North London – The Big Six

Thursday 09 August 2018

With mesmerising art, entertaining attractions, quirky food and drink outlets and legendary venues, north London can claim to be one of the capital’s most creative and visionary districts. King’s Cross has been at the epicentre of a revolutionary redevelopment over the last few years, particularly around the cultural and leisure hub of Granary Square, and this fast-pace of change sees no signs of stopping. Here are six reasons why a trip north of the River Thames should be part of your London visit.


Cool art

Just travelling from Kings Cross station to the outside world will be an artistic adventure, as you stroll through a new 90-metre long pedestrian subway tunnel that features an art wall created from LED lights. This tunnel has been designed to showcase a range of artistic commissions so two separate journeys alone could present a different vibe each time.

The art of illustration also receives the thumbs up in this enclave of north London, at Two Granary Square, a rejuvenated building from the mid-1800s that neighbours the world-famous art college Central St Martins. House of Illustration was the innovation of artist Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl’s illustrator, and is the world’s first public gallery dedicated to the art of illustration from animation to adverts, scientific drawings to political cartoons and fashion design. Aspiring illustrators can take also take part in workshops.

The area’s art offer is being further enhanced, thanks to the King’s Cross Project, a programme of art commissions for both the buildings and the public spaces of King’s Cross that will continue into 2019. Among the first commissions have been an incredible new artwork by Bangladeshi-British artist Rana Begum called No.700 Reflectors and Tess Jaray’s Aleppo at King’s Cross, a permanent work of art for the area’s Tapestry Building.


Quirky attractions

King’s Cross’ Granary Square is itself quite the attraction, before you even discover its profusion of art installations and food offer. Come for the 1,000 choreographed fountains alone…you can even control the jets yourself with the Granary Squirt app! Use the free King’s Cross Wi-Fi and play the unique games that have been developed for it. Then stroll down from the square to Gasholder Park – literally, a park inside a former cast iron gasholder that boasts a lawn to chill out on. And, if you’re looking for another place to rest from the hustle and bustle, head to the two-acre urban nature reserve of Camley Street Natural Park. Check out the new floating platform, Viewpoint, for a unique perspective of this tranquil area.

King’s Cross aside, north London is packed with cool things to do. Fans of The Crystal Maze, a hugely popular UK TV show in the 1990s, resurrected last year, can experience it for themselves, with fun, interactive activities that test both mental and physical abilities at the Crystal Maze Live Experience (near Angel tube station in Islington). Booking until October 2018, the experience takes you through four different adventure zones – medieval, Aztec, industrial and futuristic – and is a perfect example of British eccentricity and sense of humour!

Discover Victorian gothic design in all its glory on a tour of Highgate Cemetery. Extravagant memorials sit among a calm enclave of trees and local wildlife, its East Cemetery well-known as Karl Marx’s final resting place, as well as other prominent figures, while its West Cemetery boasts incredible architectural features and can only be visited by guided tour. 

You may think you can only see theatre in the West End, but North London is home to some incredible theatres and cutting-edge performances. The Kiln Theatre in Kilburn will be showing the stage adaptation of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth from 26 October-22 December; The Almeida in Islington is the place to catch the next generation of brilliant British artists, while the Hampstead Theatre is the home of fresh, original theatre.


Chic dining and music bars to great coffee and vegan specials

One thing’s for sure in North London – you won’t go hungry or thirsty. Granary Square alone is packed with popular eateries from Caravan and German Gymnasium to Dishoom and Granary Square Brasserie, plus there’s the elegant brasserie choices in the surrounding five-star hotels; Plum + Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel, and chef Marcus Wareing’s The Gilbert Scott and the Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, both at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

Looking for somewhere to carry the night on? The Big Chill House is both a café and music venue, while Simmons bar channels the disco vibe and has gone full-on kitsch. Shimmy around on to the mix of disco, funk, soul, hip-hop, R’n’B and 80s and 90s classics on its a light-up dance floor under a skull-shaped mirror ball. And Bar Pepito is not afraid to focus on one drink – sherry. This cosy Andalusian-themed bar has been leading the way in the sherry revolution and is attracting a cool crowd.

When you’re searching for that reviving shot of caffeine, the Granary Square area doesn’t disappoint. Head to Notes Coffee, part café, part music venue with its summertime jazz events, which roasts high-grade, single batch coffee beans that come from direct trade with the farmer. Or go from day to night at Spiritland; by day it hosts great brunches, breakfasts and coffee, by night it’s a bar attracting a young crowd who come for the music played from the bar’s huge collection of work from leading artists and producers. Elsewhere, Origins at the British Library is a tranquil and elegant place to sip direct trade single origin coffees and you’ll also find hand-roasted coffee – and some delicious homemade sweet treats – at Green and Fortune. Being located in the middle of urban development hasn’t stopped the people behind Skip Garden Kitchen from growing organic ingredients in its Global Generation garden to use in its homemade cakes and scones that team up brilliantly with its coffee, while healthy eating is also on tap at Maple & King’s. Tea lovers aren’t forgotten; they’ll find delicious tea infusions at Yumchaa, as well as locally roasted coffee.

