Searching for the best bars and pubs in London? You're in the right place. The capital's drinking scene is one of the best in the world, with boundary-breaking cocktail bars taking mixed drinks to the next level, while traditional pubs bring you back down to earth in the best possible way.
Should you be looking for the perfect pint or a cocktail beyond comprehension, our critics have rounded up their favourite bars and pubs across the capital on Time Out’s list of the 100 best bars and pubs in London. We've sliced and diced them by area below so you can cut out the faff and concentrate on getting a round in. Bottoms up!
Reviews by Laura Richards, Tania Ballantine, Ashleigh Arnott, David Clack, Alexi Duggins and the Time Out Eating & Drinking team
The best bars and pubs in central London
What’s the vibe? This slick spot for savvy drinkers holds a cocktail bar up top and a wine bar down below. The upstairs is a warren of darkly lit rooms that stay open until 2.30am on weekends.
When to visit: For a promising first date: start down below and if it goes well, work your way up. Oi oi!
What to drink: Get first-rate plonk for just £20 – all bottles come at this agreeable flat rate.
What's the vibe? In an area full of touristy pubs, this stripped-down drinking den is a hideaway worth knowing about. The Polpo team run things here, so expect a wealth of Italian liqueur behind the bar.
When to visit: When you fancy something a little classier than a sauv blanc and soda at a nearby Sam Smith's.
What to drink: The spritz (Aperol or Campari) between the hours of 4pm and 6pm, when they're only £5 each.
What’s the vibe? Art deco opulence hidden away in the heart of theatreland. Descend the building’s grand staircase to find this dark and moody bar with twinkly gold and bold embellishments.
When to visit: Great for a pre-theatre pick-me-up, even better for a late nightcap.
What to drink: Stick with the classics – they won’t disappoint. The martinez is one of the best we’ve had in the city.
What's the vibe? It’s the dolce vita at Bar Termini, with continental-style service and Italian aperitifs (and espressos). Lively and always busy, but quiet because of its size, the minute setting offers the rare luxury of peace and quiet in central London.
When to visit: Early evenings are perfect for a cocktail before dinner in Soho.
What to drink: Marsala martini (gin, sweet marsala, dry vermouth and almond bitters) .
What's the vibe? A little taste of laidback Spain in the non-stop West End, this bright, modern bar serves drinks and tapas straight out of Andalusia. If canary yellow walls don’t transport you, a drop of the old Jerez sure will.
When to visit: When the Med is calling.
What to drink: A glass of fino, to prove that sherry isn't just for your nan.
What's the vibe? Find eye-opening dusky glamour any time of the day at this hideaway of supreme style. The setting is as rich as you’ll find in London, with walls embossed in gold for the mega-dollar effect.
When to visit: To remind yourself that such places exist in your city. Make the most of them.
What to drink: A champagne cocktail. What more of an excuse do you need?
What’s the vibe? Yes, it’s another take on the Prohibition theme, but it’s classy as hell and Jason Atherton’s at the helm. Rich, dark oak furnishings and white marble features (and even a mirrored ceiling) juxtapose playful, decorative drinks. Think Bugsy Malone for grown-ups and you’re about there.
When to visit: After an indulgent dinner in Atherton’s Social Eating House below.
What to drink: Dill or No Dill (gin, cucumber, elderflower, lemon, dill).
What's the vibe? A cosy and unassuming little boozer bringing a touch of flamenco to Fitzrovia. Don’t let the name mislead you – tattered furniture and jukebox tunes make Bradley’s as ‘pub’ as it gets. Londoners love the low-key vibe.
When to visit: When another rainy day reminds you that you’re definitely not in Spain.
What to drink: A glass of Spanish wine – they offer the most Bamboléo for your buck.
What's the vibe? This long-standing Soho spot is old-school and unpretentious, with a wistful pride for its heritage as a writers’ drinking den. Throwbacks include the threadbare carpet and jars of pickled eggs, which are flogged at the bar.
When to visit: On a Wednesday or Saturday night for the bi-weekly piano singalong, which sees cockney classics and pop hits alike belted out with boozy abandon.
