If you’re visiting the UK from overseas, you’ll be forgiven for assuming that a pub and a bar are much the same sort of establishment, since both are social places that serve alcohol. However, there are a few fundamental differences to bear in mind, especially if you’re looking for the perfect place for a spot of refreshment British style. With over 4,500 in the UK capital alone, why not try one out for yourself on your next London hotel break?

Short for ‘public house’, your more traditional pub tends to be a focal point for the community, and if you’re looking for a typical British drinking hole, the best place to find one is in a small town or village where the pub is less likely to be owned by a chain. A bar, on the other hand, tends to be in a built-up area in order to catch the after-work crowd or the Saturday night drinkers.

With a casual atmosphere and comfortable seating, pubs are designed for people who aim to spend long periods of time in one place. You’ll more than likely find a dartboard or pool table for entertainment purposes, and often they will have a beer garden, perfect for lazy afternoon drinking. Since many pubs are a focus point for their community, you’ll tend to find ‘locals’ who drink there every day, and families with children are more likely to be welcome. Pubs abroad while often in big cities, still try to offer this more homely feel for expats longing for a lazy pint or fresh fish & chips like is common in places like Bangkok, southern Portugal or even at a place like The Dog House Pub in Mexico City!

Design and lighting in bars can vary, but more often than not they will be sleeker and more chic than your average local pub. Designed to attract a younger crowd, they may have a dance floor and loud music, and will get quite busy at weekends. Bar drinkers have a tendency to move from one bar to another, especially on a night out, so there’s likely to be a steady flow of clientele. On busy nights and weekends, bars may have bouncers on the door to make sure everyone behaves appropriately. Additionally, opening hours tend to differ between pubs and bars, with many pubs closing at around midnight, whereas bars are likely to be open much later.

Dining options will differ, but generally pubs offer a heartier fare based on typical British favorites like fish and chips or bangers and mash, whereas bars will tend to have a selection of light appetizers to accompany their drinks menu. Generally speaking, a bar is more likely to have a list of cocktails to choose from, or a wide variety of spirits and bottled beers, whereas a pub is the place to find local ales and a selection of draught beer and cider. If you’re looking for the cheapest deal, opt for a keg beer — pubs are often run by breweries, so these tend to be less expensive than wines or spirits. In a bar, look out for happy hour, often in the early evening, when beers are cheaper to encourage off-peak drinking.

Pubs can often be identified by their iconic names, with many taverns and inns having traditional monikers like the Red Lion, Black Horse, White Hart, Barley Mow or Mash Tun. However, many pubs are now part of a chain such as Wetherspoons, O’Neills or Slug and Lettuce, and despite being decked out like a classic pub, these tend to be a hybrid between pub and bar.

These are, of course, general guidelines, and by no means apply in all cases. Every bar and pub is somewhat different, so your best bet is to use these handy hints and tips as a loose rule of thumb when trying out British drinking establishments for yourself.

This post was written by Show and Stay, the providers of London theatre deals.
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