London is known the world over for its traditional pubs. But its quirky bars and top-drawer joints serving cocktails, wine, beer and beyond are just as worthy of your precious drinking time. So, to prove a point, Time Out has pulled together a list of London’s very best bars. Sit up at the bar at these rocking spots and order in a round you definitely won’t forget in a rush.
The best bars in central London
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? There’s 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: The bar’s take on Butter Beer from a menu inspired by childhood stories.
What’s the vibe? As classy as they come, the Connaught Bar is a must-try for any Londoner. Sip mega-dollar drinks in a mega-dollar Mayfair setting, among a clientele of flashy hotel guests. Hey, you’re worth it.
When to visit: That very special occasion.
What to drink: Order a martini and they’ll roll a trolley to you table. You may need rolling out after, too.
What’s the vibe? Luxe hotel bar that’s so polished in pink, it’s almost as sparkling as what’s in your glass. Perfect for its glossy clientele.
When to visit: This is a destination for a pick-me-up tipple, a girly catch-up or a business meeting when you’re out to impress.
What to drink: The bar boasts one of the largest menus of English sparkling wine in town. Order up a glass of something (relatively) local and fizzy.
Venue says: “Come and try Dandelyan's new menu, exploring the science and art at play in the human adaptation of plant and animal life!”
What’s the vibe? International hotel glamour and world-beating drinks. Ryan ‘Mr Lyan’ Cheti smashes it out of the park with his second, more glamorous watering hole. No wonder it does such a roaring trade.
When to visit: A few cocktails here looking out over the Thames makes for a properly classy London night out.
What to drink: The Lonely Heart Killers has a story behind it that’s great for any date night.
What’s the vibe? Art class meets night out at Bermondsey’s Doodle Bar, where a railway arch’s two main walls are decked in chalkboards for tipsy punters to get creative. Street food vans pull up outside making it the height of hip.
When to visit: Date night could get fun with some suggestive scribbling.
What to drink: Try Doodle’s pale ale, created especially for the bar.
What’s the vibe? A whisky wonderland beneath a Scottish restaurant brought to you by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Single malts are the real deal here.
When to visit: When you’re after some studied, serious sipping.
What to drink: Scotch! Let able staff guide you through unchartered whisky territories.
What’s the vibe? One of the capital’s original speakeasies, Milk & Honey is discreet, dark and good for larger groups. The clubby but unstuffy surroundings make it a central London legend.
When to visit: Whenever you can book: it’s easier early in the week.
What to drink: London Calling (gin, sherry, lemon, sugar, bitters).
What’s the vibe? Victorian explorer’s curiosity-filled abode, with spiffing cocktails served by knowledgeable, plummy bar staff. Penny-farthings are suspended from the ceiling and leather-bound books line the shelves. What ho!
When to visit: For a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
What to drink: The Illusionist is a smoky spectacle you’ll never forget, with whisky, bourbon and Cocchi Barolo Chinato all smoked with cinnamon and cloves.
What’s the vibe? An Irish bar without any of the gimmicks, just good old fashioned fun in a wood-clad, music-filled basement.
When to visit: When you’re in the mood for a party – there’s live music every night of the week so it’s as lively as you’d hope.
What to drink: Guinness poured with precision, whisky-based cocktails and punch so strong it’s served in miniscule measures. Craic-ing stuff.
What’s the vibe? A hotel bar with a muted wood-pannelled look and a soul soundtrack, the Punch Room is way more contemporary than its name suggests. All guests are offered a complimentary swig of the punch of the day before ploughing into the cool cocktails.
When to visit: Hit up the Punch Room for a hygge-style hideaway by the fire.
What to drink: The shrubs and punches are where it’s at.
What’s the vibe? A Soho bar with a split personality spread across two floors – aperitivos upstairs, nightcaps and whisky in the moody downstairs lounge – but all drinks are flawless at Swift. No surprise, really: its owners have worked across London’s best bars.
When to visit: A date night where it could go either way.
What to drink: The prosecco-based sgroppino contains lemon sorbet. Dreamy.
What’s the vibe? Rustic French wine bar in central London serving Gaelic small plates to match what’s in your fancy flute.
When to visit: Looking for some oh la la in your life? Come away feeling fancy and well-fed.
What to drink: Natural wine – discover something weird and wonderful.
What’s the vibe? A spin-off from the Euston Tap, this southbank bar has a similar agenda: craft beer at the station. This one’s in a super-cool railway arch that’s been tastefully kitted out with modern furniture and modern booze.
When to visit: When you feel like a challenge: work your way through the daily beer list broadcasted on a TV screen by the bar.
What to drink: Cross-continental lagers and big-hitting American beers.
The best bars in north London
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: The Prairie Oyster is a London icon.
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? Teeny neighbourhood hangout that’s bare, minimal and bright – so that you can focus on stonkingly good wine, cocktails and nibbles.
