LONDON'S BEST RIVERSIDE PUBS
The definitive guide to a pint by the water...
From the east to the west, there's one thing that unites and divides Londoners - the River Thames. Whether you're a northerner or a southerner, we can all agree that nothing warms the soul quite like a cool drink on the banks of the city's oldest thoroughfare.
But with so much choice, where should you be heading for a pint beside the water? We've picked out the finest pubs and bars with views of the Thames. Pick a pub, pick an area, grab your kayak and try to tackle the whole list (We really don't recommend that), but whatever you do, make sure these incredible drinking spots are on your to-do list.
THE GUN, Docklands
Nestled on the corner of a residential street in Docklands, The Gun looks fairly unspectacular from the outside, but it’s long been a favourite East End haunt for those in the know. It’s all about modern English food here - think pan-fried salmon, slow cooked wild roe deer and roasted cod - and the Sunday roast is the stuff of legend. But you’re here for the riverside offering, and The Gun more than delivers. A river terrace room offers fully indoor dining with views across the Thames; a covered deck provides shelter from the rain while still enjoying the river breeze; and a turfed garden takes up the corner of the plot, with an unobstructed view across to the O2 Arena.
CUTTY SARK, Greenwich
While still in Greenwich, The Cutty Sark enjoys a spot far away from the tourist crowds and, rather bizarrely, The Cutty Sark tea clipper from which it takes its name. But those who make the journey up the Thames walkway will be rewarded with a beautiful Georgian pub that dates back over 200 years.
Inside, the Cutty Sark retains the feel of an old, London boozer while attracting an upmarket crowd of locals. It’s all dark wood and cozy nooks and crannies, and the two-storey domed window shows that even in the late 1700s, architects knew the value of a good river view.
If you want a spot right next to the water, there are tables across the (narrow and mostly pedestrian) road, which are rarely empty during the summer months.
TRAFALGAR TAVERN, Greenwich
The Trafalgar Tavern is a grand old Georgian building that wouldn’t look out of place in a Regency seaside town, with its cream exterior and colourful flower boxes under its sash windows. Like the Cutty Sark, its bay windows offer brilliant views from inside, only these bulge out over the water itself and when the tide is high, the river laps against the pub walls.
Inside, the Georgian feel remains, its walls crammed with oil paintings lit by fancy chandeliers. There’s plenty of outdoor seating for the summer months, but we feel this place really comes into its own during the winter, when it feels at its most homely.
THE GRAPES, Limehouse
Sandwiched between Canary Wharf and the more illustrious Wapping, Limehouse has long been a local secret, but its pubs are worth the journey to East London alone. The Grapes stands strong amongst the onslaught of gentrification, surrounded by towering warehouse conversions in the former potteries that grew around the docks. It’s actually one of London’s oldest pubs, having opened in 1583, and looks gloriously untouched inside. The best spot, of course, is the rickety (and small!) wooden balcony at the back of the pub where views range from the Shard and Tower Bridge to the west and Canary Wharf to the East, including a Gormley statue that rises from the riverbed at low tide.
To get to the deck, you’ll have to walk past another, much smaller statue - that of mythical wizard, Galdalf. Why? Well, Limehouse resident Sir Ian McKellen is not only a regular at the Grapes, he’s also one of the owners and can often be found enjoying an ale at the bar.
THE NARROW, Limehouse
Another celebrity-owned Limehouse venue is The Narrow, although Gordon Ramsay doesn’t show his face quite as often as McKellen. As you’d expect, this is a gastro-pub with gastro taking the lead, and the food is great. But what it lacks in old charm (it was built in 2007), it makes up in unspoilt views. The entire riverside wall of The Narrow is made of glass panels, which can be pulled back in the summer months to give the place a mediterranean beach-bar feel. And there’s a terrace that wraps around the venue, which during the summer months is packed with deck chairs and outdoor tables where you can while away the afternoon and, if you’re lucky, watch the bridge over the entrance to Limehouse Marina swing out of the way for yachts and large boats to arrive.
