Abstract The physical understanding of two-phase flow characteristics in horizontal pipes is of importance in the petroleum industry since significant savings in pumping power can be derived from the water-lubricated transportation of crude oil. An experimental study of water continuous oil–water flow in horizontal pipes is performed using mineral oil and tap water of viscosity ratio about 900 and density ratio 0.9. A set of seven different pipes of Pyrex and Plexiglas where used, with diameters ranging between 21 and 40 mm. Pressure drop measurements, flow pattern maps and clear pictures of the oil–water flow are reported in this article together with comprehensive comments. The results obtained are compared to empirical laws, theoretical findings and experimental results by different authors in the literature. In order to identify the regions with operational conditions that are suitable for applications, a novel criterion for the location of the annular/stratified transition is proposed which is based only on experimental observations.