London’s Kings Cross has always been one of those neighborhoods you pass through – preferably as quickly as possible. Now a fresh-faced destination, even in the midst of a massive 67-acre regeneration project and one of the largest redevelopment projects in Europe. Cranes twirl and bob around spanky-clean public spaces where children frolic in fountains, well-dressed patrons sip cappuccinos in trendy cafes, and art installations abound.
You can easily spend all day in London’s Kings Cross, emerging culturally enriched. Consider taking a tour that leaves from the visitors center, about half-way down Stable Street, especially if you have an interest in urban regeneration. A PR exercise, certainly, but cast cynicism aside and witness a renewal with an eye to enhancing public spaces. If you don’t choose to do a tour, stop into the office for a map of the redeveloped area.
Kings Cross has always been about the railway, with three major London stations: Euston, Kings Cross and St Pancras, within one mile of each other. When the Eurostar moved to St Pancras in 2007, the area began its resurgence in full.
Modernization has respected railway origins. In the Granary Building, which once stored wheat for London bakers after arriving on trains from the north, and the Assembly Shed, where trains were put back together after dispensing their loads, original pillars are highlighted and brickwork retained.
Central Saint Martins, the fashion and art college (alumni include Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen) fits in well to these expansive structures. The end-of- year student shows in May or June are a great way to see emerging talent. It’s also worth checking out the House of Illustration just beyond it, which has changing exhibitions and workshops.
In summer, the choreographed spray fountains in Granary Square put on a dazzling water show but even better is the rhythmic applause-like sound they make. It has become a go-to cooling spot for neighborhood children. Moreover, just around the corner in Lewis Cubitt Square, there are more fountains and outdoor tables where you can sit out with food.
On Weds-Fri. from 12-2, Kerb food vans line Kings Boulevard, just behind the German Gymnasium.
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About a ten-minute walk from Kings Cross Station, is London Canal Museum, a modest but interesting collection that shows the importance of England’s inland waterway and the once-flourishing rail and canal links in London.
This potentially suffocating urban zone is salvaged by thoughtful landscaping. North of Regent’s Canal and the museum, just off York Way, is Handyside Street, where renowned landscape gardener, Dan Pearson, has designed innovative raised beds and a children’s play area.
Further west, past Lewis Cubitt Park, is the Skip Garden. In the midst of noisy construction and new skyscrapers, Global Generation gardeners quietly and inspirationally grow vegetables in skips.
A bit past the Skip Garden site, and beyond Lewis Cubitt Square, is the bizarre, but enchanting, Gasholder Park. Here one of the few remaining Victorian gasholders has been fashioned into an artistic park.
On the south side of Granary Square, just past the Canalside steps, make a right on to Goods Way (don’t miss the vertical vegetable garden on your right) and then another right on to Camley Street for the entrance to Camley Street Natural Park, a thriving oasis of living creatures. It’s magical to watch a heron guarding its nest in the midst of such a congested urban zone.
Also, one of London’s most special churches is just around the corner. Just outside the gates under the railway bridge, are the gates to the church yard of St Pancras Old Church. The burial yard has Sir John Soane’s mausoleum from which England’s iconic red phone boxes are modeled.
Exit the churchyard just outside the church doors and head up busy Midland Rd. for the British Library. Surely it needs no introduction. Stop in even if you think you’re not geeky enough; it’s hard not to be impressed by Shakespeare’s First Folio or John Lennon’s scribbles.
If you enjoy modern art, take a detour past Kings Cross Station to the Gagosian Gallery. This London branch of the international gallery often hosts cutting edge exhibitions.
Harry Potter fans and only Harry Potter fans will want to see Platform 9 and ¾. It’s on the main concourse at Kings Cross Station just outside the shop. During the day, there is usually an enormous queue but if you go at off-peak hours, you can get your photo with the trolley in the wall quickly.
There are a lot of bars in the area but in keeping with the railroad theme, special mention has to go to the Booking Office in the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, a magnificent bar with a Victorian feel in the original ticket office of St Pancras Station.