London is second to none in its ability to combine history with beer. This is best demonstrated by London’s public houses, referred to as “pubs” for short. Many years ago, London’s pubs were the haunts of prostitutes, bare-knuckle boxers and alcoholic writers. Nowadays, it’s not melancholy artists carrying oil lamps who frequent British pubs, but hipsters with iPads. However, the attraction remains the same: the cozy atmosphere and the delicious beer.
As far as the pub opening times in London are concerned, you don’t need to worry. Up until 2005, pub landlords rang a bell at 10:45 p.m. to indicate “last orders”, but the licensing laws have since been liberalized, allowing pub-goers to enjoy convivial evenings late into the night. In recent years, significant changes have also been made on the food side. A lot of pubs have upgraded their food offerings and serve excellent English meals.
Here are our tips on the best, most traditional pubs in London, where you can treat yourself to a pint or two:
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is rather difficult to find, but definitely worth the trouble. Entering the narrow alleyway and walking through the doors is like traveling back in time – hardly surprising when you consider that this place has been serving pints for over 400 years! This is a delightful pub oozing with charm and character that has also been used as a film set for cult movies such as Snatch. Be sure to try the real ales and sandwiches!
Address: 1 Ely Pl.
Charles Dickens is said to have downed a few pints in this pub. Two hundred years ago, the Lamb & Flag was nicknamed the “Bucket of Blood” on account of the bare-knuckle fights that took place there on a regular basis. Nowadays, however, there’s no risk of finding knocked-out teeth on the floor of this Tudor building near Leicester Square. Even though this place is always a hive of activity, it has a harmonious atmosphere – at least most of the time.
Address: 33 Rose St.
Only one small item in this pub alludes to the famous owner of The Grapes Inn: standing in a corner is a statue of Gandalf from the “Lord of the Rings”. The actor Sir Ian McKellen has owned the pub since 2011 – which is why this place attracts more tourists than locals. In good weather, it’s worth venturing onto the little balcony at the back of the pub: the Thames is literally right on the doorstep here!
Address: 76 Narrow St., London E14 8BP
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is supposedly the oldest pub in London. It was built after the Great Fire of London in 1667 to replace a pub that had stood on this spot since 1538. The pub has retained the various passageways and rooms that give this establishment its special flair. Incidentally, the sign on the door bearing the words “Gentlemen only served in this bar” no longer applies – nowadays, of course, everyone is welcome to savor the delicious food and drink served here!
Address: 145 Fleet St.
The George Inn is one of the few remaining pubs in London with a gallery. That means you can have a drink on the second floor, as Shakespeare used to do. In good weather, the cozy quadrangle is also a great alternative. Sitting out here on a balmy summer’s evening is the perfect way to round off a long day of sightseeing!
Address: London SE1 1NH
On the edge of Hampstead Heath is the iconic Spaniards Inn that has inspired numerous legends. The famous English highwayman Richard (“Dick”) Turpin, for example, is said to have learned his trade here, and Charles Dickens immortalized the pub in his novel “The Pickwick Papers”. Today you can relax by the cozy fireplace in wet weather and spend a pleasant evening socializing thanks to the huge selection of draft and craft beers and wine.
Address: Spaniards Rd., Hampstead
The Cittie of Yorke is more of a little wonderland than a regular pub. With its arched ceilings and crooked walls, this place has an incredibly rustic vibe. In addition to spending time in the cozy bar at the front of the pub, it’s worth venturing through the passageway to the back of this listed building, where you’ll find a large room adorned with barrels containing 1,000 gallons of wine.
Address: 22 High Holborn, London WC1V 6B
The Mayflower is a rustic, but incredibly cozy pub that was built in 1550, making it the oldest pub directly on the Thames. This place was once frequented by seafarers and pirates. On the upper floor, there’s a lovely restaurant, albeit a rather expensive one. This pub offers great views of the Thames!
Address: 117 Rotherhithe St.
Before being converted into a pub, this building was used as a blacksmith’s shop and a brothel. Today, the great thing about this pub in Fitzrovia is its excellent selection of beers and delicious Cornish food. Famous people of the likes of George Orwell and Dylan Thomas used to drink here. This place was also the inspiration for Orwell’s greatest work, “1984”, as the pub scenes in the novel were modeled on The Newman Arms.
Address: 23 Rathbone St., London W1T 1NG
The Harp in Covent Garden is one of London’s most popular pubs. Crowds of people regularly gather around the front of the building with its leaded windows and hanging baskets – and not without reason. The pub serves a huge selection of cider and beer, and the traditional pub meals are absolutely delicious. Be sure to try the hotdogs!
Address: 47 Chandos Pl.