Summer in London is all about making the most of those brief spurts of good weather and settling yourself down in the sun with some excellent drinks. The best places to do that usually involve some sort of body of water—somewhere the light can refract all lovely onto your face. You know that, we know that, and anyone who's ever watched Eastenders (or, y'know, looked at a map) should also be able to tell you that London's got a fat river running right through its heart.
A side-effect of always being in such close proximity to the River Thames is that a plethora of pubs in the capital all claim to having the best views of the river and the most scenic spots to soak up some sun with a cold pint. A lot of those pubs, however, are lying.
We've lost count of the times we've rocked up to a pub with a "lovely riverside garden terrace" to find a few B&Q deck chairs positioned 100m from a dilapidated bit of the Thames river bank. Others are nice but simply too crowded with tourists to be properly enjoyable. Real estate in London is a game of inches and somewhere that offers a decent bit of breeze, leg room and a tasty bite to eat is what can separate the must-visit pubs from those that aren't worth a punt at all.
Here are the river and canal-side spots where you can get some picturesque views, great food, and enjoy a pint that—like a glass of Foster's—is awfully close to water.
London's best waterside pubs
19 Upper Mall, W6 9TA
Set against the River Thames in Hammersmith, The Dove (and its Grade-II listed building) has been around since the 18th Century. Which means you won't be the first person to find themselves enticed by the public house's weathered charm and old-school real ales—Charles II was known to take his mistress Nell Gwynn here for the occasional romp—and you certainly won't be the last. The tide is high but we're holding on that The Dove is gonna be your number one spot to visit this summer.
Unit 7 Queen's Yard, E9 5EN
Yes, technically, this is a brewery, not a pub. But you'll forget all about those technicalities once you've got a cold pint in one hand and a lovely warm slice of pizza in the other. Pizza and beer go together like peas and carrots, so anywhere that serves great examples of both is just dandy in our eyes. Especially when it's situated so close to the scenic River Lee. Crate's limited edition beers are poured straight into the bar from the experimental brewhouse nearby and, alongside the full Crate range, there's plenty rotating taps on-hand to showcase the rest (and best) of what craft beer has to offer. The pizza is pretty out of this world, too; stonebaked flat boys that span from regular margherita to some pretty out there Kashmiri dahl-topped creations.
3 Granary Square, N1C 4BH
Inspired by the industrial past of King's Cross, The Lighterman is a great spot to sit back, relax and watch Regent's Canal bubble along. It's a versatile location where the food and drink are pretty much neck and neck. You could sample The Lighterman's tasty modern British fare and tidy cocktail list for a sophisticated evening out with a lover or simply work your way through a pint of cask ale by the bar for a post-work pick-me-up. Both are heartily encouraged. Expect the terrace to be absolutely heaving come summer, so book ahead if you plan on bringing a brigade along with you.
The Gun, Docklands
27 Coldharbour, E14 9NS
The Gun is one of those old British haunts that has never lost its youthful charm. Dating back to the early 18th century, The Gun has historical associations with smuggling thanks to its convenient position overlooking the River Thames. Nowadays, you're less likely to find smugglers at The Gun and far more likely to find just about half of London there trying to nab their share of the sunshine. A wide range of Fuller's beers and ales are available at this Docklands staple and the gin garden is a kitsch addition on top of it all. The Gun is worth a shot.
41 Jews Row, SW18 1TB
Disclaimer: The Ship is not actually a ship. It's a pub. But a bloody gone one, at that. Nestled on the banks of the River Thames, The Ship is an indisputable London landmark and has been a must-visit locale for the likes of scurvy-ridden shipmates and Wandsworth residents for an astonishing number of years. You'll come for the promise of alcohol (craft beers and smashing cocktails included) but what'll keep you stay till closing is the buzzing atmosphere. We can't think of many other places in London where we'd rather watch the sunset and sip on an aperoli spritzioli than The Ship. All aboard.
The Cutty Sark
4-6 Ballast Quay, SE10 9PD
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The banks of the River Thames are certainly richer than our own. Both metaphorically in terms of the excellent sight they provide, and quite literally, too, thanks to the litany of lost change you'll find scattered on the river bed. The Cutty Sark is perhaps the perfect place to enjoy a quayside summer cocktail with a view of that wealthy river. Even if you reside over an hour's tube from Greenwich, we'd recommend stowing yourself aboard this excellent pub at least once in your London lifespan. Order a plate of the skipper's catch and one of The Cutty Sark's many spritzes to be reminded of just how lovely London can be when the sun is shining.
