Luton is a town in Bedfordshire, England, which sits 29 miles from the country’s capital, London. The area has been populated by many of Britain’s earliest settlers, from the Romans through the Saxon conquest. This has given the town a wealth of heritage attractions and landmarks to visit. Today, Luton is known for its London-serving international airport, just east of the town. It also benefits from links to spots like the Chiltern Hills. Visitors to Luton must prepare for the UK’s new ETA requirements impacting travel into the country. Get to know both Luton’s attractions, the new ETA programme and how to apply for digital authorisation.
A History of Luton
From Early History to the Mediaeval Era
Luton has been settled since pre-history, dating back over 250,000 years. Neolithic burial grounds and structures have been discovered in areas of Galley Hill and Waulud’s Bank. The first recorded settlement was a 6th-century Roman town called Durocobrivis in current-day Dunstable, just west of Luton’s present centre. Luton’s lands were used for Roman agriculture during this period. Luton itself got its name in the Saxon era as an outpost on the River Lea (Lea tun) and likely continued as a small farming town.
12th-century Luton saw the building of St Mary’s Church, which still sits in the town centre. The town flourished during the Middle Ages as a milling hub — hence, the central Mill Street. While several skirmishes took place in and around the town during the English Civil War, Luton didn’t play a major role. Most of the town’s buildings were destroyed in a great fire during the Mediaeval Period. Despite this setback, Luton went on to become a straw hat-making centre from the 17th century, for which the town is still known.
Growing Through the Industrial and Post-Industrial Age
As the Industrial Revolution swept across Britain in the 18th century, Luton remained recognised for its hat-making industry. Other industries prospered, too, including newspaper printing. However, the town’s biggest industrial boom arrived with modern manufacturing in the 20th century. Vauxhall Motors and Hewlett & Blondeau both built large factories close to the town. Vauxhall, in particular, went on to build war tanks for Churchill throughout the Second World War from its Luton factory. This made the town a target of devastating air bombing.
While the postwar period saw a manufacturing slump and war damage, the town continued to grow and became a satellite of London as a commuter hub with the building of the M1 motorway. While the new Luton Airport Parkway airport was still in its first few years of operation, Vauxhall shut its doors in 2002. Today, the town boasts a large shopping mall, Luton Mall, and sees over 18 million arrivals at Luton Airport.
Luton Hoo is a storied country estate that, since 1455, existed in some form or another. Its current house was built in 1767 by Robert Adam, a noted neoclassical architect. Today, the grounds are open to visitors, as it’s a luxury hotel serving afternoon teas and fine dining. The estate has frequently been featured in media, from Four Weddings and a Funeral to War Horse, making it one of the most filmed locations in the UK.
Stockwood Discovery Centre
The Stockwood Discovery Centre is a local cultural museum exploring the history of life in Luton. It contains the Bagshawe Gallery, home to local crafts and ethnographic objects, and the Mossman Carriage Collection, home to the largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles in the UK. The centre is located in Stockwood Park, which contains a sculpture garden.
Wardown House, Museum and Gallery
Wardown House is the second of Luton’s two free cultural museums. Located near Wardown Park in a Grade II-listed Victorian house, it mainly explores life in the Victorian period through each of its display rooms. Some of its prized items include a collection of local hats and headwear manufactured in Luton, and the Wenlock Jug, a very rare mediaeval jug crafted from bronze in England.
Hat Factory Arts Centre
Home to theatre and comedy events, the Hat Factory is Luton’s central art space. It’s located in a former factory space in Luton’s historic hat-making district.
Introducing the New UK ETA for Luton
The United Kingdom has recently introduced a new Electronic Travel Authentication (ETA) system to tighten the country’s border control and security. This new system was finalised in the Nationality and Borders Act of 2022. It aims to better count and screen those arriving in the country and to streamline their arrivals in line with modern digital technologies.
The new UK ETA for Luton will greatly change how visitors reach Luton. Now, non-visa foreign nationals will need to apply for permission to enter the country. Under previous laws, visitors only needed a passport to travel. With this new service, they will now require permission in the form of an ETA.
The general scope of the UK’s ETA system was developed from the USA’s Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). What’s more, similar rules are being launched in the EU under the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).
Why Is the ETA System Being Launched?
The main purpose of the ETA system is to better track immigration numbers in the UK. For those arriving in the UK without a visa, detailed information was never previously screened on this scale. Through the ETA system, all visitors to the UK will now be screened to determine their eligibility for entry before they arrive. The process will flag issues like criminal records or immigration violations.
What Are the New Requirements for a UK ETA Application?
Most visitors will now need to apply for an ETA online before travelling to the UK. The required information for an ETA application includes basic data about the person(s) travelling: full name, birth date, country of birth and contact information. Applicants must also possess a valid biometric passport and provide a payment card for the application fee.
How Long Does the ETA Application Process Take?
So as not to inhibit last-minute holidays, the UK’s ETA application process is designed to be fast. Still, it can take between 48 to 72 hours for confirmation. As such, applications should be submitted well in advance to avoid problematic issues when travelling.
Failure to complete the ETA process may lead to denied entry into the country. Airlines will pre-check passengers before boarding and reject passengers without possession of a valid ETA. Upon arrival in the UK, passengers should access the country through eGates with their ETA confirmation, resulting in reduced time spent at border control.
How Long Will an ETA Typically Remain Valid?
An approved ETA is expected to coincide with current UK Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) timeframes. That means an ETA will be valid for 180 days.
When will the UK ETA for Luton Roll Out?
The UK ETA programme is now in its trial phase and will roll out in January 2023. Its full implementation for all travellers is set for the beginning of 2024.
Who is Exempt, and Who Needs to Apply for an ETA?
Most non-visa nationals will need to apply for an ETA before travelling to the UK. This affects most European nations, as well as Commonwealth countries and countries with visa-free travel agreements, including Japan and South Korea. Find a full list of all non-visa nationals that will require an ETA here.
For individuals that still require a visa for travel to the UK, there is no need to also apply for an ETA. This is included in the standard visa process. Further exemptions include resident permit holders in the UK and Republic of Ireland passport holders.
Is an ETA required to Travel to Luton?
Non-visa overseas visitors arriving in Luton will need an ETA for travel from 2024. Further details are available in the UK ETA FAQ.
Luton is a historic town on the outskirts of London with a storied history as a hat-making hub. Though there are significant archaeological, cultural and historical attractions to visit, the town is better known internationally as the location of one of London’s airports. From 2024, a UK ETA for Luton will be required for sightseeing, business trips and other short-term stays. Prepare your UK ETA application in advance to avoid delays at the border.