THE OLD SALT QUAY, Rotherhithe
The Old Salt Quay is a large and lively pub on the south bank of the Thames, in picturesque Rotherhithe. If you’ve heard DJ sets pumping out across the river on sunny days, chances are it’s coming from here. The ground floor terrace is one of the biggest along the river in these parts, with picnic tables right up to the edge of the water, but there are also sizeable second and third floor balconies, so getting a seat here in the summer is easier than you’d think.
The building is a converted warehouse - as is 90% of this area of London - which means exposed brick, arched windows and old, wooden floors inside.
It’s a Greene King pub, so expect traditional pub grub, plenty of beer (including craft beers) and options for kids, too.
PROSPECT OF WHITBY, Wapping
What could be better than a sunny afternoon spent outside, watching the water gently lap at the banks of the Thames, in the shadow of a noose.
Yep, that’s right, The Prospect of Whitby is old (500 years old, to be precise - although it was rebuilt in the 1800s following a fire), and it wears its history as a badge of honour. The noose in question is rumoured to have been erected to commemorate Judge Jeffreys - The ‘Hanging Judge’, who would sentence criminals to death in their hundreds.
Pirates have spent plenty of time at the Prospect, as did Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and the artist, William Turner, who sketched on the terrace. You’ll be walking the same flagstone floor as those hallowed names - it survive the fire and subsequent refits and is a part of London history dating back to Shakespeare’s time. What was once known as the Devil’s Tavern for its less-than desirable clientele is nowadays one of our favourite pubs in East London.
THE MAYFLOWER, Rotherhithe
Gazing across at each other in an eternal, Mexican stand-off, The Mayflower is Prospect of Whitby’s historical rival. It claims to date back to 1550 - making it thirty years younger than the Prospect - but its position south of the river helps it lay claim to the creation of modern day America. It was from Rotherhithe that the Mayflower set sail with 65 pilgrims aboard, to begin the journey that would eventually anchor at Cape Cod.
Its captain eventually returned to Rotherhithe with his ship and is buried in the St Mary’s Church nearby.
You can sit on the decking out back as the water splashes beneath you, but it’d be rude not to explore the beautiful interior that retains all its old-world charm. If you can prove a family connection to the original Pilgrim Fathers from the 1620 voyage, don’t forget to sign the Descendants Book held behind the bar, to add your name to the history of this incredible pub.
THE Captain Kidd, Wapping
Back on the north side of the river, The Captain Kidd is a Samuel Smith pub (finally, a fairly-priced pint!), named after the pirate who met his grizzly end at the nearby Execution Dock. Another old warehouse building, the Kidd boasts a large, open plan main bar as well as an upstairs restaurant, but it’s the riverside drinking you’re here for, and this has an inside and outside option. A bay window hangs precariously over the water, providing a perfect vantage spot when the weather turns all… British, but for the summer months it’s all about the yard, which runs the length of the pub and offers seating right up to the river wall.
It’s also next door to the Marine Police Force headquarters, so there’s every chance you’ll get to see the high-powered RIB boats racing out across the water.
TOWN OF RAMSGATE, Wapping
Just a short walk from the Prospect is the Town of Ramsgate, sandwiched between huge, red-brick buildings on Wapping High Street. It’s also got links to Judge Jeffreys, who was caught outside, disguised as a sailor as he tried to escape the revolution. It turns out he shouldn’t have taken such delight in sending criminals to their deaths if he wanted to pop for a pint in the pubs where their associates hung out. To outdo their neighbour’s noose, the Ramsgate offers views of the drowning post - where captured pirates were chained and left until the tide rose over their heads.
A proper pub that’s frequented mostly by locals, the Ramsgate is a fine place for a drink, and the small terrace overlooks the Wapping Old Stairs, which dive down into the Thames.
THE ANCHOR, Bankside
Supposedly once a haunt of William Shakespeare, whose Globe Theatre is a short walk away, The Anchor sits atop both a Roman grave and a Plague pit. It’s also played host to smugglers and river pirates, has been burnt down and rebuilt twice, and managed to survive the Great Fire of London, which is handy, because Samuel Pepys sat on the terrace and watched it all unfold from this very spot. Given that it’s been through all that and still stands today, it’s only fair that you pay it a visit. And you won’t be disappointed when you do, because the old pub has a beautifully cosy feel, with its deep red windows and rows of festoon lights hanging from its balcony.
