Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

10 things tourists should know about Milton Keynes

The much-maligned Milton Keynes is included as a host city in England's World Cup bid for 2018, meaning foreign football fans could be visiting it in their thousands. So what do they need to know?

World Cup bid
Yes, it really happened

Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Nottingham. These are cities with football passion and pedigree coursing through their streets.

And Milton Keynes? This new town in Buckinghamshire finds itself sitting in exalted company on the list of 11 host cities for World Cup 2018.

Over the years, it's been the butt of jokes about concrete cows, and contrasts have been unkindly drawn between the town and yoghurt - only one of which has culture, say sneering comics.

But if this bid is successful, then the last laugh could be had by Milton Keynes and its fast-growing populace, because it would suddenly find itself on the sporting tourist trail.

So what are the town's highlights?

1. The history of the local football club is easy to memorise. It's only five years old. MK Dons was founded in 2004 in hugely controversial circumstances. Despite years of angry protests from fans throughout the sport, the debt-ridden and homeless Wimbledon FC moved 56 miles north and played its first match there in 2003. A year later, MK Dons was founded and in 2008 won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy under manager Paul Ince. The team now plays in the third tier of English football, Football League One.

2. Superman IV scenes were filmed in the town, most notably at the railway station Milton Keynes Central, which appeared as a United Nations building where the famous superhero made a stirring speech.

3. It's easy to find your way around. Untypically for a large English town, its main highways are designed on a grid system, with the vertical roads called "... Street" and the horizontal ones called "... Way". Milton Keynes was born in the late 1960s, to ease housing congestion in London. The location in what was then rural north Buckinghamshire was identified because it was equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge.

4. World-famous architect Sir Norman Foster played a part in its design, although it wasn't his most acclaimed work. Residents at Foster's Beanhill housing scheme protested that the flat roofs leaked and they were replaced.

Bletchley Park Museum
Work done at Bletchley helped to win the war

5. Among Milton Keynes's most famous residents are jazz singer Cleo Laine and her husband, composer and musician Sir John Dankworth. They often perform at music venue The Stables. And Lewis from Morse - actor Kevin Whateley - also lives nearby.

6. You can visit the Bletchley Park Museum where, during World War II, code-breakers decrypted ciphers generated by the German Enigma and Lorenz machines. Its director of operations, Kelsey Griffin, says it has had 100,000 visitors this year, a third more than last year. Many are from countries like Japan, Germany, Canada and the US. Among the highlights is the rebuilt Colossus, one of the world's first recognisably modern digital computers.

7. Or if you have the energy, there's Europe's largest indoor snow slope at Xscape, according to a spokesman for Milton Keynes council. And there is also a covered "urban skateboarding" arena known as the Buszy.

Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth
A famous Milton Keynes couple, Laine and Dankworth

8. You can tell your compatriots you visited the fastest-growing town in the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, its population rose by 30% between 1991 and 2008, to 232,000. The council predicts that by 2031, it will be larger than Newcastle and Brighton, with a population of 325,440. Much of this growth is driven by large companies moving to the town, says Professor Georgia Butina-Watson, an urban planning expert at Oxford Brookes University. The government has also made Milton Keynes one of its official expansion towns, she adds.

9. Despite being the butt of jokes about super-size roundabouts, Milton Keynes is quite a green town, with 22 million trees. And it regularly figures in Britain in Bloom competitions. Council Leader Sam Crooks says the town has both the modern hustle and bustle of a thriving city, and the peace and quiet of the countryside. "Anyone who still has the out-of-date idea that MK is a plastic, sterile place, should come and spend a day with us - and I can guarantee they will change their mind."

10. Locals might call it a city - and signs on buses and roads refer to the "city centre" - but it is still a town. For now. It unsuccessfully applied for city status in 2000 and 2002.

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