Set on the banks of the River Lea to the northwest of London, Luton was founded by Anglo-Saxons as early as the 6th century AD. It was once famed for its hat-making industry before becoming home to the largest car-manufacturing plant in the United Kingdom in 1907. Today, Luton is renowned for its busy airport and as a commuter town for the capital.
While most travellers overlook Luton as a destination, there’s plenty to see and do in the area. Its proximity to Luton Airport and a good choice of accommodation make the town a convenient place to stay, with a diverse range of options available at Rentola UK. This online holiday rental platform showcases properties in the centre of Luton and in Bedfordshire’s scenic countryside. Luton may not be on every traveller’s radar, but it’s a hidden gem waiting to be explored, offering a delightful blend of convenience, culture, and charm for those who venture beyond its airport.
St Mary’s Church
In the heart of Luton is St Mary’s Church, a Grade I-listed building that dates back to the 12th century. It exhibits a Perpendicular Gothic style and is renowned for the flint and stone chequer on its exterior cladding. St Mary’s Church has been restored and renovated several times throughout its history and is now one of the largest churches in Bedfordshire. It holds close ties to Sir John Wenlock, who was a notable figure in the Wars of the Roses and built a chapel here for his family. In addition to admiring a stained-glass image of the baron, you can visit the tomb of his father, William Wenlock. Also not to miss is the church’s baptismal font with its 14th-century octagonal canopy.
Sprawling across 100 hectares, this former estate is now a popular recreational destination with sporting facilities and an 18-hole golf course. While its 18th-century residence was demolished in the 1960s, the estate’s historic stables and walled garden remain. Housed within the stables is the Stockwood Discovery Centre, which showcases the heritage crafts and trades of Bedfordshire prior to the Industrial Revolution. Not to miss is the Mossman Collection of horse-drawn vehicles dating from the 18th to 20th centuries.
Hugging the west bank of the River Lea to the north of Luton is Wardown Park, which was established on the site of a private estate once owned by Richard How. It is renowned for its 1908-built suspension bridge and centrepiece lake, which attracts a variety of ducks, geese and swans. Admire the ornate brick patterning of the Daisy Chain Wall and wander between the formal garden beds, with plantings that change throughout the seasons. Also within the park is a children’s playground and the Wardown House Museum, which displays archaeological findings from the region and examples of antique trades.
A short drive west of Luton is one of the United Kingdom’s largest zoos in an area known as the Dunstable Downs. It’s home to more than 2,500 animals from across the globe, including Asian elephants, African lions and Indian rhinos. Due to the huge size of the park, there is the option to either walk or drive between the enclosures or take advantage of the zoo bus to get around. Throughout the day, you can watch sea lion demonstrations or see birds of prey in flight, as well as participate in a range of animal “experiences”. Kids will love the hands-on keeper course known as “Zoo Explorers”.
Barton Hills National Nature Reserve
Sprawling to the north of Luton is the Barton Hills National Nature Reserve, which forms part of the chalk escarpment of the Chilterns. It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is renowned for its wildflower displays, with the rare pasque flowers particularly impressive. A huge variety of butterflies are attracted to the area, including chalk hill blues and grizzled skippers. Hilly walking trails meander through the reserve and access the chalk stream at the base of the valley. Visit in the summer months to observe Dartmoor ponies grazing on the hillsides.
In the tiny village of Ayot Saint Lawrence is the former home of George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright who spent his final years here in Hertfordshire. It is now managed by the National Trust and open to the public, with many of the rooms in his Edwardian Arts and Crafts-style residence exactly as he left them. Originally built as a rectory, the house offers an insight into the mind of the writer, who penned such works as “Saint Joan” and “Pygmalion”. He did much of his writing in the small garden hut, which he referred to affectionately as “London”. Following his death, Shaw’s ashes were mixed with his wife’s before being scattered in the garden around a statue depicting Saint Joan.
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