King’s Cross in London has certainly changed over the years. I can remember visiting it frequently back in the early 2000s to attend the infamous “The Church” – a Sunday morning party bar that was a must-do for many New Zealanders and Londoners alike, full of comedians and general debauchery. We’d all spill out into the area around King’s Cross after drinking several pints of fosters and wondering why it was still daylight.
King’s Cross had gained a reputation for being run-down and was even associated with vice and crime. However, recognizing its central location and historical significance, developers and the local government embarked on ambitious regeneration projects.
The restoration of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and the station itself breathed new life into the historic structures. The Eurostar terminal’s relocation to St Pancras in 2007 further elevated the area’s status.
New additions like Granary Square and Coal Drops Yard have turned former industrial sites into bustling hubs for leisure, shopping, and dining. The establishment of the University of the Arts London’s Central Saint Martins campus in the area has also brought a youthful and creative energy.
Now, King’s Cross is a symbol of how urban spaces can be reimagined and revitalized. With its mix of historic buildings, modern architecture, green spaces, and cultural venues, it stands as a testament to London’s ever-evolving character, blending the past with the present in a harmonious dance.
I often visit King’s Cross for work and I have been amazed at the transformation over the years. It is now one of my favourite places to eat, drink and shop in London with plenty to see and do.
17 Things to Do in King’s Cross
We cannot discuss King’s Cross without highlighting its eponymous railway station. Since its inauguration in 1852, King’s Cross Station has been a vital railway hub, connecting London to the North of England and beyond. It’s a nexus where traditional lines meet modern routes, all under one iconic roof.
A huge amount of people pass through King’s Cross on a daily basis, not knowing that there is plenty to explore just a few moments from the train station itself. So, next time you head to King’s Cross, why not check it out?
1. King’s Cross Station Platform 9 3/4
Before you head out of the station, Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station holds a special place in the hearts of Harry Potter fans.
Fans can visit a dedicated spot at King’s Cross where a luggage trolley is seen disappearing through the wall, complete with a sign for Platform 9¾. It’s a popular photo opportunity for visitors from around the world.
Adjacent to the platform is the Harry Potter Shop, designed to resemble Ollivander’s wand shop from the series. It’s a treasure trove of merchandise, from wands and robes to various other magical artefacts.
2. Explore the British Library
The National Library of the UK is the British Library, one of the world’s greatest and most comprehensive research libraries. Located in St Pancras, London, the library’s striking red-brick building stands out, symbolizing its modern approach to preserving ancient knowledge.
The library boasts an unparalleled collection of manuscripts, spanning centuries and civilizations. This includes the Magna Carta, one of the most significant legal documents in the world, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook.
Beyond its permanent collections, the British Library regularly hosts exhibitions, lectures, and workshops, showcasing thematic elements from its holdings or addressing contemporary issues.
3. Coal Drops Yard
The transformation of Coal Drops Yard is a testament to urban rejuvenation and the seamless melding of historic architecture with modern design.
The original Coal Drops were designed to transfer coal from rail wagons to horse-drawn carts, playing an essential role in powering Victorian London. The twin structures, known for their distinct arches and robust brick façade, were functional for over a century.
By the mid-20th century, with the decline of coal as a primary energy source, the coal drops fell into disuse. However, the turn of the 21st century marked the beginning of an ambitious regeneration project for King’s Cross.
Recognizing the architectural significance and potential of the Coal Drops, developer Argent and the architectural firm Heatherwick Studio embarked on a mission to reimagine the space.
Today, Coal Drops Yard is a bustling hub of over 50 stores, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. From avant-garde fashion outlets to artisanal eateries, it offers a curated experience for both Londoners and tourists. Its spacious courtyards, interspersed with greenery, also play host to events, markets, and festivals, making it a cultural hotspot.
4. St Pancras Old Church
St Pancras Old Church is one of London’s oldest sites of Christian worship and boasts a history that extends back many centuries. Thought to have been a site of worship since as early as the 4th century AD, some remnants of Norman architecture from the 11th and 12th centuries can still be seen in the church.
In the 19th century, the church underwent significant restoration. Much of its current design, including the nave and chancel, dates back to this period. Like many structures in London, the church was affected by the bombings during the World Wars but stood resilient.
Named after the novelist Thomas Hardy, The Hardy Tree is an old ash tree in the churchyard surrounded by gravestones. Before his fame as a writer, a young Hardy was involved in the excavation of part of the graveyard to make way for the railway, and the displaced gravestones were placed around the tree. Unfortunately, the tree fell down in storms in December 2022, but it is still there!
The gardens are also known as being the birthplace of the romance between poet Percy Shelley and the future author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.
5. Granary Square
Granary Square, located just outside King’s Cross station, is a harmonious blend of London’s rich history with its progressive modernity.
