Not so long ago Kings Cross, north of central London, was synonymous with drugs, crime, and prostitution. Unloved, scruffy, and distinctly unsafe, the only reason most people would venture there was to catch a train out of it. Today, Kings Cross is proof of London’s ability to reinvent itself.
The catalyst for its incredible renaissance was the arrival of the high-speed railway service Eurostar in 2007 and the $975 million refurbishment of the St Pancras railway station. Since then, its sister station King’s Cross has also received the same treatment. The neighborhoods around them have gone from downhill to real estate royalty thanks to the clever decision to brand the area as the city’s new “knowledge quarter” following Google, high-end shops, restaurants, and museums moving into the area.
Kings Cross now buzzes with excitement as new ideas, new restaurants, and new public spaces pop up and flourish. It is a place where ideas collide and where London’s flourishing arts and cultural scenes have found a new home.
St Pancras Station
It would be tempting to describe this place as London’s Grand Central Terminal. The Parallels are clear. Both were designed to radiate wealth and power, and both fell into disrepair before rising, phoenix-like. St Pancras remains one of the most stunning spaces in London. Under its vast wrought-iron and glass ceiling you can shop at miniature versions of London’s most iconic stores in relative tranquility. Famous brands with outposts here include Fortnum and Mason, Hamley’s Toyshop, and Aspinal of London, makers of luxurious leather and stationery items. St Pancras is also home to the longest champagne bar in Europe, which serves more than 15 varieties along its 322-foot length. With a ‘press for champagne’ button and table service, your glass will never be empty.
Kings Cross Station
It is a testament to the skill that has taken to restore them that not one but two railroad stations make this list. Kings Cross can’t match its sister across the street for elegance or grace, however it does have a “diagrid” roof—similar to the British Museum’s Great Court, with a 492-foot span—with not one visible bolt in the entire structure. It also hosts a farmers market Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons and evenings.
However, the real reason to come here is to follow in magical footsteps. As any fan of J.K. Rowling’s best-selling series will know, King’s Cross is where students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry catch the Hogwarts Express. Today you to have the chance to disappear through the wall on your way to magic school within the station. Just make sure Muggles don’t spot you ….
Walk behind King’s Cross station and you’ll find the real gem in the restoration crown. Granary Square is the site of a former canal basin where barges carrying goods from across the country would offload their cargoes for sale in the markets of London. Today the square has been transformed with the installation of more than 1,000 individually choreographed fountains. The fountains become more and more animated as the day goes on, and as the evening progresses, the light show begins. A walk through the square after dinner with a cigar and loved one in hand is the perfect ending to any day.
On a sunny day, the square transforms into an urban beach, with kids of all ages dashing through the fountains, trying to dodge the jetting towers of water. Have a go at controlling the spouts of water yourself using an app that turns the fountains into a giant game of Snake, the ’90s mobile phone game.
House of Illustration
You don’t need us to tell you that London’s museum scene is thriving and diverse. The downside of this, and the fact that most of the city’s museums offer free entry, is that you will often find yourself jostling for space amongst the school tours and selfie-stick-wielding daytrippers. Our solution is to head for one of the newest and most unique museums, the House of Illustration (2 Granary Square, King’s Cross London N1C 4BH, houseofillustration.org.uk).
The House of Illustration is the world’s first public gallery dedicated to the art of illustration in all its forms. The space was the idea of Quentin Blake, the illustrator responsible for the pictures in many of Roald Dahl’s fantastic books. Get involved in workshops, listen to talks, or just observe and take in the breadth and depth of the museum’s exhibits.
Spiritland (Spiritland, 9-10 Stable Street, London N1C 4AB, spiritland.com) is a café in the daytime and a bar by night. This new venue puts the focus on music in all its forms; it has been custom designed by Living Voice, the company responsible for the Vox Olympian speakers. The setup will be shown off each weekday starting at 6 p.m., when an album is played from start to finish on a Kuzma Stabi XL2 turntable.
Spiritland sells music on vinyl and CD, as well as a world-class selection of headphones, audio players, amplifiers, and accessories. Meanwhile, Owen Kenworthy of Brawn restaurant has created the café-style menu, with all-day offerings, bar snacks, and late-night eating. Expect an interesting experience at the bar, which has an ever-evolving selection of beers, wines, botanical-inspired cocktails, and spirits.
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