As the weather warms up, there is only one place we want to be of a weekend. These are the best London beer gardens for happily squandering sunny afternoons.
The Prince Albert, Battersea
When the warehouse that housed the excellent The Doodle Bar was demolished, this stretch of the river, a skip away from Battersea Park, suffered a blow in both the nightlife and the cool stakes. Thank goodness, however, for the stalwart that is The Prince Albert, which still beckons us to this pocket of town with its seasonal food, hospitable atmosphere and its beer garden. Settle in with a pint and then have a wander by the river. What could be nicer in the sun? Visit the website here.
Mercato Metropolitano, Elephant & Castle
We’ve all talked ourselves out of venturing to the best pub gardens on sunny days before now, rationalising that everyone else will have had the same idea and therefore there will be no chance of getting a seat. Not a concern at Mercato Metropolitano. Newington Causeway’s best-kept secret, it seats 500 covers, all scattered across some 15,000sqft. It has a definite feel of a German beer hall; fittingly then, it houses German Kraft, which specialises in the country’s excellent craft beers. We’re not saying you should, but you could lose days here. Visit the website here.
The Windsor Castle, Notting Hill
Across town in Notting Hill stands the Windsor Castle, which is as bijoux as Mercato Metropolitano is vast. A hidey hole frequented mostly by locals, it’s just off the main thoroughfare, and all the better for it. However, it’s hardly a well-kept secret; to nab a table here on a warm evening is no easy feat. But bide your time inside (cosy, dark, panelled, lovely), and you’ll get lucky in the end. Visit the website here.
The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping
The oldest riverside pub in London, the brilliantly named The Prospect of Whitby, was founded in 1520. Dickens and Pepys are said to have drunk here (not at the same time, naturally); as well as JMW Turner, for whom the beer garden, with its views over the Thames, would doubtless have proved justification enough to linger awhile and be inspired by his long-time muse. It was also a hang-out for less celebrated – and much less salubrious – drinkers, too; the Thames-side location made it a draw for smugglers and criminals, a fact that we’re reminded of today in a macabre piece of memorabilia: the noose that hangs outside the door, which is said to mark Execution Dock, where many pirates and ne’er-do-wells met their grizzly ends. Visit the website here.
The Scarsdale Tavern, Kensington
It might be a stretch to call it a beer garden, but The Scarsdale Tavern’s is one of the loveliest places in London to spend a summer’s evening – whether you’re spilling out onto Edwardes Square, or you actually manage to bag a table outside. Framed by hanging baskets, and standing opposite Edwardes Square gardens, it is verdant, it is inviting and it is buzzy (on weeknights especially, expect it to be packed out with London Evening Standard and Daily Mail journalists; a fact that may either put you off completely, or spur you on to grill them for gossip). Visit the website here.
The Dove, Hammersmith
The 17th-century The Dove may be small, but it is perfectly formed. And so too is it steeped in history. As they say, ‘Throughout these years our sturdy bar has propped up some of the finest figures of English history. The poet James Thomson composed the familiar strains of ‘Rule Britannia’ here. Charles II romanced and dined his mistress Nell Gwynne here. And in the famous novel ‘The Water Gypsies’, author A P Herbert features it under a cheeky pseudonym; ‘The Pigeons’.’ Inside, it contains officially the smallest bar room in the world (a claim held up in the Guinness Book of Records), but we especially love its terrace, from which you can watch boats bob along the river. If you get a prime spot here on Boat Race day, you’re doing better than we ever have. Visit the website here.
The Herne Tavern, Honour Oak
This Peckham Rye pub garden is so pretty, we counted it amongst our top al fresco summer idylls from visit one. Jugs of Pimm’s are pretty much de rigueur, and the food is really excellent too. A place to while away happy sunny days. Visit the website here.
Frank’s Café, Peckham
It may not be a pub, but there are few places in the city more seductive to spend a summer night than Frank’s Café, which is run in conjunction with arts organisation, Bold Tendencies. Opened in 2009, the uninitiated should not be put off by the multi-storey car park entrance; once you’re installed on its rooftop, the views and ambiance are unparalleled. Visit the website here.
The Brown Dog, Barnes
The Brown Dog in Barnes is one of those pubs you’re unlikely to stumble across; you have to know about it. But when you know, you know. A cosy haven in winter – and one that, as its name suggests, actively encouraging canine visitors – it is also lovely out in its beer garden come the summer. The seasonal food, too, is exceptional, as is the more casual pizza shack. Come for lunch; stay all day. And do walk to it via Railwayside, with its lovely cottages than face onto allotments. An idyll. Visit the website here.
The Ship, Wandsworth
What’s not to adore about this lovely riverside pub? Since it opened in 1786, it has been delighting punters with its excellent ales and perfect views. Fancy a bite? It’s got an outdoor burger shack, with carnivorous and vegan options alike covered. Visit the website here.
The Gun, Docklands
How do you fancy an eyeful of the Millennium Dome with your pint? We heartily advise a trip to the grade II-listed The Gun all year round. But, when the sun appears, it really hits its stride, thanks to the ship-like ambience on its terrace (otherwise known enticingly as its ‘gin garden’), its riverside setting and its view straight across to the late Richard Rogers’ Millennium Dome. What could possibly be nicer? Visit the website here.
The People’s Park Tavern, Hackney
There are pub gardens that rely simply on the fact that they have is any outdoor space at all to draw in the punters, even if that outside is litte more than a concrete slab. And then there are pubs like The People’s Park Tavern. Right in the heart of Victoria Park, it’s one of the most verdant we can think of. The perfect place to come and cool down on a hot day amid the greenery with an ice-cold glass of beer. Visit the website here.
The Hope and Anchor, Brixton
Brixton’s Hope & Anchor is just the spot if you’re looking for somewhere truly magical. Its outdoor area is dressed with fairy lights and hanging flowers; the ideal spot for a glass of something cold, bubbly and refreshing. Visit the website here.
Vauxhall Food & Beer Garden, Vauxhall
Venture below the train arches of Vauxhall, and seekers of beer, street food and conviviality will be richly rewarded. There is an eclectic roster of events – think everything from bottomless brunches accompanied by Funky House sets to drag bingo – so punters can be richly entertained while they eat, drink and make merry under the sun. Visit the website here.
The White Swan, Twickenham
Amongst the very prettiest pubs in London, The White Swan is a beautiful spot all year round, its cosy interior inviting in the winter, and its sublime riverside location idyllic in the summer. In fact, so close to the river’s edge is it that when the tide is particularly high, it is frequently submerged – though never, its proprietors promise, for long. Visit the website here.
By Nancy Alsop
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