London’s St Pancras station is the grandest terminus in a city that is full of wonderful railway stations. It is a place to linger. For 140 years, this spectacular station has been the jumping-off point for travelers bound for the East Midlands and Yorkshire.
Four years ago this week, St Pancras found new life as London’s gateway to the continent, when Eurostar services (which until then served Waterloo on the south bank of the Thames) relocated to St Pancras. The spectacularly refurbished Victorian train shed was transformed by the arrival of Eurostar, which runs frequent trains to St Pancras from Brussels, Paris, Lille and Calais, occasional trains from Marne-la-Vallée and seasonal services from the French Alps and the Rhône Valley.
Since 2009, sleek new Javelin high-speed services (run by Southeastern) have revolutionized links between the capital and east Kent, running from St Pancras to the Medway Towns, Dover, Canterbury and the Thanet Coast – along the way making use of High Speed 1, the new fast rail line that runs from St Pancras to the Kent Coast and Channel Tunnel.
A spot to savor
Lingering at St Pancras last week, we saw how frazzled clock-watching commuters hurried through the station and tourists rushed to reach the Eurostar check-in gate before the nominal cut-off time.
Yet St Pancras deserves much more. This is more than a mere railway station. It is a palace, a spot that exudes an exuberant sense of place, so much so that it demands a certain reverence. It is a place for lingering departures and happy arrivals, a theater full of meeters and greeters, and a place just to enjoy.
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel reopens
St Pancras is a star among stations, made even better this year by the long-awaited reopening of the station’s celebrated hotel. The St Pancras Renaissance is a feast of Victorian Gothic splendor, the perfect place to splash out for a stylish first or last night in London when arriving or leaving with Eurostar. Choose your room carefully, and you may even get an engaging view of the interior of William Barlow’s spectacular train shed where the Eurostar trains come graciously to a halt as they arrive from the continent.
The perfect beds for train spotters, of course. But the sheer convenience of the St Pancras Renaissance makes the hotel a hit with regular travelers who want a quick getaway. Such convenience does not come cheap, of course, but you can chance a flavor of the hotel by checking out its bars and restaurants. Where once Londoners queued to buy tickets to all points north, there is now The Booking Office, an elegant bar and bistro which serves such English staples as fish and chips or bangers and mash, as well as more up-market fare. If you want to splash out, the hotel’s Gilbert Scott restaurant, all elegant curves and bright red banquettes, is a spot for fine dining.
The interiors of the hotel are heavy with nostalgia (as indeed is the airy main departure concourse of the station). The hotel epitomizes all that is superb about St Pancras: it is finely balanced and richly ambiguous, cherishing the legacy of the past while looking to the future.
Too good to rush through, St Pancras deserves to be a destination in its own right.