Among visitors from across the globe, one of the most celebrated British customs to experience is sipping on a pint of ale in a traditional public house. And when these taverns have a history dating back through the centuries, they’re as culturally insightful as they are charismatic. Drink in the same spot as some of the city’s most infamous characters as you soak up the atmosphere of the greatest historic pubs in London.
The Star Tavern
Having been built in the early 19th century, The Star Tavern has a long and rich history, but it’s the role this pub had in more recent times that captivates people today. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the pub was the local haunt of stars of the time, like Diana Dors and Peter O’Toole, alongside London’s master criminal set who made the pub their meeting point for planning their infamous heist, The Great Train Robbery. Now, the tavern serves up hearty pub fare, earning it a place in the Good Food Guide, in addition to being awarded the Fuller’s Master Cellarman accolade for its offering of ale.
Dating back to 1720, The Grenadier was originally built as the Duke of Wellington’s Officers’ Mess – also said to have been frequented by King George IV – before becoming a pub in 1818 named The Guardsman Public House. The Grenadier is believed to have since taken its name from a Grenadier who was caught cheating in a game of cards on the premises and murdered as punishment, and who people now believe haunts the pub, putting it on the Taylor Walker haunted pubs trail.
The Sherlock Holmes
Combine your visit to a historic pub with an appreciation of the fictional Sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Built in 1736, The Sherlock Holmes was originally the Northumberland Hotel, which may be the hotel of the same name that was featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective stories. The pub now showcases a collection of Sherlock memorabilia.
The Dog and Duck
This Soho tavern is most famous for the clientele it’s served throughout its history, from John Constable and George Orwell in its early years to celebrities like Madonna in recent times. Originally build in 1734 on the site of the Duke of Monmouth’s home, then rebuilt in 1897 to become what it is today, the Grade II listed Dog and Duck retains its period décor, making it an atmospheric setting for sipping ale and tucking into classic British cuisine.
The Cross Keys
Tucked into the streets of Covent Garden, The Cross Keys has one of London’s most appealing pub facades, with striking signage that reflects its historic roots, entwined in lush foliage. Inside, the décor is reminiscent of the Victorian era, stuffed with curios and memorabilia including a napkin that’s said to be signed by Elvis Presley. Come for the pub’s homemade pies or stop by on a Sunday for a traditional roast dinner.
The Viaduct Tavern
Established in 1869, The Viaduct Tavern is London’s last remaining Victorian gin palace and still has the distinctive striking interiors to prove it, including the booth where the landlady sold gin tokens to patrons, and decorative panels on each wall. Situated opposite the Old Bailey, the tavern is within moments of historic landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral. Stop by for Fuller’s ales, outstanding G&Ts and casual pub fare.
Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
Celebrated as one of London’s most charismatic pubs, Grade II listed Ye Old Cheshire Cheese was rebuilt after the 1666 Great Fire of London. In its Fleet Street setting, the pub has been the haunt of literary greats like Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Fleet Street journalists of the 20th century. For around 40 years it was also home to an African grey parrot named Polly, who became so famous that around 200 newspapers worldwide wrote its obituary when it died in 1927. Patrons now come to sip on Sam Smith’s beer.
Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street
Cittie of Yorke
As another of London’s grade II listed pubs, Cittie of Yorke goes back to 1430, although the structure that remains today was built in the 1920s. Having retained its original features, the pub houses period features like a grand hall, Victorian stove and the famous Henneky’s Long Bar, taken from the pub’s former name and boasting the title of longest bar in Britain. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas even wrote an impromptu drinking ditty when he enjoyed a drink here.
Cittie of Yorke, 22 High Holborn
The George Inn
As London’s only remaining galleried coaching inn, and with 300 years of history, The George Inn is well worth a visit for its heritage and ambience. The pub, which is now owned by the National Trust, is known to be where Charles Dickens drank, even referring to it in his novel Little Dorrit. The pub serves up seasonal cuisine, with British classics like sausages and mash, a Sunday roast and Eton Mess on the menu.
Visit some of these historic pubs in London on the Football Stadium & Historic London Pubs tour with Evan Evans. Go behind the scenes of Arsenal Football Club before sipping craft beer and hearing about the taverns’ intriguing tales.
Header Image: Take time out in one of London’s historic pubs © iStock / hoozone.