When to visit: Come at night time for a neighbourhood nightcap, when things get dark and steamy. It’s N8’s worst-kept secret.
What to drink: The wine list has been put together by Borough Wines and a simple cocktail list includes balanced originals with gorgeously delicate flavours.
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? Retro, disco party lounge with a cute little cocktail bar next door. Make Ruby’s your one-stop drinking shop in Dalston.
When to visit: On Friday nights, the bar dedicates itself to the humble piña colada. Then on Saturdays, the lights are down low and the tunes are up high.
What to drink: If piña coladas aren’t your style (why not?!), select from any of the cocktail classics.
What’s the vibe? Basement bar serving superlative drinks, the follow-up from Ryan Chetiyawardana on the site of his first bar, White Lyan. And it’s as grungy as you’d expect from Hoxton.
When to visit: When you fancy experimenting with flawless flavours dreamed up by London’s foremost mixologist.
What to drink: The Dog’s Nose Clover Club, a frothy, zesty Guinness-topped wonder.
The best bars in east London
What’s the vibe? You don’t have to be into American football to get a kick from a trip to this basement bar. It has a loose sports-bar theme but the focus is on fun and staff are so friendly you’ll feel like one of the team.
When to visit: After chowing down on tacos in the restaurant above.
What to drink: Cocktails. More specifically a wicked banana daiquiri or a Buckfast Negroni. No joke.
What’s the vibe? Broodingly dark bar shining a light on whisky, Black Rock takes any fustiness out of the spirit. Sample from bottles in cabinets or from a whisky tree running the length of the room and filled with two ‘whisky river’ house blends.
When to visit: For serious, considered whisky drinking given a fun edge.
What to drink: Whisky, obvs. From the tree or bottle, or served in cocktails and high balls.
What’s the vibe? Chic Bethnal Green calvados and cocktail bar serving French-tinged tipples to an in-the-know crowd.
When to visit: When a pint after work just isn’t going to cut it, an apple brandy should do the trick instead.
What to drink: The Champagne Piña Colada. Filled with coconut sorbet, it’s the stuff dreams are made of and has fast become east London’s most popular drink.
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.
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? Welcome to party town. Fiesta-ville. Get ready to go loco down in Acapulco. Del 74 is Clapton’s answer to Baja California where the tequila is flowing freely and ideal for washing down tacos.
When to visit: If you’re looking to make friends, head here. And definitely don’t plan for a quiet drink at Del 74 – there’s even a disco in the loo.
What to drink: If straight shots of tequila and mezcal make you weak at the knees, opt for margaritas, micheladas and bottles of Modelo.
What’s the vibe? Incredible cocktails, and, in our experience, dazzlingly wonderful service. Join laughing locals quaffing classy cocktails in a Shoreditch bar that’s stood the test of time. As the website says, ‘great cocktails, no wallies’.
When to visit: On a late East End night out that demands something a bit classy.
What to drink: Tokyo Collins (gin, yuzu saké, lemon, grapefruit, sugar, soda) .
What’s the vibe? It’s warehouse meets beer-hall in here, with rows of long tables for group drinkers and up-turned barrels for smaller parties. What all visitors have in common is an urge to sip beer fresh from the tank, which stand in glistening rows behind the bar.
When to visit: On a weekend afternoon, when you can put some serious time aside to test the brewery’s full output.
What to drink: There are ten from the tank to try, but start with American Pale XX, whose hoppy notes explode when sampled straight from the source.
What’s the vibe? Fancy a speakeasy? Don’t accept any imitations and start at this low-lit subterranean hideout metres from the Old Street roundabout, where a long, playful cocktail list still shines. Smooth table service from staff dressed to the nines coupled with amazing live jazz makes for a roaring ‘20s vibe.
When to visit: If you’d rather have a quiet tête-à-tête, avoid live music (and a cover charge) and book an early evening slot.
What to drink: The Aku Aku is served in a bird-shaped vessel (aw!).
What’s the vibe? Dalston’s tropical party shack where disco tunes rule and refreshing drinks will cool you down after a stint on the dancefloor.
When to visit: If you want to kid yourself you’re on a Caribbean holiday.
What to drink: The ginger mojito is one of London’s best drinks and it’s yours for just a fiver.
What’s the vibe? The wine bar you’ve been waiting for, this Hackney Road haven is a pit stop for professional people who may lack a professional appreciation of wine. All plonks here are served at a reasonable price by the bottle or glass.
When to visit: In the winter months. Small and dark, this is the perfect place to hunker down on a cold and wild evening.
What to drink: Though beers are available, it really has to be wine. You won’t regret any choice.
What’s the vibe? Upmarket mixed drinks in a down-to-earth and devilishly cool location, where you’ll find some of the best cocktails on Bethnal Green’s burgeoning booze scene (in among the taxidermy, natch).