What to drink: The standard Fuller’s ales are nothing special, so go for the guests: Redemption’s punchy Hopspur makes regular appearances.
What’s the vibe? Small, secretive and playful but always serious about the cocktails. Look beyond the pink umbrella in your drink for full-on flavour and watch the barmen at work for a masterclass in mixing.
When to visit: When you’re up for a chat with your local barman – they’re a friendly bunch at CTC.
What to drink: The menu changes regularly, but all cocktails have wacky decorations that won’t disappoint.
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What's the vibe? Not quite as saucy as the name suggests; a tiny space where people come in search of serene, simple cocktails. You’ll be well taken care of at this intimate Islington hideaway that continues to innovate.
When to visit: When you’re in need of something simple and stunning – these are drinks that don’t need to show off about how good they are.
What to drink: Fig-leaf collins (gin, fig-leaf syrup, lemon, soda).
What's the vibe? A comfortable pub with an excellent beer list from the esteemed Craft Beer Co – this is definitely their most cosy outpost. Dozens of taps means dozens of excuses to settle into this beer-heavy hideaway.
When to visit: When you’re feeling decisive.
What to drink: Ask a bartender for something new, gasp at their incredible beer knowledge, sip, enjoy, repeat.
What's the vibe? Nowadays, almost every new pub tries to sell itself on a ‘craft beer’ offer, but not all manage it on this scale. That’s why this backstreet pub packs them in; the Earl of Essex is a lovely local, beer-focused but welcoming to all and with a cracking garden out back.
When to visit: For a beery but refined evening – everything on tap is great.
What to drink: Ask what’s on from Earl’s brewery.
What's the vibe? A central London goldmine for fans of fizzy fermented apples, this warm and welcoming former gatehouse offers more than 15 still and sparkling ciders.
When to visit: When you’re fed up of the single-tap cider choice in other pubs.
What to drink: Anything from a keg – taste a few and pick your favourite .
What’s the vibe? Lively, undiscerning, fun-loving crowds flock to the Fullback for fun times in north London’s best beer garden. All major sports are screened to lively crowds, but this is a rugby fan’s pub above all else.
When to visit: On a summer evening that you want to extend as far as possible.
What to drink: Guinness. None of it's fancy, so you might as well embrace the classics.
What's the vibe? Bruno Loubet’s restaurant may have a focus on veg, but don’t think they neglect the booze at the bar. Just expect drinks with a foodie lean (celeriac bellini, anyone?) at this quasi-Continental people-watching hot spot.
When to visit: Aim for a sunny summer evening – Granary Square is quite lovely when the sun is setting.
What to drink: Lemon Sherbet Margarita (tequila, triple sec, lemon sherbet, soda water).
What’s the vibe? Unassuming backstreet boozer with a character all of its own – and a pub dog of its very own, too. The Hemingford is covered in plant life on the outside and decked in all kinds of props indoors, so there’s plenty to soak up beyond patter from locals.
When to visit: On a sunny weekend afternoon, or for their Thursday-night quiz.
What to drink: Pick a pint of ale with the help of the well-informed staff.
What's the vibe? If you’re heading for a night on the cocktails you’re probably prepared to spend a penny. Well, this Kentish Town cocktail magnet has something for every taste, and is all set in a disused public loo.
When to visit: When you want to flush away the cares of the day.
What to drink: Rhubarb and Custard (gin, Bird’s custard, rhubarb syrup, lemon).
What's the vibe? With its impeccably pleasant staff and classy drinks, Original Sin kicks off the Stoke Newington cocktail revolution. The narrow room holds booths for groups to nestle into or a pool table for a tipsy match . Cocktails should always be this fun.
When to visit: Before climbing the stairs to Burger Bear for food.
What to drink: Red Hook (rye, maraschino and Punt e Mes).
What's the vibe? You can feel the history in the weathered wood of the joyously unmodernised main bar. All of K-Town mingles here, so it’s a constantly lively scene. The Pineapple gets crazy as a coconut on first-rate comedy nights.
When to visit: When the locals come out to play, every night of the week .
What to drink: A pint of Camden Hells lager, the local brew.
