Two Stops for Real Cask Ale in London

I had one goal on my extremely short trip to London: drink as much good cask ale as I could find. It turned out to be a bigger challenge than I expected! I had everything from the clearly very old to the straight up vinegar (looking at you The Royal Oak.).

Two pubs were my favorites by a massive order of magnitude: The Princess Louise and The Harp.

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I have to thank Bill Simpson (and also maybe fate??) for recommending The Princess Louise just a week before I left for my 50ish hours in London. Marked only by the standard hanging bar sign the facade doesn’t lead to much expectation.

Inside, there are a bunch of booths separated by ornate wooden and glass walls surrounding a giant oval bar in the center. Most of the structure of the bar is original from 1891 it’s so well preserved that it is protected as a historical site all the way down to the marble urinals in the Men’s room. (I didn’t get to see these but I hear they’re pretty neat!) The booths give you a feeling of a loud and lively bar environment without being crowded. It made us want to sit there for hours in our little private booth and watch all the Londoners trickle in for an after-work beer. But alas, Princess Louise is owned by Sam Smith’s and I needed to get my hands on other varieties of cask ale. 

The other pub that really made an impression in both quality and character was the Harp. Upon walking in it’s hard to miss the walls plastered with labels from Fuller’s beers (and that’s mostly what they are serving on tap) but the real atmosphere is waiting out back and up above the bar.

A crowd of pub-goers gathers in the alley behind and beside the building and even up the street aways. I guess in London they don’t have a problem with glassware growing legs and walking off the premises like we do in the U.S. because no staff was visibly keeping watch. The people outside aren’t too boisterous, they (mostly men) are just getting a pint or two after work peppered with the occasional passionate conversation about sports (yes, of course I mean football).

I want this art from the 2nd level of The Harp in my apartment!

I want this art from the 2nd level of The Harp in my apartment!

The scene in the back alley of the Harp is crowded with drinkers (but doesn’t feel like a frat party!)

The scene in the back alley of the Harp is crowded with drinkers (but doesn’t feel like a frat party!)

A winding staircase behind the bar takes you up to the second floor that is bursting with old world time. Tiny tables fit with even smaller stools (I truly felt like I was crouching) fill every inch of a wooden room that seems unchanged for at least 50 years. The walls are adorned with Victorian era paintings (many of them depicting beer or drinking). It felt like an authentic British experience that was once more prevalent in London. (I get into the craft scene here!).

All this before I even say a word about the beer! My goal was thoroughly accomplished at The Harp with more than half a dozen hand-pulled casks plus a selection of beers on tap that wasn’t exclusively Fullers. It was also one of the few bars serving a mild on cask (a dark British session ale that has waned in popularity in the last couple decades.) Between the fresh air in the back alley, the loud bar area, and the quaint if crowded upper level it would be easy to lose a whole day at The Harp.

The Best Little 15 Minute Walk in London

The best little 15 minute walk for a beer lover in London is the trek from the Princess Louise, through Covenant Garden, with a stop at the National Gallery, and down to the Harp.

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The Princess Louise and The Harp were my *top picks* for traditional bars in London. But, Covenant Garden is packed with quintessential English pubs including some that serve food. I stopped in both the White Lion, a great location for people watching, and The Lamb & Flag, at one time a favorite of Charles Dickens, for its old fashioned construction and real ale.

With so many pints along the way this short journey needs a non-boozy stop that is easily fulfilled by the free to the public National Gallery. The collection is astounding and can be enjoyed by both the art-inclined and tourists. In my opinion, one of the highlights is the only equestrian portrait Rembrandt ever painted located on the second floor. I have heard that the tea room at the National Gallery is an unforgettable experience, but I didn’t make the time on this trip…too many beers!

At the White Lion in Covenant Garden located right across from the Nags Head pub.

At the White Lion in Covenant Garden located right across from the Nags Head pub.

What to do When You Visit Weihenstephan 

An easy train ride out of Munich, Freising (pronounced fry-sign) is a perfect day trip for beer lovers that want to get a little history in during their stay in Germany. Weihenstephan is the oldest continuously producing brewery in the world (a fact not easily forgotten as it is plastered all over the brewery campus) and is best known for its impeccably brewed wheat beers. Here’s what I suggest doing when visiting this picturesque town and historical brewery.

