Some say you can't get a decent pint of the black stuff outside Ireland. We say: rawmaish. Whether you're after the perfect St Paddy's venue, or simply seeking good craic and a well-poured Guinness, these 13 boozers go above and beyond your usual Irish-themed pub. Sláinte!
1. The Auld Shillelagh, Stoke Newington
Few pubs in the capital are as high-spirited as the Auld Shillelagh on Stokey's Church Street. And that's not just because of the gallons of Irish whiskey consumed here. Any day of the week, the narrow space fills with laughter and high-jinx, live music wafting through the air, endless pints of Guinness poured (these are often declared the best in north London). Other highlights: staff with endless bonhomie up their sleeves, and a large — and well sheltered — beer garden.
The Auld Shillelagh, 105 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0UD
2. The Boot, King's Cross
There's something enduringly charming about this boozer tucked away on the backstreets of King's Cross. Among the memorabilia dangling from the ceiling is boot-related gimcrack, a papier mache seagull and a pair of skis hung above the bar. A fair chance of getting a seat even on a busy night and well-kept beers (including, yes, Guinness) make the Boot a safe bet for central London craic.
The Boot, 116 Cromer Street, WC1H 8BS
3. The Cow, Westbourne Park
This swish Westbourne Park local doesn't have the unpolished charm of other pubs on this list, yet it's not to be sniffed at. There is Guinness. There are rock oysters. And if there's a limit to how many of these you can neck, you can always change tack with a Belgian brew or a Languedoc. The food here's not inexpensive, but this bovine-themed pub is a frontrunner for a slap-up meal washed down with you-know-what.
The Cow, 89 Westbourne Park Road, W2 5QH
4. Crown & Cushion, Lambeth
A stone's throw from Waterloo, the Crown & Cushion deals in impeccable Guinness, Tayto crisps and that other Irish pub staple... Thai food. An open fire creates a cozily smokey setting (even in summer from our experience) while old street signs and the more tasteful end of leprechaun stereotypes decorate the walls. There's a small beer garden out back, too. Horse racing will probably be on.
Crown & Cushion, 133-135 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7HR
5. The Faltering Fullback, Finsbury Park
The labyrinthine layout of this Tardis-like pub means you should be able to find a nook to settle into — apart from when the rugby's on, when you'll want to set your alarm for about 6am. The Fullback's more 'gently' Irish than some others on this list, but the Guinness is no less superb for it, and in the end isn't that what it's all about? The beer garden btw is a paradisiacal gem (though hardly a secret anymore).
The Faltering Fullback, 19 Perth Road, N4 3HB
6. Skehans, Telegraph Hill
'Purveyors of Craic' is how Skehans bill themselves, and who are we to argue. A regular on Deserter's World Cup of Pubs, this picturesque boozer perches on the corner of a steep inclune overlooking New Cross, and beckoning you in with its emerald facade and well-kempt flower basket. There's often live music on (jam sessions unfold around a table), otherwise horse racing, football and pool will keep you occupied for the best part of a lost weekend. There is Thai food too; simpler noodles dishes, but also spicy sea bass and salmon steak.
Skehans, 1 Kitto Road, SE14 5TW
7. Madden's Bar, Finchley
One of north London's most welcoming Irish pubs, you needn't be a regular to feel at home in Madden's. It's all about (or largely about) the live sport here, hence the multiple screens scattered around, and indeed behind, the bar. A fine place to watch Ireland romp home in the Six Nations. There's also Thai food and a pool table upstairs, plus regular live music nights
Madden's Bar, 130 High Road, N2 9ED
8. Sheephaven Bay, Camden
This green-fronted pub near Mornington Crescent station is one of London's more spruced-up Irish establishments — adorned with scarves, signed shirts, and framed photos of football and rugby teams of yore. You'd be correct in thinking sport plays a major role in the life of this pub: come for the rugby and football, stay for the horse racing and darts.
The Sheephaven Bay, 2 Mornington Street, NW1 7QD
9. Sir Colin Campbell, Kilburn
Whether lured inside by the siren call of a penny whistle and bodhrán, or Thin Lizzy on the jukebox, the Sir Colin Campbell does not disappoint once you're inside. Now you get why this part of town is nicknamed County Kilburn; the-brew-with-the-harp-on-it is in ample supply, natch, but so too is a cracking range of cask. Nestled into a wooden pew with Irish folk jams round the table on Saturdays and Sunday, you'll start to pray you get snowed in.
Sir Colin Campbell, 264-266 Kilburn High Road, NW6 2BY
10. The Porterhouse, Covent Garden
This behemoth of a bar deserves a mention for its sheer size, array of beers and the fact that it brews its own Irish stout. Catch it when it's quiet and you'll be able to sup your way through the biggest range of Irish beers in London (plus many from elsewhere). At other times it risks being uncomfortably busy with snail-pace service. And if you're coming here on St Patrick's Day... well, good luck to you.
The Porterhouse, 21-22 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA
11. The Toucan, Soho
Not going with the Guinness theme by halves (they even have bar stools shaped like massive pints), this itsy pub just off Soho Square can often be rammed to the point of unpleasant. Find it when it's not, though, and it's a treat to behold — a taste of 1970s Soho in the best possible way. Decent Guinness goes without saying, and there are a fair few Irish whiskies to choose from. We'll let you discover the shortcut to the downstairs bar in your own time.
The Toucan, 19 Carlisle Street, W1D 3BY
12. Waxy O'Connor's, Soho
Named after a candlemaker born in Dublin in 1788, this epic drinking mall — there are four bars over six floors — is an impressive sight to behold. A 'tree' in the centre is orbited all manner of wooden pulpit-like areas and pew-style seating — well, after all, Guinness is a religion here. Redoubtable in size, Waxy's can also be rather clamorous (tourists are not in short supply, either). But if you're in the right mood for it, that's all part of the charm. Also try spin-off Waxy's Little Sister on Wardour Street, where a little 'drinks lift' will keep you (and your credit card) occupied all night.
Waxy O'Connor’s, 14-16 Rupert Street, W1D 6DD
13. Blythe Hill Tavern, Catford
Proof that you should never judge a book by its cover; the tired cream exterior and translucent windows suggest you'd better keep walking. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Blythe's tie-wearing bar staff are unfailingly lovely (crafting a pint of the Black Stuff like it's an art form), while regulars banter back and forth like the oldest of friends (and they possibly are). Sporting gimcracks and Irish keepsakes (owner Con Riordan is from Limerick) pepper, but don't overwhelm. A cosy front bar holds around five tables, and encourages inter-group conversation. The rear area is larger, and more gregarious, especially when the rugby's on.
Blythe Hill Tavern, 319 Stanstead Road, Catford, SE23 1JB
Other good craic
- Anspach and Hobday's London Black nitro stout has become the city's unofficial Alt Guinness, and can be supped in reputable boozers around town. The superlative Shirker's Rest in New Cross often has it on, as does of course, A&H's Bermondsey taproom, the Arch House.
- Irish coffees, Irish cream sodas, a cocktail called Wogan, and a dedicated boilermaker menu give you an idea of the kitsch stylings of Islington's Homeboy. All leather banquettes and Tayto toasties, it is in some ways the cool ne'er-do-well cousin of every other bar on this list. We visited (and loved) in 2019. Business must've been booming since — Homeboy now has a sister venue in Battersea.
Know an excellent Irish pub that’s not included in this list? Tell us in the comments below.
Updated by Will Noble in February 2023.