I was very much in two minds as to whether to include this as a general tip or a tourist trap - it's the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping.
Certainly, it has a very long a interesting history, the interior is very "Olde Worlde" including a pewter bar top. It is said that Judge Jeffreys, the Hanging Judge much despised by the populace in the 17th century, was a regular in the pub and was captured prior to being taken to the nearby Tower of London and executed.
The bar has great views over the river and a small balcony to stand on (it has been known to collapse in the past!). Sounds great.
The reason I have included it as a tourist trap is that is, by definition, what it is. In the evenings, especially in the summer, you can't get near the bar for the busloads of tourists that have been deposited there for an hour or so. If you are happy trying to have a quiet drink with camera flashes going off everywhere then this may be the place for you, but it's not my thing. I used to live within ten minutes walk of the place and very rarely used it.
The food, expecially in the upstairs restaurant, is expensive.
Unique Suggestions: Go early in the day, early afternoon isn't too crowded. Summer is obviously busier than the rest of the year.
Fun Alternatives: Either the excellent Town of Ramsgate pub about 15 minutes walk away in Wapping High Street or for a real East End local try Turners Old Star at 14 Watts Street, London, E1W 2QG. I can personally recommend both.
There are several chains of supposed Irish pubs in London (and indeed all over the UK) which really irritate me. They all have names like Molly Malone's or Finnegan's Wake, or the ubiqitous O'Neill's chain.
As pubs, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them, but the fake "Irishness" really annoys me. I lived in Northern Ireland for 28 years, and they are nothing like any pubs I knew. I certainly never saw a pub with a bicycle nailed to the roof!
Unique Suggestions: You don't have to drink in them. If you want to drink in an Irish bar, either go to Ireland or find out where the Irish people drink wherever you are. I guarantee you it won't be an O'Neills.
The term tourist trap could have been coined for this place, because that is all you ever seem to see in it. The Dickens Inn in St. Katherine's Dock is the most overpriced pub in a city that's fairly full of overpriced pubs. It tries to exude an atmosphere of being "Olde Worlde" when in fact it is only about 30 years old. Admittedly, the setting is nice, but I really don't like this place at all.
Should you decide to eat there, that will cost you a small fortune as well.
Unique Suggestions: If you have to go (and you really don't) take lots of money!
Fun Alternatives: There are a few good pubs nearby, including some that have genuine history behind them. About ten minutes walk away is the Town of Ramsgate pub which is hundreds of years old and absolutely reeking with riverside history.
Readers of my VT pages will know that I am fond or a drink now and again, and London certainly has ample opportunity to indulge that particular pastime. There are truly some wonderful pubs and bars in the City. Unfortunately, there are also some appalling places, and unfortunately, many of them sem to be in places frequensted by tourists. I suppose they work on the principle that they are relying solely on passing trade so feel they don't have to try too hard.
The Punch and Judy pub, situated right in the old Market in Covent Garden is one such. I really would not touch it with a long pole. Apart from the fact that it gets unbearably crowded most nights, I have always found the service poor and the atmosphere unpleasant. Being full of tourists, it is also well-known amongst locals as being a pickpocket / bag thieves paradise. you have been warned.
Unique Suggestions: You do not have to go here, believe me.
Fun Alternatives: There are plenty of very good pubs within a few minutes walk of here. Just off the top of my head, I would suggest the Freemasons, the Lemon Tree, the Porterhouse, Nell Gwynne's and the Lamb and Flag. Google them for full details, just type the pub name and add the search term "Covent Garden" and you will find them. There are plenty more.
Anything that says TRADITIONAL PUB on the outside is anything but traditional...
if you walk into a pub with low ceilings smokey atmosphere and an old man with a dog in the corner drink a pint of brown, then you know you're in the right place... in fact if you walk in and the music and all the punters stop... then you know you've hit the jackpot.
Unique Suggestions: order a pint of bitter (IPA, spitfire, anyting with a pull tap at the bar)... especially if you're american... you will have new found respect
Fun Alternatives: there's always walkabout or a whetherspoons pub
London has a great many interesting and historical pubs. Unfortunately the vast majority of these are a severe health hazard, especially at lunch time or in the evenings. They suffer from poor, or more usually complete lack, of ventillation or air-conditioning. The atmosphere within is carcinogenic and barely breathable due to the thick haze of tobacco smoke. This atmospheric fascism prevents fifty percent of the population from ever visiting these establishments. The brewery companies who control most of the pubs seem impervious to this fact and are forever, fruitlessly, trying to increase customer numbers by all mannner of gimmicks. Perhaps one of these companies will wake up to the fact that the smokers within are the cause of avoidance for half the population. Fortunately however from 2007 it will be forbidden to smoke in these places and we can reclam them for the majority of the oxygen breathing population!
One thing that those brave enough to venture into the nicotine infested phug should be aware of is the old English custom of going to the bar, buying a drink and then standing or sitting at the bar thus ensuring that no one else can get to the bar.
Roll on 2007!
Unique Suggestions: Wear a gas mask
Don a disposable chemical warfare suit
Visit outside maximum pollution hours i.e after 6.30pm and avoid friday and saturday evenings completely if you value your lungs!
Fun Alternatives: Buy a few bottles and take them with you and drink (discreetly!) in a London park such as Hyde Park.. Breathe freely and think of the seething masses of office workers screaming Me!, Me! Me! and polluting their lungs in the Dog and Duck (or The Tumour and Scalpel!)
It is a popular misconception that Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus is the place to be for nightlife in London. This really is no longer the case. All the bars around here are overpriced (expect to pay up to £10 for a pint of beer!) and full of tourists, or under-age clubbers who know no better, listening to mainstream music.
Considering the fact that London is one of the centres for music and clubbing worldwide, a night out in the West End will only give you a tiny, sanitised version of the real London clubbing experience and you're unlikely to meet anyone actually from London!
England invented Dubstep, Drum and Bass, Acid House, Punk, Grime and Rave, so why settle for Britney and Lady Gaga?
As a rule of thumb, if a venue requires you to dress smartly, it's not worth going to!
Unique Suggestions: If you find yourself out in the West End, your best bet is to head to Old Compton Street (the end near to Cambridge Circus), where the vibrant mixture of Gays, Tourists and Bohemians allows for a pleasant night's drinking and you won't have to pay more than £4 for a pint.
The little cluster of Italian Restaurants around here are excellent and can be very cheap, too.
Fun Alternatives: My advice would be to head to:
East End (Shoreditch, Hoxton) for the most cutting edge music and out-there fashions. Some find this area almost 'too cool' with its mixture of art-school types and trendies, but it really is where the fashions of tomorrow are invented.
South (to London Bridge or Brixton) for true all-night debauchery with killer underground music. Nights like Bangface and Raindance play Old School, Jungle and Techno music to loved-up ravers. Corsica Studios is the best place for proper Detroit techno.
North to Camden and Islington where you'll find some great lesser-known indie bands. Every band in Britain trying to make it big will have to play a gig in North London, to a selection of music industry bigwigs and drunken youths here at some point. It's the place to hear the Bloc Parties and Radioheads of tomorrow.