The Mayflower


The Oldest Pubs in London

London is home to some old pubs.

But we’re not talking any old pubs…

These are pubs older than your greatest grandparents. Pubs that have been through revolutions and wars, and gone on to tell the tale (many tales, in fact). Pubs that all the literature bigwigs used to call their local and feature prominently in their written works. Pubs that even predate the term ‘pub’ itself (originating in 1859).

Pub/inn/tavern, whatever you wish to call them, these historic drinking dens have been pouring pints in the capital for centuries and will probably continue to do so for, well, who knows… but the point is they’re basically immortal.

Fortunately, because you’ve got this list in your hands now, they’re not hard to find either. So presenting to thee: London’s oldest pubs…


The Prospect of Whitby | 1520

prospect of whitby oldest pub in london

Unlike today, a prime location by the river in the 1520s wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Foul-mouthed sailors, pirates on the rum and other trouble-making characters were all regulars at this historic waterside pub in Wapping, lending it the ominous nickname ‘The Devil’s Tavern’. A rebrand in the 1800s seems to have attracted a slightly more genteel clientele – now you can enjoy a quiet pint on a 19th century pewter-topped bar, surrounded by old timber masts and nautical knick-knacks. All you’ll notice left over from its lawless past are the 500-year-old flagstone floors, a noose hanging from the balcony and those stunning Thames views…

Approx age: 504 years old

Details: 57 Wapping Wall, Wapping, E1W 3SH | Book here

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern | 1546

Oldest Pubs in London: Ye Olde Mitre

If you want to get technical about it, this cramped (but cosily so) boozer’s status as one of the oldest pubs in London is subject to debate, considering it’s legally been a part of Cambridge for much of its life-span (the land was licensed to the Bishop of Ely until the late 20th century). Either way, it’s been on this spot for yonks (built long ago in 1546), and if its wood-panelled walls had the magical ability to speak, we’re sure they’d be able to spill some very juicy Elizabethan gossip (one story that always does the rounds is that Elizabeth I once had a boogie outside around the bar’s cherry tree).

Approx age: 478 years old

Details: 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, Holborn, EC1N 6SJ | Book here

The Wrestlers | 1547

Since 1628 punters have been swearing an oath under the mounted antlers on the wall here, which is basically some kind of riddle about promising to eat white bread. There are opportunities to take part in the tradition for a small charitable fee twice a year; otherwise, come here for the exceptional (and surprisingly affordable) roasts and cask ales. There’s a beer garden out the back for the summer, and a roaring log fire inside in winter – but as one of Highgate’s most treasured locals, you may have to – ahem – wrestle for a spot.

Approx age: 477 years old

Details: 98 North Road, N6 4AA | Book here

The Mayflower | 1550

The Oldest Pubs in London: The Mayflower

This creaky-floored Rotherhithe boozer must be sick of the sight of the Thames by now – it’s been staring across the river’s murky waters since 1550. Its claim to fame is being next to the apparent drop-off point from where the Mayflower vessel (hence the pub’s name) began its voyage via Southampton to the Americas, and it also boasts the tagline of ‘the oldest pub on the river’. We’ll leave the validity of that to the historians – for starters, The Prospect of Whitby might want a word – but nevertheless it’s a nugget you can always whip out if you ever take a date here.

Approx age: 474 years old

Details: 117 Rotherhithe Street, Rotherhithe, SE16 4NF | Book here

George Inn | 1583

For a little 16th century celeb spotting, nothing could beat this old galleried coaching inn. The George is the last of its kind left in London, sporting wonky balconies and cosy wood interiors. The likes of Dickens and Shakespeare apparently couldn’t get enough of the place and on most evenings you’d probably catch a couple of famous wordsmiths stimulating their brains over an ale or two. Shakespeare himself even went the extra mile and utilised the courtyard here to perform his plays – still spacious enough for a dozen or so picnic tables.

Approx age: 441 years old

Details: 75 Borough High St, Southwark, SE1 1NH | Book here

The Grapes | 1583

the grapes old pub

Another historic pub sitting on the banks of the Thames, The Grapes is your textbook old-world tavern that comes with a strong whiff of dark wood and the feeling that you might look out of place if you’re not wearing a tweed jacket. The sort of pub you’d expect to make its way into a Charles Dickens novel. Coincidentally, it has actually checked that box (chapter one, Our Mutual Friend) and nowadays it also has an A-list owner, Sir Ian McKellen, who sometimes pokes his head in for chat and a cold one …probably wearing a tweed jacket too.

