London: A cheapo neighborhood guide to Kings Cross
Take a stroll through Kings Cross today, and it is barely recognizable from what it once was. In fact, it has now got its very own brand spanking new post code (N1C), and the first phase of the area’s redevelopment is open to the public, so you’re free to explore the new buildings, public squares and new streets that are reshaping what this once notorious corner of London is today.
Once thought of as pretty seedy, Kings Cross has cleaned up its act, and its central, canal side location make it a real winner when choosing a home base for your trip. The many connections from the train station (including the Eurostar to Paris) make it extra convenient for traveling, as well.
Location aside, the area’s offering when it comes to nightlife and dining is also vastly improved from what it once was and definitely worth spending an afternoon or evening exploring. Here’s where to start:
Where to stay
YHA St Pancras
79-81 Euston Road
Doubles from: $76 to $126
When compared to other YHA properties, the Kings Cross branch feels much more like a smart budget hotel than a sprawling hostel. Choose from dorm accommodation or a two, four, five or six-bedroom—perfect for couples or groups. Rooms are decorated simply but inoffensively, and they’re perfectly comfortable for relaxing in after a long day of sightseeing. As the hotel is located on quite a busy road, light sleepers may wish to request a room at the back. There’s a modern cafe/bar, where you can get food at very reasonable prices and a great TV lounge—a real draw for sleepy travelers.
35-37 Argyle Street
Doubles from: $93
For something with more character and privacy, check in at the pretty Princess Hotel. This 32-room guesthouse is family run and perfect if you’re after a traditional B&B experience. Rooms are simple with hints of floral, and you get breakfast included in the room rate, so you can fuel up at the start of the day. All rooms come with a flat-screen TV, hairdryer and you can opt for either a shared or private bathroom.
Related: See the complete list of EuroCheapo’s budget hotels in Kings Cross.
What to see
Kings Place: Music + Art + Restaurants
90 York Way
London N1 9AG
This modern arts centre is worth a visit just to see the beautiful building and canal views, and if you have time to stay awhile, you won’t be disappointed. There is an ever-changing program of events ranging from contemporary art exhibitions and masterclasses, to live music and spoken word. The space houses three galleries—Pangolin London sculpture gallery, Kings Place Gallery and the Guardian Gallery, which is linked to the offices of the Guardian newspaper (also housed in the building) and is free to enter. Many of the other activities do have an entrance fee, but these are often greatly reduced if you buy online in advance, so do check the website.
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
This unique space prides itself on being a destination for the “incurably curious”, and it certainly sets itself apart from other galleries and exhibition centers. Founded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome, it aims to present science in a totally new way by exploring the connection between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. Check out the Collection’s free events, tours, exhibitions and special collections.
Note: The space is currently undergoing renovations, so not every room is open to the public, but there is still plenty to see and do.
Related: Another major attraction in the area is the British Library, the largest in the world holding over 150 million volumes.
Eating and drinking
Kerb – Food trucks and stalls
If the sun is shining head to one of Kings Cross’ newest public spaces, Granary Square, and feast on the array of lunchtime bites on sale from the Kerb food trucks and stalls between midday and 2 PM Monday to Friday. In the summertime, Kerb will also be setting up shop on the third Saturday of each month until October from 11 AM-5 PM, so grab a spot on the canal side steps and tuck in. Choices range from life changing burgers and tasty tacos to spicy curries and comforting mac and cheese.
Somers Town Coffee House
60 Chalton Street
London NW1 1HS
A lovely pub with secret private rooms accessed via a bookcase, Somers Town Coffee House offers a relaxed afternoon sampling cask ales and incredible British tapas—anywhere that offers pigs in blankets is a winner if you ask me! If you’ve got room, give one of the lovely cakes a go too; they are pure sugary goodness and a great opportunity to try some traditional British desserts.
1 Granary Square
London N1C 4AA
I could eat at Caravan any time of day, but if I had to choose just one meal I’d go for brunch. On the weekends you’ll have to fight for a table (or sip a cocktail patiently at the bar) as they don’t take reservations, but I promise you it’s worth the wait. During the week you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with the arty students from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, as their swanky new school is housed in the same building. The menu is truly original, with more traditional breakfast favorites flavored up with soutsouki sausage or fresh sourdough bread. It’s also one of the best places in London to have a coffee, all of which is roasted onsite (and smells incredible).
3 Varnisher’s Yard
London N1 9FD
For tasty tapas and lovely cocktails, Camino is my top pick. The courtyard out front is a fun place for an outdoor drink in summer, while indoors the lively tapas restaurant and bar are buzzing all year round. There are also some great value deals—head down for lunch on a weekday and get two tapas for £6.75, while weekends welcome in a cocktail, wine and beer happy hour from 5-8 PM. If you fancy a dance, there are live DJs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and you never have to pay an entrance fee.
Booking Office Bar
London NW1 2AR
While it’s unlikely any Cheapos will be resting their heads for the night at the five-star St. Pancras Renaissance hotel, you’ll thank yourself forever if you afford yourself a drink in the bar. This beautiful gothic masterpiece was originally a hotel designed by George Gilbert Scott and opened by Queen Victoria in 1873. When the hotel closed in 1935 the space was used as station offices until a huge restoration project began in 2011 to turn it into what it is today and restore it to its luxurious former glory.
If you’re just visiting, head to the Booking Office Bar (housed in the original station booking office) and prepare to be wowed by the space and the truly fabulous Victorian-inspired cocktails and punches. You’re looking at £8.50 and £9.50 for the cheapest glass of wine or cocktail, and if that proves too much, you can always opt for something softer while you drink in the surroundings.