The main street in Freising had a little construction going on

The main street in Freising had a little construction going on

The town square in Freising (Yes it’s on a hill!)

The town square in Freising (Yes it’s on a hill!)

Explore the Town of Freising

Freising is a quaint German town that almost seems torn from a movie set (or maybe Disney World’s Epcot?). If you’re planning to tour the brewery, try to get an early train and give yourself a few hours to explore the old town area. The town square with three (beer serving!) cafes and the old church is a great place to relax, people watch, and take in the unique architecture and statues.  

Go to an Eiscafe 

I was shocked at how important ice cream is to the German diet. At any time of day, early morning, lunch time, very late at night, people are sitting outside eating massive ice cream sundaes. My friend who lives in Berlin laughed when I texted her on our second day in Germany “Ok, everyone is always eating ice cream? Or am I crazy?” She confirmed, yes in Germany, there’s no wrong time to eat an ice cream. Freising’s main road is lined with Eiscafes that are a little less commercial and more charming than the ones you’ll find in Munich, a perfect opportunity to try the mid-day ice cream trend...maybe the Germans are onto something with this?? 

Such a cute spot for some beers and snacks!

Such a cute spot for some beers and snacks!

Pure joy drinking the Weihenstephan Pils!

Pure joy drinking the Weihenstephan Pils!

Go To Das Bräustüberl Weihenstephan (The Brewery’s Restaurant)

It takes about 25 minutes to walk from the center of the town up to the brewery. If you’d rather skip the exercise, it’s easy to find a cab near the train station. It’s a bit of a steep walk, you’re mounting the hill that the brewery sits on, but the elevation also provides a unique view of the city and scenic gardens as you make your way toward Weihenstephan. If you have time before your tour definitely stop in at the restaurant for a few beers. There is counter service through a window out back in the garden or you can opt for a full blown table service lunch of traditional German fare and beer. Beers are affordable at around €4 a liter and the whole line of Weihenstephan beers are available. It was my first time having their pilsner and I gotta say...come for the wheat beer, stay for the pils! 



Just one of three bottles on the tasting! (You can see the empty basket of pretzels too!

Just one of three bottles on the tasting! (You can see the empty basket of pretzels too!

Couldn’t help but pose with the boil kettle…I am a tourist after all!

Couldn’t help but pose with the boil kettle…I am a tourist after all!

Take a Brewery Tour 

The tour may seem like the main event, and it may be that I’m a bit tour-ed out, but I would say the tour is rather generic. It is cool to see the old equipment and the “room where it’s made” but I didn’t learn anything new or specific to Weihenstephan. The tours happen Monday-Wednesday and are available in English so you can ask as many questions as you want...and take photos of course. Be sure to make a reservation, these tours fill up! It was a really hot day so being in the brew room was almost unbearable, on a cooler day I’m sure we would have spent more time there. In my opinion, you should opt for the tour with the tasting. The tasting at the end is where I learned the most about German drinking culture and got to see the “proper” pour of a wheat beer...yeast and all! Plus at just €9 for the tour, three bottles of beer, and a souvenir tasting glass it’s a great deal. 

One of the views from the Weihenstaphan brewery tour

One of the views from the Weihenstaphan brewery tour

Enjoy the Views 

Like I said, Weihenstephan (and the college campus it is a part of) is on top of a hill that overlooks Freising. There is a great little view from behind the restaurant, but don’t forget to take a few moments to walk around to the other outlooks. Behind the beer museum is an outlook that allows you to see for miles with all of the small towns and their cathedrals speckling the landscape. I might over romanticize it because I’m used to looking at NYC every day, but it’s literally less than a minute out of your way to give it a look.  


Hit the Gift Shop 

Speaking of walking around the campus, there is a small gift shop in the main restaurant, but there is a much larger gift shop (packed with beer!!) on the brewery campus. If you’re looking to bring home gifts for anyone or a few memories for yourself, it is definitely worth the stop. Pretty much every piece of merchandise is plastered with the “World’s Oldest Brewery” slogan which is pretty iconic if nothing else. Also a great place to grab a few really well made beers you can’t get in the states. 

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Getting There 

From Munich take the S1 train all the way to the end of the line. It’s about 40 minutes from the Marienplatz stop (in the center of the city’s old town). The trains are comfortable and air conditioned so it’s a relaxing trip.