The main seating area is across from the pub itself, which thankfully places it right on the river’s edge, and the new management team have made good use of the space, installing an outdoor bar, plenty of heaters for the colder evenings and lighting to make you feel at home right in the centre of the city.
DOGGETT'S COAT AND BADGE, Blackfriars
Named after the prize for the oldest rowing race in the world, Doggetts Coat and Badge clearly knows that the river is the reason for its existence. We won’t lie, the pub itself wouldn’t win any prizes for architectural brilliance. A 60s mass of concrete, the inside of Doggetts could easily be a cross-channel ferry, but it still wins its spot in this list thanks to a terrace that offers incredible views of the Thames at its most central point. Positioned three floors up on the the roof, it gives a vantage point across to St Paul’s cathedral and the glass spires of the City.
12TH KNOT, Sea Containers House
If you’re after something a little more classy than a regular pub, 12th Knot is a design-led rooftop lounge that serves cocktails with a view.
DJs play in the bar area, where you can relax with cocktails called things like Thanks a Tot, Away From The Craze and East India Elixir. It’s a long way from the local boozers of the East End riverside, but that’s entirely the point - this is a high-end drinking experience in a high-up bar, which means unrivalled views across the city of London. While it’s a great place to spend an afternoon, we’d recommend getting here in the early evening, when the bar’s own, moody lighting comes into its own and frames the glorious twinkling lights of the city outside.
The best views are to be had from the small, outside terrace, but you might need to book a spot as this bar - just like all of Sea Containers House - is very popular.
TATTERSHALL CASTLE, Whitehall
There’s drinking on the Thames, and there’s drinking on the Thames, and Tattershall Castle takes you right out onto the water. An old passenger ferry that’s been repurposed into a fixed-location drinking spot, the Tattershall has done a reasonable job of making you feel like you’re not grabbing a quick pint on a ferry to Calais. Inside, the wood-panelled walls and carpeted floors can feel a little like a floating Wetherspoons, but the Tattershall is worthy of a look-in by virtue of the fact that you can drink in the presence of the London Eye as the Houses of Parliament peek round the river bend.
TAMESIS DOCK, Vauxhall
Where the Tattershall opted for regular pub decor, the Tamesis decided to stand out from the crowd, and the result is a fun party venue that wouldn’t look out of place if it rocked up to Benidorm offering £50 all-you-can-drink cruises. It’s a brightly coloured, no-nonsense boozing spot with a dance floor in its hull and disco balls hanging from the rafters. Don’t expect a quiet evening here (although during the daytime it’s relatively sedate), but do expect a kitsch, fun cocktail-swigging experience with incredible views of the Houses of Parliament.
THE RIVERSIDE, Vauxhall
Vauxhall's riverside area has become a sprawling mass of high-rises these days, so it’s no surprise that The Riverside is a bar enveloped by these huge buildings. It’s all glass walls and modern-design, which although isn’t our chosen aesthetic for a waterside drinking spot, does ensure that river views are plentiful. The main pull here, though, is the vast terrace, which seats up to 200 people, who can order from an extensive wine list while watching the sun set over the iconic silhouette of Battersea Power Station. It’s an upmarket option for those who want to party by the water, but be warned, it does get busy, so booking a table is always advised.
BATTERSEA BARGE, Battersea
Owned by the same team as the Tamesis further up the river, Battersea Barge benefits from being slightly off the beaten track - meaning you won’t be queuing for a seat at 9am the second the sun pierces the clouds.
There’s a lot squeezed into this relatively small vessel. There’s a bar and stage with plenty of seating and tables downstairs, where they host cabaret, live music and guest speakers, while upstairs and the back of the main floor is given over to seating.
It’s a fairly no-nonsense set-up, but let’s be honest, you’re there for the views, the atmosphere and the chance to drink in the sunshine - and Battersea Barge delivers on all fronts.
