While I now live in Nottingham, I spent the first 30 years of my life living in London. Thanks to my love of beer, I would now consider myself something of an expert in the beer culture of this great city. So I thought I would help you to decide what beer to drink in London.
London has over 3,500 pubs, several large breweries, and many micro-breweries. It has some of the oldest pubs in the world, and some of the best. London also holds one of the biggest beer festivals in the world, as well as several smaller beer festivals. The craft brewing scene is growing more and more. You will never struggle to get a decent pint in London.
In this article, I will strive to cover every aspect of the beer culture in London. I will discuss the pubs, the breweries, the beer, the craft beers, the beer festivals, and I will even try to cover a little of the history of beer in England’s capital.
That’s an easy answer. Every beer! Unlike my articles on Poland, Mexico, Turkey, and Cyprus, London doesn’t have a standard beer that everyone drinks (Tyskie, Corona, Efes, Keo). There are a few London-based breweries and London-specific beers. But you are as likely to find a Belgian beer, a German beer, or an American beer, as you are to find a London-based beer. Some might see this as a weakness, but it can also be seen as a strength.
What you have to understand about London is that there are two parts. There is the tourist/financial part of London and then there is the parts of London where everybody lives. These two parts can have very different pubs, and completely different beer culture.
I lived in Harrow, North-West London. Here, the pubs are the type you would expect to see in towns across the UK. Mostly working-class pubs with Fosters, Carling, Carlsburg, and Guinness on tap. You would also get the occasional gastropub (usually run by Fuller’s brewery), and there would be bars, and Indian pubs (a combination of sports bar and Indian restaurant – they’re amazing).
Most of London is like this, particularly around the outskirts. Then there is the city centre, where you have got all of the tourist hotspots. Pubs here are split between the genuinely amazing and the tourist trap. Sometimes they are a combination of the two! The pubs in the city centre tend to offer well-conditioned cask ales, craft beers, and a selection of beers from other countries.
Guinness is probably one of the most commonly drunk beers in London. Just because it is available in pretty much every pub. Other than that, you’ve got your dutch lagers (Amstel, Heinekin, Grolsch etc) that are very popular. Stella Artois, Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, are also all popular.
Craft beer is also growing in popularity, so you’ll see a lot of Brewdog around. Plus there is still quite a demand for English Ales (London Pride by Fuller’s being a perfect example).
I’m not going to do a brief history of England or the United Kingdom, otherwise, this section would last forever. I’m just focusing on London.
London was founded by the Romans (who named it Londinium). There may well have been iron age settlements along the banks of the River Thames before that, but the evidence is sketchy. This would have been in the year AD 47 or 48.
Around 150 years later, the Romans built a wall around the landward side of the city. This wall stayed mostly intact for almost 2,000 years. Today, there is only a tiny fraction of the wall remaining. But the area it covered is now the City of London.
This area is also known as the square mile, it houses almost all of the financial district, and has its own rules that are separate to the rest of London. Think of it as the financial version of Vatican City.
The Romans left London, and Britain in the 5th century, and soon afterwards the city fell apart. Anglo Saxons moved in during the early 6th century. Viking raids began in the 9th century, and the Danes took over London until they lost to Alfred the Great. The Danes continued to attack London for the next 200 years and eventually took it back in 1014. The Anglo Saxons managed to take back control just in time for the Normans to invade.
London massively increased in size during the Norman conquest and medieval period. It became overcrowded, and it is perhaps unsurprising that the Great Fire of London caused such damage in 1666. After the fire, wooden houses were banned and only stone houses could be created.
The industrial age began in the late 18th century and led to massive changes in London. Huge immigration into London led to the population spiralling, and by the 19th century, London as the largest city in the world.
The 20th century saw WWI and WWII affecting London, particularly WWII where the Blitz led to the destruction of many landmarks and homes. The 1950s saw huge immigration from countries in the commonwealth. Particularly India, Pakistan, and the West Indies.
The 60s saw the expansion and creation of the London boroughs, bringing in outlying areas (such as Harrow) into the greater London area.
Since 2000 London has continued to evolve and is now one of the financial hubs of the world. All within that square mile that was once Londinium. The London riots occurred in 2011, and London held the Olympic Games in 2012. The population of London is currently around 8 million people.
If you are wondering about what beer to drink in London, then you may want to learn a little bit about the history of beer in London. Up until the 17th century, beer in London was mostly either a brown ale or a hoppy beer. There was no particular style, and in fact, many drinkers would mix two or three different beers together (sort of like a snakebite).
I have already talked about how the industrial age affected beer in my article on XPA beers. With the use of coke instead of wood fires to roast the malt, beer would finally be able to become pale. This led to the invention of pale ales, which took London by storm. Soon, London was the epicentre of the pale ale revolution with breweries popping up everywhere. Then, production shifted to Burton Upon Trent when Samuell Allsop found that the water was better there.
