If you're looking for inner-city supping with a countryside feel, sometimes London's best rooftop bars or best beer gardens simply won't cut it. Get yourself a spot by the river with our guide to London's finest riverside pubs. As well as the very best Thames-side drinking spots, we also guide you through some first rate canalside pubs and bars fit for any sunny day of drinking in the capital.
Riverside pubs in west London
Beside a muddy but peaceful stretch of the Thames, facing a little island straight out of Arthur Ransome, this higgledy-piggledy pub offers tranquillity both inside and out. The honking of multitudinous geese all but drowns out the regular passing of Heathrow-bound aircraft; the nearest bridge welcomes trains only rarely, and you’re just as likely to see an oarsman breaking the water. Artefacts related to the location – sepia waterside scenes of yesteryear, an old wooden ‘Beware of the Weir’ sign – decorate the raised main bar area, leading to the back terrace.
Situated on a fine stretch of the riverbank between Hammersmith and Putney bridges, this vast Victorian venue is within shouting distance of Craven Cottage, the homely home of Fulham Football Club. It's been given a grandiose, gastro-tastic going over, and is the latest feather in the bow of posh boozer specialist Realpubs. The locals approve of the remodel, it seems, and on a sunny day can be found in their droves enjoying some of the nicest waterside drinking in the city. The seats under the weeping willow deserve especial mention. As well as a restaurant bathed in white linen at the rear, there’s a gorgeous, gigantic beer garden, bedecked in wood and stylish shrubbery, which flows down to the riverfront.
Several pubs stand amid the rowing clubs, dog-walkers and strategically placed park benches on the Upper Mall embankment upriver from Hammersmith Bridge; this one is perhaps the best (and certainly a prime spot from which to watch the Boat Race). Inside, it’s basically a classic duck-your-head heritage pub experience, but most drinkers come here to sit in the vine-entangled conservatory or the riverside terrace overlooking the houseboats.
If you’re a fan of rowing (and rowers) make a dash for the Duke’s Head, where the lads and lasses of the nearby LRC (London Rowing Club) can often be found quenching their thirst. To watch them in action, simply tell the bartender you’re going outside, and they’ll give you your pint (Young’s, plus guest ales from the likes of Meantime and Dogfish), in a plastic cup, allowing you to lean against the railings and cheer on the crews. No training on? Pull up a pew in the dinky patio area, and drink in the views. Of the river, we mean.
It’s a long walk from Hammersmith Bridge along a lazy bend in the Thames, a world away from belching buses and snarled-up traffic, but if you bypass a few pubs in favour of this one, you’ll be pleased you’ve made the trek. The boathouse feel of the airy building is continued in the maritime-themed decor of sailing paintings and iconography. Depending on which areas have been hired out, you should have a choice of outdoor seating upstairs or down, or a spot in the classy main bar/restaurant.
This great Young's local, founded as a waterman's inn around 1786, shines like a riverside beacon. The peaceful and relaxing front bar is ideal for reading or quiet conversation, whereas the much larger conservatory by the Thames attracts a lively mixed crowd, which means seats are always at a premium; an excellent garden overlooks Wandsworth Bridge. The pleasant dining room serves an ambitious seasonal menu that comes - like the list of entertainment (including an informal Irish session on Tuesdays) - printed on a surreal image of a sea captain with a ship for his head and fish for his hands.
Its appearance in keeping with the swish, neutral look of the show apartments and community facilities of Battersea Reach (‘defining riverside living with style’) around it, this well-conceived place is atypical of the Young’s stable. It feels 21st-century, for a start, with floods of natural light coming from the river-facing floor-to-ceiling windows, beyond which is a decked terrace. Regrettably, the opposite bank is an eyesore. Even so, tucked far away from a busy Wandsworth roundabout, between two Thames bridges, this seems like a world unto itself.
Right on the river, this capacious barn of a bar makes best use of its prime location. It’s a Young’s pub, so it’s well looked after, providing the usual range of ales from the brewery stable, as well as reliably satisfying steak pies and Sunday roasts. What really brings in the punters, though, is the chance to sink into a chesterfield by the fire, or find a spot to stand on the river-view first-floor veranda, down a pint and talk about the rugby match that’s just played out on the big screen.
Riverside pubs in east London
Three floors of bow-fronted Georgian magic, with the top-level room in particular giving fantastic river views both up- and downstream. Secure a window seat, or a table on the cobbled street outside, and tuck in to some better-than-average grub and a decent, if unadventurous, selection of ales and wine.
The devotedly lazy may baulk at the 10-15 minute walk to the Gun from the nearest tube or DLR station, but trust us – it’s well worth the pilgrimage. Once there, you’ll find few tourists (not something you can say of many riverside pubs – Mayflower, we’re looking at you) and plenty of outside space, all washed over by river breezes and the wafting smells of excellent food. You can order from the smart modern British restaurant menu, or keep it casual with seriously good bar bites (brawn croquettes; black pud scotch egg). Of the drinks, it’s the huge, globe-trotting wine list that gets the glory.
With its first-floor wraparound terrace taking in the waterways, and a canalside alfresco area, this gastropub is convincing competition for the more established terraces on Granary Square. All its alfresco spaces are first come, first served, so prepare for a bun fight on hot days. There are no parasols or heaters, but while the weather holds, you can enjoy menu highlights including wood-grilled meats, superfood salads, and flatbreads topped with thoughtful, seasonal combinations, teamed with fresh juices, wines by the glass, or on-trend cocktails.
