Whether you’re a tippler, a tea-totaller, or somewhere in between, a trip to a London pub is a quintessential, cultural experience.
To find a pub in London is like shooting fish (and chips, in this context!) in a barrel. With over 3,500 pubs in the sprawling metropolis, this list is definitely a pint-sized amount. We went for 21, as it’s 2021, but a traditional English pub is truly timeless. Many of these pub selections have been standing for centuries as London institutions.
So, after careful consideration and curation, we present our handpicked list of London’s best pubs. They have long histories (in some cases, colourfully sordid pasts), appealing atmospheres, decent food, and all feature that certain je ne sais quoi.
1. The Lamb & Flag
You’ll find many pubs in Covent Garden, but this one is its oldest, dating back to 1792. Charles Dickens was a regular at The Lamb & Flag, so if you’ve a thirst for literature, or just literally thirsty, cozy up in here with a book and a pint, and perhaps the bartender will regale you with tales of its storied past.
This London pub, named after one of Britain’s most decorated Prime Ministers, is in turn decorated with these gorgeous, hanging flower baskets. The pub is as photogenic outside, as its curries and and drinks are, inside.
Just look at this charming pub, with its classic windows and stained panes! We could harp on about its appearance, but reclining in one of its leather club chairs, sipping your choice of angel nectar, is also heavenly and music to our ears.
The chilled-out atmosphere of The Ten Bells may also give you the chills, when you learn it’s where Jack the Ripper scoped out his victims. Enjoy this archaic pub as the eerie finale to a nighttime Jack the Ripper tour (which we highly recommend), or pop in for a drink during daylight if you’re ‘lily-livered.’
Speaking of liver, give yours a workout here (although the name of this tavern that may remind you of a different organ.) Its massive lantern hanging outside may catch your eye before the rooster-emblazoned sign. The sheer size of this old-fashioned light stops many a passerby for a photo-op. Be sure to stop in for a pint and enjoy the warm atmosphere.
Not to be confused with the famous West End theatre of the same name, the show-stoppers of The Lyric are classic dishes, like steak & ale pie and beer-battered haddock and chips. Contemporary stars make the cut as well, like bourbon-glazed ribs, pork belly, and vegetarian options, all in beautiful, traditional surroundings.
Situated on a significant and historic thoroughfare, near the Thames and important tourist sights, stands The George. Take a reprieve from sightseeing in this elegantly refurbished public house, or enjoy dinner at the complex’s upscale restaurant, the Pig & Goose.
This Camden Town gem may not have the classical feel of a traditional English pub, but it doesn’t want to be classical; it’s rock n’ roll! Its legendary status has attracted many of the stars you’ll find on its popular jukebox, from Amy Winehouse to Oasis. Britpop heroes Blur frequented the joint, and with its nightly drink specials, your journey out may be a ‘blur,’ too.
Feeling homesick? Stop into Covent's Garden’s Maple Leaf pub for a dose of Canadiana. Knock back brews from our home and native land, watch NHL hockey on the big screens, and if you’re in London on July 1st, enjoy the biggest Canada Day party on that side of the Atlantic (pictured.) A hotspot of both ex-pats and locals alike.
Dating back to 1862, this towering pub retained its beautiful Victorian facade after miraculously surviving the Blitz during World War I. Step back in time and take in the pub’s historic memorabilia, including one of Queen Victoria’s old napkins. This must-see was named after her husband, Albert. The Greenwich has kept all of its history and charm intact, while now serving finger-licking Mediterranean eats.
Welcome to London’s first riverside pub, in business since– wait for it– 1520! Situated on the Thames, the river was the hub of commerce, making this pub kind of a big deal. Once the haunts of sailors and smugglers, The Prospect’s noose and gallows now haunts us with its dark past– a site for hangings.
What do we love about this pub? Everything! (Ok, minus the death metal it was playing one night we went.) Usually, the tunes are eclectic and sing-along-able, the service prompt and friendly, and adjacent to original pub dating back to 1690 (whoah!) is the impressive area with soaring ceilings, and below is a cool, Camden Town music venue.
This Soho favourite is where George Orwell drank absinthe, toasting the acclaim of Animal Farm. With ornately tiled walls, decorative looking-glasses and rich, mohagany panelling, the Victorian-era establishment probably looks similar to the pub the author knew.
Giddy-up for a lager at the beloved Coach & Horses. Your personalized London hashtag isn’t complete without a photo of a striking, Tudor-style pub like this one. So, take a pic and while you’re there, enjoy a plate of fish n’ chips, served with traditional mushy peas, and bread and butter.
Pubs? There’s no shortage in Shoreditch! This hipster area likes to do things differently, so for a contemporary take on the traditional pub, check out this upscale spot, featuring an eclectic, celebrated, and downright delicious, menu. We think it’s a gastropub you’ll recommend to others when in the London-Shoreditch area.
Maybe we watched too many Looney Toons as kids, but if it says “Ye Olde” in the title, then you know it’s authentic, historic and worth visiting. Flawed thinking aside, this pub has a great selection of hand-pulled casks, pub fare, and established in 1547, it definitely is “olde.” (Seeing as this Instagram pic is B&W, maybe it was posted in ancient times, too?)
Said to be the oldest pub on the Thames (if that sounds familiar, the Prospect of Whitby, ranked earlier, claims the same title) one thing is certain: The Mayflower earns high Trip Advisor ratings. It’s scenic, authentic, rustic… and anything else ending in ‘ic’ that denotes something worthwhile about a London pub. We especially love it here in warmer months, sitting al fresco at one of the picnic (!) tables.
This cozy Norwegian-inspired pub has a laidback atmosphere that makes it hard to leave. Grab a board game or two, pick a tune on the Jukebox, then enjoy the relaxed patio outside (if you’re lucky, there will be a friendly pup to pet at the next table).
You wouldn’t expect to be served bombolone at a British pub, but then again, The Kings Stores knows all about exceeding expectations. Enjoy tasty Italian desserts and the award-winning atmosphere at this traveller-favourite London pub.
Experienced pallettes will fall in love with The Wigmore’s thoughtful menu of seasonal ingredients, craft beers, and cask ales. Bring your appetite and a couple of friends to snack on shareables and mouthwatering mains.
Part of the London pub experience is stumbling across (and often, stumbling out of!) your own hidden treasures. Do you have a personal favourite, perhaps one we missed? We’d love to know. Feel free to share this post, with your thoughts!
We hope your next trip to London includes a stop at one (or all!) of these watering holes. Cheers and happy travels!