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The ten most pleasantly surprising pubs on the London Tube Pub Challenge

Sonya Barber

The Hemmingford Arms

Over the last two years, Sam Cullen has been on a one-man mission to visit a pub for every station on the tube map. Having sunk a pint at over 200, he reveals the ten most unexpectedly excellent watering holes he's found so far.

The Hemingford Arms

The Hemingford Arms is an Aladdin's Cave of a pub, packed to the rafters with all sorts of trinkets and memorabilia. There’s taxidermy, classic film and theatre posters and old street signs. On top of that, there’s a whole host of musical instruments hanging from the ceiling. Its equally striking on the outside with greenery and flowers covering the exterior. They also get the important things right, with a good range of ales and their homemade steak and ale pies. 

Nearest tube: Caledonian Road

The Chandos Arms

Chandos Arms pub


North western suburban stops haven’t always offered the finest pubs on this trail. The Chandos Arms was very much a happy exception to the rule. It's a pub with real community roots and a busy events schedule, from jazz and folk evenings to comedy nights, plus it's got its own ale available on tap. They’ve got a snooker table, too. What's more, you even get a free hot dog with every drink on a Monday night. Get in!

Nearest tube: Colindale

The Wilton Arms


The Wilton Arms


Knightsbridge might be the last place you'd expect to find a traditional pub, but that's exactly what I found in The Wilton Arms. It's a cosy mews pub with frosted glass, little seating booths and 'At The Races' on the telly. The interior is suitably old-school, carpeted throughout, with a red ceiling and old paintings on the wall. A solid boozer that feels a million miles away from flashy Knightsbridge consumerism.

Nearest tube: Knightsbridge

The Salisbury

The Salisbury pub

The Salisbury is at the heart of the tourist noise of Leicester Square – a highly unlikely location for a stunning pub. Singled out for praise in architect critic Ian Nairn's guide to London buildings back in the 1960s, it features gold lamps, ornate cut glass throughout and red leather-backed seats. Even the coat hooks here are golden! A gem of a pub in an area better known for tourist traps.

Nearest tube: Leicester Square

The Castle


The Castle


Most of the area around North Acton is new office developments, so, with its traditional mock-Tudor frontage, The Castle stands out proudly against the anonymous modern buildings. It's a welcoming, lively pub with a strong range of beers available. They also do great burgers. With Sky Sports on the TVs, it's also a fine place to watch the football. Even if there's not a game on, you can sit and admire the excellent collage of old 1980s football magazine pages by one of the screens.

Nearest tube: North Acton

The Trafalgar Freehouse


Trafalgar Freehouse pub


The Trafalgar Freehouse is a little gem at the tube station's southern edge. Located down a quiet road, you have to keep your eyes open to even spot it. It’s a compact pub consisting of one small room surrounding the bar. It has a rotating selection of real ales – the Surrey Hills brewery featured on our visit. There’s also live music every Thursday evening. A friendly neighbourhood pub free of unnecessary frills – London needs more pubs like this!

Nearest tube: South Wimbledon

Gerry Mac's

Gerry Macs


Given how many Irish bars I've visited in the suburbs, I had to include one and Gerry Mac's easily topped the bill. It’s a thin, one-room bar that’s well maintained throughout. It has the usual mix of Irish memorabilia on the walls as well as live music nights. Where it really comes into its own is the prices – three pints came to £7.80 on our visit in the summer of 2014. How many Hackneyites can say that?

Nearest tube: Sudbury Hill

The Boleyn Tavern

The Boleyn Tavern

The Boleyn Tavern is a stone’s throw away from Upton Park. While the pub has clearly seen better days, its impressive interior means it's still well worth visiting. With a back room featuring a curved, ornate ceiling and stained glass windows, it doesn't take much to imagine how impressive it could look sympathetically restored. It'll be interesting to see what the post-West Ham future holds for The Boleyn.

Nearest tube: Upton Park

The Kings Arms


The King's Arms


As the busiest station on the whole Underground network, Waterloo deserves a good pub. Thankfully, The Kings Arms delivers. Hidden down Roupell Street with its charming Georgian terraced housing, it's an excellent pub that remains divided into a saloon and public bar areas. The traditional interior features open fires and historic old maps and photos on the wall. In a modern twist, it has a full Thai food menu.

Nearest tube: Waterloo



The Horns pub


In leafy suburbia, I found The Horns, Watford’s main music pub. From the outside, it looks every bit the traditional pub, but inside, classic rock memorabilia and a sizeable stage show this is a place where music matters. The Horns has live performances most evenings, from tribute bands to up-and-coming local acts. With an ample beer garden and a decent selection of real ales, The Horns is a happy reminder suburbia doesn’t have to be dull and boring.

Nearest tube: Watford

Read more of Sam’s adventures at or follow him on Twitter on @innsidetrack.

Want to know more places for a great pint? Here's our pick of the best London pubs.

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