If you’re anything like me, you probably have fond memories of your parents taking you to your local shopping centre to see the Christmas displays and lights. I didn’t grow up in Milton Keynes, but I recall the great anticipation of visiting the Queensgate shopping centre in Peterborough each year and couldn’t wait to see what was different. Well for children today, there are so many places you can take them in the build up to the festive season – garden centres, museums, farm parks, Christmas fayres, country houses often all do displays or grottos… So is it still worth visiting the shopping centres? Well out of necessity you may need to, and we’re fortunate to have two excellent centres in Milton Keynes in which to buy presents for friends, relatives and children. So what you can do for free or cheaply whilst you’ve got the kids in tow, and is it worth making a special trip? We’ve been to find out…

Centre MK Christmas display 2017
Centre MK Christmas display 2017

Centre MK

I know many of you who read this blog live in Milton Keynes. But I’m conscious that some of you will also live in the surrounding counties and may be more likely to travel to Milton Keynes to shop at Christmas so I’ll go back to basics. There are two main shopping centres in Milton Keynes. They’re next to each other. The large of the two is Centre MK. The display / grotto takes up the big space known as Middleton Hall outside John Lewis. This year it’s very similar to the two previous years. There are rather large igloos which take up quite a lot of the space and house the grotto. There’s also a train, light tunnel and carousel as well as various cabin type stalls. The ceiling lighting is beautiful and you get a really good view of the whole display if you go up to the mezzanine in John Lewis. I took my 4 year old son with me. His first reaction was ‘wow’ to all of the pretty lights – it’s still quite a sight when you first approach it. But in all honesty he got bored quite quickly. There are a few animatronic animals to see on the train route but not a great deal else. We spent about 10 minutes wandering around. There’s not a great deal to see. The grotto experience if you’re interested lasts about 20 minutes and costs between £7.99 and £9.99. Above you can see some of the pictures of the display, and below you can watch our video.

What else is there for kids to do at Centre MK?

Shops that may interest them include John Lewis, Mothercare and the Disney Store. The centre’s toilets have been revamped this year and are very family friendly for young children. There are also quite a few small coin operated rides up and down the centre. The week we went a big helter skelter was being installed at Queens Court (the bit in the middle with all the restaurants).

Intu MK

There used to be a small soft play area just outside Pret a Manager in Intu MK. For the moment that’s be replaced by an artificial snow scene that kids can play in. I’m not quite sure what the snow actually is – very fine plastic? Well my 4 year old loved it. He had great fun throwing snow, mostly at me, and actually he didn’t want to leave. The downsides? The snow gets everywhere. I do wonder how often they’re having to replace it. If it’s busy then it can be quite chaotic, and when we went a second time the snowman had been removed although it’s apparently coming back. I’d also say if you have very young children who may put stuff in their mouths then it’s probably not appropriate for them. Watch our video below to see what it’s like.

What else is there for kids to do at Intu MK?

At the moment there’s a train that goes around the shopping centre. It costs £2.50 each or three people for £6. It’s proving to be very popular. As soon as my 2 year old saw it he wanted to go on, my 4 year old wasn’t bothered but came along for the ride. If you have a train obsessed toddler then it’s worth going on as they’ll love the fact it weaves in and out of shoppers. We went on a busy weekend and we did have to queue for about 15 minutes. There’s also the frog clock outside Debenhams which plays a musical sequence and bubbles – definitely on the hour, it does something on the half hour too. Below the clock there is a very small sandpit area. The Lego shop has a small area the children can play on.

Intu MK train

So is it worth visiting the shopping centres and what else can we do that’s festive in and around Milton Keynes?

Well my 4 year old loved the snow and my 2 year old loved the train at Intu MK so I’m pleased I took them both there as they had fun. We’re big fans of anything interactive that keeps children entertained. Centre MK is worth a look if you’re visiting as the lighting is very pretty, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see the display again. There are lots of other things to do in the area. Definitely visit the Summerhayes Christmas Lights in Great Linford – it’s one of the best Christmas streets in the whole country and the lights go on 2nd December. This is my guide for where to see Santa in and around Milton Keynes. And I’ve added loads of events to my facebook page events section.

I'm Laura, mum of two boys - aged six and four. I started this website at the end of Sept 2015 whilst on maternity leave. I now work four days a week and do this blog late at night once the little boys are sleeping. It's won several awards over the last four years and I continue to run it for free and mostly focus on free, cheap, and good value days out. Do drop me an email laura@miltonkeyneskids.com if you want to contact me. Don't forget to follow all of our latest adventures on facebook, instagram and twitter and have a look at all of the videos of the places we visit on the Milton Keynes Kids YouTube Channel - subscribe to it for notifications every time I add a new place. And remember... you may been reading this post months after we visited, do check with the destination you're visiting for up to date opening times and prices. If you find this blog useful then please do comment on my posts and leave me a Facebook review - it makes doing this all the more worthwhile.

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