If you’re willing to brave the crowds, and the eye-watering price of pints, London offers a veritable treasure trove of legendary pubs to visit.
Whilst many of these watering-holes operate much the same as any other modern 21st-century pub, you’ll find that deference has been made to maintain the original features of many of these establishments. Many London pubs’ histories can be traced back several centuries, this is often evident in the places where you’re forced to duck low-hanging beams or squeeze into comically small toilet cubicles.
I’ll be honest, London has never been my favourite place to visit. I’m first and foremost a country lad, I enjoy the comfort and cosiness of a country pub, as well as the natural sense of community that is fostered in them. Although I’ve had good times drinking in cities, I’ve found that there’s always a sense of transience in regards to the patrons, I rarely feel that I’m surrounded by locals who are actively supporting a favourite pub. With that being said, there’s a certain freedom of anonymity that can be found at these urban boozers. Holidaymakers freely mix with travellers, businessmen and London commuters, creating a convivial, festival-like atmosphere that probably won’t be found at your usual country farm.
You’ll be able to find a solid pint at all of the following establishments, however, try and visit them outside of rush hour (5pm-7pm) as this is when they’ll be the most packed:
This 19th Century boozer has two major claims to fame that couldn’t be further from each other in terms of moral ethics. Firstly, in 1865, the pub served as the location for William Booth’s first open-air sermon which led to the establishment of what would eventually become the Salvation Army, one of the UK’s oldest established charities. You can spot a statue of the man just a short walk away from the pub. The second historic event to take place there has a much more notorious reputation. You’ll find many pubs claiming a connection with the legendary Kray twins, however, it’s a matter of public record that Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell at the Blind Beggar in 1966. The pub is a little worn around the edges now and could probably do with a lick of paint, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable place for a pint.
During the 1960s anyone who was anyone drank at The Star Tavern, then known more widely as Belgravia’s Star. Actors such as Peter O’Toole and Diana Dors were known to frequent this handsome decked out pub, but the Star is probably best known as the place where the Great Train Robbery was planned. The gang was led by Bruce Reynolds, who drove across town in his flash Aston Martin to meet his crew in the upstair room of the pub. Since those days the pub has been bought by Fuller’s who have kept the place in excellent nick. The Star is an exceedingly grand place to enjoy a drink in, however for that reason it can be difficult to find a seat and prices are also hiked accordingly – you’ve been warned!
Nestled in London’s fashionable Soho district, it’s hardly surprising that the Dog & Duck has been frequented by all manner of illustrious clientele. The building is a Grade II listed public house which was built in 1897, writer George Orwell was frequented the pub in his youth and thanks to careful conservation efforts, the historic interior remains much the same as it would have appeared in his day. Since that time, the Dog & Duck has been bought by Nicholson’s, so you can almost guarantee a decent pub lunch and a well-stocked selection of cask ales to choose from.
If you’re planning on taking a trip to visit to the Highlands then you’ll want to reserve at least one evening for sinking a few pints in a traditional Scottish pub. There are fewer better ways of spending a brisk Winter’s evening in this part of the world than nestling a decent ale (or dram of whiskey) in your hands, whilst warming up by a burning hearth and watching the snow drift down outside. Consider that many of the finer Scottish pubs also regularly host traditional music night, whilst serving up some knockout pub grub in the process, and a visit to a Scottish pub is pretty much a must for anyone stopping by.
The standard of pub up in Scotland is high. I’ve frequently started drinking sessions intending on crawling through a number of places, but have found the first venue so accommodating that I end up staying the whole night. Many rural pubs still serve as the all-important focal point for the local communities, much as they used to in England, and this is reflected in healthy throngs of regulars populating isolated pubs that would have otherwise gone bust long ago if they had been in England. Unfortunately, should you wish to sample the full array of drinks on offer at these rural establishments then you’ll need to have bolt-hole within walking distance to lay your head down to rest!