NO.29 POWER STATION WEST, Battersea
Supping cocktails in the shadow of a power station might sound like a dystopian nightmare for some, but then this is probably the most iconic power station in the world, and with the regeneration happening at a lightning fast speed, it’s an incredibly buzzing place to be. The catchily-named No 29 Power Station West is far more welcoming than it sounds, with a terrace encased in twinkling fairy lights that still allow you to gaze out across the water.
This is very much an all-day spot - perfect for grabbing a morning coffee with breakfast, a boozy lunch meeting or an evening with friends when the music kicks up a gear and the lights go down low.
THE WATERFRONT, Wandsworth
Much like its sister bar, The Riverside, this modern venue is a riot of glass and steel, but while it might look like the atrium of a posh office block from the outside, The Waterfront boasts a glorious terrace along a relatively quiet stretch of the Thames, which makes it ideal for a daytime drinking session.
For those making a journey across town to visit The Waterfront, you’ll find it a short walk from Wandsworth Town train station and nestled next to Wandsworth Bridge for easy access from the north of the river, though thankfully, it feels like it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the main roads once you take your spot on the terrace beside the pedestrian river walkway.
THE SHIP, Wandsworth
A Wandsworth institution, it seems as though half of London makes its way to The Ship for bank holiday weekends, or whenever the sun makes an appearance. Its popularity is thoroughly deserved. The Shipyard - their riverside terrace - boasts food stalls serving some of the best burgers around, plus all the oddities you’d want from a London boozer, including an old red telephone box and a ship’s wheel where you can navigate the stormy seas that are affecting your legs after a whole afternoon of boozing.
For real seafarers, you can also arrive at The Ship by boat to the pub’s own, private jetty. Top marks for making an entrance, but we wouldn’t fancy trying to get back aboard in front of a crowd after a day on the ales.
THE BOATHOUSE, Putney
We’re all for the idea of drinking beneath a giant octopus, and that’s what you can do on the first floor of The Boathouse in Putney. If you can bag a spot on the terrace here to watch The Boat Race, you’ll be treated to a first class view of the Oxbridge crews battling for victory. But, if we’re completely honest, you’re better off returning on a summer’s day when the whole world isn’t fighting for a table. There are spots on the ground level patio, but the best drinking is to be done upstairs under the orange umbrellas, where an Espresso Martini or two will set you up for a perfect evening by the water.
DUKE’S HEAD, Putney
We’re thankfully back into the world of period buildings with the Duke’s Head, and this is a pub that manages to fit style, quirkiness and variety into its large, Victorian venue. The main room - known as Duke’s Bar - is a more traditional space with comfy leather banquettes and an oval, dark wood bar running through the centre of the room. Upstairs, fancy restaurant The Coxswain offers incredible views of the river through huge, arched windows and, if you want to kick your evening into another gear, there’s thew option of heading downstairs into basement club, The Rowing Club.
THE CRABTREE, Fulham
There’s no doubting that you’re in the posh end of London when you enter The Crabtree. It’s slightly off the beaten track, which means it’s frequented mostly by locals - but don’t worry, you’ll be greeted with a warm welcome even if you’re not a public school alumni.
The pub is, as you’d expect, an upmarket affair and no expense has been spare on the huge garden, which boasts trees and beautiful greenery, pergolas with gentle lighting and a glorious view over the Thames, which is at its best in this part of the city.
THE BLUE BOAT, Hammersmith
Another new-build pub beneath a block of flats, The Blue Boat does have something of an ‘identikit’ feel to it - the industrial fittings and exposed concrete walls can be seen all over London these days - but little touches like the reading corner (complete with well stocked bookshelves) make this feel like a homely place for a pint. The terrace takes you right up to the Thames path, with views over to Harrods Furniture Depository and the Hammersmith Bridge, which looks magnificent lit up against the night sky.
THE RUTLAND ARMS, Hammersmith
Occupying a corner plot between a residential street and Lower Mall (which is this section of the pedestrian path along the Thames), The Rutland Arms’ exterior everything you want from a riverside pub. A grand, brick facade with tall, arched windows framed by beautiful flower boxes that add a colourful backdrop to the outside seating area.