At the heart of Granary Square, you’ll find an impressive water feature: over 1,000 individually programmable fountains. These choreographed jets create mesmerizing patterns, turning the square into an interactive spectacle. During the day, children (and often adults!) can be seen darting between the jets, especially in the summer.
Granary Square boasts a curated selection of eateries that cater to a range of culinary preferences. From cosy cafes serving artisanal coffees to upscale restaurants that offer gourmet experiences, there’s something for every palate.
Many of these establishments have embraced the area’s industrial heritage, housing themselves in restored Victorian buildings and warehouses. This gives diners the unique experience of savouring contemporary dishes in spaces that resonate with history.
6. Walk Along Regent’s Canal
Just a stone’s throw away from the bustling square, the serene waters of the Regent’s Canal offer a tranquil respite. The towpath alongside the canal is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. It offers picturesque views of narrowboats gliding by, historic lock structures, and a myriad of flora and fauna.
The juxtaposition of the calm canal waters against the backdrop of restored industrial buildings epitomizes the area’s blend of history and modernity. The canal also serves as a gateway to other parts of London, with paths leading towards Camden in the west and Islington in the east.
7. Gasholder Park
Gasholder Park gets its name from the repurposed Victorian gasholder that once stood at the site. These gasholders, or gasometers, were a defining feature of London’s industrial landscape during the 19th and 20th centuries, used to store large volumes of gas to power the city.
While the original purpose of the gasholder has long become obsolete, its iconic iron frame has been retained and transformed into a striking circular park.
The circular lawn within is encircled by a polished stainless steel canopy, which reflects the grass, plants, and visitors, creating an immersive experience. Benches are strategically placed, offering visitors spots to sit, relax, and soak in urban tranquillity.
8. Camley Street Natural Park
One thing that London does really well is green spaces in built-up areas. I have lived in different parts of London, from Earl’s Court to Brixton and I have always been amazed at how you can be in an extremely noisy and busy area one minute, and walk into a quiet wooded area or park the next, almost like you’ve walked straight into the countryside. Camley Street Natural Park is one of those areas!
It is an urban nature reserve located in the heart of King’s Cross and despite it being surrounded by the city’s hustle and bustle, it provides a sanctuary for wildlife and a green escape for city dwellers. It spans two acres and has been managed by the London Wildlife Trust since the 1980s.
Despite its modest size, the park brims with a rich tapestry of habitats. From woodland to marshland, meadows to ponds, these micro-habitats support an impressive array of flora and fauna.
Visitors can expect to see birds like kingfishers and reed warblers, various species of butterflies, and even the occasional hedgehog. The ponds teem with life too, with dragonflies hovering over the water in summer and amphibians like newts making it their home.
It also has a Visitor Centre, which is constructed using sustainable methods and materials, and exemplifies the ethos of the park itself. It’s a hub for educational activities, offering insights into urban ecology and the importance of preserving green spaces in metropolitan areas. Camley Street Natural Park is definitely worth a visit!
9. London Canal Museum
The museum is situated in a historic Victorian building that was once an ice warehouse. Carlo Gatti, a notable ice cream maker, built it in the 1860s. The museum not only delves into the canal’s history but also offers insights into the intriguing world of the ice trade in London.
The London Canal Museum places a strong emphasis on education, offering workshops, guided tours, and resources that cater to both school groups and the general public. These programs delve into topics such as engineering, transportation history, and the science of ice.
10. Everyman Screen on the Canal
Situated right next to Granary Square are the steps to the Canalside steps which you can’t miss when walking from King’s Cross station to Coal Drops Yard. A large screen, run by Everyman Cinema, is placed on the other side of the canal showing a huge array of films, sporting events and documentaries.
The steps are also a great place to meet, chat, have a coffee and watch the world go by.
11. Canopy Market
Nestled in the heart of King’s Cross, Canopy Market is a bustling open-air market that comes alive every weekend. Originally a temporary fixture, its immense popularity cemented its place as a permanent staple in the area.
The market is a paradise for foodies, craft enthusiasts, and art lovers alike. Beneath its restored Victorian steel and glass roof, visitors can explore a myriad of stalls offering artisanal foods, handcrafted goods, unique artworks, and vintage treasures.
Lightroom is a four-storey space offering artist-led shows using digital projection and audio technology for an immersive experience. Here you can see an art installation by David Hockney and grab a coffee from the Lightroom bar.
13. Bagley Walk
Taking its name from the 90s iconic King’s Cross nightclub, Bagleys, the walkway and park is situated on top of an old railway viaduct. It follows Regent’s Canal, with elevated views of Camley Street Natural Park on one side and Coal Drops Yard on the other.
Bagley Walk is dotted with vegetation, hedges and edible plants all along its route, with benches to sit and take in the views. The perfect place to go after a few hours of shopping!
