London's Outdoor Drinking Dens
The merest glimmer of sun and the capital's drinking population goes plastic, ditching pint glasses in a bid to quaff copious amounts of alcohol outside on terraces, in beer gardens and around parks. London is packed with places perfect for al fresco drinking - all along the banks of the Thames, out in the suburbs and hidden away amid the concrete in the centre of town. Here's our pick of the bunch in alphabetical order...
Haven of calm off the beaten track in Islington
Tucked away in the heart of Georgian splendour that is tranquil Barnsbury - and seemingly far from the hustle bustle of Islington's cosmopolitan Upper Street - The Albion is a bastion of British pub gloriousness. Even on a wet, winter's day, there's enough to keep you coming back: creaking wood floorboards and faithfully restored panelled interiors with nooks and crannies galore, a great selection of beers and ales on tap, a punchy wine list and delicious fare coming from the kitchen (The Albion is a previous winner of the Observer's best Sunday roast award). But in the summer, the French windows open onto over 450 sq metres of wisteria-filled English country garden which boast 20 tables, a covered veranda and lots of stone furniture (the beer garden closes at 10pm). The pub's in a miraculously quiet spot and so even if the back garden is too busy, you might bag one of the picnic benches out front alongside the sleepy Thornhill Road. If you catch The Albion when it's not too busy, this is one of the nicest places in the area for a summer drink.
Old school boozer with superb views over the Thames
The real magic of Wapping's riverside Captain Kidd pub is outside on the L-shaped patio. The Thames is rather narrow here and so the action seems all that closer as the water laps against the moored ships and the setting sun is reflected off the mirror-like walls of nearby Canary Wharf. If you ever get the chance to be here when it's not busy, you'll be amazed with the tranquillity of it all - it really is a breathtaking place to enjoy some summer night pints. As a Samuel Smith establishment the choice in beers, lagers, ales, cider and wine is naturally rather limited, but prices are ridiculously low, making up for the lack of variety. Bar food is rather stodgy and simple (nothing costs more than £6) but if you want something a bit more upmarket, head upstairs to The Gallows restaurant. If the terrace gets too busy, do take care because there's nothing but a small, low wall separating customers from a dicey drop into the Thames. While The Captain Kidd does not seem like much from outside - there is but a dainty sign hanging above a doorway and a small courtyard to be traversed before you enter the threshold - do persist because the exposed brick warehouse-style interior is quite something, and a trip through to the riverside terrace is a must for anyone living in or visiting London - especially if you've passed the pub before on a boat to or from Greenwich.
More grass and less rowdiness at classy Fulham establishment
This place is not technically a pub but it warrants inclusion on this list of summer drinking dens because of its superb outdoor area. Oliver Peyton is no longer running the food side of things at the Drawing Room Cafe, which has meant a drop in prices (light bites start from £3.90 a plate). You can enjoy delicious food in the posh sitting room-style of the interior restaurant (which used to be a bishop's drawing room at Fulham Palace). But in summer this place is all about its delightful terrace and the acres of surrounding green, green grass. The outdoor barbeque is, thankfully, still going strong on the weekends, serving diners on the seated and shaded area of the airy terrace. But you can also bring your own picnic and you'll see plenty of people doing exactly that as groups and families gather on the grass under the sun to make the most of one of the area's best-kept secrets. Quiet, scenic and sophisticated, this is a perfect setting for a jug of Pimm's, a G 'n' T or a white wine spritzer for discerning outdoor drinkers who want to escape bustling beer gardens or passing traffic. Followed up with a stroll through Bishops Park, this makes an ideal weekend treat.
Behemoth of a beer garden, bbqs and DJs in Brixton
This pub has Brixton written all over it. Inside it's a fairly traditional wooden affair with some tidy long tables and sink-into-me armchairs. Weekend nights see DJs perking up clusters of young ones, office workers and locals. The real draw here though is the absolutely MASSIVE beer garden. Crammed with wooden tables, peppered with leafy trees and seething with youngsters, the Duke of Edinburgh is a real crowd-puller in the summer months. There are heaps of gas heaters scattered across the garden and every weekend the sweet smell of sausages roasting on the pub's BBQ wafts through the air. On balmy nights, it really is a great place to chat to your mates, sink a pint or two and soak up the infectious summer buzz. It's recently been placed under new management - fingers crossed they won't interfere with what has, up until now, been a very successful recipe for summertime drinking.
If Carlsberg made beer gardens...