This is just a snapshot of the area’s restaurant and café scene – and it doesn’t stop there. When the new Coal Drops Yard retail quarter opens in autumn this year, so will a new outpost of Barrafina, the Mexican cuisine focused Casa Pastor, plus a new wine bar called The Drop.

More recent openings in the area include The Lighterman – take in panoramic views from its three floors by dining eat al fresco directly on the Square, up on its terrace, or on the banks of the canal. And Two Tribes KX, which opened in April this year, is a cool mix of street food, brewery, music events and recording studios.

North London’s Camden has also seen a spate of new eateries in 2018, particularly in the street food genre. In May, a new healthy lunchtime spot, KooKoo, opened, with a menu including curry roasted cauliflower and heritage tomato and pickled fennel salad. Vegan eateries have been popular newcomers in this part of town with vegan pizza restaurant Purezza opening its doors in April while vegan kebabs are on the menu at What The Pitta, a former pop-up turned full-time restaurant. Elsewhere, new to the foodie scene in the borough of Islington, are ramen specialists Kanada-Ya and steak and sushi joint Hot Stone, both who have arrived to satisfy hungry tums in Angel.

Got a sweet tooth? North London has a host of gorgeous ice-cream parlours to tempt you. The flavours at Ruby Violet’s parlours in both King’s Cross and Tuffnell Park are truly magical and fabulously creative; if you’ve ever wondered what Brown Toast & Seville Orange Marmalade, Tonka Bean or Chocolate Gingerbread ice cream would taste like, here’s your chance to find out. And the ice-cream wizardry continues in Camden – who can resist scrumptious treats such as Killer Marshmallow Cone, Burnt Butter Caramel or Sticky Toffee Warmie Sundae served at nitro ice-cream specialists Chin Chin Labs (there’s also a good vegan choice).


Awesome shopping

Autumn 2018 will see the unveiling of a monumental new shopping experience in the capital. A collection of warehouses of a former Victorian coal store has been reworked to create the retail destination Coal Drops Yard. Top names that have announced they will open here include Paul Smith, Lost Property of London, Cheaney, Sweaty Betty, Cubitts, Space NK, Manifesto as well as Tom Dixon; the design brand will not only open a flagship store, but a restaurant and café too.

If the vintage look is more your style, Islington’s Annie’s Vintage Clothing is a paradise. Top designers and models, such as Kate Moss, come here for inspiration and you can pick up all sorts of fabulous attire such as 1920s flapper dresses and feather capes.


Interesting places to stay

If you’re looking to splash the cash and enjoy a high-end hotel experience, both the St Pancras Renaissance and the Great Northern Hotel will do the job nicely. For something a little quirkier and easier on the purse strings, check in to a former prison cell that’s English Heritage-listed with original prison/police custody features at Clink78, a former courthouse-turned-hostel. A colourful mural bedecks the exterior of The Megaro hotel, while its interior is home to double rooms, studio rooms, family rooms and suites, plus its cool new Corner Studio by Diesel Living rooms. Designed by British artist, Henry Chebaane, these studios promise a ‘Hip Hop Britannia’ style – featuring Diesel furniture and quirky elements of British culture. Don’t forget to check out the world’s largest hotel minibar in its lobby; the curiously inventive Minimix allows guests can help themselves to snacks and cocktails. It also has a sister property, The California Hotel.


Superb transport links

You’re pretty much in one of the best-connected parts of London in the King’s Cross St Pancras area; six Underground lines, two mainline rail stations and the Eurostar terminal will get you around easily.

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Simmons bar, Islington, London
Workstation Murphy and Team at MiniMix, London
The Historical Wall at MiniMix, London
Murphy Making Cocktails at MiniMix, London
MiniBar at MiniMix, London
Diesel suite at Megaro hotel, London
Diesel suite at Megaro hotel, London
Large double room at The California Hotel, London
Terrace at The California Hotel, London
The California hotel, London
View from The Megaro hotel, London
The Megaro hotel, London
The Megaro hotel, London
House of Illustration, London
Made in North Korea exhibition at House of Illustration, London
Jo Brocklehurst exhibition at House of Illustration, London
House of Illustration, London
The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience, London
The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience, London
The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience, London
The Crystal Maze LIVE Experience, London
Coal Drops Yard, London
Coal Drops Yard, London
Coal Drops Yard, London
Coal Drops Yard, London