16 Things To Do With Kids Near King's Cross Station

M@
By M@
16 Things To Do With Kids Near King's Cross Station
Two kids, one swing. Pink boots high in the air

London with kids can be exhilarating... or exhausting. In a new series, we look at things to do in the areas around the mainline stations.

King's Cross, it hardly needs saying, is an area that's changed radically in the past decade or so. At the turn of the century, few families would have ventured to the area other than to travel onwards. Now, thanks to a succession of regenerations (British Library, St Pancras International, King's Cross) and a certain boy wizard, you could easily spend a day exploring the former railway lands with the family.

Baby change and toilets

Before we launch into the fun stuff, it's always reassuring to know where the toilets are — especially if you've got younger children. There will be no crossed legs in the King's Cross area, as toilets are easy to find. Both mainline stations have accessible toilets with baby change facilities. If you're at the Granary Square end, then head to Coal Drops Yard, which has two sets of toilets, each with baby change. The British Library also has facilities.

1. Splish and splash in the Granary Square fountains

A girl in a pink shirt runs through some low fountains

Granary Square
FREE, all ages

Your kids haven't tried running through fountains until they've tried running through these fountains. The four vast banks of water jets have been soaking London's children (and art students) for a decade now. It's a simple enough activity, but guaranteed to get them running around giggling. Be sure to bring a towel and at least one change of clothes.

2. Play with other running water

A large pool of water reflecting the spire of St Pancras. A hint of grass to the right

Throughout the King's Cross area
FREE, all ages

While you're in the area, look out for other imaginative uses of the wet stuff. My kids have grown fond of the gentle ponds and waterfalls of Pancras Square — the wedge of sloping land between the two stations. Good for a spot of finger-dipping. More hidden, to the north-east of Lewis Cubitt Park, is a rill-like channel that flows behind the residential blocks. This can be fun for racing sticks, so long as you're careful not to leave any blockage. Of course, the Regent's Canal also runs through the area, but best not dip anything into that.

3. Explore Camley Street Natural Park

Two kids lean slightly dangerously over deep water while their father grabs a photo he can use for an article.

Camley Street, N1C 4PW
FREE, all ages

Water is also a prominent feature of the newly landscaped Camley Street Natural Park. Long an oasis in the former railway lands, the natural park is a habitat for numerous birds, butterflies, amphibians and plants. The site has also been updated with a new cafe and education centre, as well as improved access thanks to a new bridge over the canal.

4. Visit the Hardy Tree

The trunk of an ash tree engirdled by dozens of gravestones, like worshipers preying to a false idol. The chunkiest cross you ever did see is in the foreground

A short walk north along Camley Street is the historic St Pancras Gardens. And that use of 'historic' is no hyperbole. The church of Old St Pancras, which stands here, is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in the country. It's also the burial place of Mary Wollstonecraft and Sir John Soane (whose tomb is said to have inspired the design of the phone box), and also has strong connections to Thomas Hardy. As a young man, the future novelist superintended the clearance of the churchyard to make way for the railways. The displaced headstones are grouped eerily around an ash tree — an affecting sight for children and grown-ups alike.

5. Dance around the spider sculpture

A spider-like sculpture on grass

Lewis Cubitt Park
FREE, all ages

This spindly sculpture by Eva Rothschild is a permanent fixture at the northern end of Lewis Cubitt Park. It's not meant to be a spider, but that's what your kids will call it. And that's all to the good. The sculpture, known as My World and Your World, is not meant to represent any one thing — instead, we're invited to ponder and make our own interpretations of this branching, colourful artwork. At 16 metres, it's also one of the tallest sculptures in London.

6. Reflect in Gasholder Park

A set of vertical mirrors forms the lower half of the image. Up above is an orange building and the black frame of an old gasholder

Wollstonecraft Street
FREE, all ages

The gasholders of King's Cross have been a local landmark since Dickens's day. He'd scarcely recognise them now, though. Having shifted along the canal a bit, three of great iron frames now contain drum-shaped housing blocks, while the fourth harbours a tiny pocket park. What "Gasholder Park" lacks in size, it makes up for in curiosity. Kids will have — dare we say it? — a gas, running around the circuit, trying to catch their reflections in the superabundance of mirrors. Toddlers, meanwhile, will enjoy toppling over the small hoop of raised turf that engirdles the lawn.

7. See (some dilapidated) Olympic rings

A blue and yellow fragment of the Olympic rings looking unloved in some bushes

Camley Street
FREE, all ages

Those who were in London for the 2012 games may recall that a gigantic set of Olympic rings were hung up inside St Pancras station. After the Games, those rings were cut up and turned into colourful benches. One set can be found in the waiting area of Stratford International, but a more central example of Olympian repurposing resides in a pocket park on the west side of Camley Street. Sadly, they've been left to go a little stale, covered in foliage and decorated with litter. Even so, this is a fun bit of 'secret London' to discover.

8. Follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter

A cluster of toy Vladimir Putins, or possibly Dobby dolls.

King's Cross station
FREE or £, all ages

Even the most Potter-dodging refusenik would surely know that the boy wizard is linked to King's Cross. You can hardly miss the association if you walk into the main concourse. A mock-up of Platform 9 3/4 is right where you'd expect it to be, between platforms, erm, 8 and 9. Kids can pose beside the enchanted wall, as a luggage trolley appears to dematerialise through the bricks. It's totally free to grab a photo with your own camera — just be prepared to queue. If your child wants to dress up in their "house colours" and have a professional photograph taken, then the service is there from 9am to 9pm daily. A copy of the photograph can then be purchased from the adjacent Harry Potter shop. This is, in itself, something of an attraction for kids and older Potter fans. They stock everything from butter beer to golden snitches that actually hover.

