The London pub is a great tradition and one that has been established for many centuries. From old ale houses through to the modern day bar-pub hybrids with wasabi nuts on tap and a range of boutique beers, drinking holes in the Capital have seen the city through some of the best of times and also some of the worst. That makes them an enjoyable way to immerse yourself in some of the city’s history, as well as the chance to try some of its greatest drinks.
There is some considerable debate over which is the oldest pub in London but the Cittie Of York is definitely a contender. The pub is in a Grade II listed building located on High Holborn and sits where there has been a public house since the 1400s. Look out for the Victorian era cubicles that were once used for consultations between lawyers and clients.
The original version of the Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street was destroyed in the fire of London but there has been a pub on this site since 1538. It has unique natural lighting and has been associated with some of London’s most famous resident brains, including Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The George Inn is located on Borough High Street and is widely acknowledged as London’s last galleried coaching inn. This kind of tavern represents what used to be the heart of London life, acting as everything from a job centre, to a gambling den.
The Jamaica Wine House on Cornhill in the City has an atmospheric exterior if ever there was one, located down a narrow alleyway with a traditional protruding sign. This was London’s first coffee house – there’s even a plaque outside that reads ‘Here stood the first London Coffee house at the sign of the Pasqual Rosee’s Head 1652.’ The current building is 19th century but the spot has a serious pedigree and was even visited by Samuel Pepys in 1660.
Simply finding Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is enough to justify a pretty substantial amount of refreshment, as this Holborn establishment is not in the easiest to track down. The historic pub is as traditional as they come, so much so in fact that it has been used in numerous films, such as the British flick Snatch. The pub was built in 1546 and has a very famous cherry tree that Queen Elizabeth once danced around.
For a historic pub with a great river view, the Prospect of Whitby is ideal. The Wapping pub dates from the 1500s and holds the title of being the oldest riverside pub in London. It has a rather dark reputation, having once been known as ‘The Devil’s Tavern’ and been the drinking establishment of choice of ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffreys, who is spookily commemorated by a noose hanging nearby….The Guinea pub dates from the 1400s, at which point its location in Mayfair was in the middle of fields and farmland, as London did not yet stretch that far. Whilst The Guinea was always a simple pub serving simple fare, in 1952 it also became a specialist steakhouse.
If you want to experience a taste of London history but still enjoy a trendy cocktail or fine wine then the Churchill bar at the 5 star London Hyatt hotel is a homage to London history in modern surroundings. With historic artefacts from the iconic prime ministers life including a life-size bronze statue of Churchill sitting on the terrace.
Opposite the much-loved Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, the White Swan has an idyllic location and some almost untouched seventeenth century interiors that have survived since the pub was first built. It’s worth a visit to see these alone, as well as to enjoy the out-of-this-world riverside location.
The Old Bull & Bush in Hampstead Heath was first built as a farm in 1645 and became a pub some two decades later. It also gave its name to the music hall song “Down at the old Bull and Bush,” sung by Florrie Forde. The Olde Wine Shades was one of the few pubs in London to survive the great fire and has hardly changed since it was first built in 1663.
Finally, the Lamb & Flag pub in Covent Garden might well take the title as the very oldest of pubs in London, dating all the way back to Tudor times. The pub is also known as ‘The Bucket of Blood,’ thanks to its reputation for bare-knuckle prize fights.
If you’re looking to uncover London’s history through its drinking dens then these 10 are a great place to start. Just make sure you drink plenty of water in between each one!