Approx age: 441 years old

Details: 76 Narrow Street, Limehouse, E14 8BP | No reservations

The Spaniards Inn | 1585

London’s old pubs come with their fair share of ghost stories, and there’s a couple of restless souls knocking about The Spaniards Inn (though they usually clear off after last orders). The impressive longevity of this rickety old hilltop tavern by Hampstead Heath makes it spookier than most: Bram Stoker used it as part of the plot for Dracula, and legend has it that the shadowy figure of highwayman Dirk Turpin – whose dad was allegedly the owner – still lurks in the background. Despite all that, it’s actually a very cosy pub, and serves a lovely roast by the roaring fire.

Approx age: 439 years old

Details: Spaniard’s Road, Hampstead, NW3 7JJ | Book here

The Seven Stars | 1602

J Mark Dodds/Flickr

Sitting behind the Royal Courts of Justice, the Seven Stars has a strong case for being one of London’s oldest pubs with a history harking back to 1602. Linger within its teeny Grade II listed walls for long enough and you might make friends with some of the local punters (hint: barristers and lawyers). The pub’s presided over by a long lineage of black cats and the formidable Roxy Beaujolais, a natural raconteur who puts some high-quality pub grub on the tables.

Approx age: 422 years old

Details: 53 Carey Street, Holborn, WC2A 2JB | Book here

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese | 1667

ye olde cheshire cheese historic london pub

The Cheese was born in 1538 and then uh, born again, after the Great Fire of 1666, so it was already ancient before all the usual literary suspects attached themselves to it and became regulars. The honour roll of distinguished authors/drinkers it has served includes George Orwell, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens (yes, there he is again)…to name drop just a few. Also: the sawdust you’ll spy scattered all over the floor of the choproom isn’t there because the staff hate cleaning: rather it’s a nice touch to show off how old of an establishment the venue is…

Approx age: 357 years old

Details: 145 Fleet St, Holborn, EC4A 2BU | Book here

The Old Bell Tavern | 1678

The Old Bell

Sir Christopher Wren was famously a dab hand at designing churches (most notably St Pauls), but he could put together a solid pub, too. This Stuart stalwart with flagstone floors and stained-glass windows was originally built for Wren’s masons as a means to keep morale high while they worked away on rebuilding the city following the Great Fire. A shrewd move to be honest, and it has stood the test of time on Fleet Street since, claiming a license for over 300 years now.

Approx age: 346 years old

Details: 95 Fleet Street, City Of London, EC4Y 1DH | Book here

Lamb and Flag | 1772

lamb and flag old pub covent garden

Fancy a few ales at the Bucket of Blood? Not the most appealing proposition maybe, but that’s just how it was at this Covent Garden watering hole many moons ago. It earned that lovely title through literal blood, sweat and tears, as it’s said to have held bare-knuckle scraps in its ground-floor back bar during the 1800s. These days however, the pub has well and truly entered its peaceful era (all grown up at the ripe old age of 250) and the only fight you’ll have on your hands now is securing a seat, as it’s normally chocker. Oh, and Charles Dickens was apparently a frequent visitor here too because, well, of course he was…

Approx age: 252 years old

Details: 33 Rose Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 9EB | Book here

The Princess Louise | 1872

princess louise historic pub

Kotomi_ / Flickr

A sprightly 152 years old, The Princess Louise nevertheless deserves a mention on this list – which you’ll understand as soon as you set foot inside. Barely anything has changed about this Holborn pub since its Victorian heyday, and it’s filled with original features like colourful tiling, mosaic floors, and mahogany ‘snob screens’ that divide the pub into seven different drinking areas. Even the marble urinals are original, and protected by a Grade II* listing.

Approx age: 152 years old

Details: 208 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EPNo bookings

The French House | 1891

The French House

The French House is a tad younger than most of the old-timers on this list (not that that’s saying much…), supposedly opening in 1891 and ironically by a German named Christian Schmitt. It only serves half-pints (Ricard is the big seller), but whatever it lacks in beer it makes up for in history: after the fall of the French during WW2, Charles de Gaulle came here to write one of the most important speeches in French history, “A tous les Français“. More proof that the pub can indeed be a place of high productivity. And with a firm anti-tech rule, it’s probably the closest you can get to actually stepping back in time for a pint…

Approx age: 131 years old

Details: 49 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 5BG | Drinkers are seated on a first come, first served basis.


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