The London pale-ale breweries were ruined. In response, many brewers turned their hands to improve their dark brown beers. Allowing them to mature at the brewery, they nicknamed the new beers “Porter”. Soon London porter had become world-famous. It stayed popular right up until WWII when wartime rationing led to a reduction in the breweries’ ability to make it properly.
While porter was becoming popular, another form of beer was being brewed. India Pale Ale.
This beer was produced to deal with the long transportation time that affected beer travelling from London to India. Samuell Allsop realised that increasing the hops and allowing the beers to mature in the bottle/casks, led to the beer becoming much more drinkable when it finally arrived in India. While IPAs were brewed in Burton Upon Trent, it was London where they became popular.
London is also responsible for the creation of stouts as well as Russian Imperial Stout (which was strong stout brewed for Russia).
Post-WWII, beer in London stagnated for several decades. There were many reasons for this, wartime and post-war rationing, a virtual monopoly of brewing by several large breweries, and a huge increase in popularity for cheap European lagers during the 70s and 80s.
But in the year 2000, Meantime brewery opened in Greenwich. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Meantime brewery changed the face of brewing in the capital, it certainly signalled that a change was afoot. This, combined with Gordon Brown’s progressive beer duty (which led to an explosion in microbreweries in the UK) saw London becoming one of the most exciting cities for beer in the world.
In 1700, London had 190 breweries. By 1900 it had 90 breweries. By 1981 there were just 11 breweries in the whole of London. In that time, London’s population had increased from 500,000 to 6.6 million (in part thanks to the expansion of London around the green belt).
How did this happen? And what is the state of brewing in London today?
The first reason why brewery numbers dropped is a simple one. Breweries got bigger and more efficient. Many of the 190 breweries in London during the 1700s would have been classed as microbreweries today. At the time, there weren’t any massive breweries either. So there was no monopoly.
Another reason is size. As London’s population has grown and grown, the amount of space for breweries has become smaller. It is not easy to run a large brewery in London any more, as rent is at a premium. Large breweries such as Youngs relocated to Bedfordshire where land is cheaper, and the cost of salaries can be lower.
Also, due to globalisation, beer from all over the world can be bought and sold in London. Something that wasn’t happening in the 18th century. But even so … 11 breweries in 1981? That is crazy.
The biggest reason why brewery numbers fell dramatically during the 1950s and 60s was the virtual monopoly of six big breweries across England. The economic depressions caused by the stock market crash, WWI and WWII had made British breweries fragile, and it is no surprise that many breweries closed.
Here are a few of the biggest breweries in London during the 20th century:
In the 1780s, Whitbread was the largest brewery in the world. Specialising in porter, it was brewing half a million barrels of beer during WWI. It’s heydays were the 60s and 70s when it was the third-largest brewery by output in the UK.
Whitbread basically fell apart in the 70s not because their beer became worse or even less popular. But because of a change in legislation. Whitbread brewery used to own 14,000 pubs. All of which were licenced to sell only Whitbread beers and the beers of smaller breweries under the Whitbread umbrella.
Then the law was changed (in an effort to smash the monopoly of the big six breweries) and the maximum number of pubs that could be tied to a brewery was 2,000. Check out this article to learn more.
Whitbread had two breweries in London, they closed the first in 1976 but the second one lasted until 2005. By that point, Whitbread had sold all of its breweries and production was moved to Luton.
You can still buy Whitbread beer, though finding it in London would be difficult. Whitbread is now known for its business empire. Owning Premier Inns, Beefeater, and Costa Coffee (which it sold to Coca Cola a couple of years ago).
Courage was a massive brewery, that has a similar history to Whitbread (a huge decline in the 1980s). It first opened in 1787 in Southwark, but over the years it merged with several breweries across the country.
With the purchasing of a large brewery in Reading, beer production in London ground to a halt in 1981. Courage was taken over by Fosters, then it changed hands a few more times. It was sold to Wells & Young’s in 2010, before being sold again to Marston’s brewery.
Several of its beers can still be bought today, though it is hard to do so in the UK. Courage Best Bitter and Courage Directors are two very famous beers, and are still enjoyed today (if you can get your hands on them).
Famous for brewing the worst beer in history (Watney’s Red Barrel), this brewery was set in London for over 150 years. It had a huge brewery in Mortlake and one in Pimlico. Watneys vanished in the 1980s but has started brewing again.
It doesn’t have a brewery any more but uses a gypsy-brewing setup. This is where breweries that are not at full capacity rent out space to other “gypsy” breweries. No, I don’t like the name, but that is what it is called.
Before it’s Ram brewery closed in 2006, Young’s brewery was the oldest working brewery in Britain (the brewery had been running since 1550). The Young’s Brewery was famous in London for using shire horses to deliver beer. The horses were still used locally at the time of closure in 2006. The brewery also kept a ram (obviously) and several geese.