Granted, there are more impressive terraces along this stretch of river than the rows of picnic tables on the path, but this quintessentially English pub, dating back to the late 1800s (with a slight rebuild after losing its top floor to a Nazi bombing raid), is a perfect setting for a pint by the water.
THE BLUE ANCHOR, Hammersmith
A proper, 18th Century pub that feels like stepping into a friend’s living room - if your friend is rich enough to own a pad right on the River Thames in West London, of course. Huge windows ensure the views are for everyone, whether you’re dining upstairs or raking up a spot on a Chesterfield sofa on the ground floor. If the sun’s out, you’ll want to take to the terrace which, on essence, is the Thames path out back, but if the blue picnic tables are taken, you’ll find plenty of other people standing against the river wall with a glass of Rose in hand.
THE DOVE, Hammersmith
The Dove is where West London starts to play its hand against the history-rich East End river pubs. And while Wapping has pirates and Rotherhithe ties to America, The Dove lays claim to Britain, aristocrats and Royalty. This beautiful old building was where Charles II dined with his mistress, Nell Gwynne and poet James Thompson first scribbled the words to what would eventually become ‘Rule Britannia.’
And the building, too, has a claim to fame - it boasts the smallest bar room in the world (it’s around 7ft by 4ft and just about fits two people with their own spot at the bar).
But you’re here for the river, so grab one of the free blankets and take your spot on the balcony, where barges float along beneath you as you lose an afternoon to the lazy atmosphere of the Hammersmith section of the Thames.
THE OLD SHIP, Hammersmith
The Old Ship has been pouring pints for locals since 1722, though a thoroughly modern redesign of the interiors mean you wouldn’t immediately peg it down as having celebrating its 300th birthday.
Thankfully, part of that update includes a double balcony - two floors of unbroken views of the river, with plentiful seating to ensure you won’t be queuing from daybreak to bag yourself a table. There are also great views from inside, where you can relax by a log burner when the weather takes a turn for the worst.
The pub’s Burger Shack provides a fast-food alternative to the upmarket venue inside, and as a bonus for the veggies amongst you: Half of their burger menu is plant-based, so you won’t go hungry.
THE WHITE HART, Barnes
The White Hart is the first pub in West London where you’ll be able to take advantage of the Thames turning ‘rural’ - there are no brick walls here, just a row of picnic tables on the grassy bank of the river and for those who want to dip their toes into the water or row into the sunset on a kayak, steps lead right down to the sand.
The pub itself is an imposing building - four storeys with ornate, white balconies covering all expect the top floor - and to its side lies an elevated terrace with plenty of tables for a large crowd.
If you do get forced inside on a sunny day, fear not - the interiors are beautiful, the menu is fantastic and every floor has large doors that open wide to let the river breeze float in.
THE SHIP, Mortlake
Mortlake has a long relationship with beer, having brewed the amber nectar since Shakespeare’s time. But the times are changing, and The Ship sits in the shadow of the former Stag brewery in Mortlake, which has stopped churning out Budweiser and is likely to be turned into pricey flats. The landlords will no doubt welcome an influx of new locals, but for now it’s a relatively quiet boozer that explodes into life on Boat Race day, thanks to its prime position on the finishing line of the prestigious competition.
It’s a little tired compared to its waterside competitors, but that location can’t be denied and it’s worth a visit whether you’re watching the Blue Boats or just whiling away an afternoon in the sun.
THE CITY BARGE, Chiswick
Beatles fans might recognise The City Barge in Chiswick as the place the Fab Four sought refuge from Klang in the movie, Help! Ringo famously ordered “two lagers and lime, and two lagers and lime,” but whether you like your beer pure or with a slash of cordial, you’ll enjoy drinking it here.
A pub on this site was originally called The Navigators Arms when it was built in 1484 but was renamed The City Barge in the 19th century.
