Parks, museums and carnivals – have you been overlooking Luton as a place to visit?
Once a thriving industrial town, boasting hundreds of hat factories, Luton is now perhaps best known for its international airport and not thought of as a destination town. However, boosted by recent investment along with a growing celebration of the town’s cultural heritage, there is a rich history to explore and a vibrant future in the making.
Stockwood Discovery Centre
Originally a country estate, Stockwood is now a public park. While the original house was pulled down in the 1960s, the former stables and walled gardens now host the Stockwood Discovery Centre. With interactive exhibitions, an outdoor children’s play area and beautiful gardens, it’s a great day out for the family. The museum galleries bring the stories of local people to life, dating back from prehistoric times to the present day. Highlights include the largest horse drawn carriage collection in Europe and the Wenlock Jug, a rare medieval masterpiece. Entry is free and the Garden Café is open every day, serving homemade food using fruit and vegetables from their garden.
A Grade II listed building situated in the beautiful grounds of Wardown Park, Wardown House is now a museum which transports you back in time, to a wealthy Victorian family home. Every room tells a story with interactive displays, a treasure trove of local curiosities and the largest hat collection in the UK. The Morning Room art gallery displays exhibitions throughout the year and the Dining Room Café, which overlooks the park’s stunning floral displays, serves delicious coffee and cake. There is plenty to see in the park too with a boating lake, a 1908 ornamental iron suspension bridge and a children’s playground.
The Hat District regeneration project has seen the town restore the historic hat factories and transform them into arts, culture and creative spaces. Working with local talent and leading artists from across the UK, the newly refurbished Hat Factory Arts Centre offers an exciting programme of live music, contemporary dance, drama and film. With a theatre, gig space, basement bar and workshop zones you can experience incredible performances, enjoy Luton’s thriving arts scene or allow your own creativity to flourish. Open Monday to Saturday from 11am, The Hat Factory Café serves delicious food in a buzzing atmosphere and is a great place to meet.
The UK’s largest one-day carnival usually takes place in Luton at the end of May. Originally introduced by the town’s West Indian community in the 70s, the annual event has blossomed into a vibrant cultural celebration with a funfair, dancing, international food stalls and live music. Community groups from around the town create colourful costumes and spectacular floats. With the pandemic preventing this year’s party and parade, a new National Children’s Carnival Week will take place from 12-18 July instead, allowing all children everywhere to celebrate the Luton Carnival’s 45th birthday. COVID safe activities are planned for schools and youth groups so that they can create their own costumes, learn carnival culture and history and organise their own carnival celebration. Based in Luton, the UK Centre for Carnival Arts (UKCCA) will also bring the Carnival to the community with online activities for families at home and mini carnival experiences popping up all over the town. Join in the fun at www.carnivalarts.org.uk
From 10 July to 8 October, Luton will come alive with a parade of beautifully decorated elephant sculptures. Over 30 giant elephants will form a free, fun and family-friendly art trail around Luton’s key landmarks, streets and open spaces. It will be the biggest outdoor public art event Luton’s ever seen with smaller sculptures – adopted and decorated by schools, colleges and community groups – also displayed as part of the big adventure. Trail explorers can have fun rediscovering Luton, learning about the artwork and getting outside together. You can join in on social media via @bigtrunktrail and download The Big Trunk Trail app for even more fun. Following the event, the sculptures will be auctioned to raise vital funds for Keech Hospice Care.