The neighborhood around Kings Cross St. Pancras station hasn’t always been as visitor friendly as you find it now. Not all that long ago, this former industrial zone was pretty insalubrious, the sort of place you arrive at on the train and hurry away from as fast as possible.
Since the London terminus of the Eurostar cross-channel railway line was moved from Waterloo to St. Pancras in 2007, however, the area has gradually regenerated, with the last couple of years in particular witnessing major changes.
Kings Cross is still a work in progress, with construction continuing at the north and west points of the site, but there’s already a huge amount to do and see within a pretty compact area.
You can now rub shoulders with art and drama students from Central Saint Martins college, tech staff from Google’s gleaming new London offices and narrowboat-dwelling residents of the Regent’s Canal in a series of public squares, green spaces and cultural institutions.
Get the most out of your visit to Kings Cross with our top picks of where to stay, play and eat.
What to do
The British Library opened in Kings Cross in 1998, long before the recent makeover of the area. You need to be a member to use the reading rooms, but there are exhibits, tours, talks and workshops, many of them free, taking place all the time for everyone else. “Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty” runs through September 19, while “Harry Potter: A History of Magic,” an exhibit marking the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first book in the wizarding series, opens in October.
Until then, Potter obsessives can get their fix at Platform 9 3/4, a photo opportunity on the wall in the concourse at Kings Cross station that references the route that Hogwarts students take to reach the Hogwarts Express. There’s even a Harry Potter gift shop here, too.
Music fans should head to Kings Place, a concert venue presenting classical, contemporary, jazz and folk music, plus talks and comedy shows. It’s home to ensembles such as the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and is a venue for leading festivals like the London Jazz Festival (November 10 to 19).
Kings Place also has two commercial galleries on the premises, Pangolin London and Piano Nobile Kings Place, both of which showcase modern and contemporary British art.
More visual treats are on offer at the House of Illustration, the world’s first public gallery dedicated to this underappreciated art form. Shows include “Anime Architecture: Backgrounds of Japan,” which explores the backdrops for some of the most influential sci-fi anime films (through September 10), and “Quentin Blake: The Life of Birds,” an exhibit of works by the famed British artist and one of the gallery’s founders, best known for his illustrations for children’s writer Roald Dahl.
While Kings Place was purpose-built in 2008, the House of Illustration is located within a historic structure that was once part of Kings Cross station’s Goods Yard complex, where grain was stored after it arrived in London and before it was transported across the city. It’s just one of more than 20 Victorian buildings that have been restored as part of the Kings Cross regeneration project, whose heritage charm is in stark contrast to the striking contemporary architecture elsewhere in the area.
The main building of the historic complex, The Granary, is today home to Central Saint Martins arts college — have a peek into the foyer for a chance to see exhibits or performances by students, and make sure you leave time to appreciate Granary Square, a canal-side public space where 1,000 choreographed fountains create a watery playground for kids of all ages.
An even more engaging outdoor experience is found at Camley Street Natural Park, a two-acre nature reserve within earshot of the bustle of Kings Cross yet somehow occupying a bubble of peace and contemplation all its own. Located on the banks of Regent’s Canal, it’s home to multiple wildlife species (frogs, bats, stag beetles and orchids) and a café serving vegetarian food on weekends.
Where to eat
Further along the canal, back in the heart of the Kings Cross development, you’ll find The Lighterman, a pub and restaurant with a waterside terrace and great views. There’s all-day dining, including a wood-fired grill, Sunday roasts and weekend brunch.
For something a little more upscale, just across Granary Square is Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store, where menus feature dishes inspired by the French star chef’s travels and his passion for sustainable eating (think green vegetable tagine with mackerel chermoula — a Moroccan herb sauce — or smoked golden beetroot tartare with tea-pickled egg).
Innovative drink pairings come courtesy of Tony Conigliaro, one of London’s top mixologists.
Where to stay
The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel opened in 1873, a masterpiece of Victorian gothic design by George Gilbert Scott, the architect of the Albert Memorial. It boasted innovations such as hydraulic lifts and revolving doors but no toilets, so the hotel soon became outdated and closed in 1935.
It reopened following a $250 million renovation in 2011 and today combines stunning contemporary amenities, like a full-service spa, with many glorious period details. Several of the hotel’s 207 accommodations overlook St. Pancras station, and while a room with a station view can’t be guaranteed, if you book a Junior Suite or Grand Junior Suite, you’ll very likely look down on the bustle of the platforms.