Food & Drink

London's 10 Most Historic Pubs

One tavern, which is rumored to be haunted, has hosted writers Mary Shelley, John Keats, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
IMAGE The Cittie of Yorke

In his essay The Moon Under Water, George Orwell detailed what he believed should constitute the perfect London pub: “The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull’s head over the mantelpiece—everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century." His description elegantly encapsulates the gritty charm found within a number of historic British watering holes. Here, 10 of our favorites.

The Dog and Duck (Est. 1734)

This hunt-themed establishment has evolved its aesthetic: It was redecorated to feature ornate interiors with Victorian-era embellishments. This is where George Orwell raised a glass (of absinthe) to the success of Animal Farm. John Constable and Dante Gabriel Rossetti have ordered from the bar, too. Nicholsons Pubs

The Dove (Est. 1600s)

“Rule, Britannia,” the famous ode to the nation that “rules the waves,” is said to have been written by the Scottish-born James Thomson at The Dove—the same bar-room where King Charles II romanced his mistress, Nell Gwynne, in the 1600s. The beer house continues to attract debauchers with the ambiance from its “roost” on the River Thames. 19 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, London, W6 9TA

The George (Est. 1542)

This historic establishment was called “The George and Dragon” after the ancient narratives about Saint George (the patron saint of England) before it was shorted to, simply, The George. It's a multi-floor inn with balconies constructed in 1542, around an “inn-yard,” which became a theater for Elizabethan-era performances. It is believed that The George hosted William Shakespeare in addition to William Shakespeare’s plays. 75-77 Borough High Street, Southwark, Greater London

The Lamb & Flag (Est. 1772)

The Lamb and Flag is one of the most beloved—and one of the most Instagrammable—of these bar-rooms. It boasts an almost secret entrance, via Lazenby Court, which features the old emblem: the Lamb of God with St. George’s Cross. It debuted as “The Coopers Arms” in 1772 and, in the 1800s, when it functioned as a venue for bare-knuckle matches, it was well-known as “The Bucket of Blood.” Lamb & Flag, 33 Rose Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9EB


Ship Tavern (Est. 1549)

This ship-themed establishment is constructed from timber to create the sensation of being on a boat—well, a boat with a world-class collection of 60+ gins. In the 1500s, it harbored Catholics, who attended mass in the bar, and thus were in defiance of King Henry VIII (who had denounced Catholicism to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon). Many claim that the priests who were discovered and executed continue to haunt the cellars. 12 Gate St, London WC2A 3HP, UK

The Spaniards Inn (Est. 1585)

This historic inn is rumored to be haunted. It once attracted robbers such as Samuel Bacon, Dick Turpin, and other sinners because of its closeness to the main road. It has since been commemorated with mentions in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Other imbibers of renown have included artists like John Constable and William Hogarth and writers like William Blake, Lord Byron, John Keats, Mary Shelley, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Outside, there’s a garden with views of London that stretch to Windsor Castle. Spaniards Road, Hampstead, London, Greater London, NW3 7JJ

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (Est. 1667)

This four-floor ale-house was rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire of London. It has since endured for 350 years—or, for 15 monarchs—as one of London's most famous pubs. Here, at this cherished, Cheshire cheese–themed institution on Fleet Street, millions have come to bend their elbows, including Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Voltaire. 145 Fleet Street, City of London, London

Ye Old Mitre (Est. 1546)

This Tudor-period treasure is famous for the cherry tree at its entrance—which Queen Elizabeth I danced around with Sir Christopher Hatton. Ye Olde Mitre, which was established in 1546 on the estate of the Bishops of Ely, is named for a bishops’ head-wear: the “mitre.” But there’s not much else church-related about this charmed establishment—unless, of course, the divineness of its ale collection. Ye Olde Mitre, 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SJ


The Cittie of Yorke (Est. 1430)

Since 1420, there has been a pub at this address. But the Cittie of Yorke, a cavern of a tavern, is themed around the Edwardian era (not the Medieval period). It boasts what was once the greatest bar in Great Britain—or, rather, the longest bar in Great Britain—as well as a cast-iron, Victorian-era furnace. 22 High Holborn, Holborn, London

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* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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