Dating back to 1620, the Mayflower certainly looks the part: appearing suddenly along the Thames path, its white and black-timbered frontage set with diamond-leaded windows positively oozes tradition. Inside, beyond the counter, the small main bar area (cosy alcoves, open fire) leads to a deck outside at the rear. So far, so apparently authentic, but the prices tagged both to the drinks (a fairly uninspiring selection of beers punctuated by the odd real ale) and the food (fish a speciality of sorts) are pure 21st century, and the nagging suspicion of being in a tourist trap is hard to shake off. A waterfront terrace makes up for any disappointment.
Gordon Ramsay’s Limehouse gastropub makes the most of its Thames-edge location with a bright conservatory complete with retractable roof, serving pitch-perfect Modern European dishes from the restaurant menu, plus a handful of alfresco tables overlooking the wharves of Rotherhithe, serving poshed-up sharing platters, pies and sandwiches. Either way, you get to contemplate a summer sunset sparkling off the towers of Canary Wharf, a glass of superior wine or a real ale in your hand. And did we mention the barbecue on the terrace at weekends? Good times.
Drink in London history at the Prospect, a building in Wapping that dates back to the 1520s and claims to be the city’s oldest riverside inn. Luminaries together with altogether shadier characters have found refreshment in the dark wooden interior and contemplated the views from the terrace.
This Young’s pub isn’t exactly brimming with character but it has a wonderful lockside location on the River Lea to compensate. Sit at one of the many picnic tables and survey the vista – a seat in the conservatory does the job in bad weather. As well as standard draughts, the bar offers the likes of Bombardier and various Young’s brews – the Wells Banana Bread beer in the chiller is dangerously addictive. For entertainment, there’s a retina-popping seven-foot screen showing MTV and sport, a pool table and a dartboard. Food runs to industrial pub grub standards: roasts, lasagne with salad and chips.
Though claiming to be the oldest pub on the river, the Ramsgate looks like it had a refurb in the ’70s – all patterned carpet and chunky wood tables. But it’s full of nautical bric-à-brac and the odd historic manuscript. This much-loved hostelry serves comforting burgers, roasts and fish and chips. Equally comforting was the service – warm and welcoming when we visited on a wet Sunday afternoon. On tap you’ll find Adnams, Young’s Bitter and even Beck’s. We’ll be back when the sun’s out to take advantage of the terrace overlooking the river.
Thanks to the Thames lapping against its wall and the resulting busy tourist trade, this place is something of a local landmark. Built in 1837 and regally restored in 1968, it feels more historic than it is, with photographs of maritime scenes and portraits of braided admirals aiding the illusion; there are rooms named after Nelson, Hardy and Howe. In fact, the place is huge: downstairs alone there are five spaces, in addition to the side terrace guarded by a statue of Horatio. Draught beers include British ales (Sharp’s Doom Bar, Adnams Bitter) and Belgian brews (Palm, Estaminet), with plenty more Beneluxuriant options in the fridge.
Canalside pubs in London
Venue says: “Express lunch two-for-one menu, Monday to Friday – only £15 for two people!”
The chief selling point of this stylish bar-restaurant is its wide terrace, so close to the Regent’s Canal that you can touch the bobbing barges. It’s quite pricey, but the clientele are happy to keep ordering as long as the sun keeps shining (you may find the interior completely empty of a July lunchtime), and it’s not as if the venue is cutting corners in its provisions. A flatscreen TV has been placed in front of a sofa for rainy days, though it’s just as nice to watch the barges from inside.
A pleasant ten-minute walk past an array of bars clustered around the bridge, this first-floor boathouse-like venue above Cafe Chula makes great use of its location. It’s occasionally hired for private parties but when it’s open to all, you can gaze over the twinkling lights around the lock and the bobbing barges as you sip your Erdinger. If it’s too nippy, the interior is long and artily loft-like, and fairly relaxed – at least compared to the glug-’em-quick vibe on the main drag.
This is one of the few success stories of the great Hackney Wick Olympic café boom. While many of the area’s newer cafés and restaurants have floundered or closed since summer 2012, Crate is more popular than ever – especially among the Wick’s young creative types. This hip canalside pizzeria-cum-microbrewery is run by the people behind the Counter Café. High vaulted ceilings are accompanied by bare light bulbs, benches made from recycled coffee sacks and a bar pulled together using railway sleepers.
It’s unsettling to walk along the Regent’s Canal towpath to find loiterers grinning at you – until, that is, you’re close enough to see the quality of their funk-goth nail polish, admire the luxuriance of their bandido moustaches and be warmed by their solar-flare strength hospitality, for they are this new bar-café’s greeters.
Venue says: “King's Cross restaurant and bar serving meat from our own farm. The waterside terrace overlooking Regent's Canal is a great summer spot.”
If you don't fancy roughing it in a riverside pub, go for pure class. Rotunda opens its outdoor terrace on Kings Place's pretty canalside for the summer with champagne galore, as they've teamed up with Perrier-Jouet this year. Expect far more sparkle in your glass than you'll find in Regent's Canal.
Riverside pubs in Outer London
The White Cross stands on the site of a monastery. A big, handsome boozer, it has large bay windows that offer none-closer views of the river. Crowds flock here in summer to bask on the waterfront with a cooling drink, but fires and little niches in the many rooms keep things cosy in winter. Happy staff pull pints of Young’s Special and Bombardier at the rectangular bar, or pour Pimm’s and lemonade. At weekends, book a table if you fancy trying some of the traditional pub nosh.
Find riverside restaurants in London
Icon Balcony Bar
The Icon Balcony Bar is part of the Casino at the Empire complex. The candlelit cocktail lounge, with a balcony overlooking Leicester Square, is decorated in a style reminiscent of a French boudoir, with chandeliers, antique wallpaper, exposed brickwork and opulent crimson furnishings. The bar has an eclectic drinks list including boutique beers from around the world, plus a decent wine selection. Classic cocktails also feature – think black russians, mojitos, cosmopolitans, Champagne cocktails and old fashioneds.