’m keen to try and get to the Land of Lights festival in the run-up to Christmas. It’s at Gulliver’s and looks like it will be a truly beautiful experience with 12 dreamworlds of imagination and illumination through music and entertainment. If you live locally or plan on visiting over the next few months I highly recommend you check out the website.
Where to eat in Milton Keynes
On our first day we arrived pretty early and after filling up our car we stopped by Tim Hortons for a shot of Canadian coffee and donuts. It was the perfect way to fuel up before heading off to check out to a couple of parks.
We had lunch at Ikea, I know, not very small biz friendly of us but it was pouring with rain and we wanted to be close to our hotel to check in when it was ready. So, a swift loop around Ikea to eye up a few things we’ve been thinking of adding to our home and a spot of lunch made perfect sense before taking the 4 minute drive down the road to our hotel. It was also a good spot for a very tired little boy to get some chips and have a rest after running wild at the park.
In the evening we visited Centre:MK which was a huge hit for us all. As I mentioned earlier, I’d never thought that Milton Keynes would be a shopping destination but Centre:MK was huge and filled with lots of cute little food trucks too. However, for our dinner we’d decided to make our way back to the hotel, drop off our Lego and skincare purchases before heading across the road to Enfes, a Turkish restaurant which had come highly recommended.
In general I love Turkish food and when I saw the photos on the Enfes website and Instagram I knew this place was going to be good. We picked a selection of hot and cold starters and one main dish to all come out at once and share between the three of us. Check out the menu.
It’s not often that we take our little one out to eat at restaurants, he just has so much energy and doesn’t really want to be sitting down for more than 10 minutes to eat. However, we got lucky on this day. He’d had a super busy and fun-filled day and was happy to have a bit of food and rest his head next to us while we had dinner. When I say rest his head what I really mean is watch lots of Leo The Truck and Blippi (quietly, no one else could hear it) while we tucked in to our delicious dinner.
Everything was SO GOOD from the smooth humus and fresh warm bread to the best falafel I’ve ever had and then the mixed kebab was out of this world. The mixed kebab came with chicken shish, lamb shish, adana kebab, lamb doner and chicken doner served with rice and salad. Trust me, everything was delicious and I wish I was eating it all again right now.
For drinks I had a Nojito mocktail and Phil went for a classic Old Fashioned. I’m looking forward to going back and trying their cocktails when I can, the Turkish Delight sounds ideal for me.
We will 100% be going back to Enfes. Even if we’re just visiting MK for a trip to Ikea we’ll be sure to skip the meatballs and go straight ’round the corner to Enfes for delicious Turkish kebabs.
So, as you know, we went to Safari MK on our second day and ran off lots of energy in the soft play and role play zones. After we really needed some lunch and decided to go to Centre:MK and give Beirut Cuisine a go. We’d thought about going to somewhere we could grab a table and order lunch but decided on something a little more casual due to having a very tired toddler on our hands.
We both went for the lamb Shawarma wraps with a side of wraps and we were not disappointed. It was just what we needed before heading to a play park and then driving back to Cambridge.
What’s next on Prettygreentea?
I have a series of posts on the way about Milton Keynes so do check back again later this week. Just to clarify, I was only asked to write one post but because there was so much to do and I think it’s well worth sharing a little more info I’ve decided to create this into a little series.