Updated February 2014
It’s winter, embrace it. London’s not short of cosy pubs if you know where to go, so here’s our pick of where to snuggle up and while away the hours fireside, pint in hand. Who needs summer when you have places like this?
The Gun, Docklands
Part of the ETM group, The Gun is consistently voted among London’s very best gastropubs. It’s not all because of the sophisticated yet hearty dishes that the kitchen churns out, but also the atmosphere in this pub which sits next to Admiral Nelson’s one-time home. Several open fires punctuate nooks and crannies to cosy up in, and if you can brave the chill, pop out onto the terrace for impressive views over the Thames and Canary Wharf.
The Holly Bush, Hampstead
An itsy bitsy pub with character by the barrel-load: an ornate glass back-bar, dark wood panels and pew-style seats contribute to a look which has barely changed since the 19th century. An added quirk is the chalked-up weather forecast on a blackboard, perhaps to help customers decide whether to leave the pub or not; we’d say it’s probably best to assume it’s cold and wet and stay put by the fire. It’s a Fuller’s pub, which gives you an idea of the beer list, and if you get hungry some half-decent pies are on hand.
Jerusalem Tavern, Clerkenwell
Not as old as it may seem, this pub has occupied varying sites since the 14th century but the Tavern we now know didn’t open until the 1990s. Still, the building housing it goes back to 1720 and it feels as historic as they come. Comfy chairs right by the fire and the entire (excellent) range of St. Peter’s beers make it a gem.
The Old Red Lion, Kennington
It’s not just the crackling fire or the whiff of mulled wine as you walk into this Antic-owned pub that makes it a perfect winter spot. It’s also the way they’ve converted old toilets to provide tight alcoves to cosy up in and make your own. Should you need to venture out into the garden for a cigarette (or the pub’s packed) blankets are provided to keep you snug. There’s well-above-average pub food, a regularly changing ale selection and a friendly welcome to boot.
The Portobello Gold, Notting Hill
Apparently Notting Hill’s longest-running pub and restaurant under the same ownership, it’s the crammed array of plants and nic-nacs which add to the cosiness of The Gold, along with the fire. Perhaps best of all, though, are the much coveted raised balcony areas where you can nab a tree-house- style table or snuggle up like you’re in a boozy bunk-bed. Mulled wine, eight beers on tap, spiced nuts and a full food menu complete the package. Be aware that the pub will be closing for some renovation work on Christmas Eve and closed for the rest of the year, so if you’re heading down soon after that, do check it’s open again.
The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town
Craft beers, ciders and roast meat sandwiches are the order of the day at this pub which is determined to keeps things as simple as possible. They don’t even have a phone number as that’s too much fuss. Friendly, family-run, packed with locals and particularly toasty, what more do you need?
The Spaniard’s Inn, Hampstead
It’s not surprising that this pub feels steeped in history, given it was mentioned in The Pickwick Papers. In recent years it’s gone slightly more gastro, but the bar area is intact – fire and all – so what it really means is that you can get an impressive scotch egg with your pint and feel all the more at home. Perfect for thawing out after a wintery walk on the Heath opposite.
The White Horse, Parson’s Green
The so-called Sloaney Pony is a pub which many a Londoner holds close to their hearts, and for good reason. With at least eight beers on tap and over 80 interesting options by the bottle, it’s at the top of its game for ale, and unlike many a beer destination it has genuinely great food, too. Throw in a roaring fire flanked by comfy Chesterfields and you have quite a winter hide-out.
William IV, Shoreditch
Big, comfy chairs and roaring flames are the staples here, but for anyone needing more persuasion you can throw in great home-cooked food, a regularly-changing ale selection, board games and newspapers. An ideal place to bed down for a day.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street
A predictable inclusion, but a worthy one all the same. Dating back to the 16th century, it’s among London’s oldest. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, there’s a certain irony to the fact that its open fire is now one of its biggest draws. That, its cosy old-world charm, and the fact that it’s a budget-friendly Sam Smiths these days.
Where else should we cosy up this winter? Let us know in the comments below.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.