Top eight historic pubs in London

Nicolette Loizou / 01 September 2015

London is home to some top-class history but you don’t have to buy a ticket to enjoy these attractions. Just step back in time and enjoy a pint in some of these historical watering holes.



1. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street

Buried within Fleet Street is a pub which has been a drinking home to some of the world’s most famous writers. Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse all drank here and the pub is linked with Dickens who alluded to it in A Tale of Two Cities. A drinking hole since 1538, the pub was rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. Warren-like, you could lose yourself amongst its dark wooden interior and cosy enclaves.

2. The Coal Hole, The Strand

Right next to another historical gem and inextricably linked to The Savoy, The Coal Hole was rumoured to have been the place the famous hotel stored its coal. In the Victorian era, the pub was a ‘song and supper’ club where regulars were encouraged to sing comic songs and sentimental ballads. Gilbert and Sullivan fans will be pleased to learn that the musical duo regularly performed here in Edwardian times.  More recently, former hell-raiser Richard Harris - Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films – kept a pew amongst its antique tiled floor and real ale selection.

3. The Sailsbury, Covent Garden

This Grade II listed pub is an entry to a lush, ornate world. Etched and polished glass and the carved woodwork join art nouveau bronze nymphs holding long-stemmed flowers with light bulbs decoratively placed in the middle. These glamorous touches have not been lost on the entertainment world – the pub has starred in Travels With My Aunt starring Maggie Smith and more recently The Boat That Rocked starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

4. Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich

It’s hard to miss this local landmark that’s nestled right up against the Thames. Built in 1837, this Grade 1 listed venue is often very busy thanks to passing tourists but the maritime connections of this large pub will not be lost on visitors to London. There is even a specially commissioned statue of Lord Nelson outside. There are stunning views of the river and the sound of the sea birds add to the seaside atmosphere.   

5. The Viaduct Tavern, St Paul’s

Spooky stories about the nearby Old Bailey and Newgate Prison surround the Viaduct Tavern which is considered to be one of London’s most haunted pubs. The pub itself dates from 1875 and is the last example of a late Victorian gin palace left in the city. It now offers more than just gin but a tonic (or two) is the best way to enjoy this historic pub – watch as the bartenders chip off a large block of ice for your drink.

6. The French House, Soho

Nestled in the heart of Soho is a bohemian stand-by, thought to date back to Victorian times and nobly refusing the gentrification that is spreading throughout the area. It is here that wits meet their match. Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Francis Bacon and John Mortimer have all sparred here and it remains a place of debate today – if you want to mutter small talk on your mobile, however, you will have to do it outside as there is a ‘no mobile’ rule. There is a choice of 30 champagnes and wines by the glass if you want to toast someone and they only serve beer in half pints.

7. Prospect of Whitby, Wapping

Though not thought to be the oldest pub in existence, it can lay claim to being the site of the oldest riverside tavern dating from around 1520. All that remains from the building’s earliest period is an imposing 400-year-old flagstone floor and the pub also has a rare pewter-topped bar, as well as old barrels and ship masts built into the structure. As befits its waterside location it was originally haunted by those involved in life on the river and sea and it was a notorious hang-out for smugglers, thieves and pirates, before morphing into a rather less criminal place and becoming enamoured by Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and JMW Turner. It has even fetched up in an episode of Only Fools and Horses.

8. Gordon’s Wine Bar, Embankment

Enter a cosy cavern bar dimly lit by candles and you will find yourself in the oldest wine bar in London – yes, it’s not really a pub – but it’s a fantastic place to imbibe, thought to have been established in 1890. Wind your way round the old wooden walls covered in historical newspaper cuttings and faded memorabilia as you contemplate one of its many fine wines. The bar has many associations with the literary and theatrical fields. In the room overhead Rudyard Kipling wrote The Light That Failed and he also wrote some of his works in the little parlour of the Wine Bar. Nowadays, it’s frequented by lawyers who debate enthusiastically amongst its clandestine atmosphere.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.