London's Historic Pubs Walk, London

London's Historic Pubs Walk (Self Guided), London

If there’s any more iconic symbol for London than Big Ben or the London Eye, then it must be the traditional English pub. And London sure is full of them, dating from pre-Victorian times to just about five minutes ago.

With so much history surrounding London there is no shortage of historic pubs to choose from. Whether you fancy half-timbered, rambling watering holes or small but perfectly formed pubs in central London, you'll be spoilt for choice with the selection of historic pubs in the capital.

On this self-guided pub crawl you will find your way to some of the most prominent establishments, like Fitzroy Tavern – a popular stomping ground of many intellectuals, artists, and bohemians, such as Dylan Thomas and George Orwell; French House in Soho whose notable guests at various times included the likes of Charles de Gaulle, Francis Bacon, and Malcolm Lowry; The Salisbury – a place full of Victorian charm, well-prepared English pub fare and traditional cask ales; Lamb and Flag – the oldest public house in Covent Garden and possibly in London, used to be frequented by Charles Dickens; White Hart – the legendary haunt of 18th century highwaymen; and many more.

There's hardly any danger of getting lost whilst losing yourself indulging in this much loved British tradition once in a while, as long as you have GPSmyCity with you. Note, the standard opening times are between 11am and 11pm (10:30pm on Sundays or on public holidays).
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London's Historic Pubs Walk Map

Guide Name: London's Historic Pubs Walk
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 Km or 3.5 Miles
Author: Svetlana
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Fitzroy Tavern
  • The French House
  • The Salisbury Pub
  • Lamb & Flag
  • The White Hart
  • Museum Tavern
  • Princess Louise
  • Ye Olde Chesire Cheese
  • Ye Olde Mitre
  • The Holy Tavern
Fitzroy Tavern

1) Fitzroy Tavern

The Fitzroy is a pretty big deal. It's so important that it even shares its name with the neighborhood it's in. Back in the 1920s to the 1940s, it was the go-to spot of bohemian London, the ultimate pub for the movers and shakers, the ultimate hangout for the saucy Bloomsbury crowd who were all about living wild lives. Originally, it started as a local coffee house in 1883, then became known as the Hundred Marks because of all the Germans in the area, and only got its current name after the First World War.

Writers, artists, and sculptors – including Dylan Thomas, Jacob Epstein, Michael Bentine, George Orwell, and Nina Hamnett – would pool their money from their successes and drink until they ran out of cash and had to get creative again. But, hey, they didn't just party here. The pub had a heart, too. The legendary landlord, Pop Kleinfeld, started a local charity called 'Pennies from Heaven' in the 1920s. Customers would stick envelopes filled with coins to the ceiling using darts, and the money went to help needy local children.

Nowadays, the award-winning pub has been all spruced up, you can still experience the old-school atmosphere in the Writers & Artists Bar, enjoy a pint on the sunny street corner (they've got a fantastic selection of ales at reasonable prices), or explore the literary heritage displayed on the walls. So, if you're ever in the area, the Fitzroy is definitely worth a visit – maybe even two!
The French House

2) The French House

Hey, put those phones away! This place has a strict 'no music, laptop, and definitely no mobile phones' rule. It's all about letting creative minds chat and share their witty thoughts against a backdrop of black-and-white photos.

If you're thinking of having a relaxed pint here, think again: they only serve half pints, except on Pints Day. Most folks prefer sipping on wine or champagne from the European pals across the border. Upstairs, the dining room often serves up delicious French dishes like the classic whole roast garlic bulb on toast or salt cod beignets. This kitchen has even launched some big-shot chefs in London.

Initially called the York Minster, this place has been keeping the spirit alive in Soho for over a century, welcoming everyone from prostitutes to gays, publishers to actors, painters to, well, you name it. It was a hangout for those who liked its down-to-earth vibe over the fancy private clubs nearby. They even offered informal loans from behind the bar to their loyal customers when needed. During the Second World War, it became a safe haven for Free France movement members, and Charles de Gaulle himself might have dropped in for a glass of red. Other regulars included artistic legends like Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, and even the surreal Salvador Dalí.

Just like back in the day, The French House can get seriously packed, so if you want a seat, come early and stake your claim!
The Salisbury Pub

3) The Salisbury Pub

Dating all the way back to 1899, the Salisbury has a rich history, and its charming Victorian style is a magnet for folks who can't resist snapping pictures. Inside, you'll find glass etched with Art Nouveau designs, colorful stained glass, intricately carved mahogany, and some seriously fancy upholstery that'll catch your eye.