Of all the breweries to leave London, this is the first one that actually affected me in any way. Young’s beers are excellent, their pubs are well-run, and it was a real shame when they moved to Bedford. Young’s as a brewery was taken over by Charles Wells Brewery in 2006 and the two breweries formed “Wells & Youngs”. Charles Wells bought out Youngs in 2011, but was then bought out by Marstons in 2017.
Young’s pubs still exist in London, and you can still purchase Young’s beers. However, there is no connection to London any more. Marstons is a Wolverhampton-based brewery, and Young’s beer is brewed in Bedfordshire.
The final historic London brewery on this list is also the only one that still operates in London. Fuller’s. The Griffin Brewery has actually been used since the 17th century. Fuller’s has brewed London Pride since 1959 and Fuller’s ESB since 1971. Sadly, Fuller’s is no longer an independent brewery. In 2019, it was sold to Asahi. However, Asahi have stated that brewing will continue in London.
Fuller’s have a massive presence across London, their pubs are consistently excellent, with great beer and great food. If you are ever wondering where to get a well looked after pint and some decent food then search for a Fuller’s pub. No, I do not work for Fuller’s!
There also used to be a Guinness brewery in London, from 1936 to 2005. It was situated in Park Royal. I haven’t included it in the main section though as it was not a London brewery. I also did not count the Budweiser brewery for the same reason!
As of 2015, there are over 80 breweries in London. That is a lot more than the ten breweries there were in 2007. Most of these breweries are microbreweries, but there are still some decent sized breweries around.
There are so many more breweries in London, and I want it clear that just because I have not included them in this list that does not mean I don’t rate them. It just means that I can only remember six breweries at a time!
While it is possible to drink pretty much every beer under the sun in this city, I thought that I would only include beers that are brewed in London (or have a long association with it). That way you will know exactly what beer to drink in London when you next visit.
First brewed in 1996, Fuller’s London Porter is the perfect representation of London’s traditional beer of choice. Combining traditional brewing with modern expertise, this porter has won several international awards. It is one of Fuller’s best beers, and is equally good on tap or bottled. No trip to London would be complete without trying a London-brewed porter. It is like stepping back in time to the 1800s. Without the cholera.
I’ve seen a few websites and blog posts that have tried to trash London Pride as another dull English beer. Absolute rubbish! This is hands down my favourite London beer. This is the quintessential pint of English Bitter, almost always served perfectly by Fuller’s pubs. The Parcel Yard pub in Kings Cross Station serves a surprisingly good pint of Pride (considering how busy the place always is). Check out the Fuller’s ESB if you want a slightly stronger version of Pride. This is a seriously good session bitter.
So far I have covered two of London’s traditional gems, now I’m talking about a seriously good craft IPA from Beavertown brewery. While London has a historic connection to IPAs, this offering from Beavertown is much more American-influenced. It is a fantastic beer though, and at just 4.3% it is very sessionable.
I know that quite a lot of people think of Hells lager by Camden Town Brewery as fairly boring. But I disagree. Not least because a London-based lager is such a rare thing. It is an excellent take on German and Czech lagers, and I always enjoy it. Camden Town has several other high-quality beers, but I put this one on the list as it was the first that I tried, and it also offers something different from the other beers on this list.
I know, another porter! But the Railway Porter by Five Points brewery needs to be on this list. Not only is it inspired by the real history of beer in London (a huge plus in my opinion) but it is also an excellent porter in its own right. A great London beer from a great London brewery.
I have already explained the history of Courage brewery, and why it is no longer a London brewery. But I had to add it to this list. Courage was London-based for the majority of its history, and Courage Best Bitter was first brewed while Courage was still a London brewery. Courage Best Bitter is difficult to find, though you can still grab a bottle of it in most UK supermarkets.
Again, another beer from a brewery that no longer operates in London. But Young’s brewery is absolutely a London-brewery in spirit and formed a huge part of its history. The Special London Ale is also an excellent strong pale ale.
I asked my Facebook group if they had any other London beers to add, and Young’s London stout was one of the first beers mentioned. It is certainly an interesting choice, the stout is nothing like a Guinness. It is sweeter, with a more coffee-like taste. Well worth trying. Keep in mind that the bottle is only 4.3% abv but the draught is 5.3% abv.
Yes, yet another Young’s beer on this list, again from my Facebook group recommendations. It is a great bitter. Described by my dad as “the finest bitter in the world”. So there you go.
The following list of the top ten best pubs in London is my own opinion, meaning that I may miss out some absolute belters. That is unfortunate, but can’t be helped. London is massive, and thanks to ever-increasing rents, pubs are a dying breed. It is not possible to visit all of them, and even if you did, five years later half of them could be closed! But, if you enter any of these establishments, you are guaranteed a good beer.
To make this list, I made certain rules. Otherwise, this task would be impossible:
By the way, the pubs are in no particular order!
