The Best Must-Visit Pubs in London

The history-rich Dove sits on the banks of the River Thames
The history-rich Dove sits on the banks of the River Thames | © Neil Setchfield / Alamy Stock Photo
Christina Dean

The pub is a Great British institution – and London is a testament to that. Some 3,500 pubs line the capital’s streets, from centuries-old watering holes to modern Michelin-starred gastropubs. Planning to visit London and have a pub tour? Here’s our pick of the best from around the city.

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The Auld Shillelagh

London’s most authentic Irish pub – in trendy Stoke Newington, one of north London’s liveliest hubs – prides itself on pouring the best Guinness in the capital. Run by an Irish landlord, the Auld Shillelagh hosts live music every Friday from its resident trad band, who’ve been performing here for more than 15 years. Enjoy sports on multiple big screens, or head out to the suntrap of a beer garden in summer.

Ye Olde Mitre

Ye Olde Mitre, hidden down a tiny alleyway off Hatton Garden, might be a challenge to find – but it’s worth the hunt. This slice of London history dates back to 1546 when it marked the boundary of the Bishop of Ely’s land; note the cherry tree in the small courtyard that Queen Elizabeth I once danced around. Sip on an award-winning beer or a pint of London Pride, accompanied by a pork pie, while soaking up the pub’s old-worldly feel, with oak panelling and stained-glass windows.

Bradley’s Spanish Bar

There’s nothing pretentious about Bradley’s Spanish Bar, despite its prime location on a cut-through between Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. Expect a bold red-and-yellow exterior, shabby-chic decor and loyal regulars drinking pints of San Miguel and Estrella Damm. Head down to the basement level for ’70s and ’80s tunes on the retro jukebox, and don’t forget to try Bradley’s signature tequila sangrita – a shot of tequila chased with a shot of spicy tomato juice.

Cask Pub & Kitchen

Craft-beer aficionado? You’ll love Cask Pub & Kitchen, which stocks more than 25 drafts and 300 bottled beers from all over the world. Billed as “London’s permanent beer festival”, the pub and its owners are committed to keeping the cask-ale tradition alive in the UK and are constantly rotating their beer selection. On Sundays, the Pimlico pub is crammed with beer fans who come for the hearty roast dinners and live folk music, featuring acoustic bluegrass and Irish musicians.

The Coach & Horses

This skinny Tudor-style pub, on Mayfair’s prestigious Bruton Street, dates back to the 1770s when horses and carriages ruled the streets of London. The pub is thought to be the area’s oldest surviving tavern. Now run by the Greene King brand, the Grade II-listed Coach and Horses retains its ancient charm with stained-glass windows, original cellars and wooden furnishings. Try one of the rotational cask ales with some proper pub food, be it a pie or bangers and mash.

Mr Fogg’s Tavern

Themed after the fictional Victorian explorer Phileas Fogg, this traditional tavern offers bags of charm. In the heart of Covent Garden, the pub is stuffed with 19th-century artefacts supposedly gathered from Fogg’s 80-day journey around the world. The off-beat decor is complemented by rare gins, tankards of ale and Phileas’s fruity alcoholic punches, which are perfect for summer afternoons in the outdoor seating area. Dishes include sausage rolls or burgers with chips, with vegan alternatives available.

The Churchill Arms

This Kensington institution, named after the famous former prime minister, dates back to 1750; it was even a regular haunt of Winston Churchill’s grandparents in the 1800s. Inside, you’ll find open fires, a selection of ales, Churchill memorabilia and strangely, superb Thai food served in the butterfly-themed conservatory. The historic pub is known for its rowdy annual celebrations that commemorate Churchill’s birthday and its incredible flower displays covering the pub’s exterior, which have won awards at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The French House

DRY31C The French House

The French House, a Soho bastion, is as sophisticated as it sounds, offering fine dining in its wood-panelled upstairs restaurant. Its Michelin-recommended menu is ever-changing, boasting a range of gourmet seafood and meat dishes and an extensive wine list and champagne. It also has a no music, TV or phone policy. It has been a staple for bohemians and creatives over the years, including Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon and Charles de Gaulle.

The Grenadier

If you like a good ghost story, get yourself down to the Grenadier in swanky Belgravia. Once an officers’ mess, the pub is supposedly haunted by a soldier called Cedric, who was beaten to death after cheating at cards. Today, money from visitors seeking to pay off Cedric’s debt covers the cellar’s ceiling. Aside from its spooky history, the Grenadier is famous for its traditional English pub grub, which includes beef wellington and toffee pudding, along with its wide selection of beers, wines and spirits.

The Pineapple

Built in 1868, the Pineapple is a typical London boozer, complete with Victorian brass decor, fireplaces and a compact-yet-sunny beer garden. The pub is cherished by Kentish Town residents, who successfully campaigned to save the Grade II-listed building from demolition in 2002. There’s a distinct community vibe at the Pineapple, with regular quiz nights, cheese Thursdays and excellent Thai street food. Try a range of organic ciders and beers, real ales and wines.

The Spaniards Inn

A stop-off at the historic Spaniards Inn, mentioned in Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers (1836), is the best way to round-off a walk around Hampstead Heath. While this pub has the feeling of a country inn (and is especially cosy in winter), it’s very much a part of the city. Its selection of cask ales rotates regularly, and you’ll have plenty of options to pair with its gastropub food offerings.


