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
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 the regular clientele of this waterside pub in Wapping, lending it the ominous nickname ‘The Devil’s Tavern’. Thankfully, the present-day scene comes without argy-bargy: it’s now a place of calm where you can enjoy your pint on a pewter-topped bar surrounded by old timber masts and nautical knick-knacks. All you’ll notice left over from its lawless past are the 400-year-old stone floors, a noose hanging from the balcony and those stunning Thames views….
Approx age: 502 years old
Details: 57 Wapping Wall, Wapping, E1W 3SH | Book here
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern | 1546
If you wanted to get technical about it, this cramped (but cozily so) boozer’s status as one of the oldest pubs in London is subject to debate, considering it’s 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: 476 years old
Details: 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, Holborn, EC1N 6SJ | Book here
The Wrestlers | 1547
Take life by the horns at The Wrestlers. 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: 475 years old.
Details: 98 North Road, N6 4AA | Book here
The Mayflower | 1550
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, but nevertheless it’s a nugget you can always whip out if you ever take a date here. Just ignore the taxidermy on the walls…
Approx age: 472 years old.
Details: 117 Rotherhithe Street, Rotherhithe, SE16 4NF | Book here
George Inn | 1583
For celeb spotting back in the day (as in circa 1583), this old galleried coaching inn – the last of its kind left in London, as a matter of fact – was as good as any for bumping into the stars. 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.
Approx age: 439 years old
Details: 75 Borough High St, Southwark, SE1 1NH | Book here
The Grapes | 1583
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 latter 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: 439 years old
Details: 76 Narrow Street, Limehouse, E14 8BP | No reservations
The Spaniards Inn | 1585
You know you’re in one of the oldest pubs in London when there’s ghosts hanging around the place. The impressive longevity of The Spaniards Inn (the rickety old building on a hilltop by Hampstead Heath) has seen it become the subject of a fair few spooky stories. Bram Stoker used it as part of the plot for Dracula and legend has it (or at least the staff will tell you so…) that the shadowy figure of Dirk Turpin, who sometimes called in for a drink whenever needing a break from the life crime (helped that his dad was allegedly the owner), is said to lurk in the background. Besides all that, it’s actually quite a cosy pub – and with a roaring fire too…
Approx age: 437 years old
Details: Spaniard’s Road, Hampstead, NW3 7JJ | Book here
The Seven Stars | 1602
J Mark Dodds/Flickr
Found across the road from the Royal Courts of Justice, Seven Stars has a strong case for being one of London’s oldest pubs with a history harking back to as early as 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 the formidable Roxy Beaujolais, a natural raconteur who puts some high-quality pub grub on the tables.
Approx age: 420 years old
Details: 53 Carey Street, Holborn, WC2A 2JB | Book here
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese | 1667
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’s 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 (and that may ruin the shine of your boots) 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: 355 years old
Details: 145 Fleet St, Holborn, EC4A 2BU | Book here
The Old Bell Tavern | 1678
It’s no secret that Sir Christopher Wren was dab hand at designing churches (most notably St Pauls), but less known was his knack for putting together a solid pub. This Stuart stalwart with stone 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: 344 years old
Details: 95 Fleet Street, City Of London, EC4Y 1DH | Book here
Lamb and Flag | 1772
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: 250 years old
Details: 33 Rose Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 9EB | Book here
The French House | 1891
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, ‘’À tous les Français’’. More proof that the pub can indeed be a place of high productivity…
Note: There’s a tech ban here, so don’t bother with phones and photos.
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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