This pub had to make my list. Partly because it is my dad’s favourite pub in London. Partly because it is a damn good pub. It was quite difficult to put this pub on the list, because the owner is such an “interesting” character. You are not allowed to swear in the pub, nor are you allowed to use any electronic devices. Do so and you will be thrown out. The last time I was there, this rule was not in place. But as that was 10 years ago, mobile phone use wasn’t as big an issue.
Ignoring all that, the pub itself is awesome. It is run by the Samuel Smith brewery, and only provides beers and spirits from there. You won’t find a Fosters or Guinness, just Samuel Smith beers. This keeps the prices down massively, and going into the pub feels like you are taking a step back in time. Particularly now that nobody can use their phones!
You may love this pub, you may hate it. But it is a great experience. Drinking in this pub will get you an excellently kept beer at a very affordable price. Not something that you can say about most pubs in London.
There has been a pub in this spot since 1710, and it used to be used by the Masons. The pub has been rebuilt several times, most notably after it was bombed during the Second World War.
What’s funny about London, (and Camden embodies this more than most) is that you can go to a pub, bar, or park, and enjoy it. Then ten years later find out that it was a celebrity hotspot or Jack the Ripper had killed a prostitute on that spot, or it is the site of the first cricket ground. Literally all of these things have happened to me.
The Hawley Arms is exactly that. A pub that I went to several times, most recently in 2015, without realising that it is one of the most famous pubs in Camden. To be fair to me, the Hawley Arms was famous between 2004 and 2008. I think I went there for the first time in 2011.
This pub is best known as the pub that Indie musicians of the early 00s went to. Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty. Kirsten Dunst also used to go there, as did Noel Fielding. The pub burned down in 2008, and was renovated.
It is still massively popular, and it is actually a really good pub in its own right. Just very busy. I would absolutely recommend that you go to this pub during a weekday unless you enjoy huge crowds of people and nowhere to sit.
Kings Cross must be the most disappointing part of London for tourists. You get off the train, and are immediately staring at one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. Then you’ve got the equally stunning hotel. After that? A pretty rough part of London. The pubs around here are a mix of overpriced chain pubs (O’Neills etc), and proper London boozers that scare the life out of you.
The Queen’s Head is a small oasis of calm. It is an excellent pub, with a seriously good beer selection. I think it benefits from being off the main road, it is quieter, and let’s face it … more affluent. The beer on tap is superb. A mixture of cask ales, craft beer, and some decent German beers too. Then you have an enormous choice of bottled beer. A truly great pub.
I really debated about whether to put this pub on the list or not. See, it is by far the biggest tourist trap pub on here. You basically turn right out of Covent Garden tube station and bang there you are. Make no mistake, this is not a pub with “locals”. It is a pub designed to take the money from tourists.
But you know what? I live in Nottingham now. Making me a tourist. I also love this pub. It is run by Nicholsons, a pub chain that is like the middle-class version of Wetherspoons. Nicholson’s pubs are invariably similar. A great old-fashioned pub that has been refurbished. Black chalkboard menus, fish & chips, beer n burger deals. You get the idea. But Nicholson’s do it right.
The pub itself is very cosy, and like the Hawley Arms, it is best when not crowded. It’s the perfect pub to meet someone in, if you get to Covent Garden a little early and have 30 minutes to kill. I once went to a friend’s birthday and EVERYONE. Not one, not two, but nine people, turned up 3 hours late. I turned up on time, with an old Nokia with 10% battery. I waited in that pub for 3 hours and enjoyed myself immensely. It has to be on my list.
Remember that rule about the pub having to be within 30 minutes of Kings Cross? Well, I have already blown that out of the water. The White Swan is in deepest, darkest, South London. To get there from “real” London you must take 5 trains, 2 buses, and then hitch a ride on the back of a cart. Just kidding.
The White Swan has to be on this list because it is the best pub to go to when you go to watch the rugby.
The pub garden runs straight down to the Thames, and in summer, it is absolutely stunning. The last time I was there was after a rugby match (Leicester v Harlequins if memory serves) and the place was absolutely rammed. But if you go there on a non-rugby day you are getting an excellent beer, an amazing view, and a real slice of London.
This is a Fuller’s pub that is situated in arguably the most middle-class part of London. Hampstead. Why is it on this list? Well, as a Fuller’s pub you have access to some of the best London beer around. But it is also on this list, because it does the best Sunday Roast that I’ve had in any pub in London.
The building dates from the late 18th century, and it has been a pub since the 1920s. So you have a lot of history. But you won’t care how much history there is when you are face down in a Yorkshire pudding and covered in gravy.
Also, according to Wikipedia, Liam Gallagher drinks there. I don’t know if that makes any difference really.
I have been here on several occasions, never once realising that it was also a hostel. I’m not going to lie, there is not much about this pub that stands out as a must-see. It’s just a really nice little pub, with a very cool atmosphere, and an absolutely amazing selection of beers. Both on tap and in bottles. Seriously, the beers available are insane! An amazing selection of Belgian beers, German beers, and even Norwegian beers.
Really good food too!
