London can be overwhelming for visitors. To alleviate the stress of trying to do a lot in a short space of time, we often settle in one area and keep our sightseeing focused. There’s nothing better than finding your own ‘hood – stay, eat and explore like a local. We’ve done this on the South Bank and near Hyde Park and loved feeling less frazzled. But there’s always been one fly in the ointment – the issue of travelling across London with your luggage to find your home from home. Until now. On our latest trip to the capital, we took our usual Peterborough to King’s Cross train…and stayed there.
When I lived in London in the 1980s, visiting King’s Cross was a necessary evil, a place I couldn’t avoid if I wanted a train back to Newcastle. Today, King’s Cross and St Pancras stations look very grand in this totally revamped area of London. It’s become such a cool spot that I’m happy to spend much more time here.
We set up camp in the Hotel Megaro which is just across the road from the station on Euston Road, with its entrance on Belgrove Street. It’s easy to spot with its multi-coloured splashes on the exterior. Step inside and you’ll find a friendly, relaxed welcome from happy staff. You’ll also find complimentary popcorn, fruit and sweets in the lobby which has been transformed into a gorgeous bar area, ‘minimix’, if you fancy a cocktail on arrival.
The Megaro is part of the small St Pancras Hotels Group and, as such, shows an independent spirit and style. There’s a cool, contemporary vibe – quite Scandinavian in the bedrooms with the use of natural wood and glass. We started each day in the hotel’s Megaro Eatery, fast becoming a popular spot for breakfast or brunch. Check out the pancakes or try the smashed avocado on sourdough bread, with scrambled egg on the side. At the end of the day, descend into the basement to enjoy more cocktails and, on some evenings, live jazz music. The Megaro bar is dimly lit and sensual: find your own hidden corner to escape for a while.
We booked a deluxe double room at the Megaro which gave us a huge space on the top floor (Floor Six) overlooking St Pancras and King’s Cross stations (the photo below doesn’t really do it justice: it was very spacious). You can hear some traffic noise from the rooms but we didn’t mind this at all. I’d much rather hear the hubbub of normal city than have to listen to footsteps in the corridor or sound from a TV in the next room.
We loved the supremely comfortable bed with top quality linen. The s-shaped loveseat or courting bench was ideal for a little smooch but hopeless if we both wanted to watch the telly at the same time ;-). Two more comfy chairs were located by the door and there was a smart desk/dressing table too. The bathroom was vast, especially by London standards. Our bath tub was square, which made sitting in it a little odd, but I persevered, crossing my legs as if in preparation for a bit of water yoga…or maybe I was just a Bath Buddha.
A nifty espresso machine, serving excellent Italian Illy coffee, was provided, plus a fridge containing complimentary still and sparkling water. Free WiFi, flat screen TV plus bathrobes and slippers: our room had everything we needed. There are also standard double rooms, some super-looking family rooms and nearby apartments, including the new funky corner studios – Hip Hip Britannia – designed by artist Henry Chebaane who was also responsible for the new minimix reception area. Bringing your pooch? They even have dog-friendly rooms. Have a look at their prices online: very good value when you compare them with other high quality hotels around the two stations.
Where to eat?
Finding cafes and restaurants to suit your taste and budget is easy around King’s Cross. Try Pancras Square and Granary Square that straddle Regent’s Canal: the space created here is perfect for a spot of people-watching too. Take your pick from German Gymnasium, Dishoom, Kimchee, Caravan, Tortilla – the list goes on. There’s even the option of nipping into the stations to grab a sandwich.
On York Way, left of King’s Cross station, you’ll find Franco Manca, a fantastic pizzeria we first discovered a few years ago. There are a number of branches in London and the south-east, all featuring a small, simple menu of wood-fired pizzas. Using top quality ingredients, the pizzas range in price from about £5 to £8. Wash it all down with an organic Italian wine and you have an early supper sorted.
What to do?
If you’re looking for free things to do in London, you’re spoilt for choice in the King’s Cross area. Turn right out of the station and you soon stumble upon the British Library with the impressive sculpture, Newton, in the piazza. Once inside the library, head for the Treasures Gallery. Here you can see a vast collection of manuscripts from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Captain Cook’s journal. If you haven’t seen Magna Carta in either Lincoln or Salisbury, one of the original copies is here too.
A little further down Euston Road is the Wellcome Collection, advertised as ‘the free destination for the incurably curious’, though you may want to open your wallet to enjoy a delicious lunch. Take a look at Henry Wellcome’s medical antiquities on display or find the utterly relaxing space of the Reading Room where you can grab a bean bag or find a table to settle down for a quiet read.
I have Melissa to thank for suggesting the Grant Museum of Zoology in her post about quirky things to do in London. Part of UCL (University College London) this small but perfectly formed museum is definitely worth a look, particularly if you have children of a certain age who love anything gruesome. 68,000 specimens which have been either pinned or pickled and numerous skeletons including the extinct quagga. See if you can spot a jar of moles or a purse made from a sheep’s testicle, lined with silk. There’s also a micrarium; three walls of microscopic slides to see all the ‘tiny things’. Again, it’s free to enter and gawp to your heart’s content.
We did cheat a bit during our King’s Cross vacation – we left the area twice! I know, that’s going against the whole ethos of what I’m trying to achieve here. We hopped on the Tube for a few stops to Leicester Square to see Mary Stuart at the Duke of York’s Theatre. We went even further on the Saturday to attend the University Boat Race in Putney. But, in the main, we hung around the environs of our hotel. We would definitely stay here again. If you look at a map of London, King’s Cross is within walking distance of so many attractions including the British Museum, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Camden Market and Regent’s Park. And if you do decide to explore further afield, there are several underground lines which pass through King’s Cross so it’s quick and easy to reach your destination.
When we were ready to go home, the station was only a few steps away: no worries about whether we might be stuck on the tube or caught in traffic in a taxi. It’s a shame we still had a rail journey, plus a drive, at the other end. Next time I’m going to find the Harry Potter trolley at Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross station: maybe a little magic could summon up the Hogwarts Express to whisk us home a little quicker.