London's top 10 British pubs

Award-winning Sunday dinners, underground tunnels and real ales – Katherine Price looks at the best of the capital's British pubs

6 mins

1. The Spaniard's Inn, Hampstead

Originally built as a tollgate on the Finchley boundary, The Spaniard's Inn has a rich history dating back to 1585. Mentioned in Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker's Dracula, it's been a popular pub for centuries, while artist Joshua Reynolds and poet John Keats were thought to be regulars. It's even rumoured that Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the pub garden.

The pub's Sunday dinners are renowned and have featured on the UK's list of top ten pub roasts. Involving 21-day aged West Country beef, farm-assured chickens and home-made Yorkshire puddings, it's a feast not to miss.

The Inn also boasts one of the best pub gardens in London, with seating for more than 400, 17 beers, real ales and ciders on tap and views over the city from an artificial mound. They also have an outdoor bar and barbeque for when the British weather holds out, and covered/heated areas and cosy fireplaces for when it' doesn't.

2. The Sherlock Holmes, Westminster

The Sherlock Holmes is not only named after the fictional detective, but also features a mock-up of his 221b Baker Street study, sitting room and lounge, all within this central London pub. With a first-floor roof garden and restaurant it's one of the capital's most luxurious and traditional English pubs.

The mock-up study was part of an exhibition from the Festival of Britain, purchased in 1957 and given a home in the pub. As much an exhibition as it is a place for a drink, the quirky memorabilia has been added to over the years, including Dr Watson's old service revolver, original cartoons, the mounted head of the Hound of the Baskervilles and a collection of film and television stills of the actors who have played the famous duo.

3. The Harp, Covent Garden

An award-winning pub, including London Cider Pub of the Year and National Pub of the Year, Covent Garden's The Harp underlines its commitment to real ales, ciders and perries from around the UK. Eight different real ales are always available from hand pumps at the bar, and they also offer three varieties of sausages every day – thoroughly British grub.

It's very central, close to both Charing Cross Station and Trafalgar Square, and is decked out with cosy leather armchairs on the intimate first floor 'relaxing room', and a stained glass front and collection of old Victorian portraits on the ground floor bar.

4. The Ship and Shovell, Charing Cross

What's different about The Ship and Shovell? Firstly, it's technically two pubs opposite each other on the same street that share the same name. Secondly, it's not only their name that they share. Technically, the two pubs are connected by a cellar underneath the narrow street.

These pubs use the Hall and Woodhouse brewery; one of the few remaining regional family brewers that prides itself on traditional ales like Tanglefoot and Badger Best. They also pride themselves on using regional family businesses for their food. The northern pub is a large, traditional Victorian pub, while its smaller southern sibling offers a quieter and more intimate experience.

5. The Nell of Old Drury, Covent Garden

This traditional English pub has strong ties with its theatrical neighbour – the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, (so strong, in fact, that they are connected by an underground tunnel).

Ideal for pre or post-theatre drinks, The Nell of Old Drury even offers an interval drinks ordering service. It's one of the oldest pubs in Covent Garden and has been decked out with West End theatre posters from over the years; perfect for theatre-goers both young and old.

6. Waxy O'Connors, Leicester Square

Irish pub Waxy O'Connors sits right in the centre of London's West End, and is constructed around the preserved 'Waxy O'Connor's tree'. Waxy O'Connor was, ironically, an Irishman famous for his capacity for alcohol during the 19th century. The tree planted in his name grew for 250 years in Ireland, and died naturally in 1994. The tree was 'planted' and has been preserved in the pub since 1995.

The pub itself has a warm, intimate atmosphere despite its labyrinthine quality; it has six levels and four bars, Gaelic signs, stained glass windows and 'Murphy's Confessional'. Although it often gets busy, a seat can usually be found on one of the many levels, and is often quiet enough to promote conversation.

7. The Princess Louise, Holborn

The amazing Victorian gin palace-style interior is what attracts most to The Princess Louise in Holborn. They don't serve any big brands here, only those produced by the Samuel Smith brewery in Yorkshire. You won't remember it for its variety of choice, but all beers, lagers and soft drinks are guaranteed to be unique, cheap and unusual.

The island bar, partitions, booths and oak-panelled walls all serve to enhance the Victorian feel of the place, frequented by Londoners and tourists seeking a traditional Brit pub. With the building dating back as far as 1872, not only is the building itself listed, but so are the toilets.

8. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street

One of the oldest pubs in London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666, and there have been various pubs on the spot since 1538. A melting pot of histories: the wood interior panelling is thought to be 19th century, the cellars handed down from a 13th century monastery, and a board lists the reigns of the 15 monarchs through which the pub has survived. It is said to have enjoyed famous visitors such as Sir Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

The Cheese is made up of a set of narrow corridors and claustrophobic staircases that lead to various bars and dining rooms dotted with fireplaces, high-backed settees and author Dr Samuel Johnson's chair (which he used to sit in when he frequented the pub) mounted on a shelf.

9. The Blackfriars, Blackfriars

The Blackfriars was built in 1905 on the site of a Dominican friary, and is a Grade II listed building for its Art Nouveau interior. It was designed by H. Fuller-Clark and Henry Poole, who ornamented the building with sculptures, mosaics and relief paintings. It also claims to have been saved from demolition by Sir John Betjeman.

Although part of the Nicholson collection of pubs, the company dedicates itself to preserving historical, distinctive buildings. Both the guest ales and the food are British, serving typical pub grub like Gloucester Old Spot sausage and ale-battered fish and chips.

10. The Angel, Bermondsey

Complete with a balcony overlooking the Thames, the Shard and Tower Bridge, this quiet pub is a local gem and is a lovely place to sit out when the sun is shining. The present building can be traced back to the 19th century: the ground floor has five bar areas, and its oak-panelling and stone floors give it a genuinely authentic old pub feel.

The Angel is generally a fairly quiet pub, even on a Friday night. So, if you're looking for somewhere tranquil to have a few drinks, it's ideal. Regardless of it being part of the Samuel Smith chain, it's a pub which the locals treasure.

Want to see an alternative side to the United Kingdom's capital city? Download Wanderlust's FREE 25-page guide to quirky London here.

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