The pub is a great British institution – and London is testament to that. Some 3500 pubs line the capital’s streets, from century-old watering holes to modern Michelin-star gastropubs. Planning your London pub tour? Culture Trip rounds-up the best 30 pubs across the city.
A stop-off at the historic Spaniards Inn, mentioned in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, is the best way to round-off a walk around Hampstead Heath. This pub has the feeling of a country inn (and is especially cosy in winter), while it is very much a part of the city. Their selection of cask ales rotates regularly and you’ll have plenty of options to pair with their gastropub food offerings.
The Marksman, in East London, was the first London pub to earn the title of Michelin Pub of the Year in 2017. As you might imagine, it’s big on quality food and booze; it serves up classic British fare and knockout Sunday roasts. It boasts a traditional wood-panelled bar area and an upstairs dining area.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, in a Grade II listed public house, is no less than a Fleet Street institution, having stood on its plot since the 1600s. It was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, and it’s best-known for hosting literary folk like Dickens. Explore the many nooks and crannies of this historic pub before enjoying a pint or two of Sam Smiths.
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 their wine list is nothing short of extensive.
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 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, the Lamb & Flag has a strong whisky collection.
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 that overlooks the river. Meanwhile, you can see exactly where The Mayflower was moored in 1620 before it sailed towards the south coast and eventually on to America.
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, with the selection including beers from around the corner in Camden to beers from across the Atlantic and anywhere in between.
The Harp may look small from the outside – but it packs in a lot of beer and cider behind its stained-glass windows. The pub offers 10 hand-pumps along with guest brews, ciders and perries from around the country. Take note that while they do serve bar snacks, this is a drinker’s pub and booze comes first.
Blythe Hill Tavern, just between Forest Hill and Catford, is a traditional Victorian pub. It’s loved for its relaxed atmosphere, huge garden, streaming of sports and pop-up food trucks, which are usually parked up between Thursdays to Saturdays. Anticipate a very friendly welcome with open fires and traditional Irish live music, plus a vast cider selection.
The Carpenters Arms has quite the history: it’s affiliated with notorious East London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray who bought it off their mother in 1967. Today, it boasts a much more relaxing vibe, while it gets busy on the weekends. The beer selection is wonderfully varied, with lots of bottles joining those on tap.
Looking at the interior design, which features centuries-old furnishings, you’d think Clerkenwell’s Jerusalem Tavern has been around for a similar amount of time. But, in fact, it’s only been a pub since the 1990s. The pub is run by the folks behind St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk, so you’ll find their top range of beers behind the bar, including fruity brews.
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 are often appearing all the time. Their beers, ciders and ales are also used in the kitchen, cropping up across the classic pub grub food menu.
Come to the Southampton Arms, in Highgate, if you like old-fashioned pubs. This pub 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, while they serve delicious charcuterie boards.
Not only does the People’s Park Tavern look out onto Victoria Park, but it also has a massive beer garden of its own. This is definitely the main pull of the pub, which is often full on the weekends. There is also always something going on – think crazy golf out the back, barbecues, quiz nights and live music.
The Scarsdale Tavern, tucked away in a beautiful part of Kensington, 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, at the top of Broadway Market, always has a steady flow of people coming in and out as the atmosphere is great. Luckily there is plenty of space, both up- and downstairs, along with benches out on the street. They often have local brews on tap at the copper-topped bar, along with a great cocktail list.
The Sun is a real hit with Camberwell locals. It boasts drinking areas out both the front and back, along with a spacious and eclectically designed interior bar. Expect modern British gastropub fare and strong drinks.
The 17th-century George Inn, protected by the National Trust, is the last surviving galleried coaching inn in the capital. 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, 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, 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 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.
Amy Blyth contributed additional reporting to this article.