Now an immensely comfortable and relatively good-value boutique hotel, the Great Northern Hotel was once a baby of the railway age. It was built in 1854 to serve passengers at the newly built King’s Cross station, designed just two years earlier by the same architect, Lewis Cubitt. More recently, this 91-room hotel has had a similar twenty-first-century facelift as the neighbourhood around it, which remains a busy transport hub but now also boasts the British Library, Granary Square, Google’s London HQ and The Francis Crick Institute, as well as ample apartments and restaurants.
Even post-regeneration, the King’s Cross area is hardly quiet or quaint. But the Great Northern feels isolated from the mania outside. It offers a luxury experience at competitive prices and design-wise it presents an enticing mix of past and present – with special appeal to anyone who loves Victorian architecture and the railways. The small entrance and reception area is a little underwhelming and the hotel’s extra services are limited to the essentials – but mostly the Great Northern offers a homely experience with lively flashes of modernity.
There are subtle railway references throughout. The first-floor restaurant Plum and Spilt Milk (run by one-time Gordon Ramsay chef Mark Sargeant) is named after the colours of the dining carriage of the old Flying Scotsman train, and offers high-end spins on classic dishes in a thrillingly designed space. The rooms are similarly attractive. The single Couchette rooms nod to the design of sleeper trains, while the Cubitt doubles are light and welcoming (some with freestanding baths). The Wainscot rooms on the top floor are built into the building’s eaves and are the most tucked-away, romantic option. There’s also a bustling public bar on the ground floor that you imagine should offer commuters ‘Brief Encounter’-style dating moments.
Unusually, the Great Northern’s corridors are especially distinctive. A single passageway cuts through the hotel’s four residential floors: each is wide and gently curving, designed, we’re told, to allow wide-skirted Victorian women to pass each other easily. Today’s guests are more likely to make practical use of the handy pantries on each floor.
Time Out tip
Even if you’re not using the stations, both King’s Cross and St Pancras offer attractive shopping and eating options, so poke your head into their concourses. Also, take a walk round the back of King’s Cross where you’ll find Granary Square and can join the Regent’s Canal for a walk east or west.