A Tourist's Guide to the Best Bars & Pubs in London
Whether you’re looking for a quaint, traditional pub, a fashionable wine bar, or a hot new gastropub, we've taken some of the guesswork out of the city's dizzying array of options.
Whether you prefer beer, wine, cider or cocktails, it’s a good bet you’ll find something to quench your thirst, soothe your soul, and delight your taste buds in London.
England is known for having some of the finest beer in the world, and there are just a few things to know before ordering.
First of all, beer in England is not served ice cold like it is in the States, so if the temperature seems slightly warmer than you’re used to, it is on purpose, to maximize flavor. That said, there are some basic types of beer you’ll want to try:
- Lager is light and somewhat hoppy, refreshing.
- Bitter is like lager but even more hoppy.
- Ale is slightly sweeter, made with more malt, but IPA (India Pale Ale) has more hops (the source of that slightly bitter herby taste).
- Then there’s stouts and porters, which are darker, richer (although, strangely, usually less alcoholic) brews.
Some beer manufacturers make all of these and more, and many pubs will serve a selection; order a half pint at a time so you can try several. My personal favourite is Samuel Smith’s, and the Chandos Pub in Trafalgar Square serves a lovely selection (from the Lager to Nut Brown Ale to Taddy Porter to seasonal specialties), including their organic cider.
The United States has only recently begun to have a love affair with craft cider but the English have been drinking it for centuries. Some of it is sweet and scrumpy (that means it’s freshly made and extra-appley), some of it dry and smooth, some is clear, some cloudy, some is still, some fizzy, and some cider is made with pears (it’s actually called perry and is delicious). Strongbow is widely available but it’s sort of the Budweiser of cider.
Regional specialties from the West Country are worth a try. I like Orchard Pig and Kingfisher. You can sip cider to your heart’s content at The Cider House in London’s Borough Market, which sells New Forest Cider and a wide range of English ciders from small producers.
If it’s wine for you, most pubs serve at least a house red and white, but a wine bar will give you a bigger selection. The Remedy Wine Bar & Kitchen on Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia is cozy and has a fabulous selection of wines; they also have a daily happy hour from 4-6 om where you can get a glass of vino for only £4! You may also enjoy 10 Cases in Covent Garden, a cosy wine bar with a carefully curated selection of wines (ten cases at a time); it has an outdoor terrace, and serves tapas dishes and a revolving seasonal menu.
Food Glorious Food (and Booze)
The gastropub experience has taken hold in London and there are numerous places to indulge your taste for fine dining in a casual bar, bistro or pub style atmosphere. Time Out reviewed London’s best gastropubs and the Anchor and Hope in Southwark got high ratings for its casual vibe and traditional rustic fare. The menu includes gamesman’s delights like venison, rabbit, pig’s cheeks, Dover sole, spring lamb, or, for something lighter and less carnivorous, a beetroot and goat cheese salad or three cheese souffle with hazelnuts, with quaint favorites for afters like Bakewell tart with clotted cream. The wine list is equally impressive, and there’s also beer, spirits and cocktails at reasonable prices. Closed Sundays, alas.
The Brookmill gastropub in South London (open on Sundays!) has a slightly greater emphasis on beer (stocking brews from a number of local breweries (like Brockley Brewery and Gipsy Hill Brewing Company), and a comfy interior with large windows for people watching and enjoying the street view. The menu is somewhat small, but has an interesting fusion approach (flavors include Cajun and Middle Eastern), and evolves to feature seasonal ingredients, and includes various burgers, steak, wings, meat or vegetarian pies, soup du jour and salads.
Another gastropub well worth a visit: The Bull and Last near Hampstead Heath in north west London. Take a hike and you’ll be ready for a tipple and a nibble. The bar is bustling (for those wot like that sort of thing, that’s wot they like), but the upstairs dining room lets you relax and enjoy the fine selection of beers, hefty wine list, and hearty, creative yet old-fashioned English fare. You’ll find a delectable assortment of fish and meat dishes, charcuterie, vegetarian options (like handmade gnocchi) and tempting desserts; I mean, you did go for a brisk walk beforehand (didn’t you?), so go for that pistachio parfait or the dark chocolate mousse. This pub also has a charming event space (the Stag Room) that seats up to fourteen people for private parties
All That and Dog Friendly
Some pubs just have it all, and The Cleveland Arms, centrally located near Paddington Station in street full of grand Georgian houses, is that place. It’s an historic building that just screams “Victorian public house!” and is family friendly, dog friendly, gay friendly, and, we’re guessing, just all-around friendly; plus, it’s open seven days a week and serves breakfast until noon on the weekend. The eclectic decor makes it a delightful place for drinks or a meal; the wine list features a classy selection ranging from France and Italy to South Africa and Argentina.
The menu, as with so many fine London pubs, shifts with the seasons, and The Cleveland Arms also has daily well-priced gourmet lunch specials. Recent featured dishes include rabbit tagliatelle, onglet steak, artichoke and pea risotto, and a prawn, mussel and crab stew. The desserts sound heavenly: hazelnut tart with caramelized apples and crème fraîche, anyone? If you can get there for Sunday roast, then do! Recent choices for this most English of gastronomic experiences included roast pork loin, roast top side of beef, thyme and lemon chicken, or a whole lamb shoulder (pre-order, serves 6).