Best picturesque pubs in London

London is full to the brim with great pubs but some are considered more appealing to the eye than others. Check out SquareMeal’s superb list of the best picturesque pubs in London and feast your eyes on some truly fantastic watering holes. Offering beautiful original features, often a quirky charm of their own as well as a story or two to tell throughout their history, the London pubs featured in this list are all rather special to the city.

Updated on 10 May 2018

For more drinking inspiration, see our recommendations for the best bars in London. Each SquareMeal listing features an independent review, as well as reviews from those who have visited, together with unique special offers such as free drinks and discounts.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

145 Fleet Street, London, EC4A 2BU

Stooping to pass through the black wooden doorway of this Fleet Street legend means following in the wake of drinkers & hungry folk who have made their way here over the last five centuries. Inside, there’s a deep scent of oak, of ale & of history. A hostelry has stood on this spot since 1538, although the original was destroyed & rebuilt in 1666 after the Great Fire of London. Dr Johnson & Charles Dickens were regulars in the Cheese’s higgledy-piggledy, low-lit rooms, but now you’re more likely to rub shoulders with American tourists & local businessmen supping pints of bargain-priced Sam Smith’s beers. Many famous names have also frequented the Chop House restaurant, which dishes up old faithfuls such as steak & kidney pud, braised pheasant with bacon & celery or spotted dick with custard.

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Argyll Arms

Argyll Arms

18 Argyll Street, London, W1F 7TP

The Grade II-listed Argyll is a bobby dazzler, its screened-off snugs’ mahogany beauty reflected at every turn in myriad decorative etched mirrors. This glorious pile survives largely unaltered since its last makeover... in 1895. Given its central location opposite the Palladium (a secret tunnel connects the two venues), you can expect the place to be regularly overrun with tourists, show-goers & sightseers – so be prepared to dig your way through the crowd if you fancy a pint from the cast of well-kept real ales on rotation (think independent names such as Cairngorm Trade Winds, Leeds Midnight Bell or St Austell Proper Job). The Argyll’s decent food offering covers everything from fishfinger sandwiches & lamb-shank pie to rump steak with peppercorn sauce & Eton mess, although it’s easily upstaged by the surroundings.

Pubs
The Windsor Castle - Campden Hill Road

The Windsor Castle - Campden Hill Road

114 Campden Hill Road, London, W8 7AR

A servant of genteel Kensington since 1835, this romantic old pub is high on olde-London charm under the auspices of English Heritage. Following a major refurb, there are now two handsome new dining areas with reclaimed floors and retro lighting, plus a new chef at the stoves. Beer recommendations are flagged up alongside every item on the ambitious menu – Meantime stout is the perfect match for an attractive rabbit and crayfish pie. Also look out for charcuterie sharing boards, steaks and dishes such as sea bream with brown shrimps. You can eat and drink in the pretty garden, too, where fairy lights, parasols and warm rugs make it attractive all year round.

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Black Friar

Black Friar

174 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC4V 4EG

A giant copper monk presides over the entrance to the Black Friar, & looks out disapprovingly at the building works over the road. Fortunately, this ancient hostelry is no stranger to disturbances – Henry VIII’s court apparently convened here to discuss the dissolution of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Inside, remarkable art-nouveau reliefs depict monks getting up to all sorts of mischief, while intricate mosaics & cavernous hidey-holes add to the intrigue. The pub also stocks an impressive collection of curiously titled ales to baffle passing tourists & attract CAMRA connoisseurs – Brain’s Milkwood & Sharp’s Doom Bar are among the names scrawled on the blackboard. As for food, pub favourites such as fish & chips, sausage & mash or gammon & eggs would tempt any fasting monk away from his regime.

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Spaniards Inn

Spaniards Inn

Spaniards Road, London, NW3 7JJ

Dating from 1585, the famous old Spaniards Inn is a must for literary buffs: John Keats apparently penned Ode to a Nightingale in the garden and the boozer even gets a name-check in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. Scrubbed up and rejuvenated a while back, it’s now a mix of gleaming oak-panelled walls, chandeliers, beams and log fires, with a revitalised menu served in the beamed bar and upstairs dining room: expect the likes of crumbed pig’s cheek with celeriac rémoulade, ahead of pan-fried sea bass with heritage potatoes, sautéed kale and thermidor sauce or shin of beef with tenderstem broccoli and bone-marrow sauce. Pub standards also have their say, and the extended drinks list covers all bases from British cask ales to global wines. Saturday brunch is a fillip for the heath-walking brigade, while the outdoor bar and BBQ are a must during ‘flip-flop weather’. 

