10 Things To Do In King’s Cross
Written by Jaillan Yehia
These days there’s far more to the King’s Cross than Eurostar and Champagne Bars of the station complex, so dip your toe into the coolest canalside area in London with this list of 10 things to do in King’s Cross – try them out one by one or join them all up to make a full weekend itinerary.
Who needs NYC when they have N1C?
King’s Cross really does have it all’ reads the official King’s Cross website. ‘The location, the connections, the canal setting, a past, a future, the old, the new, shopping, eating, culture, learning, working, living.’
I have to agree.
Not so long ago the ‘all’ which King’s Cross had on offer ran the gamut from drugs to prostitution via dilapidated buildings and dodgy clubs but gradually this seedy side of King’s Cross (caveat: I’m not saying it didn’t offer up some fun times) has been pushed away to be replaced by some big name HQ’s, including The Guardian and Central St Martins and Camden Council’s eco-friendly home.
Having grown up around this neighbourhood I was originally excited but somewhat apprehensive about how successful the changes would be. But in true Olympic style, all nay-saying dissipated and I fell in love with the sympathetic way in which the development layered the new over the old.
The big idea was to change the reputation of the area without making it feel exclusive and anodyne and in that respect the King’s Cross regeneration was a huge success.
Here are my top 10 things to do in King’s Cross.
1. Explore the new Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design campus
You can walk around lots of the Central St Martins campus freely – there are barriers stopping non-students from entering the inner sanctum of the university, but the rest is open to the public. Great people watching, nice architectural details as the steel and glass of the new buildings sit against the exposed brick and original features, plus there’s free wifi and you can put your nose up against the glass of the artists’ studios: this week I saw some cool new art being created with feathers. You heard it here first.
2. See the giant birdcage and multi-coloured fountains
My favourite thing about the new King’s Cross is IFO (Identified Flying Object) an art installation in the form of a giant multicoloured neon birdcage by French artist Jacques Rival. It was the first of a well thought-out programme of contemporary art installations all over the site, including the ever-changing coloured lights which dance in the fountains. The birdcage lights up the iconic skyline in a magical way that I never tire of – in fact I often jog down to King’s Cross and do a little loop of the birdcage at dusk. It did used to have a swing in the middle but that seems to have been removed. Probably because it was being vandalised by kids or something, I mean this is still King’s Cross after all.
3. Check out the ghost station at York Way
There’s something really exciting in a Goodnight Sweetheart way about London’s ghost tube stations. I pass York Road all the time but only recently learned that the tiles on the exterior are actually listed – and that the technique used to produce these tiles was lost for years only to be rediscovered recently before being deemed too costly to use.
As well as the view from above ground this station can be seen from the right hand tube windows when travelling from Caledonian Road to King’s Cross on the Piccadilly line. It was open to the public from 1906 as part of the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway – the old name for the Piccadilly Line, but closed in 1932, and these days is used as a film set.
4. Learn a new skill over afternoon tea at retro café & retailer Drink, Shop and Do.
One for the girlies really as knitting, vintage hair do’s and card-making are recurring themes here – but there is an antidote to all this frilly, retro charm as the clever folks at DSD have spotted a man-sized gap in the afternoon tea market and serve up pork pies, scotch eggs , pickled onions and crackling rounded off with a Yorkie Bar, all washed down with a pint of ale. Champion.
5. See art and sculpture and hear a myriad of musical styles at King’s Place
The Guardian and Observer, as well as Network Rail’s permanent homes are within the 7 floors of office space in this large, modern canal side art and cultural centre. Here you can see a changing collection of canvases in the free-to-access King’s Place gallery, sculpture in the Pangolin Gallery or hear anything from classical and jazz to ‘Sci-fi folk’, plus comedy and poetry. The online saver tickets can get you in for under a tenner.
6. Eat at one of King’s Cross’s foodie hotspots
Try Eat Street for a rotating selection of world food to take away (though old favourite Shrimpy’s aka the Filling Station set a high standard for trendiness in an ex-petrol station forecourt before it closed down) Get world food and good coffee at Caravan and hit The Driver for its rooftop views and roasts.
7. Visit the oldest Christian Worship site in the UK
Founded in 314 AD, St Pancras Old Church is full of history. The church was rebuilt in 1847 but the site is famous for the Hardy Tree, an Ash tree growing around a set of headstones placed here by a young Thomas Hardy whose pre-writing career included overseeing the exhumation of bodies to make way for the Midland Railway. The graves of Sir John Soane and composer Johann Christian Bach can be found here too, along with a memorial tomb for Mary Woolstencarft. The graveyard also famously provided a photo opportunity for the Beatles in 1968.
8. Step foot in London’s new postcode
King’s Cross is home to the largest area of urban redevelopment in Europe. The work included 50 new buildings, 2,000 new homes, 20 new streets, 3 new bridges, 10 new public squares and half a million square feet of office space. But just the one new postcode: N1C.
9. Visit a garden in a skip
Quintessentially King’s Cross, The Skip Garden is a mobile allotment designed to be an example of organic urban agriculture and an educational platform where local children and young people can learn about sustainability. There are tours of the Skip Garden, workshops and you can buy and eat the garden’s produce. The entrance is opposite Copenhagen Street.
10. Go on a free walking tour of the King’s Cross Development
Take a free walking tour of the area with the King’s Cross visitor’s centre (inside the Central St Martins building pictured) to find out more about the industrial heritage of the area – you’ll learn how barges collected grain to transport to all the mills in London (Mill Hill anyone?) see where the horses that powered it all were stabled, and walk on the line which marked the original route of the canal.
What have I missed? Do let me know in the comments section below.
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