The home of one of West London's finest beer gardens, The Eagle has had an amusingly potty redesign by Geronimo Inns that has turned a shabby old Shepherd's Bush boozer into a riot of odd sculptures, patterned wallpaper and funky mood lighting. It works surprisingly well, with a cheery but still pub-like atmosphere, and a lovely terrace (heated, covered and complete with striking cast-iron railings and giant Victorian lanterns) overlooking the trim garden. Here there remains a small grass lawn at the end of a wood-decked area covered in the odd pine table and the latest in contemporary outdoor furniture, including a trio of specially made tables which rock back and forth without spilling your pints. Unfortunately, the outdoor area - which is clearly the pub's trump card - closes at 10pm. But if the outstanding beer garden wasn't enough to bring you to the slightly deleterious strip that is Askew Road, then an excellent bar menu (well-presented, tasty gastropub fare, if a little expensive), an interesting wine list, a decent selection of beers and a slightly quirky atmosphere should do the trick.
Party vibe, shabby sofas, beer garden buzz in Camden
The large beer garden at The Edinboro Castle - big enough to accommodate 200 people - is the main draw here and makes this pub something of a Camden institution. The concreted garden and wooden tables are quickly filled as soon as the sun comes out (despite the location sandwiched between the congested Delancey Street and noisy train tracks). Packed with trendy twenty-something Camdenites who flock here in large numbers for a post-work drink on a summer's evening, the place has a buzzing, party vibe. In the colder months it's less hectic and the smaller inside space, decorated with shabby gilt framed mirrors and worn sofas, provides a good place to get a drink. Do make sure you're not in a hurry though - service can be painfully slow.
Village charm, BBQs and outdoor heaters in Highgate
One of the cute villages lost to London's urban sprawl, Highgate does at least retain a modicum of rustic charm, community atmosphere and a fine local boozer. The Flask is one of the original village buildings and still the hub of social activity for local residents. The beautiful building which dates back to the early 18th century has all the low ceilings, wooden floors, panelling and small interconnecting rooms you could want. It might not be as olde worlde as it once was – sturdy wooden tables and chairs have given way to low tables and leather sofas – but it still has a pleasant, traditional air about it. This all becomes totally irrelevant in the summer as customers shift outside into the large, attractive beer garden which comes complete with a handy undercover heated area. Getting a table can be troublesome but, fear not, the surplus spills innocuously out over the road onto the grassy knoll opposite. And as of last year, a new outside bar serving classics such as Sol, Bulmers, Peroni and Pimms means you don't have to head indoors to order your beverages. There's also a new barbeque with sizzling sausages and meaty burgers to fill the gap between pint number one and a night on the town. So if you fancy a bit of village ambience without having to leave the capital, head to north London's next best thing.
Mock Tudor facade, a view of the river and village cricket in Kew
Kew in the summertime is pretty special – and not only for the Royal Botanical Gardens and the delightful Thames Path. Back open after a period of up-in-the-air ambiguity is The Greyhound pub on Kew Green, the smallest of the three or four pubs dotted around the green but perhaps the best. The place was going through a really rough patch before closing its doors in 2009. With its doors back open after the return of the old owners, the Greyhound has now been subject to a much-needed sprucing up. With a much-improved menu, it's now made the successful step up to gastropub status – but without marginalising the casual beer drinker (there are four cask conditioned ales on tap including new guest ales each month). There's a fair sized beer garden around the back (covered and heated in the winter) which is used for BBQs in the summer. A much better option, however, is taking out your drinks and sitting out the front of the mock Tudor exterior on the edge of the Green. If you fancy getting closer to the cricket pitch on the weekends then cross Kew Bridge Road and try the nearby Rose and Crown pub. All in all, if the sun's out Kew Green is a splendid area to while away the hours.
Get that upmarket village pub feel in Wimbledon
In the warm summer months faithful punters from the Hand in Hand buy their pints before crossing the road to drink on the large swathe of grass or under the shady trees of Wimbledon Common. Like the neighbouring Crooked Billet pub, this unpretentious, rustic public house is run by Young's the brewery and is ever popular with both locals and transient passers-by. In fact, it's such an experience that people come from all over London to have a drink here in the heart of Wimbledon Village. The setting and ambiance is why people keep returning to the Hand in Hand: the cosy, low-ceilinged rooms are an ideal haven in the winter months, while in the summer, besides the common, there's a charming courtyard for al fresco drinking. Staff are welcoming, pub grub is honest (speciality pies are really quite a treat it must be said) and there's a strong selection of beers, ales and wine. There's even a range of entertainment evenings, including Monday night poker. During Wimbledon fortnight it is known to bring in some of the big-wig presenters from the BBC as well as up to 300 tennis aficionados. In short, the Hand in Hand has the feel of an upmarket village pub and well worth a visit if you have yet to have the pleasure.