The best bars and pubs in east London
What’s the vibe? A refurbed pub that stays true to its East End roots, even if they’ve ditched the karaoke and embraced the filament lightbulbs. It’s just about off the beaten track, so find locals cosying up for traditional pub snacks and cask ales in a tastefully turned-out room.
When to visit: When you’re on Brick Lane and a curry won’t cut it. Head here for a pasty and a pint instead.
What to drink: Craft beer from the fridge or a glass of red to wash down tasty bar snacks.
What’s the vibe? Minimal basement bar from the guys behind the former club night of the same name. BTW plays its hits-packed vinyl collection through a 1970s Tannoy Gold soundsystem, so you’ll find music buffs and cocktail fans mixing as well as gin and tonic (which, coincidentally, is on the highball menu).
When to visit: When warming up for a big night out in east London. The team here set the mood just right.
What to drink: Settle in with a Manhattan or really get in the party mood with the range of ‘snifters’ paired with oysters for just £4.
What’s the vibe? The Bell’s laid-back charm makes it Walthamstow’s busiest boozer. It’s large, attractive and always entertaining, so expect to see families flocking here for a daytime outing and friends partying here by night.
When to visit: Try an alternative Saturday night out in far-east London; the Bell has DJs and live music on the regs.
What to drink: Work your way through eight rotating ales on hand-pull cask.
What’s the vibe? A hip whisky parlour where premium drops are paired with Asian eats, this bar is dressed to kill, with dark tin roof panels and a sexy brass-topped bar. Shoreditch can still do ‘cool’, it turns out.
When to visit: Start your night out in Shoreditch here – you probably won’t want to leave.
What to drink: Nikka straight from the barrel or any of the other premium Japanese whiskies.
What's the vibe? A classic Spitalfields pub with a lively local crowd, The Carpenter’s Arms was once under the rule of East End gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Now, it’s probably more famed for its cracking line-up of beers.
When to visit: When the full-on clamour of Brick Lane becomes tiresome.
What to drink: Timothy Taylor’s, one of Yorkshire’s finest ales.
What’s the vibe? Stepping into this backstreet Hackney boozer is like stepping into a countryside inn. The community saved The Chesham from re-development, so feel the local pride shine through.
When to visit: Do it country-style and settle in by the fire with the papers on a cold afternoon.
What to drink: Camra voted this their favourite new pub, so get stuck into the ales on rotation.
What's the vibe? Great pizza, great beer, great outdoor space; Crate is the ultimate brewery bar and the centrepoint of Hackney Wick’s burgeoning social scene. It probably doesn’t hurt that it’s placed right by the canal, either.
When to visit: On a sunny evening, the lure of Crate is hard to resist.
What to drink: The irresistibly malty and light Crate Best is a treat any day of the week.
What’s the vibe? Gorgeous ground-floor bar with stellar staff, complete with a dining room and roof bar atop. The Culpeper is the poshed-up kind of pub that offers it all, and boy does it look good.
When to visit: Supplement after-work drinks with stand-out snacks at the buzzy horseshoe bar.
What to drink: Start off perusing the ales and then head on up for a herb-infused cocktail – the rooftop has a twee herb garden.
What’s the vibe? A speakeasy with soul near Spitalfields Market, finding Discount Suit Company is all part of the fun. Once you’re in, mind your head in this low and slow wood-decked drinking den.
When to visit: Come for a late-night tipple where you’ll find all walks of life imbibing at the bar or in various nooks.
What to drink: Tailored drinks, of course. The bar staff are so good at DSC we advocate going off-menu.
What's the vibe? A temple for Belgian beer enthusiasts on the buzzing Broadway Market stretch. This little birdy is decked out in dark wood and has large communal tables for those seeking a truly continental experience.
When to visit: Soak up the buzzing beer-hall vibe by visiting after a Saturday trip to the market.
What to drink: Any of the Trappists by the bottle, or a pint of draught De Koninck.
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What’s the vibe? Granny chic of the vintage bowls club variety: think frilly-edged lampshades, patterned armchairs and all the old scoreboards. A friendly neighbourhood hangout, there’s also a grown-up dining room, and an upstairs function room hosting everything from film screenings to yoga.
