London’s pub culture is undoubtedly part of its identity. For centuries, pubs have been the central meeting place for people to gather and socialise over a pint. These historic places are now recognised as landmarks, making up London’s rich history.

The tradition of the British pub dates back to Roman times, but it was during the medieval period that pubs, originally referred to as “public houses,” gained popularity. They were places where travellers would go for lodging and to eat and drink. They soon became the heart of many local communities and over the years many of these pubs have maintained their historical charm and character.

Join us as we explore the oldest pubs in London, and find out why you should plan a visit soon.

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The oldest pub in London

The title of the oldest pub in London is a hot topic, widely debated with several establishments vying for this claim. Many factors go into understanding and characterising how to define the oldest pub, as questions about rebuilds, renovations and proof from historical records come into play.

Pubs like The George Inn, or The Olde Cheshire Cheese, make convincing claims to this title. When you enter each of these pubs, you truly feel like you’re stepping into a piece of London’s history. Each establishment offers a unique glimpse into the past where you can still enjoy a drink.

The Prospect of Whitby, 1520

The Prospect of Whitby, 1520​

The Prospect of Whitby is located in Wapping and is London’s oldest riverside pub. It was established in 1520, and it offers stunning views of the River Thames. The pub has a rich history, for obvious reasons… it claims to have served pirates, and sailors. You can visit today for a drink and take in the historic decor and ambience. It’s definitely a sight to see!

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 1538

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 1538​

The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street is a historic pub that was later rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire of London. Originally established in 1538, it was able to keep its 17th-century charm with dimly lit rooms, wooden beams, and an intricate layout. The famous author Charles Dickens was said to be a frequent visitor.

The George Inn, 1542

The George Inn, 1542​

The George Inn in Southwark is the last remaining galleried coaching inn in London, dating back to 1542. A coaching inn was specially tailored to coach drivers, and provided stalls for their horses, along with maintenance services. This historic pub was famously mentioned in novels and short stories by Charles Dickens.

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, 1546

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, 1546​

Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is located in Ely Court near Hatton Garden. It was established in 1546 and is known for its stories of Queen Elizabeth I dancing around cherry trees. This charming pub has many other historical connections, including to the Bishops of Ely. You can find traditional pub fairs here, such as meat pies and toasties.

The Wrestlers, 1547

The Wrestlers, 1547​

The Wrestlers is a pub that dates back to 1547 and is located in Highgate. It’s a traditional British pub that boasts a welcoming atmosphere with the perfect mix of tradition and modern comforts, including an alfresco garden, perfect for enjoying a pint in the summer. It is known for its friendly service and a great selection of real ales.

The Mayflower, 1550

The Mayflower, 1550​

The Mayflower in Rotherhithe was established in 1550. It was named after the famous ship that carried the Pilgrims to America. This monumental pub offers a unique connection to American and maritime history and has stunning views of the River Thames. It has a cozy and warm interior and a riverside terrace which has become a popular spot to snap a photo. Don’t miss out on their weekly specials, including fishy Friday fish n’ chips!

The history behind London’s oldest pub

As we’ve mentioned before, the claim to London’s oldest pub is controversial. Many claim to be the oldest along the riverside, or the oldest pubs in central London, vying for the elite recognition of being the first. But if we look at The Prospect of Whitby as the oldest pub in the greater London area due to its date of establishment, then it takes the cake.

It was originally known as “The Devil’s Tavern,” because it was notorious for its unpleasant clientele, including smugglers, pirates, and sailors.

What to drink at the oldest pub

There are many drinks still offered in the oldest pubs in London that have been enjoyed for centuries. The most popular options that are English favourites include:

Real Ale: Brewed using traditional methods, real ales are crafted in many different styles and flavours.

Port and Sherry: Although controversial in its origin story, these fortified wines were popular drinks of choice in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some say that they are unique to the Iberian Peninsula while others claim that the English first began fortifying wine to be able to travel with it through Portugal and Spain without it spoiling.

Cider: Made from fermented apple juice, it is a traditional British drink.

Gin: Deeply connected to the city of London, gin and tonic is a classic cocktail choice.

Whisky: Has been enjoyed in British pubs for hundreds of years. Referred to as “water of life” in Gaelic, it can be enjoyed as a smooth single malt or a blend.

Unique features and stories

What sets these historic pubs apart from modern pubs and bars are the unique features and stories that have been preserved.

The Olde Cheshire Cheese is renowned for its literary connections, including famous writers like Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain visiting frequently.

The Seven Stars has a rich survival story through the Great Fire and its continued operation since the early 1600s makes it a fascinating spot for history enthusiasts.

pubs in london

How to get to the pubs and the best times to visit

Finding your way to London’s historic pubs is part of the adventure. Luckily, many of these establishments are easily accessible through public transport, including the Underground, buses, and taxis.

For the best experience, we suggest visiting these pubs during the late afternoon or early evening. This timing allows you to soak in the energetic atmosphere during cocktail hour. However, be prepared for a busy and crowded experience. If you prefer a more relaxed environment, then try visiting in the afternoon, before the majority of offices are let out for the end of the work day.

Your visit to a historic London landmark

Exploring the oldest pubs in London is a journey through the city’s history and culture. Each pub offers a unique view into the past, blending tradition with modern hospitality.

As you plan your visit to London, why not stay at some of the most unique short term rentals in London for a truly unforgettable experience. Located in the heart of the Mayfair district, Urban Retreat Apartments provides the perfect base to explore these historic landmarks and experience the best of London.