Cool music, a canopied roof terrace and leather banquettes in Camden
The Lock Tavern has become the mainstay setting for summer celebrations and merriment. Punters can guzzle cold beer on the cobbled stones of the beer garden or sip Pimms up on the canopied roof terrace. A few years ago, it was nothing but a dingy little hovel. Under the watchful eye of its proprietor, DJ Jon Carter, the establishment has blossomed into something of a super-pub. Inside, it's spacious and stylishly furnished with polished leather banquettes and swivel armchairs. Effortlessly cool, fiercely independent, and infectiously laid back, it attracts a rather friendly, jovial sort who loyally pile in every weekend. Unsurprisingly, the music is staunchly good and summer Sundays traditionally kick into gear early with the hedonistic Sunday Best parties. Cheap food and booze are available all day and there's a hugely appetizing pub BBQ as afternoon sessions regularly attract an appreciative crowd.
Hammersmith heavyweight presiding over the Thames
It may get a lot of bad press for being an over-expensive gentrified gastropub whose main heartbeat is rowing and the Boat Race, but there's no denying that the terrace of The Old Ship overlooking the Thames is a rather magical place to enjoy a pint of a summer's afternoon. Those lucky enough to get a table on the outdoor terrace or on the first floor balcony will not rue their decision to walk down to this tranquil stretch of the river beyond Hammersmith Bridge. But fear not if you can't get a perch for there's a public path in front of the pub onto which sun-seeking drinkers flow and gather. In fact, if you're really hard-up there's no stopping you bringing your own booze and drinking it by the wall overlooking the river - you'll just feel a bit of a cheapskate and won't benefit from the wonders of ice. Due to its immense popularity, fine setting and summer BBQ, The Old Ship can get rammed in the summer so if you don't fancy waiting an eternity for a beverage, you could try one of the other riverside pubs in the area, such as the much-feted Dove - which would make this list, were it not for its meagre outdoor area.
Art, outdoor terrace, bits 'n' bobs and beer in Camden
This stylish bar attached to a photography gallery was planning to be Camden's top celebrity nightspot. Unfortunately, The Hawley Arms opened at the same time, casually stealing all those skinny-jeaned rock stars from under their noses, and making the Proud Camden look like it was just trying too hard. Here at LondonTown.com, however, we always thought it was really rather good, especially when the sun was out when the place has a Glastonburyish vibe going on. A huge outdoor terrace peppered with deck chairs is a welcome change to most run-of-the-mill beer gardens in town. There's lots of wierd art and bits 'n' bobs strewn around the whole place, the photography on the walls is way cool (and you can buy it if you have a hundred quid burning a hole in your pocket), and there are no glassy-eyed celeb-spotters frantically trying to decide if you're the bassist from Friendly Fires. With The Hawley Arms previously out of action due to the Camden Market blaze, Proud rose like a phoenix from the ashes - and looks set to keep the punters rolling in. The newly renovated Hawley Arms may also have a nice roof terrace but it is, if truth be told, rather cramped.
Decking, park setting, football screens and family-friendly pub near London Fields
Perched overlooking London Fields this is one of the finest pubs in the East in which to spend a summer's day. Outside the Pub on the Park there's a large section of decking and plenty of tables where you can catch some rays and admire activity taking place in the park opposite (cricket matches are a regular feature in summer months). If there's no room on the decking, the bar staff are happy to pop your pint in plastic so you can wander off into the park. The pub houses a healthy mix of people ranging from young families and locals who've been there for years to the new generation of Hackney's young professionals. The assortment of beers reflects this with a blend of well-kept traditional bitters, run-of-the-mill lagers and nouveau Belgian brews. The interior of the restored Victorian building is smart and simple. The landlord is a football fanatic, which means there are a few screens for fellow fans. A chilled-out, well-balanced boozer - although complaints have been made recently about the poor service.
