When I arrived at St Pancras International with only a suitcase and a lost frown on my face, I had no idea that these brick buildings and busy streets would soon feel like home.
There is nothing like wandering around this district, as it is so distinct from the rest of London. King’s Cross is often said to be one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in North London; however, this was not always the case. Only two decades ago, most of the area consisted of abandoned industrial buildings, degraded houses, and a reputation for criminality. An enormous work of design, construction and intelligent urbanism has transformed the gloomy industrial remains into elegant, modern buildings.
Now follow me, I will walk you through some of my favourite spots in King’s Cross!
You have to start from St Pancras station: its tower and red bricks are well-known but still make an impression, especially on sunny days. The station is home to the Eurostar, a train that can take you directly to Lille, Amsterdam or Paris, provided you book the tickets early enough, as they can be expensive. Part of St Pancras’ charming brick building has been turned into a hotel and contains a few classic British shops like Fortnum & Mason, a perfect place to buy gifts and appreciate the spirit of Christmas.
Right after St Pancras and King’s Cross, don’t miss the gem of Gray’s Inn Road! You can walk past the gates of the Calthorpe Project without noticing it. However, if you step inside, you will discover a delicate community garden decorated by a few mismatched chairs and a café selling food made from the garden itself. Numerous workshops are organised, from upcycling to yoga, and there are always plants for sale if you fancy a bit of green in your room.
It’s time to go back to the chaos of the main road and climb some stairs through the modern Pancras square. You have reached the corporate part of King’s Cross. In fact, the buildings host big companies and start-ups such as Google, Meta and AstraZeneca. I do like the elegance of the design and the fantastic lighting at night. The trees reflect all of the colours of the rainbow, creating an ethereal view.
If big corporations are not your thing though, you might prefer wandering through St Pancras gardens. St Pancras Old Church is deemed to be one of England’s oldest sites of Christian worship. This is a fascinating place, filled with gloomy anecdotes. From Percy and Mary Shelley planning their elopement in St Pancras graveyard, to the famous Beatles White album photoshoot in the 1960s, these gardens have a lot of stories to tell. But perhaps the most peculiar curiosity is the Hardy Tree. In the 1860s, an architecture firm was asked to move some of the remains in the graveyard in order to make space for London’s expanding transport web. The jolly task went to the future novelist Thomas Hardy, who gathered hundreds of headstones, placing them around the churchyard’s oldest tree. Over the centuries, headstones have become intertwined with the tree’s roots, creating an eerie, gothic sight. Creepy but cool.
On the banks of the lovely Regent’s canal, stands Camley Street Natural Park: two acres of wild nature, at the heart of one of the most densely populated areas of London. It is truly difficult to believe that such a gem of an oasis is located next to the busiest railways in the country. This reserve for plants and wildlife was created from an old coal yard in 1984 and is run by the London Wildlife Trust. The grassland, wetland and woodland habitats offer shelter to coots, herons, kingfishers, mallards, insects and amphibians, as well as a wide variety of fungi and plant life.
It is now time to cross the bridge over Regent’s canal. At night, this is truly spectacularly lighted and the colourful gleams reflect on the water and create a magical atmosphere, especially at Christmas.
Right when I’m crossing the bridge, I like looking left at the industrial brick buildings towering over the canal and the park. For a second, I forget that I am in London rather than the English countryside. I took this photo on a rainy day and love this atmosphere.
Hurry! All you have to do is go down a few steps towards the canal to access one of the most pleasant stroll itineraries in the whole of London. Colourful barges, green spaces and elegant ducks sliding on the water will accompany you throughout your walk. But it’s with the sunset that the magic gets unleashed, offering one of the most romantic sights in the city. You’re welcome.
After a few minutes of wandering on the canal banks, you will probably stumble across one of the most unique bookshops in London—Word on the Water—or as I like to call it, paradise. This incredible collection of vintage and new books floats on a 1920s Dutch barge, which used to slide up and down the Regent’s Canal before it was awarded a permanent place in the outskirts of Granary Square. Every cranny and nook of the barge is packed with books of all shapes and forms, and the atmosphere is incredibly cosy: a wood burning stove crackles and there is an armchair in case you fancy curling up with a good book. Word on the Water also organises storytelling nights, live jazz, poetry slams and book launches. Get aboard!
When you get hungry from all the reading, just walk to nearby Granary Square. This is the beating heart of the neighbourhood. Lots of restaurants surround the area and you may see children playing in fountains during sunny days. There are also frequent and spontaneous musical performances, ranging from classical pieces to K-pop choreographies. Overall, it’s an extremely lively place.
Finally, I have two main food recommendations. The first is the Canopy market, open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Wednesdays. It has delicious and affordable food from all over the world. Try the “rice guys” van! The other excellent spot is Dishoom, a classic. This old warehouse was designed to look like a Bombay train station café from the late 1920’s, and the food is mind-blowing. However, you will have to earn it. I walk past the queue every day and it always seems to be getting longer!