When to visit: During the week, when it’s easier to snag one of those dinky tables.
What to drink: Twickenham’s Tusk IPA, or guest ales like Calif-Oregon Amber ale from the Belleville Brewer Co just around the corner.
What’s the vibe? Try before you buy. This Nunhead beer seller has a bar at the back for those keen to sample its London-leaning selection on cask or keg. Staff are so approachable that many who drop in for a takeaway bottle end up staying for several pints.
When to visit: Attend a meet-the-brewer session for a full lesson on the humble hop.
What to drink: Let the couple behind this top operation guide you – advice doesn’t come friendlier than it does here.
What's the vibe? One long, lively room packed with beer-loving locals on an otherwise unloved section of Brixton Road. Seating isn’t designed for a settled down session – you’re encouraged to explore the bar instead for knowledgeable advice on beers and ciders sourced from all around the UK.
When to visit: For a pre-gig party where the beer is always amazing.
What to drink: The staff are always looking for the next brilliant British brewery, so try something new.
What's the vibe? One for the beer lovers, Draft House is inviting and undemanding: like being inside a beer fridge (without the chills). This particular branch packs in punters and large parties and even holds a cute beer garden out back.
When to visit: If most craft beer bars seem a bit intimidating, visit any of the Draft Houses.
What to drink: Beer, of course – which of the dizzying varieties on offer you go for is totally up to you.
What’s the vibe? This pub perched on Lordship Lane may look bold on the outside, but indoors it’s chilled out and family-friendly, with just the right amount of buzz. Perfect Sunday roast territory, then.
When to visit: Whenever local non-league side Dulwich Hamlet are playing – clusters of pink-and-blue scarved punters add lively (and crucially, not rowdy) atmosphere.
What to drink: It’s mostly mass-produced suds on the keg lines, so look to the hand-pulled casks for options from local breweries like Brixton and Peckham’s Brick Brewery.
What’s the vibe? An apothecary shop filled with boozy remedies, First Aid Box is a café by day and experimental cocktail joint come night, with white tiled walls and pseudo-pharmacological gear on the bar. We’re hooked.
When to visit: For a fun night out with pals.
What to drink: If you fancy some cocktail theatre go for the bramble, served with a syringe of Chambord on the side.
What’s the vibe? There’s not much to the decor, since Four Quarters says it all with retro arcade games available to play at 25p a pop. Swap pals for Pac-Man with a drink in hand – this is London’s nostalgia craze at its best.
When to visit: When a Scrabble session or a night of karaoke won’t cut it in the entertainment stakes, sign up for one of the regular Mario Kart tournaments.
What to drink: Cocktails and craft beers. But remember to focus your energy on beating your Street Fighter score.
What’s the vibe? Microbrewery with an astonishing gin selection and awesome in-house games rooms. Pile into the covered beer garden or take a seat for comedy events – you won’t have a quiet night here.
When to visit: Midweek – when you can play on the retro games without too much queuing.
What to drink: Any of their in-house beers, or ask the staff to make you one of their unbelievable gin and tonics.
What's the vibe? This Heathside local’s crafty reinvention has made it something quite special. The interior may be fairly generic but the location makes it an outright destination. Don’t believe us? Carry your pint out onto the bucolic Heath and enjoy.
When to visit: A summery Sunday or a chilly winter evening.
What to drink: Weird Beard's Decadence stout is a rich, comforting treat.
What’s the vibe? Technically there’s no bar at all at this Brockley pub. But don’t let that put you off; staff pour from casks stacked against the wall in this cracking addition to south-east London’s drinking scene.
When to visit: When you fancy a chat with knowledgeable beery bar staff without the traditional barriers.
What to drink: Choose one of the brews by owners Late Knights, whose brewery is based in Penge.
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What's the vibe? This boisterous west London outpost for the Aberdeenshire-based brewery remains one of the only places for miles around where you can sup on dozens of carefully crafted beers. And like the other Brewdogs, it’s a beauty of tall tables, bare brick and bright blue logos. Woof!
When to visit: For a pre-Shepherd’s Bush Empire sharpener.
