21 Must-Try London Drinks to Sip on Your First Trip
When planning a trip to London, there’s a lot to keep in mind. Where to stay, where to go, what to see, and what to eat. But have you stopped to think about what to drink during your London trip? You’ve gotta stay hydrated and celebrate your incredible London adventure, after all! In this post, I’ll cover some of the London drinks I think everyone must try on their first trip.
I’ll admit: I drank a lot while living in London; drinking is an integral part of most social activities – though it’s not always alcoholic drinks. Most of this list does cover alcoholic options since that’s what you’ll find at many of the pubs, restaurants, and bars. But you can certainly find non-alcoholic options too, if that’s your preference.
On this list you’ll find quintessential drinks from London and England, as well as a few creative cocktails that you should definitely try too; they have their origins if not their essence in London. No matter which of these London drinks you choose to try, you’ll discover new flavors and get a different sense for how delightful London can be.
This post was originally published in May 2021, and was expanded and updated in March 2023.
When I say “London drink,” what comes to mind? It has to be tea, right? Specifically afternoon tea, high tea, or fancy tea.
Tea is a ubiquitous British drink and reveals the country’s ties to India where tea was introduced from. Today Brits drink tea in the morning (with or without milk) and in the afternoon for tea gatherings of varying fanciness.
While in London, you have to have at least one tea experience; I love fancy tea at Sketch, but I have a list of all the best afternoon teas in London.
2. Dandelion & Burdock
I was always curious that Hagrid offers dandelion juice to Harry Potter and his friends between their adventures. It turns out that like many other things in the Wizarding World, this was inspired by the muggle world.
This drink was historically made by combining dandelion roots and burdock leaves (burdock is a medicinal herb). It purportedly dates back to pre-World War I. Today it’s artificially manufactured and is a bit sweeter than the original recipe.
I’ll admit: I’ve never seen Dandelion and Burdock on a menu; then again, I wasn’t typically looking for non-alcoholic options when drinking my way across London. It’s slowly coming back onto menus though, so keep your eye out and be sure to give it a try if you see it!
Pimm’s is absolutely my favorite of the London drinks on this list – and one you simply must try in London. It’s typically only available in the summer; the best pubs will have a big pitcher or vat of it mixing rather than making it fresh.
Pimm’s uses the Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, which is gin-based and flavored with herbs, spices, and caramelized orange. You pour that with either carbonated lemon soda (traditionally) or ginger beer (less common) and add freshly chopped fruits to soak; the best Pimm’s I’ve had used strawberries, apples, cucumber, and mint leaves – but never oranges or stone fruits. Ideally, you give the fruit and cucumber at least 30 minutes to soak and begin breaking down in the alcohol before serving.
You might also see Pimm’s called “Pimm’s Cup,” which is an acceptable alternate name – though more likely to give you away as a tourist!
4. (Hard) Cider
While it isn’t as popular in the States, Cider has had a long run of popularity in Britain. You can find at least one cider on draught at every pub, and many Londoners enjoy it on nights out. (That’s “draught,” not “draft,” for my fellow Americans.)
There are loads of cider makers to choose from, but my favorite was Aspall – a bright, crisp cider that drinks so easily you might forget that it’s hard!
If cider is just not your style – but millions of Brittons can’t be wrong! –, let’s move into the beer section of my list!
5. London Pride
Pubs are a big part of British culture, including in London. And at those pubs, beer is the most commonly consumed drink. Therefore no list of London drinks is complete without mentioning the English Ale and its role in British society. There are a bunch of English Ales worth trying, but the one I think is the most must-try (on a London trip) is London Pride.
London Pride is brewed by Fullers, one of the huge breweries/pub conglomerates whose name you’ll notice on pub signs across the country. It’s a classic, unadventurous ale brewed with British hops and a totally smooth flavor. You might not love warmer British beer or London Pride specifically, but you’ve got to try it at least once.
If you do end up liking this style, keep an eye out for cask ale taps and see what other styles they have on draught.
6. India Pale Ale
Despite its name, India Pale Ales are a British invention – and there are some incredible craft breweries in London where you can try them. The IPA was invented by British sailors who added extra hops to their barrels of beer on ships bound for India; upon arrival, the hops added a bitter flavor to the beer that is now distinctive for IPA-style beer.
In London, keep an eye out for Camden Town Brewery or Meantime Brewing bottles in the refrigerator behind the bar at most pubs. They cost a pound or two more than a draught beer, but both make a great IPA that also gives you a chance to support local craft brewers. Meantime specifically makes a London IPA, so that’s even better!