While you’re in and around the Borough market area you might as well visit the Southwark Tavern too. I first went to this pub in 2005 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old. The pub was pretty non-descript. It may have been a Young’s pub at the time, I certainly remember having a Young’s beer. The tavern has been around for centuries and was at one point a debtor’s prison.
Today the pub has been given a new lease of life, it is constantly busy, and has a great line up of beers. This pub is well worth stopping by if you are in the area.
I remember walking up to this pub with a mate and being highly suspicious of it. The pub did not look anything special. But when I walked in and saw the beer selection I was very impressed. Great selection of British beers (Beavertown, Mad Squirrel, etc) a well looked after Guinness, and your standard foreign beers. The pub garden is decent (by London standards) and the seating arrangement out front is great on sunny days.
This is an excellent pub. It has been around since the 19th century, so has that historic side to it that people love. But it has also won North London Pub of the Year (Campaign for Real Ale awards) in 2017, so it scores highly for its beer selection.
Not only does it have excellent real ales, but it also offers a lot of craft beers from London breweries, as well as some decent foreign beers. All of this is packed into a tiny pub right on the corner of Wenlock road
When searching for what beer to drink in London, you may fancy sinking a pint in a pub that is steeped in history. London has so many historic pubs, that it would take all day listing them all. So as in the previous section, I will only include pubs that I have previously visited (plus the Prospect of Whitby, which had to make the list even though I’ve never been).
Run by Nicholson’s pub chain, the Hoop & Grapes is one of the few remaining wooden buildings that survived the great fire of London (the fire apparently stopped 50 feet from its doors). This is the type of pub that Nicholson’s excels at, historic pubs that have been tastefully renovated, where you can get an excellent beer and decent food. I visited this pub while on a Nicholson’s pub crawl (visit 7 in a day get a t-shirt, which I then forgot to get).
Technically, this pub is way older than the late 17th century. There was a pub in this location in 1538, but it burned down during the great fire of London. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was then rebuilt in 1667 and has been there ever since. The cellars may go back as far as the 13th century. This is an old pub! Just like the Chandos, it is a Samuel Smith pub. So you’ve got Sam Smith beers at cheap prices, no mobile phones allowed, and no swearing! Still worth visiting mind.
The only reason that I didn’t stick this pub into my top ten favourite London pubs is that I knew I could sneak it in to this section. It’s a fantastic pub with an amazing history. As with the previous pubs, the pub was rebuilt after a fire. Unlike the other pubs, that fire was not the Great Fire of London. This was a separate fire that burned down most of Southwark. The courtyard is really special, and if you can grab a seat in Summer you are guaranteed a good time. Charles Dickens used to drink here (he also drank in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese).
As with several of the pubs on this list, the building is much older, having been around since 1500. But the Old Bell has been a pub for 300 years, so definitely qualifies as an old pub. Again, it is run by Nicholson’s, and as such you know exactly what you are getting.
There has been a pub in this spot for 400 years, give or take a fire or two. It is one of the most famous pubs in London, is one of the oldest, and is the only pub on this list that I am yet to visit. By now you are probably not surprised to learn that Charles Dickens has drunk here (that guy really got around). The pub used to be a meeting ground for smugglers and criminals. The pub has also been visited by Princess Margaret, while also being in an episode of Only Fools & Horses. You really can’t get more British than that!
Yes, that is right. I am going there. This is a list of the five best Wetherspoons pubs that I have been to in London. There may be better ones, but I have not been to them, so they don’t make the list. Luckily, I have been to a hell of a lot of Wetherspoons pubs in London!
The thing about Wetherspoons is that it is cheap. Which in London is actually a big deal. Many of the pubs that I have mentioned on this list are amazing, but they are also expensive. They are usually also filled with City workers and tourists.
Nothing wrong with that of course, but sometimes it is nice to drink with real Londoners. A Wetherspoons is usually the place for that.
Wetherspoons is also responsible for my love of craft beer. The first craft beer I ever had was from one (Bengal Tiger from the Wetherspoons on Harrow High Street if you must know).
It is also excellent for cask ales, it was where I had my first Greene King beer. Anyway, here are my five favourite Wetherspoons pubs in London.
I used to go to London Metropolitan University, which is situated on Holloway Road. In that time I visited pretty much every single pub on that road (and it is a very long road). The White Swan was right at the top. Next to Highbury & Islington station. This is a pretty decent Wetherspoons, though it only just breaks into the top five.
The reason it’s on here? This was the first “cool” looking Wetherspoons I ever saw. I was not prepared for it. I walked in, and there was this incredible art-deco style room. It was gorgeous. Today, it looks like a regular Wetherspoons, a bit worse for wear, but still above average. But this pub will always have a place in my heart.
This is a massive Wetherspoons in Soho, which I really like. Though I should point out that it can get ridiculously busy. Get there early if you can! Or turn up on a weekday/night when it will be a little quieter. As with most Wetherspoons, it is a little rough and ready, but the beer selection is superb, and its great value for money.