The White Swan
Riverside, Twickenham TW1 3DN
The food is seasonal, the pints are frosty, and the White Swan's far out enough from the centre of London that you won't have to worry about running into any pesky tourists. Housing both a terrace-balcony and a garden right on the riverbank, The White Swan is a picturesque free house that you'll never really want to leave. Go for a swift one when the sun has got his hat on and you'll quickly find yourself sinking an entire afternoon there with a drink in hand, musing about how grand life is. It also doesn't exactly hurt the whole "awfully serene" vibe it's got going on that the White Swan isn't just close to the river, but actually in it. When the tide gets high, part of the garden gets enveloped by the river. Want to watch waiting staff potentially have to wade through water to get you a drink? You've come to the right place.
Number 90 Bar & Kitchen
90 Main Yard, Wallis Road, E9 5LN
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This spacious canal-side bar and restaurant is a thrumming part of the East End's artistic hub of haves and have-nots. Locally sourced produce and an expansive drinks menu ensure that everyone's needs are catered to at this pintery. Hackney wouldn't quite be the same without Number 90's cracking events programme and it's not hard to see why so many have found themselves endeared by the premises. There's a garden terrace outside for when the weather's pleasant and a fat-off disco ball inside for when it inevitably pisses it down only five minutes after you've been sunburnt.
The Bell & Crown
11-13 Thames Road, W4 3PL
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The Bell & Crown is where you should go for a royally good time. The Chiswick pub is as old, charming (and supposedly haunted) as they come. Bought by Fuller, Smith & Turner in 1814, The Bell & Crown has been the answer to "pint?" for over a hundred years now, and its history speaks for itself. Tales of a ghost that turns the taps on after dark and great waterfront views on both the inside and outside are just a few of the reasons it's become such an iconic institution. One of the others is, of course, The Bell & Crown renowned smoked fish board and excellent plates of locally sourced lambs. With its low ceiling and cushty interior, The Bell & Crown feels a lot like home.
119 St Peter's Street, N1 8PZ
As the only pub on the Regent's Canal, The Narrowboat doesn't exactly have stiff competition in the best Islington waterside pub egg-and-spoon race. That being said, even if The Narrowboat were surrounded by a plethora of comparable options, we're pretty sure it'd still come out on top of the heap. Cask, keg and craft beer along with a stonking spate of wines to choose from mean a trip to The Narrowboat will rarely happen without immediately planning a repeat visit. Its cool and comforting interior has the kind of seats you'll never want to peel yourself off after a hard day's work. Your post-work pint has never tasted so sweet. In summer, the floor-to-ceiling windows are pulled back so you can soak up the balmy air—perfect for lazy brunches or an evening drink. Or five.
117 Rotherhithe Street, SE16 4NF
Americans love yammering on about The Mayflower, don't they? Proper Crucible bunch of nerds who always feel the need to tie themselves in some abstract way to this muddy isle we live on. While we'll happily let them have The Mayflower ship and all the frankly bizarre satisfaction they get about being too conservative for 1600s England, we'll be damned if we let them take over The Mayflower pub. Yes, it claims to be the only pub licensed to sell both US and UK postage stamps in London, but The Mayflower's actually a lot cooler than it sounds. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and immediately make you feel at ease despite what the political climate might be. When the actual climate is playing along it's also an utterly pleasant place to watch poohsticks go by.
The Blue Anchor
13 Lower Mall, W6 9DJ
The Blue Anchor was first licensed in 1722. Which means it's all very wood panelled and old school. But you know what? We wouldn't have it any other way. This Hammersmith boozer is an essential visit for locals and Away Day East Londoners looking for a break from cropped jeans and Napapijri. Settle down to a glass of something divine in front of the open fire, listen to the sound of the Thames lapping outside the window, and you won't even miss your Hackney lifestyle. The Blue Anchor also featured in the 1998 film Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. But we won't hold that against them.
Prospect of Whitby
57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SH
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This historical, vaguely nautical-themed pub is just the sort of place you think of whenever someone mentions a drinking hole with "character". We're not sure exactly what "character" is, but we are certain that the Prospect of Whitby has got it in absolute spades. You're unlikely to find a time where it isn't packed to the brim, but don't let that put you off coming to pay homage to a pub that geezers like Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys were said to have frequented back in the day. Is it worth trekking to Wapping purely to associate yourself with those relative giants of writing? Yes. Yes, it is. And the juicy pints don't exactly hurt the Prospect's prospects, either.