When to visit: Thursday night; the weekend starts early here.
What to drink: Satan’s Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, grapefruit soda).
What’s the vibe? Scandi-looking, pine-lined interior, brash hip hop beats and drinks that might help save the planet.
When to visit: When you’re after a conscious-yet-cool night out.
What to drink: Any of the closed-loop cocktails, which use ingredients that are solely from the British Isles. The Beetroot is a revelation.
The best bars in south London
What’s the vibe? In the midst of Tooting Market sits this teensy bottle shop and bar where craft beer rules. It’s rustic for sure, with plywood tables and orange steel barstools, but boardgames and cheerful staff offer comfort.
When to visit: On warmer evenings when you don’t mind the chill of the semi-outdoors.
What to drink: Ask for something weird and see what happens.
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.
Venue says: “Arcade in London !”
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? London’s most famous rooftop bar, find Frank’s on top of a Peckham multistorey car park and reward yourself with a Campari when you get up there.
When to visit: On rare sunny days in London – it’s only open in the summer months. Just be mindful: the rest of London may have the same idea.
What to drink: Anything red or orange – an americano or an Aperol spritz would be our choice.
What’s the vibe? Off the wall. Imagine your nan’s front room and times it by ten. And throw in some Princess Di and Pat Butcher memorabilia. You’re part-way there to the weirdest trip of a bar in south London.
When to visit: Evenings when they crank up the Abba tunes, or afternoon tea with your ma.
What to drink: Fizzy cocktails from teapots, of course.
What’s the vibe? A bottle shop, taproom and beer heaven housed in a roomy railway arch in Vauxhall.
When to visit: When you want to have all the choice in the world. There are 33 taps and so many beer fridges to work your way through. Thank the beer gods for staff who are more than happy to help you decide.
What to drink: Choose something to savour rather than swig.
What’s the vibe? Cutesy, buzzy ramshackle wine bar within Tooting Broadway Market.
When to visit: Fancy having an intro to wine in a relaxed, relatable way? The team at Unwined talk about it in a down-to-earth way.
What to drink: Any of the monthly specials from small, indie vineyards.
The best bars in west London
What’s the vibe? A laid-back wine bar in Shepherd’s Bush that feels as cosy as a glass of Merlot.
When to visit: Come with an appetite – the bar does great sharing plates or there’s a lengthier menu in the bistro upstairs.
What to drink: See what staff recommend by the glass. You’re sure to have a quaffing good time.
What’s the vibe? Unassuming speakeasy below a south-west London steak restaurant, Below the Cut’s cocktails are a cut above the rest.
When to visit: This is nightcap territory, all the way.
What to drink: It’s not just upstairs that’s meaty. The Hanger Old Fashioned uses bacon-infused bourbon and comes with pork scratchings on the side.
What’s the vibe? Spanish-themed bar within London’s very own ‘gin hotel’, The Distillery. Find colourful tiles and even more colourful G&Ts.
When to visit: For authenticity’s sake, visit later in the day and wash down tapas with goblet-sized serves of gin and tonic. Come in a group to work your way through the many gins in stock.
What to drink: Duh!
What’s the vibe? A deep blue Chiswick bar with a Continental lease of life from a roster of craft beers from Italy. Yep, Italian craft beer, it’s a thing.
When to visit: When you’re done exploring the suds our own London breweries have to offer.
What to drink: Birra artiginale, baby! Great for washing down Italian bar snacks.
What’s the vibe? Sharp-looking hotel joint within the Town House Kensington, complete with a marble-topped bar, velvet-covered chairs and oak-panelled walls. It’s a surprisingly buzzy spot for an aperitivo or a nightcap.
When to visit: Don’t just stop by – you can easily make a night of it here.
What to drink: The cocktail classics are done well. Class in a glass.
Venue says: “Fancy learning a little about rum? Then join us for our weekly 'Rum Chronicles' masterclass.”
What’s the vibe? Rum, reggae, jerk chicken – it’s a recipe for instant good times. No wonder Notting Hillbillies love it so.
When to visit: Happy hour is from 6 to 8 – grab enough rum cocktails to sink a ship.
What to drink: It would be rude not to try one of the rockin’ rum punches.
What’s the vibe? Delve beneath a layer of kitsch to discover a trippy tiki bar that’s casual, sunny and funny – and rammed at weekends.
When to visit: Weekdays are chill-days, but this is Notting Hill and a party is never far away.
What to drink: Dia de Muertos (mezcal, blood orange cordial, pineapple and citrus).
Discover even more top bars in London
So many cocktails, so little time. So just stick to the best cocktail bars in London by using our ranked list below. You'll find everything from dark and dirty speakeasy joints and secret bars to bold and brash party spots meant for a night out on the tiles. What they all have in common is mixed drinks that will blow your mind – and hopefully not your budget.