Water-side drinks in iconic setting in London's most famous park
Say what you like about the food from its newly transformed restaurant but there's no denying that the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen is a idyllic spot for a drink in the summer. Located on the eastern end of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, the place has a huge outdoor waterside terrace which enables you to sit out in the sun and gaze over the lake towards the Serpentine Bridge as the ducks, geese and swans swim by. As The Sunday Times says, the view is "achingly lovely" and it's an ideal spot for al fresco drinks after work on a summer's evening, or throughout the weekend (perhaps even after a bracing swim in the lido). The restaurant has been revamped by the brothers behind Benugo, serving largely British and seasonal food with Italian touches. There's an ambitious fish and seafood section, with some pizza options as well as British classics, salads and some snacks including a daily roast meat sandwich. You can also have both breakfast and tea as well as lunch and dinner. But it's not for the food that you should come: it's all in the setting. Sit back and enjoy a gin and tonic, glass of wine or cold beer ("proper" brews such as Sharp's Doom Bar and Cornish Coaster stand out from the usual lagers) and take in the quintessentially London view. There's an outdoor bar too - the Gin Bar - which is run from a matt-grey retro 1940s Citroen H Van. It's pretty much right on the water's edge so you don't even have to venture indoors to top up your glasses.
Ever popular riverside beers and BBQ favourite in Wandsworth - with Pimm's on tap
Nestled on the edge of the Thames a stone's throw from Wandsworth Bridge and (strategically) just around the corner from Young's brewery, The Ship is often top of people's outdoor drinking lists in south west London. With its large decking for up to 400 punters, Pimm's available on tap from one of the outside bars, a humongous barbeque on which sausages are a mere hors d'oeuvre and the prospect of live jazz on Saturday afternoons, The Ship makes up for its slightly salubrious surroundings by ticking all other boxes available. Located seemingly on a slightly industrial no-man's land near the unsightly Wandsworth roundabout and overlooking what could not be described as the prettiest stretch of the Thames, The Ship rides any potential storm by pulling in the crowds, providing everything any customer would want and being generally a place where anyone would happily while away an afternoon. Put simply, it is a welcome enclave of endearment in a carbuncled desert of drab chaos. The outdoor BBQ offers a "pimp your burger" option but really comes into its own by offering king prawns, tuna steaks, monkfish and halibut skewers and surf 'n' turf.
Sip on pints with Turpin's ghost under the shade of a huge cherry tree
Ideal for alcoholic refreshment after a weekend tramp on Hampstead Heath, the notorious Spaniards Inn dates back to 1585 and is doused in history. But you don't want to know about it being mentioned in Dickens's 'The Pickwick Papers' or Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' or the fact that it was an old hideout for the infamous English rogue Dick Turpin. What you really want to know is: what's the beer garden like? Exceptional, since you ask. In fact, during the summer months the action seeps from the cavernous crannies indoors and takes place in the extremely large back garden where, under the shade of a majestic vine-entwined cherry tree, a labyrinth of Pimm's-laden tables weaves across a paved terrace, welcoming guests all afternoon and long into the night (when little lights gets the garden glowing). A well-stocked outdoors bar and regular summer barbecues makes this a must-visit watering hole for any discerning Londoners. What's more, the current French publican knows a thing or two about wine - and puts on a special Tuesday evening wine club with bottles from as little as £10.
Pop in for refreshments along one of the prettiest stretches of the Thames
If you find yourself on the delightful Strand-on-the-Green path on the north side of the Thames then you're spoilt for choice with pleasant watering holes outside which you can while away the hours besides the river. Walking from Kew Bridge, the first you come to is The Bell and Crown, a Fuller's pub with good, simple food and loads of seating by the river. It's the largest and busiest of the three, but like The Bull's Head, there seems to be a strong emphasis on dinning rather than drinking. The latter has a great riverside location, just by the railway bridge and opposite Oliver Island, where Oliver Cromwell once stopped over. It's run by Chef & Brewer and has a real olde world pubbe feel to it. While tables are often reserved for diners on the weekend, you can take your drinks and sit on the river bank when the tide is out. The third pub, The City Barge, attracts a fair few tourists and walkers, but retains the atmosphere of a genuine local's pub - probably because it's the most out of the way. There is a glass-roofed conservatory and some tables out in the car park, but this Fuller's pub really comes into its own when you bag one of the dozen riverside tables out the front, a couple of which gather the shade of a sprawling tree. Of all the pubs, The City Barge is the most relaxed and peaceful, really making the most of the exceptionally attractive stretch of the Thames. So sit back, watch the boats go past and make sure you've got some Factor 20 - with the white-washed walls on one side and the water on the other, it's a real sun trap. A new pub menu (which is very appealing and extremely good value for money) features a selection of salads, wraps and burgers, including a tasty vegetarian Red Leicester and spinach burgers.