This is one of the coolest pubs I have ever been in. It was originally a cinema, called The Savoy, which was opened in 1902. Now it is a Wetherspoons, but a GIGANTIC one. The pub is mapped out into a giant circle, with glorious lighting, and vintage movie posters all along the wall. It is also invariably empty. Or at least it was whenever I went there as a student.
The pub itself is nothing special and is frequently overcrowded. But what I love about this Wetherspoons is the outside seating. Right next to Camden lock, you’ve got a gorgeous canal running beside the pub. It is also right next to a number of excellent Camden bars, and about half the price of all of them! Great place to start your night.
Until you read “Wetherspoons” on a menu, there is no way you would know that this was in fact a Wetherspoons. It looks nothing like one. Situated near Fleet Street, the Knights Templar has one of the most impressive bars in London, with an excellent selection of drinks. An absolutely gorgeous pub.
My main memory of this pub is that the toilets were voted best in the country. My mate still decided to throw up all over a table rather than using them. Philistine.
Just like the Knights Templar, you would never expect this to be a Wetherspoons. It is way too classy, to opulent. It’s like drinking in a saloon bar in the Roaring 20s, except you can use an app to get beer brought to your table.
There is an often-quoted stat that there are more Irish people in London than there are in Dublin. I’m not 100% sure whether that is in any way true, but there certainly are a lot of Irish people in London. As a half-Irish person myself, I have taken it upon myself to visit many Irish pubs in the capital. The problem is though, that what I think of as a good Irish pub is not necessarily what others would.
I like the dark, dingy, Irish pubs, where once you’ve been a few times you are treated as a local. They are not fancy, if you order anything other than Guinness you will be disappointed, and they don’t do food. Unless you count Tayto crisps.
Another issue is that most of the really good Irish pubs I knew have closed down! My beloved Spanish Arch in Harrow, The Quays in Holloway, Conways etc …
Anyway, here are five of the best Irish pubs in London. Again, these are pubs that I have visited. There may be better pubs out there.
Holloway Road is nowhere near as Irish as it used to be. Even when I was a student, it was quite an Irish area. With many Irish pubs, and a proper community. Today, most of the proper Irish pubs have vanished. Replaced by Starbucks, or Tesco Metros. It’s a real shame.
The Mother Red Cap is still around though. I remember going there with a group of Irish friends, who knew the area well. I remember entering the pub and being shocked. The entire pub was belting out “Fields of Athenry” at the top of their lungs. It was borderline intimidating. A seriously good atmosphere though. Hopefully, that atmosphere has remained. Would love to go back.
Back in 2007 my life revolved around three pubs. The Quays in Holloway Road, The Spanish Arch in Belmont Circle (Harrow), and The Claddagh Ring in Hendon. All three pubs were owned by the same Irishman, and all were incredible. Sadly, the Quays and Spanish Arch are no more. The Quays is now a run of the mill pub, while the Spanish Arch is now an immensely popular Indian Bar/Restaurant.
The Claddagh remains, and while it does, so does the Irish spirit in North London. This is not the type of Irish pub you are thinking of. It’s not quiet contemplation, mixed with gentle Irish music. It is where young people from Ireland go and mix with 2nd and 3rd generation Irish people. Live music from Irish bands, lots of sport, absolutely packed on Friday and Saturday nights. This is THE place to be on St Patrick’s day if you are between 18 and 26 years old.
It’s also a great pub during the day though, and you will be surrounded with actual Irish people. Something that cannot be said for many Irish pubs in London!
This is a very nice pub that just so happens to be Irish. I’ve heard that it has a great whiskey bar, but to be honest I only really drink beer (and the occasional Gin & Tonic) so that hasn’t made much of an impact on me. If you are looking for a good Guinness though, check it out.
Like Holloway Road, Camden has a historic Irish population. Which is why it is surprising that there are so few good Irish pubs in Camden. The Sheephaven Bay is one of the best Irish pubs in London though, so that makes up for it. The pub has a great beer garden, and a really nice saloon bar. It’s a very decent Irish pub.
When I lived in Harrow, this was nowhere near my favourite Irish pub. However, I know for a fact that it is one of the best. It’s not that I didn’t like it, just that it was far away from me. It is situated near London’s GAA team, so there is a massive GAA theme to the bar. It’s very Irish, not pretenders here! It’s also very nice, and I’m glad I managed to fit in at least one Irish pub from Harrow on this list. Because there are so many good ones, and there were many ones that have now closed.
I’m not as big of an expert when it comes to craft beer bars in London. The reason? I never really sort them out. I have liked craft beer for a long time, but I also really like German beer, Belgian beer, real ale, and a whole load of international beers.
That does not mean that I haven’t visited several excellent craft beer bars though. All it means is that I may have missed some of the better ones. If so, then please let me know in the comments. Here are six of the best craft beer bars in London (that I’ve been to).