7. Extra Special Bitters (ESB)
It’s no surprise that the British know their beer well. If you want to try something a bit different, you could venture into the world of Extra Special Bitters. ESB is a specific English-style pale ale that for many connoisseurs is the taste of London in a bottle.
They stand out for boasting the perfect balance between hop bitterness and malt sweetness. Beer makers choose hops with medium to a high level of bitterness, which comes through the recognizable flavor and aroma. To offset the intense bitterness, they add authentic British malt, which often is toasty and fruity, and provides a certain level of sweetness.
8. Oyster Stout
Opposite of IPAs, Oyster Stout really is true to its name: it’s a stout beer brewed with real oysters shells. I know, it sounds gross. But if you love dark beer, you might really enjoy Oyster Stout. Because no actual oysters are used in the brewing process, it’s not fishy or shellfishy at all. Instead, the oyster shells add a nice mineral taste to the dark, full-bodied beer style.
9. Black & Tan
Now that we’ve covered light beers and dark beers, let’s mix the two! A Black & Tan is equal parts of ale and stout: ale on the bottom, stout on top. You can use any brand of stout or ale; most bartenders will use their house beers to make this if you order it at the pub.
10. Elderflower Fizz
Another of the gin family, the Elderflower Fizz isn’t English or British for that matter. It’s actually American. Bartender Trudy Thomas created it while at the Camelback Inn Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. The drink brings together elderflower cordial, vodka, agave nectar, and lime, and is topped with sparkling wine.
The bubbly sensation makes it a delicious option to cool off on a hot summer afternoon.
11. Black Velvet
The Black Velvet is a funny cocktail if you think about it. It uses ingredients from Britain’s two closest neighbors (Ireland and France) to honor it’s own 19th century monarch; it’s purported that the Black Velvet was invented in 1861 by a bartender mourning the passing of Prince Albert.
The ingredients are equal parts Guinness (the Irish bit) and sparkling wine – usually champagne (the French bit) with the Guinness on the bottom and champagne on top. It’s certainly a unique option if you enjoy mixed liquor drinks.
12. The Tom Collins
I’m no expert in cocktail history. But the one behind The Tom Collins arguably has to be one of the most fascinating ones. Not because it was born out of a crazy idea, but because it raised a dispute – which hasn’t been settled yet – between Americans and English.
The earliest mention of the cocktail dates back to Harry Johnson’s 1882 New and Improved Bartender’s Manual or How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style. According to Cocktail historian David Wondrich, there are earlier mentions of this drink and its resemblance to the gin punches served at London clubs like the Garrick in the first half of the 19th century was striking.
As time went by, the cocktail’s popularity declined, but during the 1920s Prohibition in the United States, the American journalist and student of American English H. L. Mencken said that the Tom Collins exhibits an essentially American character and argued that the creativity of the name should be enough argument as the English never stood out for giving good names to their drinks.
The Martini might seem so universal that it isn’t specific to London; in fact, it was likely invented in California during the Gold Rush! But there are several types of martini that are unique to London and England, and if you like the sound of any, they’re definitely worth trying.
The Espresso Martini was invented in the 1980s by the father of the London cocktail revival, Dick Bradsell, while he was working at the Soho Brasserie. According to legend, Bradsell created the espresso martini upon request of a famous supermodel who needed a drink that would “fuck me up and then wake me up”.
The Vesper Martini, which you may recognize from the James Bond books and movies. It’s made with three shots of dry gin, one shot of vodka, and half a shot of Lillet Blanc (a dry French vermouth); it was invented by Ian Fleming, who wrote the Bond novels, in the 1950s.
Finally, the Breakfast Martini – which honestly sounds like a rough way to start the day (but that’s just my opinion). Made with gin, marmalade, orange liqueur, and lemon juice, it was invented by bartender Salvatore Calabrese. We don’t know the exact date, but it was roughly 2000 when the drink popped onto the menu at the Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel and has been popular ever since.
14. The Dubonnet
This may be the first time you hear about it, but The Dubonnet was nothing less than the Queen’s favorite cocktail. Originally from France, The Dubonnet was created by a Parisian chemist named Joseph Dubonnet to help French Legion soldiers fight malaria in North Africa. Its popularity peaked during Paris’s belle époque – and there are gorgeous Art-nouveau ads to remind us.
So, how did the Queen like it? First, add 2-parts Dubonnet to 1-part Gin stirred and strained. Then add one lemon wedge and two ice cubes or one large ice cube. That’s it.
