Best pubs in London

From gastropubs to capital boozers, Time Out recommends 50 great pubs in London

Fancy a pint? Glass of wine? Gin and tonic? Of course you do, and living in London you're not short of places to find them. Below is our pick of the best pubs in central London.

Looking for pubs in other areas? Here are our guides to the best pubs in north, east, south and west London.

Pubs in Soho

French House

Critics' choice

An evergreen haunt of Soho barflies, the French House should have ‘La Marseillaise’ playing as you walk in. Beer (house lager) is sold in halves; eau de vie comes in strawberry, pear and plum varieties; the champers is Canard Duchêne and Pol Roger; and there’s Breton cider and Ricard behind the bar. The 30-strong (16 by the glass) wine list is dominated by vins français, Pouilly-Fuissé Monternot 2007, Brouilly 2009 and more affordable St Julien d’Aille de Provence included. This is no recent Gallic gimmick: frequented by Soho’s criminal and cultural underworld after the war, this was also where Charles de Gaulle ran his London base in the Vichy era, hence the photo; more recent guests (Suggs, Francis Bacon) receive more wall space.

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Chinatown

Argyll Arms

Robert Sawyer created this ornate Victorian pub in the dying days of the 19th century, and he’d still be proud of his Grade II-listed, Nicholson’s-run monument to mahogany and etched glass by one of the West End’s busiest pedestrian intersections. Within, the unhurried sipping and supping of quality ales might recall a quiet rural pub but for the rapid turnover of the international clientele, all happy to have found a real London pub with a broad range of beers and an array of suitably eccentric little spaces in which to drink them.

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Soho

Dog & Duck

During February 2012 a refurbishment took place at this pub; but we were pleased to find on revisiting it post-refurb that the charm of the place unaltered. A Soho landmark for generations, the Dog & Duck is known chiefly for its literary heritage and for its ever-changing ale selection. Some of the beers will be familiar, the likes of Sharp’s Doom Bar, Fuller’s London Pride and St Austell Tribute, but others are more unusual: the selection might take in rare but worthwhile brews such as Black Dog from Whitby. Most of the surroundings remain authentically vintage: etched mirrors, carved mahogany and so forth.

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Soho

Coach & Horses

One day, there will be a review of this Soho landmark without mentioning its legendary, long-gone landlord Norman Balon – but not just yet. The grouch who presided over the Coach’s louche years, when equally legendary columnist Jeffrey Bernard and fellow wisecracking, literary sourpusses were regulars, still looms large. ‘The West End’s most famous pub’ now features ‘Norman’s Coach & Horses pub piano singalong’ twice a week and the Private Eye dining room upstairs, named after the satirical stalwart whose editorial team met here.

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Chinatown

Old Coffee House

The Old Coffee House is in fact an old pub, with old pub attitudes, drinks and decor: the vintage etched mirror still advertises MB Foster and Truman, Hanbury & Buxton; birds stay stuffed in glass frames; and the menu still consists of pies and jacket potatoes. The layout of the place, though, lies with its 18th-century roots, when such coffeehouses were debating chambers for rational political discussion. The debate today is carried out between two Sky Sports TV screens at each end of the one-room interior.

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Soho
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Pubs in Covent Garden

Cross Keys

A pavement smoking-and-drinking seating area consisting of planks of wood placed on beer barrels doesn’t promise much. However, a peek inside the flower-fringed open window reveals that this is an agreeable little place, a cosy, ages-old pub decked out in ancient copper utensils, London street signs and remarkable pop memorabilia.

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Covent Garden

Harp

Where once fine and varied sausages were the main selling points of this well-hidden pub near Charing Cross post office, now it’s sought-after ales. The board outside details the current selection, while around a bar counter eminently suited to being propped up, obscure beer mats tell of ales from yesteryear. It’s not only ales – at present Sambrook’s, Thornbridge and Dark Star – but traditional cider and perry, too. Sausages still sizzle away on the hob beside the bar, where cheery regulars chat with the staff or study the racing form.

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Leicester Square

Lamb & Flag

Rose Street wasn’t always the domain of puzzled tourists sipping pints of Bombardier. Squeezed between Garrick Street and the old Covent Garden market, this dog-leg alleyway was once the haunt of whores and bare-knuckle fighters, the latter hosted at this low-ceilinged tavern when it was called the Bucket of Blood (the poet Dryden was beaten up here in 1679). Estrella and Peroni make welcome appearances as draught options, though most seem to stick to bottled Corona or Beck’s. Food comprises ploughman’s lunches and doorstep sandwiches; heartier meals (sausages, roasts) can be taken upstairs or in the back room.

