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Myles K. McCanns Bar
Photograph: Myles K. McCanns Bar

The 22 best pubs in the UK

From city-centre boozers to idyllic rural gastropubs: these are the absolute best pubs in the UK

Written by
Lucas Oakeley
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The pub is a place where most people in the UK spend a frankly inordinate amount of time. It’s a safe space – a neutral ground where you can meet your friends, colleagues and family without having to put on any airs or graces – and one of the few venues that’s just as appropriate for a first date as it is for a wedding ceremony or a wake.

Everyone out there has probably got their favourite. It’s usually the one closest to your gaff or, à la Cheers, the one where everybody knows your name. There are different drinks for different needs. So don’t get upset if your favourite doesn’t make an appearance on this list of the best pubs in the UK. We aren’t saying these are the only good pubs around. This is simply a selection of brilliant pubs that you can rely on for their excellent drink, food and atmosphere.

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Best pubs in the UK

Glasgow

This Glaswegian bar is somewhere I hope everyone will get to have a pint at least once in their life. Everything about it – from the Formica-topped tables to the horseshoe-shaped bar – has remained unchanged since the 1960s. Even the big red ‘BAR’ sign outside fits with the old-school aesthetic. The Laurieston Bar is a proper drinking den and a living, breathing embodiment of the sort of cultural curios and historic spaces that cookie-cutter pub chains are robbing us of.

📍The best pubs in Glasgow

London

The Compton Arms is a pub and ale house on Compton Avenue in Islington. A favourite with Arsenal fans local to the area, this bolthole of a pub pulls great pints and serves them alongside some even greater plates of food. The kitchen is currently being manned by Reece Moore and James Thorneycroft of BELLY. The small-plates menu is all seasonally led but lends itself well to the laidback atmosphere. Yes, there’s a rather good burger.

📍The best pubs in London

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Belfast

The first thing you’ll notice about this Belfast boozer is that it’s got a cage in the front. While it’s no longer needed for security purposes anymore, that cage was introduced following a shooting during the Troubles and it remains there today to remind all who see it of the city’s rebarbative history. The Sunflower has seen Belfast through thick and thin and it remains an excellent spot to drink a pint of Yardsman (the local draught stout on tap) and listen to live music.

Edinburgh

Keeping things in the family since it opened around 1860, The Canny Man’s is a family-run public house that’s been a faithful servant to Edinburgh’s drinkers since day one. It’s an intimate operation and – as a result – you can expect to be treated like a long-lost member of the clan when you drink here, too. Rick Stein once called it the ‘best pub in the world’. And it’s hard to argue with that.

📍The best pubs in Edinburgh

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Manchester

Pubs like The Marble Arch Inn are all too rare nowadays. Doubling as the birthplace and taproom of the independent Marble Brewery, this spacious pub near the Northern Quarter has got a warm and inviting interior, a cheeky hidden beer garden and one of the best beer selections in the whole of Manchester. Yep, they’ve got it all here, folks. You’ll find nine hand-pulls serving brewery-fresh cask beer, eight keg lines pouring their own beer as well as a rotating cast of guest beers, and even a small range of carefully selected artisanal ciders.

📍The best pubs in Manchester

Old Radnor, Powys

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the ​​Radnor Valley, The Harp Inn might be one of the most idyllic pubs in the whole of the UK. There’s no more scenic spot to sip cask-conditioned real ale and reminisce about a time before the internet existed – an age where a ‘minion’ was simply a derogatory term used to define a servile underling and not something you’d find plastered all over children’s clothing. They’ve even got guest rooms here so you can spend the night if you’re so inclined. It’s peaceful and perfect. Go.

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London

A good roast is something that can quite easily take a pub from mid-table obscurity to the top of the league. The roast at The Bull & Last, though, is hardly what you’d call ‘good’. It’s excellent. This is a pub where hospitality is the name of the game and they’ve succeeded in delivering that in droves through the delicious dishes that come out of the pass as well as the hugely welcoming vibe of the place. A trip to Hampstead Heath isn’t complete without stopping in here for a swift one.

Edinburgh

Lively atmosphere, cold pints, dog friendly. Those are the three main draws of The Dagda Bar and, honestly, what more could you ask for from a pub? You’ll mainly find this place full of locals but it’s well worth seeking out if you’re in Edinburgh on a day trip and gagging for a pint. The tap selection is fairly interesting and they’ve got a range of whiskies you can explore, too. Be warned, however: the pub quizzes get extremely competitive.

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London

Self-described ‘purveyors of craic’, Skehans is a proud Irish pub and part of a dying breed of independent family-run free houses in an area of South London that’s fast becoming gentrified. It’s a crying shame considering just how much fun a night at Skehans can be. If darts and pool aren’t your bag then there are jam sessions, quiz nights and even karaoke to pique your interest. A really solid boozer.

London

When it comes to pubs that do food, they don’t get much better than The Camberwell Arms. Expect plenty of classic Britsh plates on the menu (the scotch bonnet pork fat on toast is an enduring icon and a must-order) and whatever’s scrawled on the specials board to be cooked to perfection. Coming here for a drink is a great idea but coming here for a drink followed by a bang-up meal is an even better one.

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Cardiff

Blessed with an Edenic beer garden, the Pen and Wig in Cardiff made the cut for this list because it does exactly what a pub should do. It’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser – a location with enough obscure real ales and bog-standard lagers that no one in your friendship group will have any qualms about being here on a Friday night. The inside is fairly traditional (the pub used to be a Victorian terraced house) while the buzzy outside is where you’ll want to be whenever any large sporting event kicks off.