The seating on the towpath outside takes you right up to the edge of the water and you can enjoy a Beatles-themed view: The towpath across the river is where Ringo was hit by a tyre in A Hard Day’s Night, and the towers visible above the trees featured on the cover of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.
BELL & CROWN, Chiswick
Proving that Chiswick residents have more than their fair share of riverside watering holes, The Bell & Crown is a traditional pub just a short walk from The City Barge.
It serves up delicious healthy brunches to customers on the leafy towpath - think granola, fruit bowls, smashed avocado, smoked salmon and steamed spinach as well as the usual gut-busting hot breakfasts - as well as sharing plates and mains from the kitchen for the rest of the day. There’s also a conservatory-style seating area for breezier days to make sure the river’s always on view, whatever the weather.
THE STEAM PACKET, Chiswick
The Steam Packet loses points for having a road separating customer from river (look, we’ve got 37 options here, we’re allowed to be picky), but that doesn’t stop it from being a fine spot for an afternoon. The outside seating isn’t exactly plentiful - the Upper Deck and roadside terrace seat 43 in total - so you’ll need to book or get here early on sunny days to enjoy al fresco dining.
There are also tables for 18 right beside the river, but you’ll need to cross the Thames Road every time you want a pint, which isn’t ideal.
Named the Steam Packet after the steam ships that used to moor here in the 19th Century, the river traffic is much smaller these days, but nonetheless it’s a beautiful place to watch the boats float past over a bottle of wine.
THE LONDON APPRENTICE Isleworth
A pub has been on this site since the 1400s, but was rebuilt in its current guise in 1731 and - from the outside, at least - appears beautifully unchanged since the days since highwaymen and drunk clergy from the nearby church frequented the riverside drinking den.
It’s a sizeable building with plenty of water frontage, which makes it one of the area’s most popular spots for outdoor boozing. Grab a table right at the front of the terrace and you’ll see the Thames framed by flower boxes from beneath the parasols dotted across the patio.
Thanks to its proximity to Syon House, pasts visitors to pubs on this site are of the Royal persuasion, and include Henry VIII, Charles I and II, plus Lady Jane Grey and Oliver Cromwell, who all would have looked over a river scene that remains largely unchanged to this day, as the opposite bank is the beautiful Kew Gardens and the Isleworth Ait island.
THE WHITE CROSS, Richmond
The White Cross makes no secret of the fact it was probably built a little too close to the Thames, and takes great pride in promising to still bring you a pint if you’re sat in a kayak, or wading knee deep in river water when the tide rises over their garden. In fact, the staff are all kitted out with wellies for their daily flooding.
Inside, there’s a large fire and a kitchen serving up sirloin steak, beer-battered cod and chips and mussels and fries, while outside the terrace offers views over moored-up pleasure boats, the gentle flowing Thames and the best sunset in West London.
THE WHITE SWAN, Twickenham
How close do you want to be to the river? Well, just like The White Cross at high tide, some of the garden of The White Swan is IN the river, so bring your wellies or prepare to edge your way back towards the pub when the waves come lapping. (Seriously, Twickenham architects, did nobody teach you about the tide at school?!)
The Thames in Twickenham is barely recognisable as the watery thoroughfare that cuts through Central London - it’s a gentle, green-banked stretch that plays host to families in rowing boats, weekend kayakers and plenty of swans. And for our money, there aren’t many places better to enjoy it than this pub named after its noisy neighbours. It’s one of the prettiest pubs not just in this part of town, but the whole river. If you can’t find a space in the beautiful garden, try for the balcony or the banquette window seats upstairs.
THE BARMY ARMS, Twickenham
We’re deep into rugby territory here, and the Barmy Arms takes full advantage of its proximity to the national team’s stadium - make no mistake, this place is all about the Lions (and whoever their opponents happen to be - this is rugby, remember) and the beer garden here becomes an extension of Twickenham stadium on match days. It’s not the most refined pub on this section of the river, but that’s not the point of the Barmy Arms. This is a boozer that churns out pints by the thousands to thirsty revellers enjoying the serene views across to Eel Pie Island and the Twickenham Rowing Club boathouse.