This is our guide to the best historic pubs in which to enjoy a drink. More than one of these pubs lays 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
The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead boasts an impressive literary heritage, featuring in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and in Dracula by Bram Stoker. While not the oldest pub in London, the building has been around since 1585. 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, and it's seen all kinds of people passing through its doors. In the early 19th century, the pub was popular for brutal bare-knuckle fighting, which earned it the name of “The Bucket of Blood”. Today, the old charm survives in a friendlier setting, 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.
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. This London institution features many fascinating rooms connected by tight passageways and cosy fireplaces. Its 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 the capital, which is also among the oldest pubs in London. 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.
Once popular with Regency writers and the Pre-Raphaelites, The Dove is now a top destination for ale lovers and one of the best pubs in London. 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.
It's from the Anchor Bankside that Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London rage in 1666. Discover one of the most famous pubs on the Thames, 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.
Travel back in time at The Grapes, a charming riverside pub in Limehouse owned by Sir Ian McKellen. Charles Dickens used to visit his godfather in the area, and he mentions the pub in the opening chapter of Our Mutual Friend. Stop for a pint, and get lost in the pages of the famous author – The Grapes features a cosy parlour filled with its writings.
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.
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 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.