15. Gin & Tonic
Moving fully into the gin category of this list (for the remainder of the list!), let’s talk about that most popular of British spirits. In fact, gin likely originated in Holland, but the Brits enjoyed the botanical drink so much that it features in many of the most popular London drinks (including Pimm’s, which uses a gin-based liqueur!).
Today you can find many British-made gins, and should definitely seek one out for a classic Gin & Tonic. This is a no-frills option on a nice sunny London day and helps you go incognito with the locals.
Moving on from the classic G&T, there are a few other gin cocktails I wanted to mention on this list of London drinks. These are British classics, and many were invented right in London. First up, the Gimlet. You’ve probably seen it before, but do you know its history?
The cocktail was supposedly invented at the end of the 19th century by Sir Thomas Gimlette – and who the cocktail is named after. It’s delightfully simple: the historic recipe was equal parts of gin and lime cordial but more modern recipes call for 2-3 parts gin for 1 part lime cordial to make the drink less sweet.
17. The Bramble
Another gin cocktail worth ordering in that London pub is The Bramble.
The Bramble, considered one of the “modern classics,” is the masterpiece of Dick Bradsell, no other than The Cocktail King. London owes a lot of its reputation as a cocktail city to this magnificent bartender. The cocktail is simplicity done right. Basically, it’s gin sour, syrup, crème de mûre, and blackberries here and there.
So how did Bradsell come up with The Bramble? Back in the 80s, the bartender was working as the manager of Fred’s Club, a bar in Soho. His desire was to concoct a truly British drink and to do that, he drew inspiration from his childhood memories. Little Bradsell used to spend long summer afternoons picking blackberries in his home, the Isle of Wight. A bramble, for the less interiorized in the realm of botany, is the bush where blackberries grow in.
18. Chelsea Sidecar
While there’s some dispute about the origins of the Sidecar (Paris, London, and New Orleans all lay some claim), I think we can all agree that the gin-based version, the Chelsea Sidecar, is definitely a must-try London drink.
It’s a sweet and strong drink made with gin, triple sec, lemon juice, and simple syrup that will wake up your taste buds after a day of exploring London.
Bonus points if you drink a Chelsea Sidecar in Chelsea during a London trip! (Seriously though, send me a pic if you do this!)
19. London Fog
If you have romantic notions of grey London on an overcast day but the weather is too nice, try to find a London Fog on the menu at one of the city’s great cocktail bars.
London Fog is a simple cocktail: it’s made with gin and pastis. (Pastis is an anise/licorice-flavored lower-proof cousin of absinthe.) It’s stirred with ice and poured over crushed ice and the pastis gives it a distinctively foggy appearance (like absinthe when you add water).
This is a boozy option but is also purported to help clear the mind and aid digestion. (It’s all those botanicals!)
20. English Garden
Whether or not your London itinerary includes a trip out to explore other parts of England, the English Garden cocktail will give you a taste – literally – of those beautiful English Gardens near large manors across the country.
The recipe calls for gin, St Germain (elderflower liqueur), apple juice, and lime juice with a cucumber ribbon garnish. As you can tell from those ingredients, it’s earthy, green, flowery, and fruity – perfect for a spring day in the British capitol when you’re dreaming of living out your own Downton Abbey.
21. Scotch Whisky
Scotch whisky is revered worldwide and hundreds of travelers make their way every year to the Scottish Highlands to enjoy the real Scotch experience. For a little context, Scotland is a very small country and yet the diversity in her whiskies is astonishing – there is a Scotch Whisky for every possible occasion and palate, with or without food.
If you don’t have Scotland as a stop in your itinerary, don’t worry, you can still enjoy a fine glass (or several) of Scotch in London. The city has many bars that bring the flavored spirit from the hundred or so working distilleries in Scotland.
Bonus: Mulled Wine
Did you know England has its own interpretation of European mulled wine? It’s not glühwein and it not vin chaud – it’s decidedly English, flavored with spices that harken back to the Medieval times and eventual empire.
While you can typically only find English mulled wine during the winter months – especially at holiday and Christmas markets across the city – I’ve put together my own recipe for English mulled wine that you can make at home even if you’re not visiting London this holiday season.
I know, I know – there’s a lot of booze on this list! But to be fair, winters are long and grey in London, and when the sun shines, you just gotta toast that! Which of these must-try London drinks is on your list now? Let me know any questions or feedback in the comments!