London has thousands of historic pubs

Many have colourful pasts and have changed very little in centuries. They are usually always free to visit, and are pleasant places to rest in.

There are some basic rules of etiquette to follow when visiting English pubs, to ensure your visit is pleasurable and trouble free. Some rules are also actually “the law”, while others are socially accepted practices which should generally keep you out of trouble with the publican and fellow drinkers. If in doubt, watch how the locals behave and follow their lead.

view map of historic pub locations

Prospect of Whitby, Wapping

This is one of the most famous pubs in London. It dates from 1543, and was built as a simple tavern. In the seventeenth century it had a reputation as a meeting place for smugglers and villains, and became known as Devil’s Tavern.

It was burnt down in the eighteenth century, rebuilt and renamed the Prospect of Whitby, after a ship that was moored nearby. One notorious customer was Judge Jeffreys, the Hanging Judge, known for his harshness and in particular for his dealings with the ringleaders of the Monmouth Rebellion (1685) in their failed bid to overthrow Catholic King James II.

When James II fled to France, Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys tried to follow but was caught whilst hiding in a coal cellar at the tavern dressed as a coal-heaver. He was taken to the Tower where he became ill and died. A hangman’s noose swings over the river, a reminder of those times.

The main bar has a flagstone floor, the long bar counter is built on barrels and has a rare pewter top. The upright pillars appear to be sections of a ship’s mast.


Opening hours: Mon to Sat: 12 midday – 11 pm, Sunday: 12 midday – 10.30 pm
Map and Street Views
Nearest underground station: Wapping

The George Inn, Borough High Street

The George, in a cobbled courtyard off Borough High Street, is London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn.

It was rebuilt in 1676, after a devastating fire swept Southwark.

It was one of many such inns in the area, perhaps the most famous being the Tabard, where Chaucers pilgrims, in the Canterbury Tales, set off from in 1388.

With the growth of the railways, coaching inns declined, and the Tabard was demolished in the nineteenth century.

Fortunately, the George was partially spared, to be used as a railway depot.

The south face is the only part remaining of the original building.

The pub now belongs to the National Trust.

The Old Bar was the waiting room, for coachmen and passengers.

The Middle Bar was the Coffee Room, which Dickens used to visit.

Opening hours: Mon to Sat: 11 am – 11 pm, Sunday: 12 midday – 10.30 pm
Map and Street Views
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate

Amazingly, the Great Fire of London burnt itself out just yards away from this pub, and it was left unscathed.

After the fire, wooden buildings were forbidden in the City. This pub is therefore the only surviving 17th-century timber-framed building in the City of London. At the time of the fire it was a private house and later became a wine shop. It was converted into a pub about 150 years ago. The front leans at an angle and would have fallen over had it not had extensive structural support carried out in the 1980’s. The front part is original.

The blocked up cellar entrance is said to lead to the Tower.

Opening hours: Mon to Fri: 11 am – 11 pm, Closed on weekends
Nearest underground station: Aldgate

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street

This is a wonderful old pub in the heart of Fleet Street, complete with narrow stairways and various bars and rooms filled with wooden drinking benches – just like in the days when Dickens himself used to drink there.

The present building has existed since 1667. Access is through a narrow alleyway (Wine Office Court) off Fleet street.

By the pub’s entrance, there is a board listing the 15 Kings and Queens of England through which it has survived.

Opening hours: Mon to Fri: 11 am – 11 pm, Saturday: 12 midday – 11 pm; Sunday: 12 midday – 5 pm
Nearest underground station: Blackfriars

Red Lion, St James

This pub is in Crown Passage, a small alleyway at the St. James’s Palace end of Pall Mall, next to Quebec House (look for the blue and white flag in front of the building).

The Red Lion claims to have the second oldest continuous beer licence in London. A pub has stood here for several centuries, although the present building is probably late Georgian.

The pub has a black timber frontage with leaded light windows. The two doorways indicate that it was once divided into separate bars.

On the last Saturday in January, Cavaliers in full costume, crowd into the Red Lion to lament the death of their hero Charles I, who was executed in Whitehall on 30th January,1649.

Opening hours: Mon to Sat: 11.30 am – 11 pm, closed on Sundays
Nearest underground station: Green Park

The Lamb, Lamb’s Conduit Street

Built in the eighteenth century, this lovely pub provides a glimpse of what Victorian pubs were like.

The Victorian interior of the pub was restored in 1961 and contains much original woodwork and glass.

The pub was named after the philanthropist William Lamb. In 1577, he improved the conduit that brought fresh water to the people of the area.

The pub itself was built in the 1720’s.

It was once the meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group, a group of influential writers who met in London during the 1920s to share ideas.

Opening hours: Mon to Sat: 11 am – 12 pm, Sunday: 12 midday – 10.30 pm
Nearest underground station: Russell Square

The Anchor, Bankside

It was from this pub on the south side of the river that Samuel Pepys witnessed the Great Fire of London in 1666.

He sought refuge in “a little alehouse on bankside …..and there watched the fire grow”.

The Anchor was rebuilt in 1676 after fire devastated the area.

The pub’s original structure has been added-to over several centuries, creating a maze of odd little rooms featuring old brick fire places, oak beams and worn, creaking floorboards.

There are several interesting bars, one named after Dr. Johnson, the lexicographer and writer, who drank here regularly. A copy of his dictionary is on display.

The main dining room has wonderful views across the Thames to the City.

Opening hours: Mon to Sat: 11 am – 11 pm, Sunday: 12 midday – 10.30 pm
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

Ten Bells, Spitalfields

Established in 1753, the Ten Bells pub was frequently visited by many of the ripper victims as it was near to where they lived. Mary Jane Kelly, the ripper’s final victim, drank here on the night of her death.

The pub’s exterior was re-built in the late 1990’s, though up until 2002 the interior was still very much as it was during the days of the murders.

On the wall of the pub there used to be a wooden board listing the Ripper’s victims. However, you couldn’t read the text on it because it had been turned face to the wall and screwed down in that position.

Apparently, that was done as a result of complaints to the owner by various Women’s groups who objected on the grounds of it being demeaning to women.

Opening hours: Mon to Sat: 11 am – 12 pm, Sunday: 11 am- 11 pm
Map and Street Views
Nearest underground station: Liverpool Street