Let’s face it, whether you’re a student, working, or just visiting, perhaps the best thing about London is its traditional, cozy pubs. I’m a big fan of real ales and old man pubs and have made it my mission to find the best pubs in London during my six years of living here.
Wapping is a great place for traditional pubs, many of which also boast river views. The Captain Kidd is my favourite of all of them. It’s got a nice traditional old-man atmosphere, lots of space, and it’s on the riverside so is great for a summer’s day. It’s a Sam Smith’s pub so the drinks are dirt cheap and, since Sam Smith’s pubs don’t play music, you can actually hear your friends talk. I’ve had a couple of birthday parties here over the years.
The Grapes is Sir Ian McKellan’s pub in Limehouse. You’ll find Gandalf’s Staff behind the bar and, apparently, Sir Ian himself sometimes makes an appearance at the pub quizzes. A nice cozy bar with a small outdoor area by the river and good ales.
Pro tip: you can walk from the Wapping pubs along the riverside to the Grapes for a nice summer pub crawl!
A little deeper into East London, near Hackney Downs station, you’ll find the Pembury Tavern. This is a true old man pub, though it’s become a bit more hipster in recent years (it’s now owned by Five Points Brewing Company). They have chess boards you can use, other board games, and a billiards table, so you won’t be short on entertainment while you’re there!
The Culpeper is a good place for a late-night drink as they’re open later than any of the other pubs nearby. Not going to lie, there have been more than a few nights where I’ve ended up here after the other pubs in Shoreditch and the City have closed (you know the nights, where you want to keep drinking and are frantically googling “pubs open near me” on your phone). They’ve allegedly got a rooftop, but I’ve never been there early enough to use it…oops!
The George is a 17th century maze of a pub with a massive outdoor area and lots of small secret rooms throughout. It gets a bit crowded during peak times (and you may have to wait slightly longer for a beer), but it’s so pretty I had to put it on the list. It's now a Greene King pub so they generally have decent ales on tap. There are also loads of more secluded rooms so you can get a quiet conversation in with friends as well.
Another SE pub, the Royal Oak is a traditional Victorian spot. It’s not usually particularly crowded as it’s slightly off the main street. A solid choice for some good ales, chilled atmosphere, and, as a bonus, a really nice bathrooms with pretty tiles!
Located on the cobblestone streets of Rotherhithe, this pub marks the spot where the Mayflower ship sailed to America in 1620. They’ve got good ales and a nice outdoor area. Though, watch out for the tide, cause sometimes the Thames spits up through the deck!
The Roebuck is a nice, traditional Young’s pub in Hampstead Heath. They’ve got a lovely garden for the summertime and the inside is super cozy. They’ve also got a basement area which is usually quieter if you’re there for a catch-up.
The Prince Albert is a slightly off-the-beaten track pub in Camden. It’s closer to Camden Road overground station than the underground station. Decorated outside with beautiful green tile and a staple since 1843, it’s welcoming and homey. They also still serve some real ales alongside the traditional Camden IPA fare.
The Holly Bush is perhaps the coziest pub in all of London. With a roaring fire in the winter and wood-panelled nooks and crannies for a private conversation, this is a great date spot. I will say, I haven’t had the best luck with their veggie food, but the pub is so nice it still makes the list!
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is another one of my favourite old-timey pubs in London. It used to be one of my beloved Sam Smith’s pubs, but now it’s a Spitfire which, still makes a pretty good bitter so I approve. It’s been going since 1538 and was frequented by the likes of Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Dickens among others. Now, it’s mostly frequented by lawyers (as it’s right by the Royal Courts of Justice), but it’s still a great spot.
Now, we all know the Wetherspoon’s boss is a bit of a knob to say the least, but I’d be remiss not to include at least one of their pubs on this list. Located in a former bank, this one is by far the nicest. With high ceilings, columns, and ornate chandeliers, you’d never guess it was a Spoons aside from the dirt-cheap prices. Their bathrooms are also some of the biggest pub bathrooms I’ve ever seen and have literal marble statues in them.
You’ll definitely notice the Cross Keys if you’re walking around the Covent Garden area, with its foliaged front and ornate sign. Inside, you’ll find an old-style bar with a reddish glow. If you’re not lucky enough to be on the booth side of a table, you’ll have to sit on a stool, but it’s worth it for the atmosphere.
The Wigmore is a bit of a splurge as far as pubs in London go (it’s part of the Langham hotel). I wouldn’t class it as a traditional pub per se, but it’s so beautiful I had to include it (and it still serves cask ales!). It’s an old banking hall with super tall, green ceilings and dark wood accents.
Situated on the Thames in Hammersmith, the Dove is a charming little Fuller’s pub. With low lighting, exposed brick, and a terrace, it’s another great date spot and is also a good place to watch the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in the spring! Since it’s a Fuller’s, they always have London Pride on tap as well, which is always a plus for me!
Have you been to any of these pubs? Which do you think is the best pub in London?