I grew up in London, and, while it was (and is) a city full of fantastic places to explore, the King’s Cross area wasn’t one of those places. In fact, instead of being a “must go” area, it was more of a “must avoid”, with a reputation for drug pushing, prostitution and gangs.
Now all that seems to have changed. In fact, the area has been so regenerated that it is unrecognisable. And that can only be a good thing.
I have no idea how much of this is due to a fictional wizard! I am guessing that is is coincidental, but it has to help with the visitors…
King’s Cross station has always been a major transport hub, but probably wasn’t famous worldwide until a certain Harry Potter took the train from there to Hogwarts. Not slow to realise that this could be a tourist attraction, there is now a proper Platform 9 3/4 at the station (I say proper, but you can’t actually catch a train from it, as far as I know) and also an extremely busy Harry Potter shop.
The platform bit is basically a photo experience, but if you are on the Harry Potter hunt, then this is a must-visit. You essentially queue up, put on a scarf and are photographed pushing your trolley into a wall! The whole thing is nicely organised, with stewards to ensure no pushing. Professional photographs are also taken, although there is no obligation to buy (you view these in the shop).
Be warned, however, that the queues are extremely long, and you should arrive early if this is on your list of London must-dos. We waited around 35 minutes this summer, but that was before 10am. By the time we left the queue was extremely long. AND there is also a queue to go into the shop, which seems crazy, especially if you are in a rush and have a train to catch! We came back later to look around the shop and see our professional photos and they had already been erased….. However, we did purchase some hideous Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, and my son delighted in trying out everything from grass to vomit flavour (I declined).
But back to King’s Cross itself. If you come out of the back of the station, walk past the swing which looks like it’s in Hedwig’s cage, and walk towards Granary Square, you will see that building works are still ongoing. However, you can still enjoy yourself in London’s newest square, sit by the canal and watch the world (and canal boats) go by, or buy food from the many stalls that appear each lunchtime. We tried delicious falafel and sweet potato chips and were extremely happy with them!
There are also some posher restaurants around Granary Square (which is the same size as Trafalgar Square!) along with a number of offices, as well as some fantastic fountains. When we went we were amazed by the numbers of children enjoying themselves by running in and out of these. I sat back in a deckchair with my paper and Robert had a brilliant time. The fountains also light up at night, which makes them spectacular.
We felt that this was a kind of hidden gem in London, with a lovely feel to it. It’s built where barges once unloaded their goods and surrounded by buildings including the University of the Arts.
But that’s not all of it. There are also many activities on in the area, for kids and the whole family, and including an outdoor sports pitch, and a number of festivals. This weekend, for example, there is a free family weekend celebrating the golden age of steam engines.
We visited the House of Illustration, just round the corner from Granary Square, where we really enjoyed an exhibition about the wonderful Quentin Blake, who’s most famous for illustrating Roald Dahl’s books (and now David Walliams’ as well). This finishes on November 2nd, and it was lovely. Robert and I really enjoyed it, although we thought it was a little bit pricey at £7 for adults and £4 for children.
So, that’s King’s Cross, even without telling you about the walking tours, viewing platforms and more. It’s well worth a visit, and is a delightful example of how London is always evolving, and often changing for the better!
You can read more about what’s on at King’s Cross here.
If you’re a fan of the boy wizard, do read about our Harry Potter London Walking Tour and also our Harry Potter trips to Leavesden (the Harry Potter Studio Tour) and Orlando...
We have many posts on London – please take a look at the London section on the blog!