14. Stay: St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
An absolute feast for the eyes, even if you are not staying at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, it is worth visiting for its architecture and history.
Situated adjacent to the St. Pancras International railway station, the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel is a testament to Victorian-era architecture and design. Originally opened in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel, the building was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, showcasing neo-Gothic splendour with ornate detailing, stunning staircases, and intricate stonework.
Closed as a hotel in the 1930s, the building faced potential demolition in the 1960s. Thankfully, its architectural significance was recognized, leading to its Grade I listing. After a substantial restoration and refurbishment, it reopened in 2011 as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, managed by Marriott.
Guests and visitors can marvel at the hotel’s preserved historic features, such as the famous Grand Staircase while enjoying modern luxury and amenities. The hotel’s proximity to the St. Pancras International Station makes it a perfect location for travellers, especially those taking the Eurostar to and from mainland Europe.
15. Shop: Word on the Water
This is a delightful bookstore on a 100-year-old Dutch barge and is a must for book lovers. It is anchored on the Regent’s Canal and boasts an eclectic mix of new and second-hand books, complete with a wood-burning stove and resident dog.
On its roof, you’ll often find inviting displays of books, tempting passersby to take a closer look. Inside, the cosy and intimate interior, lined with bookshelves, offers titles across various genres.
But it’s not just about books. Word on the Water regularly hosts live music events, poetry readings, and other performances on its roof stage, enhancing the cultural atmosphere of the canal-side setting.
16. Drink: St. Pancras Champagne Bar by Searcys and Booking Office 1869
Located within the architectural marvel that is St Pancras International Station, the St Pancras Champagne Bar by Searcys is renowned as Europe’s longest champagne bar. Bathed in the historic grandeur of the Victorian station, the bar offers a touch of luxury for travellers and city dwellers alike.
Situated within the iconic St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Booking Office 1869 is a bar and restaurant that captures the spirit of Victorian London while offering a contemporary dining experience. Housed in the hotel’s original ticket hall, with its soaring ceilings and historic architectural details, the space evokes a bygone era of travel and opulence.
The name itself is a nod to the year the station’s ticket hall first opened to the public. Today, instead of selling train tickets, the Booking Office 1869 serves up an array of handcrafted cocktails, British classics, and modern dishes, all inspired by the rich history of the location.
17. Eat: Parillan
Nestled in the vibrant Coal Drops Yard development, Parillan offers an authentic taste of Spanish alfresco dining in London.
With its name derived from the Spanish word “parrilla,” meaning “grill,” this terrace bar and restaurant invites guests to cook their own choice of meats, fish, and vegetables on tabletop grills, evoking the traditional Spanish barbeque experience.
Parillan boasts a spacious terrace that provides a serene backdrop for dining, complete with lush plantings and panoramic views. The restaurant’s design effortlessly marries rustic charm with contemporary elegance, echoing the rich traditions of Spanish outdoor eateries.
Beyond the tabletop grilling, Parillan offers a menu replete with tapas and pintxos, classic Spanish cocktails, and a curated selection of wines, ensuring that guests have a comprehensive Spanish culinary journey.
Best Time to Visit King’s Cross
- Spring (March to May): As London warms up, the city blooms. This is a picturesque time to walk around King’s Cross and enjoy the alfresco dining options and canal-side walks. Rain is possible, so pack an umbrella!
- Autumn (September to November): The fall foliage adds a romantic charm to the cityscape, making it another favoured time to visit.
Note: While summer sees the most tourists, King’s Cross remains relatively less crowded compared to tourist-heavy zones like Westminster or the West End.
- Public Transport: King’s Cross is exceptionally well-connected. King’s Cross St. Pancras underground station serves numerous tube lines, and the adjacent St. Pancras International offers national and international rail services, including the Eurostar.
- Walking: Many of the area’s attractions are within walking distance, making it easy to explore on foot.
- Biking: With dedicated cycle lanes and the availability of Santander Cycles (London’s bike-sharing scheme), biking is a convenient option.
- Taxis & Ride-sharing: Black cabs are readily available, and ride-sharing services like Uber operate extensively in the area.
- St Pancras Renaissance Hotel: A historic luxury hotel offering Victorian grandeur combined with modern amenities.
- Premier Inn London King’s Cross: A budget-friendly option that doesn’t skimp on comfort, located a stone’s throw from the station.
- The Standard, London: A boutique hotel with a quirky design, situated opposite St Pancras International.
- YHA London St Pancras: Ideal for backpackers or those on a tight budget, this youth hostel offers clean and basic accommodation.
- Apartments & Short-term Rentals: Platforms like Airbnb have numerous listings in and around King’s Cross for those preferring a home-like environment or travelling in larger groups.
King’s Cross is a vibrant area that’s both rich in history and contemporary offerings. Whether you’re visiting for a day or staying for a week, it promises an array of unforgettable experiences.