From plagues and great fires to world wars and global pandemics, the city has had its fair share of tumultuous times, but if there's one thing it has perfected, it's pulling the perfect pint. The city has a healthy smattering of quaint old boozers that are perfect for sinking a few pints in a vintage setting, some of them dating back to the 14th century. Though there's no definitive way to say which pub is actually the oldest, a fair few claim to hold the title, and they're all worth a visit. Here's our rundown of London's oldest pubs that also happen to be steeped in history.
Guide to historic pubs in London
In this guide
Old and historic pubs in London
- Hoop & Grapes – A surviver of The Great Fire
- The Prospect of Whitby – The drinking spot of thieves, smugglers and pirates
- Ye Olde Mitre – Built half a millennium ago
- The Guinea – Frank Sinatra's old drinking spot
- The Spaniards Inn – A Dick Turpin hangout
- The Old Bell Tavern – Three centuries of history
- The Wrestlers – I do solemnly swear to drink to my heart's content
- The Mayflower – Could this be the oldest pub on the Thames?
- The George Inn – A 17th century drinking spot
- The Grapes – A 500-year-old riverside hangout
- The Seven Stars – A Victorian bolthole
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – Charles Dickens' fav
- The Lamb & Flag – Bucket of blood, anyone?
- The Grenadier – Haunted by a soldier
- The Dove – The birthplace of Rule Britannia!
- The Ten Bells – An unfortunate link to Jack the Ripper
- Ye Olde London – Where philosophers debated their theories
- The Albert – Serving Westminster since 1862
Old and historic pubs in London
London's oldest pubs offers a lot of history
A surviver of The Great Fire
Though it's hard to pinpoint which pub is the oldest in the city, The Hoop & Grapes in Aldgate will give most of the other pubs a run for their money. This bastion of booze is set in a beautiful Grade II listed building that survived the Great Fire, which stopped burning a mere 50 yards away - yikes. It was initially called Hops and Grapes as a way to show that it served both beer and wine, which it still does today, of course. Inside, it's like taking a giant leap back in time, with cosy, low ceilings, sash windows and old-world London charm.
The drinking spot of thieves, smugglers and pirates
The Prospect of Whitby claims to be the oldest riverside pub in London, dating back to 1520. A claim, of course, disputed by all the other London pubs which also proclaim to hold this title. It has dark wooden beams and a rare pewter-topped bar, but all that remains of the original building is the flagstone flooring and foundations, as it's been rebuilt and remodelled several times over the last few centuries, with the current Grade II-listed building racking up 200 years. It's been privy to many a tryst, plot and barney, having been frequented by those passing through on the river, including thieves, smugglers and pirates.
Built half a millennium ago
If you can find Ye Old Mitre, then you'll be met with a pub dripping in history, built nearly half a millennium ago for servants that worked at the Bishops of Ely's palace. It's tricky to imagine the magnificent palace that once stood next to the pub, surrounded by pretty cherry trees and lush gardens, since it's now just like any other concrete London alley. One cherry tree remains out front, and the history books claim that Elizabeth I would dance around it like a maypole with Sir Christopher Hatton. Step inside and it's wildly atmospheric, with dark oak furniture against rusty red walls and traditional bar fittings. As for food and drinks, there's a selection of real ales on tap and a handful of homemade bar snacks to keep the hunger pangs at bay.
Frank Sinatra's old drinking spot
You might think that the Est 1675 sign out the front of The Guinea Grill would be a hint as to how old this London boozer is, but don't be fooled, the current building only dates back to the 1720s, although a pub has stood on this site for nearly 500 years. It's said to be the oldest steakhouse in the city and has served premium dry-aged British beef since 1960. Legends like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Greta Garbo frequented the pub, with a couple of autographs still visible in the toilets. These days you'll be met with typical wooden screens and panelling with old paintings hanging on the neutral walls and a clientele that likes to spill out onto Bruton Place when the weather decides to play ball.
A Dick Turpin hangout
The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead was built many moons ago in 1585, as a tollgate on the Finchley boundary. It's got a strong link with some legendary names; word on the street is that Keats wrote his Ode to a Nightingale poem there. Some also say that highwayman Dick Turpin was born at The Spaniards Inn, and his father was the landlord in the early 1700s. It's kept much of its original interior, like traditional wood panelling and period features spruced up with a few contemporary touches. There's an open fire for getting all snug during the chillier months and a leafy-walled beer garden for summertime.
Three centuries of history
The Old Bell Tavern sits where an earlier tavern - The Swan - once stood, sandwiched between two regular-looking Fleet Street shops. It has its original sign out-front and inside features weathered wooden flooring and stand-out multi-hued stained-glass windows, which you can't help but admire. Sir Christopher Wren built it for the use of his stonemasons, who were working on rebuilding the nearby St Bride's Church after the Great Fire. It's been pouring pints for thirsty Londoners for more than 300 years and continues to do so today, offering a range of real ales and traditional pub grub.
I do solemnly swear to drink to my heart's content
If you want to swear an oath underneath mounted antlers, get yourself down to The Wrestlers in Highgate. The Swearing of the Horns is basically a way to confirm one's dedication to merriment and debauchery and has been taking place in the pub since the 17th century. Along with oath swearing, they also serve a mean Sunday roast with all the trimmings, and their variety of locally brewed spirits and well-kept real ales keep drinkers more than happy.
