The pub is a great British institution and as you’d expect the capital is absolutely packed full of them. From pubs that have been around for centuries to modern Michelin-starred gastropubs, every corner of this city is packed with places to grab a pint and these are our top 20.
The Marksman was named Michelin Pub of the Year for 2017, becoming the first London pub to earn the title, so that should give you a strong indication of its quality. As well as the traditional wood-panelled bar area, The Marksman also has an upstairs dining area, added by chefs and owners Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram in 2015, which serves up classic British fare and knockout Sunday roasts.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a Fleet Street institution, having been standing since just after the Great Fire of London when it was rebuilt (and actually there was a pub on the same site before that too). Explore the many nooks and crannies of this historic pub before settling in with a pint or two of Sam Smiths.
Given its prime location in Covent Garden, the Lamb & Flag can get very busy but it’s worth putting up with the crowds because it’s a real gem of a pub. It’s got plenty of history, even gaining a reputation for bare-knuckle brawling in the 19th century, and it doesn’t feel like much has changed inside over the years. As well as plenty of ales and beers behind the bar, the Lamb & Flag also has a strong whisky collection if you fancy something stronger.
There’s no better way to finish off a walk on Hampstead Heath than with a drink in The Spaniards Inn. It has the feeling of a country pub (and is especially cosy in winter) but is very much a part of the city, even getting a mention in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. Their selection of cask ales rotates regularly so you’ll always find something to pair with their gastropub food offering.
The Mayflower is a quintessential English pub and has the distinction of being the oldest pub on the Thames – you can still spot the point where The Mayflower was moored in 1620 before it sailed onto the south coast and eventually America. Old church pews adorn the charming interior but there’s little better than enjoying a pint overlooking the river from the terrace.
As The Harwood Arms holds a Michelin star (the only one in the capital to currently have one) and is co-owned by Brett Graham of The Ledbury, it’s clearly a very good place to come and eat. They really focus on using the best ingredients from top suppliers, including game when it’s in season. Throw in their extensive wine list and it’s also a great place to come and drink.
If you’re serious about beer then the Earl of Essex is the pub for you. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Upper Street, this Georgian pub will surprise you with the sheer range of craft beer (in bottles, casks and kegs) they have on offer. The day’s brews are listed on one wall and the selection can include beers from around the corner in Camden to beers from across the Atlantic and virtually anywhere in between.
The Culpeper is a pub, restaurant, hotel and rooftop garden all rolled into one beautiful building. A horseshoe bar dominates the ground floor, where they serve from a natural wine list, a seasonal changing cocktail menu and a wide range of beers as well as a modern European bar menu. You can enjoy a more formal meal in the restaurant one floor up and even sleep over in one of the five rooms on the floor above that.
Sister to the also excellent Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington, the Crown & Anchor prides itself on its beer selection, with many brewers from across the country on show and new beers appearing all the time. Their beers, ciders and ales are also used in the kitchen, cropping up across the classic pub grub food menu.
It may look small from the outside but The Harp still manages to pack in a lot of beer and cider behind those stained glass windows – 10 hand-pumps plus guest brews, ciders and perries from around the country. This really is a drinkers pub; they do serve bar snacks but the booze comes first.
Not only does the People’s Park Tavern look out onto Victoria Park, it also has a massive beer garden of its own. This is definitely the main pull of the pub as it’s virtually always full come the weekend, but there’s always something going on, whether that’s crazy golf out the back, BBQs, quiz nights, music and even their own brew lab on site.
This place has quite the history – it used to be owned by Ronnie and Reggie Kray’s mother – and though it’s a much more relaxing place to visit now, it hasn’t lost that traditional feeling. The beer selection is wonderfully varied, with lots of bottles joining those on tap, and it’s struck the right balance between being buzzy but not too busy.
The Sun is a real hit with Camberwell locals and it’s not hard to see why – it’s got outside drinking areas front and back, a spacious and eclectically designed interior bar and modern British gastropub fare on top of the strong drinks offering. All in all, the ideal neighbourhood pub.
Although the interiors are a few centuries old, the Jerusalem Tavern has only been a pub since 1990. You’d be hard pressed to notice though as it feels like there couldn’t have possibly been anything else here. The pub is run by the folks behind St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk, so you’ll find their top range of beers, including their fruity brews, behind the bar.
Ale, cider, meat – that really does tell you everything you need to know about the Southampton Arms. The ales and ciders come from independent breweries across the UK, including the likes of Burning Sky, Howling Hops and Five Points, and the meat comes in bar snacks and on charcuterie boards. The Southampton Arms is also charmingly old-fashioned; they don’t like to take phone calls, reservations or card payments so don’t forget to bring a wallet full of cash!
The White Horse is definitely a local favourite (hence the Sloaney Pony nickname) yet its sizeable beer garden, spacious and comfortable inside bar, and regularly rotating cask ale and draught beer lines draws in punters from further afield too. Real beer aficionados should take note of their regular beer festivals too.
It’s no ordinary beer garden at the Fullback; it’s spread over a few different levels with seating tucked into numerous nooks and crannies surrounded by foliage. This definitely makes it more of a challenge getting your pints from bar to seat but the pub feels all the more special for it. Inside is no different with lots of knick-knacks hanging from the ceiling and adorning the walls. The Fullback is also a fantastic place to watch sports but that does mean it gets crowded come game time.
Given that the Cat & Mutton sits at the top of Broadway Market, it’s no surprise that there is always a steady flow of people in and out, meaning the atmosphere is always great. Luckily there is plenty of space, with large tables in the downstairs, mismatched but comfy furniture in the other bar upstairs and some benches out on the street. They often have local brews on tap at the gorgeous copper-topped bar as well plenty in the fridges and a cocktail menu too.
The George, protected by the National Trust, is the last surviving galleried coaching inn in the capital and it’s possible that Shakespeare drank there (although it has been rebuilt since his time). Take your drinks and sit out in the courtyard so you can truly take in the history of the place.
Smack bang on the River Thames, The Dove has a pretty unbeatable location as well as a rich history – Charles II used to frequent the pub with his mistress Nell Gwynn and James Thompson composed ‘Rule Britannia’ on the premises. As The Dove is owned by Fuller’s, you can find many of their cask ales on tap alongside guest beers and an extensive wine list.