Who are we kidding? There are too many pubs and locally brewed ales in England to choose a top 10. And who wants to limit themselves? But if you don’t have an entire vacation to devote to the search of the perfect pint, here at 10 English pubs that offer visitors a little bit of everything — a perfect sample of towns, styles, fare and ale.
The Spaniard’s Inn, Hampstead
In 1585 The Spaniard’s Inn was built as the country house of the Spanish ambassador. Or perhaps it was owned by two Spanish brothers who dueled over a woman in a classic love triangle. When a pub is as old as the Spaniard, the line between fact and folklore is delightfully blurred. Perhaps this is why John Keats was inspired to write “Ode to a Nightingale” here. The terraced bar is the perfect spot to come for a pint and stay for a day. Come on the weekends for the family- and pet-friendly barbecues.
George & Dragon, Kent
The interior of the George & Dragon in Kent is the perfect place to escape winter’s cold. The massive flagstones and blazing inglenook fire will have you crooning, “baby it’s cold outside” as you’re ordering another. As if you needed another reason to stay, the seasonal and delicious food is provided by the surrounding community — almost all the restaurant’s goods are sourced within a 30-mile radius.
The Hyde Tavern, Hampshire
Rumored to be one of the most haunted pubs in the city of Winchester, The Hyde Tavern is home to the spirit of a young woman who died from cold and hunger centuries ago. The pub isn’t swanky or refurbished, but it serves real ale with a side of skepticism and intrigue.
The Salisbury opened as the Salisbury Hotel in 1899, built by the Scottish builder J.C. Hill. It was a massively grand building featuring a billiard room, restaurant and concert hall. However, it fell into disrepair before being rescued a few years ago and restored to its former glory. It’s one of the few select North London pubs to be listed as a bus route destination, so step on a double-decker and visit a piece of history.
The Dove, London
The Dove is the little pub that could. A small, but charming and endearing bar, it’s been frequented by Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway — and there’s a rumor that King Charles II and his mistress, the English actress Nell Gwynne, had a secret rendezvous here. The Dove is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest pub in England, but step through the doors leading to the terraced bar and enjoy a beautiful riverside view.
Coburg Bar, Mayfair
Class it up a bit with a cocktail at the Coburg Bar in The Connaught Hotel, one of England’s ritziest hotels. The modern decorative touches from Paris-based designer India Mahdavi are outmatched only by the extensive wine list. Hit this bar when you want to look your best and feel a little pampered.
The Sun Inn, Essex
The Tudor ceilings, wood-paneled walls, planked floors and roaring fire of The Sun Inn will have you feeling like you’ve entered another century. The Sun can be busy during the tourist season, as travelers flock for the fresh taste of owner Piers Baker’s Italian-influenced menu. For those seeking more than a pint or a meal, the inn has luxurious bedrooms without a hint of pretention. Mosey next door to Victoria Plums, a store tended by Piers’ wife, selling locally grown fruit and vegetables.
Harrow Inn, Hampshire
Down a country lane that narrows to a footpath, the Harrow Inn is not easy to find, but it truly is a hidden gem. The inn has been run by the same family since 1929, and the familial care and pride is visible in every brick and tile. The menu mimics the delicious simplicity of the inn, offering fresh sandwiches, split-pea soup and homemade salad. Wander the wild orchard garden, or enjoy a pint at the rustic benches and tables. While other pubs on this list might preserve another time or be reminiscent of one, at The Harrow Inn, time simply stands still.
Old Poets’ Corner, Ashover
Old Poets’ Corner boasts live music, festivals, eight real ales and good, stout food. The Old Poets’ Ale is brewed locally as are certain types of cider (beware the 8.4 percent alcohol by volume) and is sipped by –you guessed it — old poets. There is a regular poets’ night for bards and ballad reading. Go ahead, have some liquid courage and turn a phrase.
The Rising Sun, Southampton
The Rising Sun is a pub for the real ale enthusiasts, serving Green King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Abbott, Ringwood Best, Hardy’s and Hanson Old Trip. The pub’s history dates back to the late 17th century, and much of the bar is covered in D-Day memorabilia. Its down-to-earth vibe and appreciation for real ale is enough to keep the regulars coming back time and again.