Belfast

Pubs that are named after famous poets are, from personal experience, nearly always very good. The John Hewitt is one of those pubs. And it’s very good indeed. Not only is this a reliable place on Donegall Street to find a well-poured pint but it’s also Belfast’s only social-enterprise pub. The rotational pump system means there’s reliably an interesting beer on tap from a local producer and the live music nights are always grand. Mumford & Sons actually played their first-ever Northern Ireland gig here. But don’t hold that against The John Hewitt.

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Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon is Shakespeare country and there’s no public house more steeped in the theatrical traditions of the town than the Dirty Duck. Smack-bang between two separate  Royal Shakespeare Company theatres – as I said, this is Shakespeare country – the pub is often frequented by actors nursing a few pints after a night’s performance. According to Wikipedia, Kylie Minogue also once pulled a pint during a visit. So it’s got that going for it, too.

Zennor, Cornwall

Perched on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast between St Just and St Ives, The Gurnard’s Head is a perfect spot to stretch your legs and feel the sea spray on your face. A single glance at the striking yellow exterior and you’ll quickly realise why we’ve ranked this as one of the best pubs in the UK. Formerly a coaching inn, the historic building has been kept in good nick by the ownership and the hospitable staff will make sure you’re well looked after, too. The food is simple and seasonal, and a dinner will definitely have you debating whether you should stay the night in one of their lovely rooms. One for the Poldark obsessives.

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Omagh, County Tyrone

Myles K. McCanns Bar is a pub with bags of character. If the idea of sitting in a quiet Irish pub with a pint of Guinness and watching the world go by sounds good to you, then this is the pub you need to make a pilgrimage to. Unless it’s one of the nights they’ve got live music on, in which case it’ll be anything but quiet. There are no airs and graces to this watering hole – but why would you want there to be any?

Bristol

Pubs should be cosy. Pubs should be friendly. Pubs should have a lively atmosphere but still be quiet enough that you can hear yourself think. The Pipe and Slippers has got all of the above. Popular with students and locals alike, this Stokes Croft pub is a real community hub. The ale selection is sturdy but – if you’re having a large one – then ordering one of the lethally strong Pipedreams should be on your agenda. What’s in that cocktail? A shot of Kingston 62 white rum, two shots of Appleton Signature, pineapple juice, passion fruit syrup, lime juice, orange juice grenadine, Wray and Nephews, and absinthe. Welcome to Bristol.

📍The best pubs in Bristol

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London

An iconic Soho boozer that’s popular with flâneurs, artists and writers, The French House is a worthy option for daytime debauchery. They only serve beer by the half-pint here – a recherché decision that might baffle some but, like the Spanish caña, it means your lager won’t ever hit that nasty lukewarm stage. The upstairs is where all the eating happens. Head chef Neil Borthwick is on the stoves and cranks out a deft French-leaning menu that’s always changing with the seasons. The wine list is good, too.

Norland, West Yorkshire

Beer is one of the main reasons people go to pubs and, whether you’re one of those Untappd fanatics or simply someone who wants nothing more complicated than ice-cold lager, The Moorcock Inn will have something for you. A keg selection of always-changing quality craft beers, four cask beers and a large selection of Belgian beers round off the offering in this gorgeous Yorkshire bolthole. Food-wise you’ll find seasonally-shifting plates and there are even plenty of alcohol-free beers available, too. No stone has been left unturned at this hugely popular country pub.

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Penallt, Monmouthshire

The Boat Inn is a small but bustling pub that provides the community of Penallt in Monmouthshire with a welcome escape from the world. The River Wye is right opposite and sitting outside you can hear the pleasant gurgle of running water tickle your ears as you sip on a sharp and refreshing cider. During winter, it’s best to stay inside where hot toddies and arguments about the greatest Welsh rugby tries to have ever been scored come thick and fast.

Belfast

The Garrick Bar is an excellent pub smack-bang in Belfast city centre. Stop by for a swift one post-work and you’ll invariably end up staying a couple of hours chatting to the bartender and encountering an assortment of friendly folks in the premises. It’s a real classy joint, and one of the oldest in Belfast, with dark wood panelling and leather banquettes giving it a sophisticated feel that’s increasingly hard to find nowadays. The portion sizes are friendly when it comes to food but the real reason you’re here is for the craic.

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The Sportsman
Photograph: Phil Harris

21. The Sportsman

Whitstable, Kent

If you’re after a pub with sticky tables that does decent fish and chips then The Sportsman is not the pub you want to be visiting. If, however, you’re in the market for a glorious five-course tasting menu comprised of small, seasonal dishes which showcase the local Kentish produce then The Sportsman is exactly the pub you want to be visiting. The food at this pub by the sea puts just about every gastropub out there to shame. Not just one of the best pubs in the UK, but one of the best restaurants too.

Uppermill, Lancashire

The Church Inn is unique in that it’s a pub that’s right next door to a neo-Gothic church. Yeah, there aren’t many of those knocking about in the UK. And if there are, I doubt there are any doing it as good as the Church Inn. Home to Saddleworth Brewery, Church Inn offers a range of traditional beers, all hand-brewed in small batches with a variety of speciality malt and imported hops. The interior is warm and inviting and it’s impossible not to be charmed by all that this stone-walled public house has to offer.

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