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An old pub with a cosy atmosphere

London experiences

London’s oldest pubs

London’s oldest pubs and inns have intriguing stories to tell, some of which are true! Follow in the footsteps of legendary characters, uncover dark secrets, watch out for ghostly locals and hear tall tales of criminal shenanigans. This is your guide to historic pubs London has held dear for centuries, where you can enjoy a cracking yarn or two over your pint. 


Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street

Down an old Dickensian street, the brilliantly named Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese opened in 1538 and was rebuilt in 1667, following the Great Fire of London. The vaulted cellars go back even further, to the 13th century. Inside, it’s dark and moody with a warren of rooms of open fires, nooks, high-backed pews and sawdust on the floor. 


So many famous characters appear in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’s history – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Charlie Chaplain, Mark Twain, PG Wodehouse, Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill – but perhaps the best pub character was Polly. Polly was a parrot with a filthy mouth and a bad temper, who lived in the pub from 1875 till his death in 1926. When he wasn’t yelling out “Rats!” or “Scotch!”, he was barking fake food orders or imitating popping corks. Polly was later stuffed and now sits behind the bar in a glass case.  


The Mayflower, Rotherhithe

Established in 1550, The Mayflower (originally called the Spread Eagle) is the oldest pub near Central London, right by the Thames. This is where the original Mayflower ship was moored before setting sail to America in 1620. Rumour has it that some of the ship’s original timbers are even incorporated into the structure. 


So, this is a must-visit pub if you have a fascination with America and its history of the Pilgrim Fathers. If you can prove a family connection to the Pilgrim Fathers, you are welcome to sign the Mayflower Descendants Book. 


Inside, there are fireside nooks, communal tables and private booths for a delightful fish and chip lunch. There’s a lovely jetty area outside for quite a special drink overlooking the Thames when it’s sunny. It’s also the only UK pub licensed to sell US and UK postage stamps, so bring along a postcard or two for a spot of writing.


Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate High St

Built in 1593, the Hoop and Grapes is one of the few timber buildings that survived the Great Fire of London – the flames were extinguished just 50 yards away. Squeezed between two larger, newer buildings, the Hoop and Grapes has a leaning door, so you’ll be forgiven for feeling a little tipsy before you’ve even had a sip of alcohol. This is a delightfully wonky pub where the oak posts are askew, the ceilings sag and the floor tilts in different directions. 


Apparently, the pub once had smuggling tunnels that led directly from the cellar to the Thames, where smugglers would roll copper drums of illegal liquor into the pub. And for your visit, there’s plenty more space than the suggests outside thanks to a large extension at the back. 


The George Inn, Southwark

Ideal for passing stagecoaches back in 1618, The George is London’s oldest inn and its only galleried coaching inn. There’s evidence Shakespeare at least visited the pub and possibly his plays were performed in the courtyard. The pub also gets a mention in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. 


Most galleried inns were a social hub for passing travellers where travelling troubadours would perform and patrons who paid a little extra could watch from the gallery. But these inns all but disappeared when ‌the railways arrived. The George Inn only survived thanks to the tenacity of the landlady at the time, who apparently would tell tall tales exaggerating its connections to Dickens and Shakespeare to keep it standing. 


Now, it’s owned by the National Trust, which has preserved some of its oldest features, including the wonky galleries and the serving hatch in the Parliament Bar. You don’t need to be a member of the National Trust to visit, and you can still get a pint inside. 


Ye Olde Mitre, Hatton Garden

We may have saved the best till last. Ye Olde Mitre is incredibly cute, hard to find (walk to the end of Ely Court alleyway) and has a history that goes all the way back to 1546 and near the Bishop of Ely’s Palace – what is now the pub was once the palace’s servants’ quarters.


Inside, there are plenty of dark oak fixtures and Elizabethan charm. Don’t miss the remains of the cherry tree, which is behind glass, tucked away in the right-hand corner by the entrance. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth I danced around this cherry tree when it was used as a maypole. 


Another curiosity about this pub is it was a part of Cambridgeshire because the palace grounds were deemed too beautiful to be in London. Criminals often exploited this quirk by hiding out in the pub and beyond the reach of London’s police. 

Fancy staying in a heritage hotel too? The Clermont, Victoria, was London’s first railway hotel, built in 1862 and mentioned in a few Sherlock Holmes books. Our equally handsome hotel, The Clermont, Charing Cross, also has lots of historic pub charm. Read more about our hotel history here.