Could this be the oldest pub on the Thames?
The Mayflower is another London pub that claims to be the oldest pub on the River Thames (let's just say they're all drawing by this point). It's a traditional English pub down a quaint cobbled street, named after the ship that carried pilgrims to America in the 1600s. Inside, it's quintessentially English, with copious amounts of dark wood, dim lighting with the flicker of candles and walls pasted with old photos. The outside terrace makes the most of the splendid riverside location, offering sweeping views of the Thames. As for food, you can expect all the classic pub grub, like fish and chips, alongside a good selection of beers and wines.
A 17th century drinking spot
The George Inn is an authentic London boozer built behind Borough High Street after the Southwark fire of 1676. It once functioned as a coaching inn, with part of it being used as offices for the Great Eastern Railway Company. It claims to be one of the oldest pubs in the capital (we can't keep up) and is everything you'd expect from a traditional English watering hole; imagine dark oak floors, creaky staircases, and brass taps plonked on top of a panelled wooden bar. It's a Greene King establishment, which means they serve all the pub grub you'd expect, along with a full range of drinks.
A 500-year-old riverside hangout
The Grapes - once called The Bunch of Grapes - has been functioning as a pub for almost 500 years and is another of London's oldest drinking spots. Charles Dickens made reference to it in his novel Our Mutual Friend, saying, 'Externally, it was a narrow lopsided wooden jumble of corpulent windows heaped one upon another'. Though you won't bump into Dickens, you might see Sir Ian McKellen bopping about since he partly owns the pub; he occasionally pops in to host the weekly quiz. Inside you can expect a classic Victorian interior with a dark wooden bar and a creaky narrow staircase.
A Victorian bolthole
The Seven Stars in Holborn was built in 1602, making it another one of London's oldest pubs. It's a top hangout for professionals and barristers since it's built behind the Royal Courts of Justice. It dates back to the early 1600s and has maintained many of its original Victorian characteristics, like ancient beams, oak floorboards and narrow stairways. As for the menu, expect the typical pub grub and a range of drinks on tap.
Charles Dickens' fav
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 but was also around for centuries before that. It's been the drinking hangout for many historical figures, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Princess Margaret, Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens (apparently, the table to the right of the fireplace in the ground floor room opposite the bar was his favourite). The pub is a maze of narrow passageways and rooms set over several floors, and the vaulted cellars are said to originate from the 13th-century monastery that once occupied the site.
Bucket of blood, anyone?
The Lamb and Flag, or as it used to be known, The Bucket of Blood, since it's said to have been the location of many bare-knuckle scraps in the 1900s, is a London watering hole dating back to the 1700s. It was one of Charles Dickens' favourite places to drink (which pub hasn't he been to?), and poet John Dryden was almost murdered at this exact location before it became a licensed pub many moons ago. But thankfully, things are a little calmer these days, and you can chill out with a seasonal brew or craft lager perched on the standing bar out the front if the weather permits.
Haunted by a soldier
The Grenadier is notoriously hard to find down narrow roads and side streets. However, once you get there, you'll be met with a charming Georgian building with an intriguing and slightly spooky history. Britain's first Regiment of Foot Guards, The Grenadiers, were among the pub's first visitors, who would drink late into the night and play card games in the cellar. The ghost of one guard is said to haunt the pub after his fellow soldiers beat him to death for daring to cheat during a game. Other famous guests include the Duke of Wellington and King George IV. It's your typical bar with ramshackle wooden furniture, and an equally typical menu of British pub food, like beef Wellington, served with truffled mushrooms, potato fondant and beetroot purée.
The birthplace of Rule Britannia!
The Dove in Hammersmith was established in the 1700s, originally as a coffee house where women were banned and men came to mingle. It's got a typical wood interior throughout its labyrinth of rooms and supposedly houses Britain's smallest bar, coming in at just 4ft by 7ft 10. It's said that poet James Thompson wrote the words to Rule Britannia! in this very pub whilst Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas and William Morris were also frequent visitors. It's located along the Thames, which the cosy outside courtyard certainly makes the most of with quaint riverside views.
An unfortunate link to Jack the Ripper
The Ten Bells, located in the heart of Spitalfields, became a home-away-from-home for East End punters throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. It's also got an unfortunate link to Jack the Ripper; two of his victims were frequent pub visitors and were murdered just a few streets away. Step through the door of this Grade II building, and you'll be transported back in time; it spans three floors and features original Victorian tiling from floor to ceiling.
Where philosophers debated their theories
Ye Olde London was originally built in 1749 on the historic site of an old coffee house where some of the world's most famous philosophers would come to talk through their latest theories. The leaded-glass exterior is inviting, and inside, the traditional decor makes for a cosy place to sink a few pints and enjoy beer-battered fish and chips.
Serving Westminster since 1862
Set in the heart of Westminster, The Albert is a Grade II listed pub that was built in the 19th century and survived The Blitz. Its original features remain virtually untouched, plus there's a gallery of prime ministers and a parliamentary division bell as it's so close to parliament. The place often gets busy with locals and tourists, serving a wide range of drinks and hearty pub grub.