- Joanne Herd
My favorite historic pubs in London
The pub is a quintessential part of British life.
The pub is where you go to have a drink after work, meet and catch up with friends, and have a Sunday roast like your grandmother used to make.
In nice weather you can spot a pub from down the block after work hours by the crowd of office workers standing around and chatting, pint in hand, before heading home for the evening.
Pubs have a long history in the UK. Originally simply inns, alehouses, and taverns, they became known collectively as pubs during the reign of Henry XIII in the 16th century.
There are approximately 40,000 pubs in England, and many are struggling in the current cost of living crisis. With that in mind, here is a list of a few of the historic pubs of central London and Fleet St. that you can stop in and support on your next trip.
Ye Olde Watling
Much of central London was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666. Following the fire, Sir Christopher Wren had the job of rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral, just down the street from Ye Olde Watling.
In 1668, during the building of the Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren had Ye Olde Watling built to house workers employed at the cathedral and provide them with a place to have a drink at the end of the day.
Who doesn't do a better day's work knowing their pub down the street is waiting for them to stop by after they're done?
Location: 29 Watling Street, London, EC4M 9BR
The Black Friar
Once the former site of a Dominican Friary, the Black Friar was established in 1875.
The unique Grade II listed, narrow wedge-shaped building is decorated with mosaics and ornamental balconies, and even has a black friar statue over the main door.
It was slated for demolition in the 1960s as the area was redeveloped, but fortunately for us level heads prevailed and the building and the pub it houses were saved.
The Black Friar is conveniently located close to Blackfriars station, making it a perfect stop on your way to or from other London attractions.
Location: 174 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC4V 4EG
The Old Bell Tavern
One of the oldest pubs in London, The Old Bell is another pub built by Sir Christopher Wren. His masons were rebuilding St. Bride's Church after the Great Fire, and he had this pub built for them.
The Old Bell has been a licensed pub for over 300 years, so stands as one of the oldest pubs in London.
Due to its location in Fleet St, for years the center of London's printing industry, the pub has long been a favorite of printers and publishers with offices nearby.
Location: 95 Fleet St, London, EC4Y 1DH
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
You'll find Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on every list of historic pubs in London, and for good reason.
The vaulted cellars are believed to have been part of a 13th-century Carmelite Monastery, and the former inn on the site dated to 1538. The inn was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and the pub was rebuilt in 1667.
It's long been the favorite haunt of literary greats and journalists, including Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Tennyson, and Mark Twain.
Grab a pint and make your way through the narrow passages and staircases connecting the various bars and dining rooms. Find a seat in the gloomy interior and enjoy your pint while dreaming of writing your own literary masterpiece.
Location: 145 Fleet St, London EC4A 2BP
The Seven Stars
The Seven Stars is often listed as the oldest pub in London, and is one of the few pubs (or any buildings, for that matter) in central London that survived the Great Fire of 1666. It's a tiny pub, tucked away behind the Royal Courts of Justice. Due to its location it's a favorite hangout for lawyers and judges.
Due to its tiny size and few tables, plan to enjoy your pint outside while enjoying the architecture of the Royal Courts of Justice.
Location: 53 Carey Street, London, WC2A 2JB
The George Inn is the city's only surviving galleried coaching inn and is one of London's oldest pubs.
Frequented by Charles Dickens, it even makes an appearance in his book "Little Dorrit". Shakespeare was also a frequent guest, and his plays were performed in the courtyard for many years.
Location: 75 Borough High Street, London SE1 1NH
The Ship Tavern
Tucked away at the edge of Lincoln's Inn Fields, The Ship is a classic British pub. It's been part of London's historical pub scene since 1549.
Featuring a variety of real ale on tap, as well as a wide variety of gins, it's an excellent place to spend the evening near the fireplace enjoying a drink with friends or family.
Location: 12 Gate Street, Holborn, WC2A 3HP
Across the Thames in Bankside, The Anchor is close to Shakespeare's Globe Theater. It was from here that Samuel Pepys viewed the Great Fire of London in 1666, after fleeing by boat from the fire.
Samuel Johnson was also a regular customer, and the pub has a copy of his dictionary on display.
Location: 34 Park St, London, SE1 9EF
Ye Olde Mitre
It may not be the easiest pub in London to find, but it's worth the search. The current pub was built around 1772, but there's been a pub on the site since the mid 1500s.
Technically the pub has historically been part of the Diocese of Ely, meaning that it was considered part of Cambridge, not London. For that reason it is not considered one of the oldest pubs in London.
Location: 1 Ely Ct, Ely Pl, London EC1N 6SJ
With its unique rounded exterior and ornate interior, the Grade II listed pub is one of the most beautiful in London.
Built in 1869, the Viaduct is one of the last surviving gin palaces in London. It's worth stopping in to see its etched glass panels and its series of large portraits representing agriculture, banking and the arts.
Location: 126 Newgate St, London EC1A 7AA
The Bottom Line
If you're in central London and looking to have a pint in a place where the notables of yesteryear sat, there is no shortage of options. From gin palaces to timbered pubs, there's always something close by.