The following pubs offer a great authentic experience and I’ve taken the trouble to source a cosy place to lay your head once the bar has closed:
Soak up the legendary atmosphere offered at one of the Highlands best-loved pubs. Nestled in the heart of Glen Coe, a region famed for its spectacular scenery and excellent hiking, this is a pub that offers equal parts Scottish hospitality and raucous house party. 23 modernised rooms make this a no-brainer for holidaymakers looking for no-frills accommodation, whilst the range of whiskies and ale on offer here is enough to put a smile on the face of any frequent drinker.
Where to stay? The clue’s in the name! Rooms at The Clachaig Inn include breakfast and start at £132 for two.
Encompassing a string of self-catered cottages, a successful brewery and a handsome highland pub, the team at the Moulin certainly have their hands full on a day to day basis! The bones of the inn date back as far as the 17th century and whilst some Scot might find that the decor is perhaps a little too devoted to cliche, tourists won’t know the difference. The Moulin’s base of activities is in Pitlochry, a tourist town that is popular all year round and a great base from which to explore the rest of the Highlands.
Where to stay? If you don’t fancy renting a self-catered cottage then there are plenty of other options in Pitlochry.
This unfussy gastropub is a great option for visitors staying out in the sticks. There’s not a whole lot going on in Crieff, admittedly, but for those looking to enjoy rural Scotland as a real local, this humble town offers a step into an alternate life. A little stroll down the high street can take you the Tower where you can stop off for a quiet pint amongst locals who are happy to let you get a taste of the tranquillity that they experience on a daily basis.
Where to stay? Skip the B&Bs in Crieff in favour for booking a self-catered holiday rental at Highland Heather Lodges for as little as £490 for four nights.
I’m fortunate to be able to travel a lot in my work, which means that I’m inevitably able to drop into dozens of pubs a month and get a taste, both metaphorically and literally, of what the local pub scene is like.
Although some might argue that the best way to understand a place is by walking around it and finding your bearings, I would say that the only places that you need visit are the pubs. Regardless of their size, shape or age, pubs all around Britain are full of sociable creatures who are usually more than happy to give you the low down on their home, help steer you clear of any rough spots and enlighten you as to the best places to drink (with that usually being right where they’re sat).
Pubs are more than just an endless mine of cultural tips though, they also serve to inform visitors as to the general zeitgeist of their surroundings. After a few brief conversations with the bar man and a couple of locals, the observant drinker can quickly ascertain the general mood of the local populace and better understand the minutiae that make this community distinct from its neighbours.
There’s no greater example of this than in Manchester, one of the great Northern cities and home to dozens of iconic, historical pubs. On a recent trip up North, I took a day off to visit a handful of charming pubs in Manchester and better understand what makes this one of the UK’s biggest, thriving metropolises.
Don’t try and look for The Briton’s Protection website, this is not the kind of establishment to bend to such trifles as the inexorable passage of time, this is a pub drawn from the Great British Book of Classic Pub Designs (a tome that doesn’t actually exist). Ornate tiling is combined with impressively preserved original wood features and a sterling lineup of real ale and whiskies. I stay to sample a dram of locally brewed Manchester Pale Ale and get chatting to the landlord who is more than happy to talk me through the history of the building; what a lovely chap.
A little more out the way, but nonetheless impressive, this pub is run by Marble Beers, a local brewery that has built up a reputation for fantastic quality and a welcoming public house. Set up in another stunning traditional building, the vibe of this place is much more modern than Briton’s Protection, yet is still populated with a range of folks from young student times, to rosy cheeked older chaps with a twinkle in their eye – thoroughly pleasant drinking hole.
My final stop is a drinking spot notorious for its outdoor drinking area (a rarity in a built-up city such as Manchester) and ‘No swearing’ policy, which I hear broken frequently by drinkers of all ages. The building sits handsomely alongside the nearby Cathedral and is a great example of a city boozer, brimming with locals, tourists, students and all other manner of folks seeking shelter and a glass of beer. The prices here are, quite frankly, outrageously cheap and I spend half an hour arguing about Brexit with a group of half-cut Millennials: great stuff.