Under £30
Gastropub
The Red Lion Duke of York Street

The Red Lion Duke of York Street

2 Duke of York Street, London, SW1Y 6JP

When this tiny tavern fills up with suits at lunchtime, shoehorn yourself in at its island bar for a pint of Fuller’s Chiswick, ESB, London Pride or Gale’s Seafarers Ale, taking care lest a pinstripe’s straying Champagne cork (from a bottle at well under the going West End rate) hits you head-on. Beyond the foliage-festooned frontage lies a fine sepia-tinted interior, all Fanny by Gaslight come evening, with brilliant-cut frosted mirrored glass, elaborate carved mahogany and an impossibly intimate snug. This little gem recalls the days of Downton Abbey, when hostelries such as this were designed to give those ‘downstairs’ a taste of ‘upstairs’ living. Food is suitably ersatz Mrs Bridges: bangers, fish & chips, sarnies and pies.

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Jerusalem Tavern

Jerusalem Tavern

55 Britton Street, London, EC1M 5UQ

By rights, The Jerusalem Tavern should be full to bursting with camera-wielding American tourists, but this higgledy-piggledy historic pub remains proudly off the beaten track. The tourists’ loss is the local workforce’s gain; this is a boozer to be proud of. Admittedly, its olde-worlde credentials are a little deceptive: there’s been a pub by that name in the area since medieval times, but they’ve only been pulling pints in this 18th-century building since the 1990s. Suffolk brewery St Peter’s runs the show with a keen eye on quality control – their own beers (six at a time on the taps) are as fresh and well kept as you would expect. Prices are favourable, so enjoy the likes of honey porter, IPA or English lager with upper-crust pub grub including Scotch eggs and sourdough doorstep sandwiches.

Pubs
£50 - £79
The Prince Alfred

The Prince Alfred

5a Formosa Street, London, W9 1EE

 

The fabulously handsome Grade II-listed Prince Alfred is like a 160-year-old working museum, and has recently received a major refurbishment from owners Young’s. Its former Formosa Dining Room is now a convivial English brasserie, and the coal cellars have been imaginatively transformed into private-dining vaults. There’s so much to admire at this bobby-dazzler boozer – from fluted iron columns to stunning ornate tiles and a dramatic mahogany horseshoe bar – the food and drink almost play second fiddle. Order Young’s and Camden ales on draught; Beavertown and Hammerton among the craft bottled beers; cocktails such as sloe gin Negroni; or familiar wine appellations from £20 a bottle. Bar snacks and sharing boards are available during the day, along with a classic British menu that’s served until late evening: perhaps hearty winter soup followed by beef and bone-marrow pie, with sticky toffee pudding to finish. Be sure to book ahead for Sunday roast.

£30 - £49
Gastropub
The Prospect of Whitby

The Prospect of Whitby

57 Wapping Wall, London, E1W 3SH

Probably dating from around 1520, this riverside pub claims to be the oldest on the Thames: Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens reputedly drank here, and it was once a handy spot for a pint before or after an execution at the adjacent gallows, where pirates were regularly hanged. The gallows may have gone, but the uneven flagstone floors, dark rooms and a few of the old East End characters remain – although they've been joined by throngs of camera-toting tourists. It's now owned by Taylor Walker, so you could bend your elbow with a pint of 1730 Pale Ale while admiring the wood-panelled interior and pewter-topped bar, before sidling out to the small terrace for a view of the Wapping shoreline. The menu is full of traditional trencherman stuff – think pies, roasts, fish and chips or sausage and mash.

Pubs
The Salisbury

The Salisbury

90 St Martins Lane, London, WC2N 4AP

Impressive original features such as a carved mahogany bar, sparkling etched glass mirrors, plush scarlet booths and bronze flower-nymph lamps mark out this listed pub as a survivor. Here is a Victorian gin palace preserved in all its Rule Britannia pomp – although the old girl could use a bit of cosmetic help here and there. Current custodians of this august slab of British heritage are pub operators Taylor Walker, who offer Young's ales, regional brews, bottled world beers and wines to back a menu that includes everything locals and snap-happy tourists might expect of a trad boozer: steak-and-ale pie, fish and chips for a tenner, bangers and mash, and ‘Great British' chicken tikka masala. Formerly frequented by scarlet women and dilly boys (male prostitutes), the Salisbury is far from louche these days.

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