9. Ride a glowing swing

A huge birdcage glows in many different colours. A streetscape is in the background. It is early evening and the sky is deep blue

Battle Bridge Place
FREE, all ages

It's a swing, so really this should be for smaller children. But who can resist a go on this most alluring of playthings? Technically, it's a work of sculptural art by Jacques Rival, called "IFO (Identified Flying Object)", but it's simply "the birdcage swing" to its friends. The swing is particularly attractive at night, when its bars light up all the colours of the rainbow. You'll find it between St Pancras and King's Cross.

10. Revisit the British Library

British Library, Euston Road
FREE or £, older children

A statue of Isaac Newton is seated, and hunched over some paperwork on the floor. He clutches a pair of dividers in his left hand. Parts of his body are machine-like in the classic style of Eduardo Paolozzi.

The British Library might seem like quite an adult environment, but it does put on a fair bit of programming for children and families — from art workshops to special exhibitions. Even if there's nothing scheduled during your visit, the kids can enjoy tracking down the different sculptures around the building. There's Newton, measuring the world on his podium (image above), of course. But have you ever discovered Antony Gormley's Planets and chair, or Bill Woodrow's book and chain bench? You could even try following our unlikely sculptural trail along Euston Road.

11. Fondle the sculptures of St Pancras

A metallic sculpture showing lots of commuters crowding a tube platform with the train arriving behind. If you're partially sighted, this is one of the best sculptures in London, as you're allowed to touch and feel every inch. It's on the upper concourse of St Pancras, beneath the giant sculpture of a couple canoodling

St Pancras station
FREE, all ages

Speaking of sculpture, the concourse at St Pancras has a number of installations that children gravitate towards. Chief among them is Paul Day's enormous and infamous sculpture of a couple embracing, which dominates the southern end of the upper floor. It's London's most marmite statue, with legions of fans and detractors alike. Kids seem to love it, but especially the relief sculptures of London railway scenes around its base, which are simply incredible. The most popular bits have been rubbed to a shine, as has the belly of the nearby John Betjeman statue — a fun one to pose next to. And look up to the clock to see Tracey Emin's neon message of love. Children with musical talent might also enjoy tracking down one of the station's public pianos for a bit of improv ivory-tinkling.

12. Get some snaps in the rainbow tunnel

Beneath Kings Boulevard
FREE, all ages

A long curving tunnel, red on the left but getting bluer as it recedes with other hues in the distance. A few people are in distant silhouette

This, surely, has to be the most Instagrammed tunnel on the tube network. It's never been clear why a tunnel was needed beneath Kings Boulevard, but absolutely nobody is going to argue with this absolute beauty. The only downside to visiting this radiant space is that you'll have your work cut out to persuade the kids to leave.

13. Visit the London Canal Museum

12/13 New Wharf Road, N1 9RT
£, older kids

A sign says "Danger to Children" in big red letters. It relates to a canal
Don't worry, the museum itself isn't a danger to children

Given its immense history, King's Cross really should have more museums. But one of the few options is the London Canal Museum on the Regent's Canal. Learn about the history of this important waterway as well as canals more generally. As a kind of two-museums-in-one bonus, the venue also includes a Victorian ice well, used for the storage of ice in the days before refrigeration.

14-15. Discover a pair of hidden playgrounds

A young boy is about to step into a sand pit. Wooden balance beams curve around the area

Handyside Gardens and Brill Place
Free, younger kids

The redevelopment of King's Cross has been a success in many ways, but one of the main shortcomings is a lack of playgrounds. It's a huge site, filled with families, but lacking in decent play equipment. Search hard, though, and you can find two very well hidden options round the edge of the area.

The first, known as Handyside Gardens (pictured above), is sandwiched between Waitrose and York Way (though visible from neither). It's very small, but includes a sand pit, decent slide and a couple of things to clamber on. An older and more traditional playground lies in the secluded park just north of Brill Place (west of St Pancras station).  

For those prepared to walk a little further, the Crumbles Castle Adventure Playground can be found in Bingfield Park to the north-east, while the famous Coram's Fields playground is 10-15 minutes to the south. There's also a small playground in Joseph Grimaldi Park (see below).

We've got all the central London playground on one handy map.

16. Dance on a grave

A pair of coffin-shaped floor panels

Joseph Grimaldi Park
Free, all ages

Not the kind of heading you'd expect to find in a roundup of children's activities, admittedly, but this is one of those 'secret London' things that kids will love. Head up the endless hill of Pentonville Road until you reach Joseph Grimaldi Park on the left. The clue's in the name, for this is the final resting place of the noted clown. His actual grave is surrounded by railings, though often decorated with garlands and dolls. Adjacent though are some coffin-shaped pressure pads that chime when somebody dances on them. A unique if slightly macabre attraction.

Dining with kids in King's Cross

You are utterly spoilt for choice in this area. The developments around Pancras Square, Granary Square and Coal Drops Yard all contain numerous restaurants and cafes, with ever-changing street food options. St Pancras also has its share of eateries, including a family friendly Carluccio's. King's Cross station is more limited, but the Parcel Yard pub is always good for a square meal (and decent toilets). Near Granary Square, the Waitrose cafe does children's lunch bags and has a good baby change space. But take your pick of dozens of other places.

Last Updated 05 October 2022