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Leicester Square

Lowlander

Brightly logoed and Benelux-themed, the smart Lowlander’s expansive, long-tabled main space is easily filled, thanks to an impressive range of draught and bottled beers, a fine kitchen and likeable staff who are well up to what is, given the bar’s popularity, often a tough job. Some 15 tap beers, by the half-pint glass or two-pint jug, include Palm Spéciale, St Louis Premium and Poperings Hommelbier, as well as more familiar compatriots.

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Covent Garden

Porterhouse

Irish by professed nationality but global by nature, this gleaming hostelry with a busy terrace does a fine line in international beers and hearty fare. Underpinning it all are draught stouts and ales; in the case of Wrasslers, made to a century-old recipe. Along with the semi-titular Porterhouse Red are An Brainblásta (at 7%, it lives up to its name), the gentler TSB and a pungent Oyster Stout.

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Covent Garden
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Pubs in Fitzrovia

Bradley's Spanish Bar

Bradley’s may call itself a bar, but it’s indisputably one of the West End’s few great pubs, and home to London’s most appealing jukebox, a vinyl-driven, genre-spanning monster. The Spanish lager is pricy, but Londoners still love this place and spill on to the road outside in summer months, inevitably angering cab drivers.

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Soho

Newman Arms

There's been a business located at this gateway to a cobbled alleyway since 1730 – see the red sign outside and etched writing over the bar – but as a pub it had its heyday in the mid 20th century, when George Orwell was a regular and Michael Powell filmed here. Both men get a decorative look-in, the pub's 101 minutes of movie fame marked by an Italian poster (1960's L'Occhio che uccide, aka Peeping Tom).

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West End

Pubs in Clerkenwell

Craft Beer Company

One of the most exciting beer selections in the city sees 37 of them on draught and a doorstopper of a list that includes rarely seen brews from the world over.

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Farringdon

Fox & Anchor

This Smithfield boozer proves renovation can be sympathetic. No purple banquettes or flock wallpaper, just gleaming tankards, dark wood and outrageously good pub grub. Six stylish bedrooms too, if you’re overcome by pies.

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Smithfield

Jerusalem Tavern

Appropriately enough, the St Peter’s Brewery’s only London pub is a place of pilgrimage for those in search of its full range of award-winning beers. Fill your belly, warm your soul and toast your bum in front of a coal fire.

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Farringdon

Rugby Tavern

In its favour: a Shepherd Neame pub with well-kept ale and the welcome of a proper local in the back streets of Bloomsbury. The downside: it’s closed at weekends.

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Bloomsbury

The Yorkshire Grey

If George Orwell drank at every pub that claims him, he wouldn’t have made it to Wigan Pier, let alone Catalonia. But as the Grey is just around the corner from the BBC, we can assume he did take advantage of what is the best fireside snug in Fitzrovia.

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Holborn

Pubs in the City

Jamaica Wine House

A secretive drinking den in an alley that manages to evoke memories of countless handshakes, tip-offs and clandestine collusions.

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City

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

This Fleet Street landmark was rebuilt back in 1667 ('in the reign of King Charles II'), and its seventeenth-century history is in large part responsible for its twenty-first-century appeal. The royals to have been served thereafter are painstakingly listed outside in a higgledy-piggledy passageway, drawing in dozens of tourists a day to the pub's baffling labyrinth of rooms.

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Fleet Street
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Pubs in Holborn and Bloomsbury

Princess Louise

This princess is actually the queen of Yorkshire brewer Samuel Smith’s collection of central London pubs. With half-a-dozen ornately-carved, sumptuously-tiled bar areas under one high stucco ceiling, it’s a sensational building, selling, of course, Smith’s array of sanely priced pints.

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Midtown

The Queen's Head

A super little neighbourhood pub in Bloomsbury with an inspired beer selection, cheese and meat boards, and thoughtful design touches. There’s live music, comedy and a regular quiz.

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Comments

2 comments
James
James

David - I think the writer's geographical knowledge is lacking. The Rugby Tavern is in either Holborn or Bloomsbury depending on how you look at it, but definitely not Clerkenwell. The same goes for the Yorkshire Grey. IMO Clerkenwell ends at Grey's Inn Road - i.e. where EC1 becomes WC1. Sorry to nitpick, but as a local these mistakes irk me.

David
David

Don't know anything about this pub, but it's stretching a point to say it's in Bloomsbury / Holborn - this one is a stone's throw from Piccadilly Circus. I suspect the pub you are recommending is the Queen's Head in Acton St, which is at the northern side of Bloomsbury, not far from King's Cross.