The former red-light district has shrugged off its sketchy reputation and replaced dingy alleyways and worn-out pubs with glamorous watering holes, hip cultural hangouts and live music venues. Welcome to King’s Cross, London’s coolest hood with bucket loads of character!
There is always an impending sense of doom when gritty urban zones start wearing the tell-tale signs of gentrification. It starts with independent coffee shops and pop-up galleries and sooner or later, everything gets ‘starbucked’ out of business. The coolness curdles, and the area becomes a shadow of its former self and about as colourful as a drizzly January morning.
King’s Cross, however, is putting up a mean fight, stubbornly refusing to fall in line with its north London neighbours in terms of astronomical rent prices. Doing so has allowed upmarket boutique stores, high-street brands and those love-to-hate kebab shops to live side by side in relative utopia. Meanwhile, short-on-cash Londoners are left to dwell opposite city bankers without rustling the vintage feathers of the hipster elite around the corner.
Tourists and natives wondering what to do around King’s Cross won’t have to ponder for long. Aside from an impressive selection of bars and restaurants, there are a number of King’s Cross attractions that should make your hitlist whilst you’re in town.
This is your shortlist to everything you need to know about London’s hippest district.
Despite its previous reputation as a less-than-desirable area, King’s Cross has always been home to an attractive range of worthy historical monuments. Highlights include the St. Pancras Old Church, which is believed to be one of the oldest Christian grounds of worship in the country. Continue walking through the churchyard arbour to see The Hardy Tree: an ash tree surrounded by a striking yet mystifying group of gravestones, which were placed at the root of the tree by author Thomas Hardy.
Harry Potter has made the area’s train station one of the major King’s Cross attractions. Reread the books in anticipation of your visit to the station and release your inner child with a selfie next to the platform. You can even bring some of the magic home by treating yourself to some wizard memorabilia from the Harry Potter shop next door. Across the street the wizardry continues, as St Pancras railway station could quite easily be mistaken for Hogwarts! It has recently been restored and is magnificent both inside and out.
The pedestrian walking areas around the district are some of the best things to come out of King’s Cross’ grand refurbishment in the late 90s. Wander through Granary Square to marvel at the canal and fountains, which are lit up at night. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a weekend when the Classic Car Boot Sale is on, then take a step back in time and get your hands on some second hand treasures at this new-age flea market with a retro edge.
The Wellcome Collection’s weird and wonderful displays of marvellous medicines are a must-see for eccentrics who want to satisfy their curiosities about the 19th century pharmacy trade. Continue your scientific journey with a visit to The Francis Crick Institute , a biomedical research centre with interesting exhibitions and public events.
You know you’re in a prime spot when you’ve got the kings of tech on your doorstep so go get inspired by the Zuckerbergs of tomorrow and gatecrash Google HQ and the YouTube Space. If you’re interested in discovering creative newbies on the block, hang out around Tileyard Studios , a thriving creative hub home to more than 70 music studios
Bookworms should visit the British Library , home to millions of incredible historical relics, including the Magna Carta, for some clever-clogs downtime. You can carry on the literary trail with a trip to the Charles Dickens Museum , set in the author’s former home. For more cultural pursuits, pay a visit to the House of Illustration which hosts year-round exhibitions. The London Canal Museum is also a good option for families.
Music buffs should keep their ear to the ground for live music concerts just across the Battlebridge Basin in Kings Place , an independent cultural venue boasting a diverse music programme with something for everyone’s taste and budget. With such an active music community and history (The Pogues just happened to form here) it’s easy to see why Universal Music has decided to follow the tech crowd and create a base in such good company.
If you prefer weights to instruments then you can take advantage of the world-class facilities offered at Islington Tennis Centre and Gym . Walk there via Market Road Gallery – an open air public gallery that is a collaboration between Attic Self Storageand Central Saint Martins – to fulfill your cultural quota for the day. Or if London’s famously unreliable weather doesn’t faze you, you can run to Caledonian Park to admire the 19th Century clock tower.
Want to enjoy some more time in the great outdoors? Pay a visit to the Skip Garden , a rather bohemian and portable urban oasis made up of recycled materials. Join in with a yoga class, attend a supper club or join in with some planting as you learn about urban gardening practices! You can also sample the organic produce grown here in the on-site kitchen.
From October 2018, you’ll be able to trade the shopping crowds of Oxford Street for a unique (and much more peaceful) retail experience at Coal Drop Yard . The ambitious 10,000 sq ft project will be filled with the best shops, cafes and restaurants against a dramatic backdrop of a Victorian coal factory.
A few years ago, King’s Cross was mainly made up of ‘guilty pleasure’ eateries of the mystery meat variety. However, since its rebirth, the area is brimming with fantastic restaurant options.
Caravan , a too-cool-for-school restaurant/bar with all the hipster trimmings is a perfect pitstop for a midday pick-me-up. Sit by the window and observe the Central Saint Martins fashion students stampeding in out-of-this-world footwear to their morning lectures. If you have the time, you can check out the renowned arts institution for yourself. Their new digs, complete with an amazing interior space where uber-contemporary architecture meets restored Victorian warehouse space, are just a short stroll away.
Health conscious foodies are also catered for in this postcode. Itadaki Zen keeps things fresh with an on-trend Japanese vegan menu that locals can’t get enough of, while fans of farm-to-table food culture feast in Mildred’s for some locally-sourced, 5-a-day veggie goodness. If you’d rather spice things up a little, Dishoom ’s hugely popular modern yet inexpensive take on classic Indian food has people regularly queuing around the block.
You’ll need energy for all the sightseeing you’re going to be doing, so get your caffeine fix at Vinyl Cafe , the social hub for Tileyard Studios and the perfect place for celeb spotting, or grab a coffee to go from Noble Espresso . If you have a bit more time on your hands, drop into Drink, Shop and Do , an eclectic concept coffee shop where you can get crafty as you sip and nibble.
Night owls can let loose in the swarm of King’s Cross bars that are buzzing all week round. Follow the local example and avoid the next day hangover by lining your stomach at The Somers Town Coffee House beforehand. Don’t be fooled by its name, the ‘coffee house’ is more of a British pub with a twist.
Start the night with a pint at The Queens Head or Bree Louise , traditional British pubs with impressive beer and cider collections, before breaking into next week’s units quota at Big Chill House , and having a dance off on their roof terrace (weather permitting). For something more introverted, hit Meltdown , a gamer’s paradise stocked with consoles, the latest games and plenty of booze. For clever cocktails, go to Simmons Bar for creativity or The Lexington for a mean whisky.
King’s Cross is not only a creative hub with plenty to see and do, it’s also without a doubt the best connected neighbourhood in London, and living here really does mean having the city at your fingertips. If you fancy relocating to the area, surrounding yourself with the buzz and excitement of a rapidly-changing part of the city, there are some innovative housing developments shooting up. Check out The Plimsoll Building and King’s Cross Quarter, or for a glimpse of something that is whole-heartedly connected to the area’s industrial past, sneak a peek at Gasholders – three Victorian gasometers that have been converted into a series of 145 apartments with killer views across the city.
Whether you want to up sticks or just want to set out and explore, there are plenty of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.
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