When it comes to food, this place serves up classic English pub grub that's top-notch, like fish and chips and Yorkshire pudding, plus a different roasted meat special each day that won't break the bank. If you're in the mood for something a bit more modern, they've got you covered with snacks and pub favorites like sandwiches and nachos. Definitely give their "award-winning" steak pie a shot – it comes with charred cabbage, a red wine dipping gravy, and your choice of chips or mash; a must-try if you're craving a hearty meal.

You won't go thirsty here either, because there's a full bar stocked with beer, wine, and craft cocktails. You'll have plenty of modern ales to choose from, and they mix things up with traditional cask ales like Courage Directors and Theakston's throughout the month. Just a heads-up, though: they don't do reservations, so it's first come, first served. If it's hopping when you arrive, be ready to wait a bit. The trick is to snag a table first, and then make your way to the bar to place your order. Enjoy!
Lamb & Flag

4) Lamb & Flag

This enduringly popular and welcoming 17th-century tavern, devoid of corporate influence and refreshingly unspoiled by gentrification, was previously called "The Bucket of Blood" due to its utilization of the upstairs area and front yard for winner-takes-all bare-knuckle fights, a form of live entertainment in days gone by. Nowadays, it has transformed into a much more amiable establishment, offering British cuisine and authentic ale. It's not uncommon to see patrons spilling onto the street, creating a lively atmosphere.

Nestled in an alley that connects Garrick and Floral streets, a plaque stands as a reminder of a significant event in history: the 1679 assault on poet John Dryden by King Charles's men at this very location. The building officially became a pub in 1772 and has proudly borne the name "Lamb & Flag" since 1833. The name itself is a quintessential British pub title, with "Lamb" symbolizing the Lamb of God, often depicted carrying a flag adorned with a cross.

Esteemed by the renowned author Charles Dickens, the interior of the pub exudes the quintessential ambiance of a traditional London pub, complete with cozy wooden furnishings, vintage brass fixtures, and an array of nostalgic photographs. You can still relish a superb meal, delightful company, and, naturally, a couple of pints or more.
The White Hart

5) The White Hart

The White Hart claims its spot among London's oldest licensed pubs, and while it's not a posh place, the food is tasty, and you definitely get bang for your buck. Back in the 18th century, this neighborhood was notorious for being a rough London slum, where brawls, drunkenness, and ladies of the night were common sights. Legend has it that The White Hart had some interesting regulars, including infamous thieves like Jack Sheppard and Richard (Dick) Turpin. The latter even stopped by for a drink before his hanging in 1739.

Fast forward to today, and The White Hart has transformed into a delightful pub with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. You'll find a relaxed and friendly vibe here, along with a variety of pub games and a diverse music playlist. The menu is packed with both classic and modern pub grub, ranging from fish and chips to burgers, nachos, cheese platters, and more. And when it comes to drinks, they've got you covered with a well-stocked bar offering a wide selection of draft and bottled beers, ciders, and an extensive list of fine spirits and liqueurs. The music typically spans popular hits from the 1960s to today, with a sprinkle of house and dance tunes.
Museum Tavern

6) Museum Tavern

Situated right across from the British Museum in Bloomsbury, this welcoming and attractive Victorian pub serves as the perfect spot to unwind after immersing yourself in cultural pursuits. Karl Marx himself used to relax here following his strenuous days at the British Museum Library. If he were to visit today, he could indulge in the excellent array of craft beers and fine spirits while enjoying the menu of expertly prepared pub dishes.

Before the British Museum came into existence in the 1760s, this establishment went by the name of the Dog & Duck. Much of what you see today is the result of a significant renovation in 1855. Many of the interior Victorian elements have been preserved, including intricately carved wooden fixtures and beautifully etched glass windows.

In addition to Marx, this historic venue has hosted other notable figures of historical significance, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the mastermind behind "Sherlock Holmes", and novelist J.B. Priestley, recognized as a founding figure of the International Theatre Institute.
Princess Louise

7) Princess Louise

Camouflaged amidst the bustling High Holborn, you'll discover the most remarkable gin palace-style pub that still stands today. Erected in 1872 and named after Queen Victoria's rebellious fourth daughter, its architecture serves as a testament to an era when the British Empire spanned approximately two-thirds of the world's landmass. Picture, if you will, a Royal Albert Hall or V&A Museum transformed into a haven for libations. While it may not cater to everyone's tastes, the opulent intricacy and grandeur on display here are undeniable.

Every inch of the establishment is adorned with care and precision: a symphony of mosaic floors, intricately etched glass and mirrors, abundant Victorian tiling, ornate wrought ironwork, and a ceiling that stands as a masterpiece. Even the gentlemen are treated to the simple pleasure of relieving themselves in a Grade II listed building when they make their way to the renowned bathrooms. Crafted from solid marble and boasting a stylish tiled floor, the ambiance down there authentically transports you back to the 19th century.