More info: The Bull's Head Map, Prices, Opening Times and Nearest Tube
More info: The City Barge Map, Prices, Opening Times and Nearest Tube
A massive beer garden is just one of the many things pulling in the punters at this Stokey favourite
Stoke Newington's extremely likable White Hart seems to cater for just about anyone, but the unique selling point is the enormous beer garden around the back. More like a mini park, this ramshackle drinking area mixes trees, grass and a terrace, and with ample space, shade and seating, it's a veritable hive of activity during the summer months - especially when a barbeque is fired up and the sun's beating down. Inside, The White Hart is spacious and comfortable, with low-slung sofas and comfy chairs the order of the day (plus pinball, quiz machines, pool and table football). On match day, two big screens show live football and rugby, while on weekend evenings there's a late licence as live DJs and bands play sets. During the week, it's a relaxed neighbourhood pub with a well-stocked bar, the odd comedy and cabaret nights and extremely friendly staff. The Gents (although rather stinky) even has a black board and chalk so bursting/relieved chaps can write salacious musings and scribble infantile doodles on the walls. The pub menu is simple, honest and inexpensive, with classic pub grub (including an excellent Sunday roast for under a tenner) favoured over pretentious gastro fare, although a separate restaurant upstairs now caters for those who prefer a proper sit-down meal over bar snacks.
Bustling Parson's Green tribute to fine beer is more than just a haven for Hugos
It may get bad press for being the "Sloaney Pony" but there's no doubting that the award-winning White Horse is one of London's top boozers. Besides the fact that it's widely considered as the best beer pub in Britain, that its food is delicious and that it boasts a fine Victorian interior that makes you feel like part of a period drama, the real selling point of this Fulham establishment is its large beer garden, which backs on to Parson's Green and is packed every evening and throughout summer weekends. There are enough tables to ensure that, if you hover long enough, you'll be rewarded at some point with a perch - but as it's set back from the pavement, drinkers can gather as they will, pint in hand, and chatter away about polo, hunting, the latest in Barbour fashion - you name it. Depending on the weather, a huge barbeque grills sausages, burgers and steak for ravenous Ruperts, wafting its ambrosial aroma around the whole of this delightful corner of SW6. Despite its reputation as a Sloane hangout, the clientele is often quite eclectic - from 18-year-old students in mufty to 80-year-old pensioners in tweed, from football-shirted Fulham or Chelsea fans to your fair share of Hooray Henrys in their whites following a spot of tennis at the Hurlingham.
Windy lanes, waterside drinks and dramatic island views in Twickenham
With probably one of the most idyllic settings of any of London's pubs, the White Swan is well worth a visit if you're in this neck of the woods. On a quiet, winding country lane, right on the edge of the Thames and opposite Twickenham's historic Eel Pie Island, the main body of the pub is elevated to minimise risk of flooding - a steep flight of steps needs to be mounted before you'll stand any chance of ordering a pint. Built in the 17th century the interior remains relatively untouched with lots of wood and open fires. You will, however, notice a somewhat unhealthy proliferation of rugby-oriented memorabilia - a hint towards the pub's support of the game that Twickenham's mammoth stadium has made its own (be warned the place gets understandably packed-out by loud chaps in rugby shirts on match days). Directly outside the pub there's a small veranda, while opposite, across the lane, there's a larger terrace (also owned by the pub) right on the water. Venture here in the summer months and combine your trip with a walk along the river or a visit to nearby Marble Hill House. Prices are said to be significantly higher than other boozers in the area, but there's no doubting the lure of the location and setting which, most would say, warrants the added premium.
Cloistered history, greenery and ivy in Notting Hill
Built in 1835 and untouched since then, the Windsor Castle is a cavernous pub decked in timber. Inside it's a creaking wooden wonderland, full of cosy alcoves, wooden settles, panelling and hidden rooms. If you're below four foot in height you really have to stoop to access many of the pub's rooms because the compartments are only accessible through tiny, Alice-in-Wonderland-style doors - which is more of a fun activity than a bore. In many ways the quintessential cosy winter pub, the Windsor Castle's dark and musty interior hides a secret for hidden out the back there's a large, ivy-clad beer garden which, adorned with delicate fairy lights, creates a peaceful idyll on long, warm evenings. Flagged with vast, cool stones and eclipsed by a fabulous plane tree mushrooming out from the centre, the small and shaded beer garden is ideal for those people for whom getting a tan is not the be all and end all of alfresco drinking. If this puts you off, there are a few tables basked in sunlight at the front of the pub, which is located atop the rise just south of Notting Hill. Food is simple and honest - good, solid, high-quality British fare such as sausages, mash, pies, roasts - while there's a good selection of beers and ales on tap, and a roaring trade in large jugs of Pimm's during the summer.
Outdoor Eating and Drinking in London
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