It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago King’s Cross was more grotty than glam. Its makeover complete, the area has become a hotbed of creativity, full of quirky galleries, cool shops and hands-on arts spaces. Killing a few mind-expanding hours in the neighbourhood has never been easier.
Leaving the station, you can’t miss the St Pancras Renaissance, an imposing, Victorian-built hotel that’s long been a local landmark. Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing heads up its elegant restaurant, the Gilbert Scott. Its bar is equally lavish, with its gilded friezes and petrol-blue banquettes. Order up a cocktail and some upscale snacks, including the addictive gruyere croquettes.
By day, this wood-panelled café has a laidback, studious vibe, as local creatives tap away at their laptops. They’re fuelled by a short but reliably excellent menu, which runs from first-rate bacon rolls to inventive salads and Mediterranean small plates. Come the evening, its world-class sound system attracts some of the city’s best DJs, and a music-geek crowd heads here for cocktails and craft beers.
Set on one of Bloomsbury’s prettiest streets, this Francophile wine bar is always a delight. An affordable set lunch menu changes with the seasons, while the bar’s reserved for walk-ins. Draw up a stool for a glass or two, paired with some stellar snacks; Whitstable oysters, say, or the finest charcuterie. The founders also publish their own wine magazine, so pick up a copy while you’re here.
Entry is free at this handsome museum, which offers a calm retreat from the bustle of Euston Road. Its playful exhibitions explore the links between art and medicine, while events run from hands-on workshops to mind-expanding talks. The sofa-dotted Reading Room is a cosy spot to curl up with a book, while the second-floor Wellcome Kitchen’s just the place for afternoon tea.
This monumental, red-brick library can look intimidating, but it’s open to everyone from researchers to curious tourists. Expect talks, themed tours and temporary exhibitions. The Treasures Gallery showcases highlights from its vast collections, from handwritten Beatles’ lyrics to the Gutenberg Bible, via the original manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Spend an afternoon browsing Coal Drops Yard, set in two artfully converted Victorian coal sheds. For ethical shopping, head to Wolf & Badger – known for its focus on new and emerging designers. Highlights run from handmade notebooks to organic beauty finds, via accessories, homeware and clothes. Look out for Meem’s sleek eveningwear, and Farra’s baroque jewellery.
For the last 20 years, Scala’s been a fixture on London’s nightlife scene, set in a grand former cinema on the corner of Pentonville Road. Its neon-lit sign is an emblem of King’s Cross, and all kinds of legends have rocked up on its stage, from Sonic Youth to Rihanna. Its eclectic programme has something for everyone, from edgy masked balls and club nights to a heady succession of gigs.
As if its walls alone weren’t inspiring enough, this illustration-dedicated gallery (founded by cartoonist/illustrator/writer Quentin Blake) plays host to an array of drop-in drawing sessions, live drawing evenings, late DJ sets, family workshops, short courses and day-long masterclasses in fashion, botanical and book illustration.
Living wisely and well is the raison d’être of this hotbed of ideas and inspiration a short walk from King’s Cross station.
Drop in to browse the shop’s books, gifts and stationery or book yourself on to a course to explore finding love, realising your potential or the meaning of life.
Paddington’s loss was King’s Cross’s gain when development forced this fabulous floating bookshop to set sail in 2015.
Now permanently resident on the canal at Granary Square, it’s an atmospheric spot to browse new and used books and listen to jazz on sunny afternoons.