In East London, the Marksman was the first pub in the city to earn the title of Michelin Pub of the Year in 2017. As you might imagine, it’s big on quality food and alcohol, serving classic British fare and knockout Sunday roasts. It boasts a traditional wood-panelled bar area and an upstairs dining room.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Sitting inside a Grade II-listed public house, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is no less than a Fleet Street institution, having stood on its plot since being rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in the 1600s. It’s best known for hosting literary folk such as Dickens. Explore the many nooks and crannies of this historic pub before enjoying a pint or two of Sam Smiths.

Harwood Arms

The Harwood Arms, co-owned by Brett Graham of the Ledbury, holds a Michelin star for its top-notch menu and wines. The pub is known for using the best ingredients from top suppliers, including game when it’s in season, while its wine list is nothing short of extensive.

Lamb and Flag

Given its prime location in Covent Garden, the Lamb and Flag can get very busy – but it’s worth putting up with the crowds because it’s a real gem of a pub. It has a rich history, including a reputation for bare-knuckle brawling in the 19th century. As well as plenty of ales and beers behind the bar, it has a strong whisky collection.

The Mayflower

The Mayflower, the oldest pub on the Thames, is a quintessential English pub. Expect old church pews and a charming interior, complete with a terrace overlooking the river. Meanwhile, you can see where the Mayflower was moored in 1620 before sailing towards the south coast and eventually to America.

Earl of Essex

Head to Islington’s Earl of Essex if you’re serious about beer. This Georgian pub is well stocked with craft beers – whether in bottles, casks or kegs. The day’s brews are listed on the wall, including local and international varieties.

The Harp

While the Harp may look small from the outside, it has a lot of beer and cider behind its stained-glass windows. In addition to its 10 handpumps, the pub also serves guest brews, ciders and perries from around the country. It does have bar snacks, but the alcohol comes first at this drinker’s pub.

Blythe Hill Tavern

Blythe Hill Tavern, between Forest Hill and Catford, is a traditional Victorian pub loved for its relaxed atmosphere, garden and streaming of sports. With open fires and live traditional Irish music, anticipate a very friendly welcome and a vast cider selection.

The Carpenters Arms

The Carpenters Arms has quite the history – it’s affiliated with notorious East London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who bought it for their mother in 1967. Today, it boasts a much more relaxing vibe, but it gets busy on the weekends. The beer selection is wonderfully varied, with lots of bottles joining those on tap.

The Holy Tavern

Looking at the interior design, which features centuries-old furnishings, you’d think Clerkenwell’s Holy Tavern has been around for a similar amount of time. However, it’s only been a pub since the 1990s. It’s run by the folks behind St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk, so you’ll find its range of beers behind the bar, including fruity brews.

Crown & Anchor

Brixton’s Crown & Anchor, sister to the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington, prides itself on its beer selection. It features many brewers from across the country, while new beers pop up regularly. Its beers, ciders and ales are also used in the kitchen, cropping up across the classic pub grub food menu.

The Southampton Arms

Come to the Southampton Arms in Highgate if you like old-fashioned pubs. It doesn’t like taking phone calls, reservations or card payments, so you’ll need to bring cash. The beers and ciders come from independent breweries across the UK, including Burning Sky, Howling Hops and Five Points; it also serves delicious charcuterie boards.

People’s Park Tavern

Not only does the People’s Park Tavern look out onto Victoria Park, but it also has a massive beer garden of its own, which is the main pull of the pub. It’s often full on the weekends, and there is always something going on – think crazy golf outside, barbecues, quiz nights and live music.

The Scarsdale Tavern

In a beautiful part of Kensington, the Scarsdale Tavern offers respite from the busy surrounding shopping streets. There’s a brilliant selection of real ales, while fans of modern British fare will enjoy the braised hunks of meat, pies, pickled eggs and scotch eggs.

Cat & Mutton

Cat & Mutton, at the top of Broadway Market, always has a steady flow of people coming in and out, thanks to its great atmosphere. Luckily, there is plenty of space, both upstairs and downstairs, along with benches out on the street. It often has local brews on tap at the copper-topped bar, along with a great cocktail list.

The Sun of Camberwell

The Sun of Camberwell is a real hit with the area’s residents. It boasts drinking areas outside in the front and back, along with a spacious and eclectically designed interior bar. Expect modern British gastropub fare and strong drinks.

The George Inn

The 17th-century George Inn, protected by the National Trust, is the capital’s last surviving galleried coaching inn. It’s possible that Shakespeare drank here – although it has been rebuilt since his time. Take your drinks and sit out in the courtyard during summer evenings.

The Faltering Fullback

The Faltering Fullback, an Irish pub in Stroud Green, is loved for its beer garden, Thai food menu and TVs that broadcast sports. It’s also well known for its eclectic design inspiration, with lots of knick-knacks hanging from the ceiling and adorning the walls.

The Dove

The Dove, smack bang on the River Thames, has a pretty unbeatable location along with a rich history. Charles II used to frequent the pub with his mistress Nell Gwyn, and James Thompson composed Rule Britannia on the premises. As it’s owned by Fuller’s, you can find many of its cask ales on tap, alongside guest beers and an extensive wine list.

Amy Blyth contributed additional reporting to this article.

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