What to drink: A head-mashing half from Brewdog’s Scandi brethren Mikkeller.
What's the vibe? Camra-championed local boozer serving down-to-earth pints in well-heeled Putney. This is what people call a ‘proper pub’ with a beer garden, bar skittles and a roaring fire.
When to visit: A winter’s eve – bagsy a seat by that fire.
What to drink: Ale, ale and more ale.
What's the vibe? A gathering of beer lovers celebrating all that’s brilliant about the brown stuff. The cellar and fridges are filled with an almost absurdly generous range of the finest brews from London, Britain and beyond.
When to visit: For a night of halves – it’s the only way to make the most of the menu.
What to drink: There are often exclusives pouring – ask what’s hot right now.
What's the vibe? A relaxed and refined riparian inn littered with picnic benches out front and great for the summer months. The Barge is just as beautiful and bright indoors and offers a roster of rugby fixtures on screen, but you didn’t come here for that, did you?
When to visit: At the end of a riverside stroll.
What to drink: Your favourite waterside drink – it will taste even better here.
What's the vibe? A classic duck-your-head heritage pub experience, The Dove also boasts a cracking riverside location. Plus, if you like a bit of history with your pint, famous past drinkers include Charles II, and ‘Rule Britannia’ was supposedly penned here.
When to visit: When watching the boat race – just arrive very early.
What to drink: Fuller’s beers are made just up the road – it would be rude not to.
What's the vibe? A delightful and historic old coaching inn with a modern brewery on site, The G&D is pouring beers made on the premises, possibly for the first time in centuries. It’s well worth the journey if you’re not from these parts – the Central line is your time machine to the Victorian era.
When to visit: When in Acton. What else are you going to do?
What to drink: It has to be a Dragonfly beer, made metres away from where you’re sitting.
What’s the vibe? An attractively spruced-up pub with a gastro lean that hasn’t neglected to cater for those still in search of a pleasing pint. The dining space sparkles, but prop yourself at the bar for a riotous post-work pint in Chelsea.
When to visit: When you fancy following your ale with a full-flavoured roast in the upstairs dining room. The team behind Brompton Food Market do great stuff.
What to drink: Try ales on tap or browse the extensive wine menu.
What's the vibe? Cool customers crowding in for cocktails and conversation at one of west London’s true star bars. It even has its own ‘ginstitute’ up above if you really want to get to grips with what this place does best.
When to visit: To get a deeper connection to the spirit that almost caused London’s ruin.
What to drink: Anything made with Portobello, the house gin .
What's the vibe? A rare and endlessly fascinating old Victorian pub tucked away among the imposing mansions and canals around Warwick Avenue. The Prince Alfred has just undergone a bit of a spruce-up but it still retains its gorgeous carved woodwork and period snob screens.
When to visit: To remind yourself that all pubs were like this, once.
What to drink: Of all the Young’s beers, the Double Chocolate Stout is probably the most interesting.
What’s the vibe? A handsome boozer tastefully restored to its Victorian splendour. Decorative features are to die for, the bar is a proud horseshoe and the dining hall is as decadent as the menu. Yet it’s a down-to-earth spot fit for a family outing.
When to visit: It’s pretty much the perfect place to cocoon yourself away from bad weather.
What to drink: The wine list is among the best you’ll find at a pub.
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No prizes for guessing why this cocktail bar at the Sanderson hotel is so called: it's 80ft in length, so we reckon it earns its tag. It's open to hotel guests and visitors, and you can take drinks to the good-looking courtyard should all the bar stools be taken. It's mostly about the cocktails. The list includes a tropical caipiroska (Belvedere vodka, Passoa, passion fruit, lime and mango), a sucette (Belvedere raspberry vodka, strawberry and passion fruit) and a Sanderson, made with Beefeater gin, lychee juice, melon liqueur, lime and Aperol. Champagne from well-known houses also features. A small selection of bar bites also features, ranging from crispy calamari, spiced chicken wings and smoked salmon scotch eggs to burgers, club sandwiches, a triple-cheese toastie and a salt beef bap.
"Grab your date (or your single pals) and head to Long Bar to toast Valentine's with our special Love Cosmo cocktail."