Brilliant boozers: 12 of the best pubs in London

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 23.05.2024

Taken from the new Pocket Rough Guide, this is our pick of the best pubs in London.

London is a very big city. In fact, it’s the largest capital in the European Union, stretching for more than thirty miles from east to west, and with a population of just over eight million. Ethnically and linguistically, it’s also Europe’s most diverse metropolis, offering cultural and culinary delights from right across the globe.

If you want to get under the city's skin, there's only one place to do it. Found on just about every street corner, the pub remains one of the nation’s most enduring social institutions and its popularity in London sees no sign of waning. The City has probably the best choice of long-established drinking holes, while in Soho and the East End you’ll find a wide choice of bars and clubs alongside good-old fashioned pubs. For a riverside drink, head for the South Bank or Docklands, and for a lazy Sunday afternoon mosey on up to Hampstead or down to Greenwich.

The Lamb & Flag

This tiny old pub is hidden away down an alley between Garrick Street and Floral Street in Covent Garden. Among its claims to fame is that the Poet Laureate, John Dryden, was beaten up here in 1679 by a group of thugs who were most probably hired by his rival poet, the Earl of Rochester.

33 Rose St

The Lamb and Flag pub, London © Travers Lewis/Shutterstock

The Lamb and Flag pub, London © Travers Lewis/Shutterstock

The Salisbury

This flamboyant and superbly preserved late-Victorian pub offers an escape from the crowds a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square. The interior is replete with bronze nymphs, etched and engraved windows, red-leather seating and a fine lincrusta ceiling, while a wide range of ales is on offer behind the bar.

90 St Martin’s Lane

The Red Lion

Not what you'd expect to find in St James's, the exclusive little enclave sandwiched between St James’s Park and Piccadilly, this glorious old Victorian gin palace has elegant etched mirrors and lots of polished wood. They offer a commendable range of ales, with seasonal selections that change every few weeks.

2 Duke of York St

The Dog & Duck

For a slice of old Soho, you can't do better than this tiny pub. The Dog & Duck retains much of its old character and its original decor, with beautiful Victorian tiling and mosaics, plus a good range of real ales. A real West End treat.

18 Bateman St

English pub sign-Dog and Duck © christo mitkov christov/Shutterstock

English pub sign-Dog and Duck © christo mitkov christov/Shutterstock

The Lamb

For refreshment after a trip to the British Museum, walk a few minutes east to The Lamb. This marvellously well-preserved Victorian pub in a pretty street boasts mirrors, polished wood and “snob” screens, plus intriguing old photos. The excellent Young’s ales round things off splendidly.

94 Lamb’s Conduit St

Jerusalem Tavern

This converted Georgian coffee house – a short walk from Smithfield Market – has a frontage dating to 1810, meaning the building retains much of its original character. Better still, the excellent draught beers are from St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk.

55 Britton St

The Three Kings

Tucked away north of Clerkenwell Green, just a quick stumble from the Jerusalem Tavern, lies another of London's gems. This atmospheric pub has a delightfully eclectic interior and two small rooms upstairs that are perfect for long occupation.

7 Clerkenwell Close

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

A seventeenth-century watering hole – famous chiefly because of patrons such as Dickens and Dr Johnson – with several snug, dark-panelled rooms and real fires. Popular with tourists, but by no means exclusively so. It's hidden down an alleyway off Fleet Street, so look out for the sign.

Wine Office Court, 145 Fleet St

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, old pub in London © Arndale/Shutterstock

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, old pub in London © Arndale/Shutterstock

Prospect of Whitby

Steeped in history, this Docklands venue is perhaps London’s most famous riverside pub, with a pewter bar, flagstone floor, ancient timber beams and stacks of maritime memorabilia. Decent beers and terrific views too.

57 Wapping Wall

Royal Oak

The Royal Oak is a lovingly restored Victorian boozer that eschews jukeboxes and one-armed bandits, opting simply for a superb stock of real ales (mild, pale and old) from Harveys Brewery in Sussex and some good old-fashioned pub grub.

44 Tabard St

The Holly Bush

For drinking in north London, try this lovely old pub, with a cosy real fire in winter and a charming wooden interior, tucked away in the steep backstreets of Hampstead village. There are some fine ales on offer, plus decent food (particularly the sausages and pies) – note that it can get mobbed at weekends.

22 Holly Mount

Trafalgar Tavern

Frequented by the likes of Dickens (and mentioned in Our Mutual Friend), William Thackeray and Wilkie Collins, this Regency-style inn is a firm tourist favourite in Greenwich – with its riverside position and good snacks, it's easy to see why.

5 Park Row

Planning a trip to London? Don't miss our experts' pick of the best luxury hotels in the city.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 23.05.2024

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