The 30 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
Photo of Christina Dean
25 February 2021

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.

The Auld Shillelagh

Pub, Irish
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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. The Auld Shillelagh is run by an Irish landlord and hosts live music every Friday from their resident trad band, who’ve been performing there for over 15 years. Enjoy sports on multiple big screens or, in summer, head out to the sun-trap of a beer garden.

Ye Olde Mitre

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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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 you soak up the pub’s old-worldly feel, with oak panelling and stained-glass windows.

Bradley's Spanish Bar

Bar, Spanish
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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 décor 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 Ale Bar, Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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Craft beer aficionado? You’ll love Cask Pub, which stocks over 25 drafts and 200 bottled beers from all over the world. Billed as ‘London’s permanent beer festival’, the pub’s 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

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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This skinny Tudor-style pub, on Mayfair’s prestigious Bruton Street, was built in 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

Bar, Pub, Sandwich Shop, British, Pub Grub, Salad Bar, $$$
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Themed after the fictional Victorian explorer Phileas Fogg, this traditional tavern offers bags of charm. The pub, in the heart of Covent Garden, is stuffed with 19th century artefacts supposedly gathered from Fogg’s 180-day journey around the world. The off-beat décor is complimented by rare gins, tankards of ale and Phileas’ 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

Bar, Gastropub, Pub, Pub Grub, British, Beer
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Courtesy of The Churchill Arms
This Kensington institution, named after the famous former prime minister, dates back to 1750 and was once frequented by Winston Churchill’s grandparents. 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 incredible flower displays that cover the pub’s exterior and have won awards at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The French House

Bar, Pub, French, $$$
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The George Inn courtyard
The George Inn courtyard | © Nick/Flickr
The French House, a Soho icon, is as sophisticated as it sounds, offering fine dining in its wood-panelled upstairs restaurant. Its Michelin-award-winning menu is ever-changing, boasting a range of gourmet seafood and meat dishes. Then there’s the extensive wine list and selection of 30 champagnes, plus a no music, TV or phone policy. It has been a staple for bohemians and creatives over the years, from Dylan Thomas to Francis Bacon and Charles de Gaulle.

The Grenadier

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Pub, French, $$$
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© Stuart Black / Alamy Stock Photo
If you like a good ghost story, get yourself down to The Grenadier in swanky Belgravia. The pub, once an officer’s mess, is supposedly haunted by a soldier called Cedric, who was beaten to death after cheating at cards. Today, the cellar’s ceiling is covered in money from visitors seeking to pay off Cedric’s debt. Aside from its spooky history, The Grenadier is loved for its traditional English pub grub which includes beef wellington and toffee pudding, plus its wide selection of beers, wines and spirits.

The Pineapple

Pub, Street Food
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The Pineapple, built in 1868, is a typical London boozer, complete with Victorian brass décor, fireplaces and a compact-yet-sunny beer garden. The pub is cherished by Kentish Town locals, 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

Bar, Gastropub, Pub, British, European, $$$
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The Spaniards Inn pub in Hampstead, London
The Spaniards Inn pub in Hampstead, London | © Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Marksman Public House

Pub, Restaurant, British, $$$
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Marksman Public House, London
Marksman Public House, London | © Ewan Munro / Flickr

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

Pub, Pub Grub, British, Vegan, Vegetarian, Irish, $$$
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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

Gastropub, Pub, British, $$$
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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.

Lamb and Flag

Gastropub, Pub, British, $$$
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Lamb and Flag in Rose Street, Covent Garden, London
© Alan Kean / Shutterstock

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

Bar, Gastropub, Pub, British, $$$
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The Mayflower Pub Rotherhithe, London
© Ashok Saxena / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Earl of Essex

Bar, Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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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

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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The Harp has a range of beers on draught
© UrbanImages / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Pub, Snacks
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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

Pub, British, Pub Grub, $$$
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The Carpenters Arms pub, Spitalfields, East End London
© Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Jerusalem Tavern

Pub, Pub Grub
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The Jerusalem Tavern, London
© D Hale-Sutton / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Crown and Anchor

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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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.

Southampton Arms

Pub, Pub Grub
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The Southampton Arms pub, Kentish Town, London
© Cath Harries / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

People’s Park Tavern

Pub, European, Pub Grub
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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

Pub, British, $$$
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The Scarsdale Tavern, Kensington, London
© Cath Harries / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Gastropub, Market, Pub, European, British, $$$
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The Cat and Mutton in Hackney, London
© Clara Copley / Alamy Stock Photo

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 George Inn

Gastropub, Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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The George Inn, Southwark, London
The George Inn, Southwark, London | © Pictures Colour Library / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Pub, Thai, $$$
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French, Scottish and England rugby fans watch a world cup warm up game against France in the Faltering Fullback pub in Finsbury Park, north London.
© Richard Splash / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Gastropub, Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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The Dove Public House alongside River Thames Hammersmith, London
© Neil Setchfield / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

These recommendations were updated on February 25, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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