I had to add Beer Asylum, it was one of the coolest places in North West London. A bottle shop which also serves beer. Beer Asylum has an excellent range of Belgian beers too. But it is a wonderful craft beer bar, with really knowledgeable staff members. Well worth a trip if you’re ever in Pinner.
This is the first craft beer bar that I ever went to, and I was not prepared for it! Brewdog really brought craft beer to London as far as I’m concerned. Them and Wetherspoons! Other brands have played their part, but walking into Brewdog in Camden was my first real experience with craft beer bars. It’s a very impressive building, and I am sure it has influenced many of the more recent bars in the UK. A great mixture of Brewdog beers, and beers from other, smaller microbreweries.
The sheer number of different beers available at the Craft Beer Company outpost in Covent Garden is unbelievable. When I went there were hundreds of beers to choose from. A massive line of taps, then fridges full of bottles and cans. Really excellent.
Hipsters often get the pissed ripped out of them, and sometimes I am the one ripping the piss. Problem is … a lot of the things that hipsters like tend to be fucking awesome. They love craft beer, so do I, they love fancy hotdogs and burgers, as do I. They enjoy beards, and after 8 weeks of lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic I now also enjoy having a beard. Bicycles? Yep, love them too. Nice coffee? Guilty.
As much as I try to fight it, a lot of the most enjoyable places to drink in London would be described as “hipster”. Well & Bucket is one of the most hipster-friendly bars in London. It is based in Shoreditch (tick). It serves a wide array of craft beers (tick). There are fancy hotdogs and mini burgers on paddle boards (double fucking tick), and it is filled with guys with beards and iPhones.
But all of that stuff is great, and I really enjoyed my time there. The burgers were great, the beer was superb, and that is all I need in a bar.
As I mentioned earlier, the area surrounding Euston station and Kings Cross station is pretty depressing. The pubs used to reflect that, but change is coming. One of the first places to change was the Euston Tap.
I avoided going here for so long, even after my mate went and literally called me up to tell me how amazing it was. The reason why I avoided it? The place is tiny. It also looks like a crypt! But one day I turned up 40 minutes early for my train back to Nottingham and decided to give it a go. Well, the place was a revelation. Firstly, it was much more spacious than I had envisaged. Secondly, the beer list was huge. Featuring a mix of craft brewers that I had heard of, and craft brewers that I had not.
It’s a great little gem, that livens up a pretty dull area (apologies to all you Euston train station lovers out there).
If you’ve read the article up till now you may have noticed just how many pubs, bars, and the like are situated around Borough Market. Well, there are two reasons for that:
The Rake may well be the smallest bar/pub in London, and I do fear for it post-coronavirus. But I’m sure it will survive because it is a well-run bar with amazing beer on tap and in bottles and cans. Not just craft beer either, their Belgian beer stores are well stocked.
One of the worst things about not living in London is the complete lack of proper German beer halls. All you get is Bierkeller bars in Cardiff, Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham etc … and you know what? Try as I might, I just can’t stand them. I’ve been to loads, but they serve awful beer, use plastic steins, and are always sticky. Londoners really don’t know just how lucky they are. Here are four excellent German bars/beer halls. Three of which I have been to, and one which I know is great but have never been able to get to.
This is by far, my favourite place in London to grab a beer. It’s an underground beer hall, with a really decent range of German beers, and some excellent food. It really reminds me of my holidays in Germany. The way that strangers end up sitting next to each other (very non-British, but it happens all the time in Germany). I’ve not been to the piss ups in the evening, but as a day time excursion, I would absolutely recommend it.
Munich Cricket Club is a bit of a mixed bag in my opinion. The Oompah band is fantastic and very entertaining. The manager is also great. When he found out it was my mate’s birthday he insisted on buying the three of us shots of schnapps to toast him. Which is always going to endear him to me!
My only issue is that the place is so small. Not their fault, but it does mean that seating is at a premium. My mate once booked an area so that we could watch England v Sweden (2018 world cup), and we watched in awe as the staff removed the tables. Apparently we had booked the area where tables were but had not booked the actual tables. So 20 of us had to stand … for four hours.
It is well worth going to, but definitely make sure that you have pre-booked a table. Or you will be standing for a very long time!
I went here with my dad a few years ago. Expecting it to be a German bar. It is not. German Gymnasium is a very fancy restaurant, with a small bar attached. This is not a place to go if you’re planning on getting pissed up. However, it is still a great place. The building was the first Gymnasium in London, and was funded by the London German community. So you’ve got actual German history here. The food looked incredible, and the beer was well kept and expertly served.
While I would not recommend this place if you’re looking for the traditional Oompah band playing, table dancing, stein clinking, experience of many German beerhalls. It is still a very cool bar, and a nice place to spend your time while waiting for your train.
