This is our guide to the best historic pubs to enjoy a drink. More than one of these pubs lay claim to being the oldest pub in London, and all of them have a bit of local legend thrown in for good measure. Cheers!
The Spaniards Inn
A countryside pub in the city, The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead boasts an impressive literary heritage, featuring in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and in Dracula by Bram Stoker. Whilst not the oldest pub in London, the building has been around since 1585, so there is certainly plenty of history. This romantic pub also inspired Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, which was written in its beautiful garden. Relax on the big beer terrace on a summer’s day, or get cosy by the roaring fire on cold winter evenings.
Lamb & Flag
Charles Dickens’ old favourite the Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden dates back to 1772, although the building goes back to Tudor times, giving it some claim as the oldest pub, or at least pub building, in London. It has seen all kinds of people passing through its doors. In the early 19th century, the pub was popular for brutal bare-knuckle fighting, which earnt it the name of “The Bucket of Blood”. Today, the old charm survives in friendlier settings, together with excellent real ale, and jazz nights on the first Sunday of the month.
Prospect of Whitby
Head to Wapping, on the north bank of the Thames, to find what is thought to be London’s oldest riverside pub, the Prospect of Whitby. Dating back to 1520, the pub was a meeting place for sailors, thieves, smugglers and pirates, as well as being Samuel Pepys’ favourite watering hole. Try some great cask ales at the old pewter-top bar and enjoy spectacular views of the river from the terrace.
Sometime in the late 19th century, legend has it, a young grenadier named Cedric was killed in a public house in Belgravia after having been caught cheating at a game of cards. Head to The Grenadier for a chance to spot his ghost wandering the pub’s mysterious nooks, and take part in the tradition of attaching banknotes to the ceiling – that’s the only way to redeem Cedric’s soul, apparently. This wonderful hidden gem of a pub offers heartwarming meals and a unique atmosphere.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
You’ll have to venture off Fleet Street, down a very narrow alley, to find the legendary Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Perhaps the most recognisable name as the oldest pub in London, it was rebuilt in 1667, a year after the Great Fire, although a pub has been here since 1538, and the cellars date back to a thirteenth-century monastery. This London institution features many fascinating rooms connected by tight passageways and cosy fireplaces. Its unique, gloomy charm made Charles Dickens a regular here; while Dr. Samuel Johnson, whose London home was just around the corner, is also said to have been a visitor.
The George Inn
Discover the only surviving galleried inn in London, which is also among the oldest pubs in the capital. Now belonging to the National Trust, The George Inn boasts several beautiful rooms and a traditional restaurant upstairs, where the inn’s bedrooms for weary travellers used to be. Dickens visited the site when it was a coffee house and mentioned it in his novel Little Dorrit.
Ye Olde Mitre
Visit historic Ye Olde Mitre in Holborn for top-notch real ales, delicious homemade bar snacks and its celebrated sandwiches. Constructed in 1546, the pub is famous for hosting a cherry tree that Elizabeth I once danced around with Sir Christopher Hatton. Ye Olde Mitre also featured in cult movie Snatch, and hosts brilliant beer festivals three times a year with samples from all over the world.
It’s from the Anchor Bankside that Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London rage in 1666. Discover this wonderful riverside pub and imagine stepping back in time to when the area was at the centre of Shakespeare’s “theatreland”; with the Globe Theatre being a few steps away. Come in the summer to make the most of the impressive outdoor space on the Thames.
The Cutty Sark
Enjoy breathtaking views of the Thames from The Cutty Sark’s wide Georgian windows, and feast on a traditional Sunday roast as you watch the world go by. This Greenwich institution is more than 200 years old and offers an impressive list of draught beers, lovely decor and a fantastic riverside terrace.
Once popular with Regency writers and the Pre-Raphaelites, The Dove is now a top destination for ale lovers. A Fuller’s pub since the late-19th century, this Hammersmith favourite offers excellent bottled beers and a great selection on tap. Tucked away down a narrow road, The Dove conceals a marvellous terrace that makes it the ideal destination for a pint or two in the summer.
The Viaduct Tavern
Take a break from exploring one of most historic parts of London at The Viaduct Tavern near St Paul’s Cathedral. Built on the site of a former prison, this wonderful public house and gin palace still has five cells visible in the basement. Try the flawless gin and tonics, served with block ice and cool garnishes, and look out for the old booth where the Victorian landlady used to sell gin tokens to customers.
The Ten Bells
Head to Shoreditch favourite The Ten Bells for a traditional pub atmosphere and an old London feel. Try a glass of red at the weekly wine club, or visit on a Tuesday for a fun quiz night. The Ten Bells dates back to the 17th century and two of Jack The Ripper’s victims, Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly, were known visitors. Plus, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s great-great-grandfather was a landlord at the pub during the 1880s.
A true hidden gem, tucked away in Rotherhithe, The Mayflower stands close to where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail in 1620 for what is now the United States. Expect stunning views of the river, an open fireplace and delicious British dishes, plus lots of charm. The Mayflower is also the only pub in London with a license to sell stamps, in memory of the seafarers who once stopped here for a pint and a postage stamp.
The French House
Rub shoulders with writers, artists and celebrities at The French House, Soho’s legendary drinking venue. A placed filled with history and memories, this boozer was used as a workplace by Charles de Gaulle after the fall of France in the Second World War. Beer is only served in half pints, and the champagne and wine menu is one of the longest in the capital.
Unwind in the Windsor Castle’s idyllic beer garden and sample the Kensington gastropub’s refined take on the Sunday roast. Inside, look out for the decorated wooden screens that were used to separate men from women in Victorian times as you toast to today’s more relaxed atmosphere.