The extensive use of elaborate partitions carves the pub into a complex maze of cozy nooks, public areas, and private hideaways. Upstairs, you'll find a room with minimal architectural adornment, but it supposedly once hosted legendary figures like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan in their heyday. This might explain the cracks in the exquisite turn-of-the-century ceiling.

Princess Louise also offers a menu of traditional pub fare in addition to its excellent selection of real ales on tap.
Ye Olde Chesire Cheese

8) Ye Olde Chesire Cheese

Arguably one of London's most iconic public houses, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has been around since the days of Pepys and Wren. It has earned renown for its literary associations, having counted luminaries such as Samuel Johnson, G.K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, George Orwell, and Charles Dickens among its regular patrons at various points in history. Established in 1538, it stands as one of London's oldest pubs, rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. Some sections of its lower cellars predate even these ancient origins.

The edifice once served as a monastery, resulting in a labyrinthine network of chambers, cellars, and tunnels beneath its surface. Above ground, the pub offers a wood-paneled dining room and a cozy bar, typically strewn with sawdust on the floor. Located on Fleet Street, a historic hub for Britain's major newspapers, 'the Cheese' has long been a favored retreat for weary journalists seeking sustenance.

Dickens had been known to frequent this place, and it is alluded to in his work "A Tale of Two Cities": following Charles Darnay's acquittal on charges of high treason, Sydney Carton invites him to dine, "drawing his arm through his own". Carton leads him to Fleet Street "up a covered way, into a tavern … where Charles Darnay was soon recruiting his strength with a good plain dinner and good wine".

Currently under the ownership of Sam Smith's Old Brewery, this pub provides an unmissable opportunity to immerse oneself in the historic watering-hole ambiance of London's past, following in the footsteps of literary giants (as well as many less celebrated imbibers). The ambiance is alluringly dim yet unexpectedly welcoming.
Ye Olde Mitre

9) Ye Olde Mitre

Not your typical backstreet tavern, this pub is more of a clandestine hideaway, renowned for being one of London's most elusive establishments, as well as one of its oldest, dating all the way back to 1546. Nestled amidst the diamond vendors of Hatton Garden, you'll need to navigate through a hidden entryway, effectively leaving the bustling City of London behind for what was once part of Cambridge, formerly belonging to the Bishop of Ely's palace.

Ye Olde Mitre likely served the bishop's servants, and the surrounding area functioned as an independent enclave akin to the Vatican. If people with less-than-honorable intentions wanted to avoid getting caught by the City of London police, they'd hide in the alley where the pub stands and then slip into the neighboring slums. Those very slums were the ones that Charles Dickens used as inspiration for Fagin's hideout in his book "Oliver Twist", where the old mentor taught young homeless boys how to pickpocket.

Inside the front bar, you'll find remnants of a distinctive cherry tree that once marked a boundary and is said to have witnessed Queen Elizabeth I dancing around it with Sir Christopher Hatton during a maypole celebration. Locals often migrate to the upstairs Bishop's Room or the cozy rear snug, and on pleasant days, patrons can enjoy their drinks outdoors, gathered around large beer barrels in the alley.

This establishment, closed on weekends, offers a selection of English tapas in the form of Scotch eggs, toasties, and sausage rolls, maintaining a traditional charm that includes having restroom facilities located outside.
The Holy Tavern

10) The Holy Tavern

The structure housing this tavern has its origins in the early 1700s, and during the early 1990s, wooden panels, tiles, and platforms were introduced to authentically replicate the ambiance of an 18th-century coffee house. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of a brown café you might find in Amsterdam rather than a typical London pub: a remarkable charade and a perfect illustration of how artful imitation and homage can be executed with true skill by a skilled craftsman. The real puzzle lies in the fact that no one has ventured to replicate this unique atmosphere elsewhere in the city.

What adds to the charm is that this pub exclusively serves the exceptional offerings of Saint Peter's Brewery, a renowned brewery hailing from Suffolk, known for presenting its beer in distinctive oval-shaped medicine bottles containing fruit-infused, cask-conditioned ales. The Holy Tavern is a paradise for ale enthusiasts, and the libations are often drawn directly from wooden casks.

Subdivided into alcoves, booths, and elevated platforms, this cozy pub provides a tranquil setting for intimate conversations, with the most sought-after spots being the seats near the hearth. Due to its modest size, the patrons frequently spill out onto the otherwise serene streets of Clerkenwell.

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