The final bar on this list is the only one that I haven’t visited. It may also be the best one. But I sadly cannot say for sure. Let’s look at the facts though:
The only downsides I can really see is that it will be filled with South West Londoners (rich, young, brash, and invariably called Nick or Archie). Also, as it is in South West London please add 500 minutes to your journey time.
When looking for what beer to drink in London you may be surprised to find a Belgian beer section. But you know what? I love Belgian beer, and so do many Londoners. Stella Artois is one of the most popular beers in London! But obviously there is a lot more to Belgian beer than Stella.
When I was planning this article, the choice for where to drink Belgian beer in London was an incredibly simple one. Belgo in Chalk Farm. It was incredible! A beautiful restaurant with a massive beer list. sadly, it appears to have closed down. Which leaves me in a bit of a predicament.
See, there is more than one Belgo restaurant. There are three in London and one in Nottingham. I have been to the Nottingham one, and it was a fucking disgrace. The staff were lovely, the food was okay, but it was NOT a Belgian restaurant. It was serving craft beer! The waiting staff were all English. You could order a fucking burger and chips!
Okay, that all sounds quite nice. But compared to Belgo in Chalk Farm it was a shock. The Chalk Farm restaurant served about three items on the menu. All Belgian. You could only order Belgian beer, and the list was amazing. Each beer served in the correct glass, by staff who were pretty much all Belgian. You felt like you had left London and been transported to Brussels.
My worry is that I will recommend the Kings Cross Belgo or the Covent Garden Belgo and send you to a bar that serves hotdogs and Camden Town Hells. Which is fine. But isn’t anything special. It certainly isn’t Belgian.
Next time I am in London I will have to experiment. For the good of mankind. In the meantime, go to The Black Lion in West Hampstead or St Christopher’s Inn in Borough Market. Both of which have excellent Belgian beer ranges.
There are many small beer festivals in London, a few medium-sized ones, and then there is the biggest beer festival in Britain. The Great British Beer Festival is so all-encompassing that it kind of overshadows everything else.
I have been about seven times. The first time I went would have been around 2006 or 07, and the last time I went was about three years ago. Quite a lot has changed in that time. It has moved venues from Earls Court to Olympia (which led to me turning up to a locked and empty Earls Court one year when I didn’t get the memo).
It has also grown in popularity. When I first went it wasn’t exactly empty, but a combination of a bigger venue and fewer people meant that finding a seat was easy and you never had to queue for anything. The last time I went, I had to queue to get in (despite having tickets) and finding a seat was about as likely as winning the lottery.
The number of beers on offer is staggering. It was at my first festival that I tried my first German Smoked beer (awful) as well as my first Belgian Beer (I like it now, but hated it at the time). I also had about 12 half-pints of English ale and a decent pork pie. A good day.
Craft beer lovers may want to try the London Craft Beer Festival which is held in August and is going to be hipster-central.
There used to be a Beer & Jazz festival in Greenwich, but I can’t find any information on whether that still goes on. To be honest, it was a pretty duff festival in my opinion. The jazz was high quality (but I dislike Jazz so that wasn’t much of a plus point for me) but the beer side of the festival was fairly lacking. My main memory was queueing for three hours to get in. Fucking joke. Wow, ten years later and I am still bitter.
In my previous articles on Beer in Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Cyprus, and Turkey, I’ve finished with a quick guide to ordering beer in the native language of each country. This isn’t really necessary here. If you are reading this article then you are already qualified.
But for non-British people, ordering a pint of beer may be quite confusing. Here is a quick list of things to do:
I think that’s about it. At the end of the day, it’s not really that complicated!
The purpose of this article was to help you to find out what beer to drink in London. But the truth is, London is so vast, you can drink any form of beer. There is a bar or pub for you. Fancy real ale? Check out a Fuller’s pub. Fancy some craft beer? Then get yourself to Brewdog. What about Belgian beers? Why not go to St Christopher’s Inn in Borough Market?
London is one of the most culturally diverse cities on earth, and that is an immense benefit when it comes to places to eat and drink. Of course, it has its own history, and that extends to beer. There are not many cities that can claim to have invented or to have perfected as many types of beer as London has (pale ale, IPA, stout, porter).
But thanks to huge expat communities, you can find a variety of beer that is quite remarkable. Amazing Irish pubs, excellent American-style bars, Belgian bars, German Beerhalls, you can find craft beer bars everywhere, and most restaurants now offer a decent selection of craft beers. You can go on booze cruises down the Thames (enjoy the five days of sunshine this country has to offer each year), or drink in pubs that are hundreds of years old.
I love London, and most of that love is directed at its beer culture. Whether it is a celebrity-filled pub in Camden or a shithole pub in Belmont circle where you can easily get in a fight over whose turn it is to play pool. I hope that you will love it too.
P.S. Thanks to Dave (left) and Emile (right) for introducing me to most of these pubs! My dad can take credit for most of the rest.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.
Fantastic article Matt. After 40 years of drinking in London I didn’t realise there was so much I didn’t know. Feeling desperate for a pub crawl.Reply