The title of London's oldest pub is a much-disputed accolade. The city is home to hundreds of historic watering holes but many have been rebuilt, refurbished and renamed over the years so it's hard to keep track of exact timelines and dates spanning several centuries. And while some look to the age of the building as a factor, others consider the date of the pub license to be more important. So if you want to visit London's oldest boozer, head off on a pub crawl and tick off a bunch of contenders in one trip. Cheers to that!
Charles II romanced his mistress, Nell Gwynne at this historic riverside pub in Hammersmith. There's been a pub on the site since the 17th century and it's attracted a stream of writers over the years including Ernest Hemingway and Dylan Thomas. Order a seasonal ale and some classic British bar snacks and pick a cozy spot in one of the creaky rooms under the building's original ceiling beams or wrap up warm and head out to the riverside terrace. The pub's front bar is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest public bar in the UK.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: Fleet Street
Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, and Charles Dickens were said to be regulars at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. It's one of London's most famous pubs and records show that there has been a pub on this site since 1538. It was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 but the vaulted cellars are thought to belong to a 13th-century monastery. The tiny entrance is hidden down a narrow alleyway but once inside, the dimly lit wood-paneled rooms cover a huge space and they're heated by roaring fires throughout much of the year.
At the edge of Hampstead Heath, the Spaniards Inn dates to 1585 and is a literary landmark as well as being one of the city's oldest pubs. It features in Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker's Dracula and is said to be where Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale. With its wood paneling, roaring fires, nooks, crannies and pet-friendly garden equipped with a dog-washing machine, it feels like more like a country retreat than a London pub.
In the heart of Covent Garden, the Lamb & Flag is a backstreet boozer that has operated as a pub since 1772 (it originally opened as The Coopers Arms before changing its name in 1833). Charles Dickens was a regular and it continues to attract creatives and performers because of its West End location. In the early 19th century it was known as the 'Bucket of Blood' as it hosted bare-knuckle prize fights but things are far less raucous now. The interiors feature lots of brass and dark wood but most people drink ale in the courtyard when the weather's nice.
This off-the-beaten-track pub in Holborn dates to 1549 and was once used to shelter Catholic priests during the English Reformation period. It's now home to a Dickensian-style first-floor dining room, where the tables are lit by candles and there's an impressive gin cabinet downstairs stocked with 60+ gins from around the world.
Step back in time to 16th-century London at this riverside pub in Rotherhithe. The Mayflower stands on the site of The Shippe pub which dates back to 1550. Inside the dark wood paneling and low ceiling beams create a cozy atmosphere and the pub is lit entirely by candlelight every Sunday evening. Pair a traditional pie with a pint of ale or order an American craft beer to salute the Pilgrim Fathers who set off from this very site on the Mayflower ship on a transatlantic voyage to explore the New World in 1620.
This ancient pub in London's jewelry quarter of Hatton Garden is a genuine hidden gem. It's tucked down a small alleyway and can be tricky to find. It was originally built in 1546 for the servants of the Bishops of Ely (the land around the pub used to be owned by the bishops and at one time it was considered part of Cambridgeshire rather than London). The pub is small but quirky and features portraits of Henry VIII who was married in St Ethelredas next door and an enclosed courtyard for outdoor drinking.
Although this pub was rebuilt in the 1920s, the site has been home to pubs since 1430 and there are all sorts of architectural styles on display including ornate Victorian wooden booths and a Georgian fireplace. The main bar chamber is huge and there are a number of smaller wood-paneled rooms with beam ceilings. The ancient basement has its own bar and there's a hidden beer garden out the back. Dylan Thomas was a regular here and he wrote a poem about the pub when it was called Henneky's Long Bar.