London: Where To Do The Ultimate Pub Crawl

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London has over 3,500 pubs. Pub, an abbreviation for public house, was a Victorian term first used in the 19th century. They have long been a fixture of London life: a place to meet friends, grab a quick meal, have a business meeting or relax.

According to Emily Webster, a London pub historian and devotee, there are roughly two dozen among London’s historic pubs that date back two or more centuries. They’re scattered from one end of London to the other.

Six, however, are located in central London and reasonably close to one another. Visiting all of them takes about 90 minutes (about 2.4 miles of walking). Longer if you stop for a beer! Together they make up London’s ultimate pub crawl.

Per Webster, pubs, or “public houses,” aren’t new to London. The Romans first introduced them. Called taberna, they were places where wine, ale and food could be bought.

During the Middle Ages, public houses were often run by monasteries. They also brewed the ale that was sold there. Known as ale houses, they were ubiquitous.

Ale is similar to beer. Made from malted barley, it is unhoped and typically has more alcohol. When water, especially in urban locations, was unsafe to drink, ale was often the safest beverage to consume.

In the Elizabethan era, notes Webster, taverns began to proliferate. Unlike ale houses, taverns only sold wine. They catered to a more upscale customer and, like modern clubs, were fashionable places to be seen. Some of London’s historic pubs began as taverns.

Coaching inns sprang up with the growth of coach travel in the 18th century. They provided accommodation, food and water for horses, the driver and the passengers. Many coaching inns, especially rural ones, also evolved into modern pubs. Although they no longer cater to coachmen and their horses, many still rent out rooms to travelers.

Start your ultimate London pub crawl at Covent Garden. It’s a convenient subway (tube) stop.

The Lamb and Flag, 33 Rose St, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9EB

The pub claims it was established in 1623. However, the earliest written reference to a pub on this site dates to 1772. Originally called The Coopers Arms, the name was changed to the Lamb and Flag in 1833. The frame of the building may have once belonged to a house originally built in 1638.

During the 19th century, the pub was notorious for staging bare-knuckle prize fights - earning it the nickname “Bucket of Blood.”

A plaque on the building commemorates an attack on the poet John Dryden that occurred in Rose Alley behind the pub. In 1679 Charles II sent thugs to assault Dryden in retaliation for a satirical verse Dryden had penned about Charles’ mistress Louise de KĂ©rouaille.

Charles Dickens lived in the area and was a frequent visitor to the pub. Long before he turned to writing, he was employed affixing labels to jars of boot black at an adjacent factory. The poet Samuel Butler was also a regular.

Fuller’s Brewery owns the pub. Try Fuller’s London Pride, widely considered Britain’s top premium cask ale. It offers an aroma of rustic bread, with notes of orange zest and a long, bitter finish.

Just a mile down the Strand is another historic pub, Ye Olde Cock Tavern, 22 Fleet Street Temple, London EC4Y 1AA.

The original tavern was located across the street from the current location and dates to at least the 16th century. The pub was moved to its current location in 1880. Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson and Samuel Pepys were all regulars.

The Taylor Walker Pubs Group owns the pub. They also own Westgate Brewery and Belhaven, Scotland’s oldest working brewery. Try the Old Speckled Hen, one of Great Britain’s best-selling premium ale. It has a distinctive, rich, malty taste and fruity aroma.

A five-minute walk down the road brings you to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street London, WC2R 3LD.

It’s close to the Royal Courts of Justice and the Inner and Middle Temple, two of London’s ancient Inns of Court.

There has been a pub on this site since at least 1538. The original pub was largely destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666 and subsequently rebuilt. Most of the interior is from 19th-century alterations, but the vaulted ceilings may date back to a 13th-century Carmelite monastery that preceded the pub.

The pub has a long association with literary figures, including Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, P.G Wodehouse and Samuel Johnson. According to local legend, the upstairs rooms may have been used as a brothel in the mid-18th century. The pub was reputedly haunted.

Dickens mentioned the pub in Tale of Two Cities. Wodehouse also referenced the Cheshire Cheese in some of his books. The children’s book the Cheshire Cheese Cat is set in the pub. Robert Louis Stevenson, Agatha Christie and Anthony Trollope also mentioned the pub in their novels, although it’s unknown whether they were regulars.

The Rhymer’s Club, a group of London poets organized by W. B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys, used to have meetings at the Cheshire Cheese.

The pub is owned by Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, Yorkshire’s oldest brewery. It carries a wide selection of beers.

Try the Taddy Lager, a Yorkshire favorite. It’s a European-style, full-flavored pale lager. There is also a Taddy Porter, a dark, full-bodied beer with notes of roasted barley, milk chocolate and dried fruit. They also have a large selection of Belgian-style fruit beers.

Follow Shoe Lane to Holborn, about a half mile, to Ye Old Mitre, Holborn, 1 Ely Ct. Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SJ.

The pub, possibly London’s oldest, dates to 1546. Built for the servants of the Bishop of Ely, it incorporates a cherry tree that now supports the front of the building. Legend has it that the tree was once used as a maypole and that a young Queen Elizabeth I danced around it with Sir Christopher Hatton.

The pub is five minutes walk from Smithfield, where traitors were traditionally put to death. William Wallace, one of the leaders of the First War of Scottish Independence, was hung, drawn and quartered there.

Fuller’s Brewery owns the pub. It has a large assortment of international beers, including American-style IPAs. Try the Broken Dream Oatmeal Stout. It packs distinctive milk chocolate and coffee flavors. It was voted Supreme Champion Beer of Britain in 2018.

Another five-minute walk along Holborn brings you to Cittie of Yorke, 22 High Holborn, London WC1V 6BN.

There has been a pub on this site since 1430, although the current building only dates to 1920. The pub was a favorite of Dylan Thomas. Be sure to check out the cellar bar.

Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery owns it. Try the chocolate stout. It tastes exactly like a liquid chocolate bar.

The Seven Stars, 53 Carey St, London

WC2A 2JB is just a seven-minute walk down Chancery Lane and Carey Street.

The pub dates from 1602, although the building is probably circa 1680. Shakespeare worked at the nearby Blackfriars Theater on Ludgate Hill, about a 10-minute walk from the Seven Stars. The pub’s exterior wall carries a quotation from All’s Well That Ends Wellto make the coming hour o’erflow with joy, And pleasure drown the brim (Act 2 Scene 4). There is no evidence that Shakespeare was a regular visitor, however.

In 2007, The Seven Stars was picked as the London Dining Pub of the Year. A long-time publican, Roxy Beaujolais, owns it. Try Sharp’s Cornish Coaster, a light golden ale from Sharp’s Brewery on the north Cornish coast.

You’re almost back to where you started - Covent Garden. Make one last stop at Plume Wine Bar, 26 Wellington St, London WC2E 7DD. It specializes in sparkling and English wines. After all that beer, you’re due for a change of libations.

Plume is housed in Charles Dicken’s 1860 publishing house. Dickens used to live and work here, and legend has it that he edited the manuscript of Great Expectations in the basement office that now serves as a speakeasy.

London’s historic pubs are well worth a visit, both for the history between their walls and their classic English beers. Per the enclosed map, this traditional London Pub crawl takes about 4-5 hours to complete and leaves plenty of time for frequent beer stops.


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