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London is such a huge city with so many diverse neighbourhoods that if your time is limited in this great city and you’re not so interested in hitting the main tourist sights, one way to get a really good feel for London is to pick an area and spend an afternoon just exploring around there. King’s Cross, historically a red light district and one of the less desirable areas of central London, has enjoyed a lot of regeneration projects in the last thirty years and as such has a lot of cool and interesting stuff to offer visitors. Here’s an idea for how to spend an afternoon around King’s Cross.
Start at the eponymous train station, the terminus for trains heading to northeast England and Scotland. The central area of the station where the departure boards are found was refurbished in 2012 and has a rather beautiful and fascinating ceiling structure which changes colour with lights. Also in the main concourse is the entrance to Platform 9 ¾, of Harry Potter fame, where you can have your photograph taken running into the wall with a trolley! There is usually a line for this, so be prepared to wait a little while.
Not to be confused with King’s Cross station, the adjacent and much more majestic St Pancras Station is also worth visiting for its incredible architecture. As the London terminus of the Eurostar, it is just as busy, if not busier than the station across the street, but the glass roof and bright decor makes it feel spacious and welcoming. There are some interesting shopping opportunities inside the station too, in case you feel like a spot of retail therapy!
Exiting the station to the north and heading down Pancras Road, you’ll come to the pleasant Regent’s Canal. Crossing the canal and arriving at Granary Square, a lively public space outside Central St Martin’s, part of the University of the Arts, London. With sunken water fountains where kids (and fun-loving adults!) can splash around on a hot summer’s day and plenty of places to sit, there is free wifi all over the square and it’s a great place for people watching. Nearby is a small outdoor mall with several shops, bars and restaurants in case you’re feeling hungry.
Right at the edge of the canal by the bridge that you will have crossed to arrive there are steps for seating, where on summer evenings there are often free open air film showings set up on a floating screen. Even watching the screen be inflated and set up is quite entertaining!
Following the canal from there to the east, you’ll stumble upon Word on the Water, a second hand bookshop on a moored canal barge. Poke around for something that piques your interest from their quirky collection of novels, biographies and travel books. If you’re lucky, there might be someone playing live music atop the barge, and you can just as happily sit on the towpath in the sun and enjoy the atmosphere of this little slice of tranquility in central London.
Circling back towards St Pancras Station, it would be a shame to pass up a chance to visit the world famous British Library. Entrance is free, though you have to pass through security first, and there are plenty of areas to work, read or just relax inside while surrounded by beautiful architecture and books. Additionally, there are frequently changing literature exhibitions highlighting specific authors or entire genres that are also free of charge.