Address: 18 Wilton Row, Belgravia, London SW1X 7NR
While many places around the world boast about their cafe culture, it's the British pub scene, popular across the entire UK, that has intrigued and entertained food and drink enthusiasts for centuries. Featuring delicious locally-brewed beers and ales, a lively and loud atmosphere (along with the occasional bar fight) and all-around merriment, visiting a traditional British pub is an unforgettable experience for a first-time visitor. It's an adventure that often leads to new friendships and delightful experimentation with local ingredients and cooking. Here are some of the best pubs to spend a night at while in London.
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A historic London pub, The Grenadier, dates back to 1720 when it first started as an officers' mess. Once opened to the public, it quickly became a favorite with the locals and has seen everyone from Prince Charles to Madonna (who had an after-gig party here) pop in for a pint. Add to that, its location in Belgravia, a posh section of London, and the pub was always destined for greatness. However, Grenadier's popularity is also due to its quirky ceiling, which has actual money hanging from it.
Legend has it that the Grenadier was the location of a soldier's ghastly murder after he was caught cheating in cards. Now, his ghost roams around the pub spooking unexpecting patrons. The money, put up by customers, is to help the soldier pay his debt so that its spirit can finally leave.
In terms of food, The Grenadier is particularly proud of its beef wellington, a classic British dish. The bar menu has delicious bite-sized options such as scotch eggs, truffle and parmesan chips, and half-pint prawns. The pub's Sunday menu is also a hit with regulars and consists of traditional roast dinners, fish and chips, soups, and tasty puddings.
Address: 18 Wilton Row, Belgravia, London SW1X 7NR
There aren't too many culinary establishments, let alone pubs, that have been mentioned in literary classics. The Spaniards Inn is in two, Charles Dicken's The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Over 400-years old, this iconic roadside Inn, situated in Hampstead, has a somewhat rustic, neighborhood feel to it from the outside. Indoors, wood paneling all around, a cozy fireplace, and that enticing pub smell gives it a slightly cheerier appeal. The Spaniards Inn has a large garden out back that shimmers in the evening under fairy lights and is the ideal place to sit out on sunny days and debate over the many chilling ghost stories associated with the pub.
The food at The Spaniards Inn is a hearty mix of the old and the new. While the traditional pub dishes are always available, they do have a changing seasonal menu that features everything from vegetarian bowls, vegan pub food and 21-day aged rib of beef to halloumi fries, and fresh berry vegan Sunday.
Address: Spaniards Rd, Hampstead, London NW3 7JJ
The Jugged Hare takes on an avant-garde approach to the typical London pub scenario, for it celebrates another favorite classic English pastime, hunting. The "gastropub" is a must-visit for carnivores, as it plates out seasonal game dishes, oozing robust flavors and mouth-watering meaty goodness. The open kitchen, exquisite wine collection, immaculate service, and bare-brick walls all give it a very traditional feel. Highlighted further by the décor that includes a stag's head, strung up fowl and rabbits, and taxidermy animals behind the bar counter.
The Jugged Hare is where you go to enjoy the essence of British cooking, but in a new, more daring avatar. The Sunday roast here is considered one of the best in the entire city. Still, the real gastronomic adventure is to push your culinary limits and opt for the lesser-known meats such as the pub's trademark jugged hare, which is an 18th-century recipe, and wood pigeon with pork terrine.
Address: 49 Chiswell St, London EC1Y 4SA
It's very much possible for a pub to be traditional and Insta-worthy at the same time. Dirty Dicks effortlessly proves this with its characteristic hipster style that can make both purists and Millennials equally happy. At the heart of it all, Dirty Dicks is your archetypal British pub, named after an 18th-century local merchant, featuring bare-brick walls, wooden flooring, comfortable seating, and lots of different sections to move around. However, there is sophistication and that odd vibrancy to the place, brought about by the use of color, travel-inspired hot air balloons on the walls in one section, a number of vintage photos hanging all around, and a display featuring knick-knacks, including dead animals, from the building's past.
There's a lot of variety, from bottled and tap ales and beers to wines and whiskey when it comes to drinks at Dirty Dicks. The ground floor of the pub serves quick bites, whereas patrons can enjoy a proper sit-down meal in their restaurant on the first floor. The menu covers the entire pub-food range and consists of pies, burgers, char-grilled steak, Yorkshire pudding, and roast chicken.
Address: 202 Bishopsgate, Spitalfields, London EC2M 4NR
The quintessential English pub, The Grapes, is a historic establishment with an iconic location, by the side of the Thames, and a notable literary connection. Not only did Charles Dickens frequent the pub, established in 1583, but he also mentions it in his book Our Mutual Friend. Over decades, many great artists and writers have walked through the pub's doors, and now, Sir Ian McKellen is one of the leaseholders. Inside, The Grapes has a "traditional Victorian long bar," walls adorned with oil paintings, beautiful old-world features, and a terrace that overlooks the river. Providing its customers with more than just drinking options, the first floor of The Grapes is where one can enjoy a relaxed dinner service.
The bar menu at The Grapes is a who's who of traditional British dishes. First-time visitors should pick the fish cake and chunky chips to start the meal, and finish it up with the truly divine Sir Ian's shepherd's pie.
Address: 76 Narrow St, Poplar, London E14 8BP
For more information on sightseeing in London:
5 Iconic London Hotels for all Budgets
8 Amazing Day Trips from London
Eat Your Way Around London With These 10 Amazing Restaurants
As of October 2020: Note that with the current COVID-19 restrictions in place in the UK, pubs and bars in London must close by 10PM and there is a ban on mixing in pubs or restaurants with anyone from outside of your own household. Entry from some countries into the UK currently requires a 14-day quarantine.