These most iconic pubs in London are some of the most popular and longstanding ‘public houses’ where you can enjoy a drink in memorable and sometimes historical settings. There are over 3,000 pubs scattered across the English capital and most are supported by a loyal local clientele as well as many thousands of visitors who seek to experience the pub drinking tradition.

    Some of the capital’s pubs are especially characterful and have attained iconic status thanks to their colorful history and heritage, the characters who frequented them, and perhaps even a ghost or 2 who just can’t be persuaded to leave when the bell rings for closing time. Pull up a barstool and find out a bit more about this quintessentially British institution.


    The Prospect of Whitby

    A historic waterfront pub in the heart of the Docklands

    The Prospect of Whitby has a strong claim to being the oldest pub on the River Thames. The first inn to be built on this spot in Wapping dates from about AD 1520. The flagstone floor of today’s boozer is probably original. The famous London diarist Samuel Pepys used to drink here in the 17th century, though by then a new pub had been built on top of it.

    Back then, smugglers, pirates and other unsavory types – not to mention its use for cockfighting and bare-knuckle fighting – gave it a hellish reputation and the nickname “the Devil’s Tavern”. Today, it’s an altogether more wholesome hangout, with nautical embellishments adding a riverside twist on the classic pub interior.

    Location: 57 Wapping Wall, London E1W 3SH, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from noon to 11 pm, Sunday from noon to 10 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7481 1095


    photo by Jim Linwood (CC BY 2.0) modified


    The Churchill Arms

    A famous flower-bedecked pub in Kensington

    The Churchill Arms dates from AD 1750, but it is only relatively recently that it achieved iconic status in London. The pub takes its name from the family of the British Prime Minister during World War II. However, although Sir Winston dominates the memorabilia, it was his grandparents that were regulars.

    Most Londoners will know it as the pub that’s covered in flowers. In fact, its displays are so impressive that they’ve actually won an award at the Chelsea Flower Show, the country’s most prestigious horticultural event. The many pots, window boxes and hanging baskets – almost 200 at the last count – cost an eye-watering £26,000 a year to fill. Fortunately, the irrigation is automated so no one has to water them all by hand.

    Location: 119 Kensington Church St, London W8 7LN, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from noon to 11 pm, Sunday from noon to 10.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7727 4242


    photo by Ewan Munro (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The George Inn

    A unique 17th-century London pub owned by the National Trust

    The George Inn is London’s sole surviving galleried inn. This historic pub close to Borough Market dates from the 17th century and replaced an earlier tavern that burned to the ground in 1676. Such galleried inns were common in Elizabethan times and were used for theater productions by playwrights such as William Shakespeare.

    This pub is most closely associated with a different literary connection – Charles Dickens used to frequent the coffee house here, now the Middle Bar, and mentions it in Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend. Inside, the pub’s exposed beams and wood paneling are a reminder of how long it’s been around. But to truly appreciate The George Inn’s charm, you’ll need to grab a table in the courtyard.

    Location: 75 Borough High St, London SE1 1NH

    Open: Monday–Friday from noon to 11 pm, Saturday from 11 am to 11 pm, Sunday from 11 am to 10 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7407 2056


    photo by Ewan Munro (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The Mayflower

    A riverside pub from where the famous ship sailed to America

    The Mayflower holds the unusual distinction of being the only pub in Britain to sell American as well as British postage stamps. It’s a throwback to its past life serving seafarers. It was renamed in the 20th century after one of the most famous ships ever to dock on the Thames at Rotherhithe.

    The Mayflower’s captain, Christopher Jones, would most likely have downed a schooner or 2 of ale before departing on that historic voyage to America in 1620. If you can prove that you’re a descendant of one of those pioneering travelers, you’re invited to sign the pub’s treasured guestbook. A model of the ship they sailed on sits above the bar alongside an eclectic collection of antiques and bric-a-brac.

    Location: 117 Rotherhithe St, London SE16 4NF, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from noon to 11 pm, Sunday from noon to 10 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7237 4088


    photo by John Slater (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The Ten Bells

    A pub with authentic Victorian tiling and a connection to Jack the Ripper

    The Ten Bells pub, along with the ghostly white spire of Christ Church, is one of the most famous landmarks in the Spitalfields area of East London. The 2 buildings are connected in an unusual way. Originally, the church installed a peal of 8 bells, and in nearby Red Lion Street, the Eight Bells Alehouse appears on 18th-century business records. In 1788, a new set of bells brought the total to 10. The name of the pub was altered accordingly – by then its address was here on Commercial Street.

    Later, the gruesome murders of regulars Mary Kelly and Annie Chapman made this a stop on the many Jack the Ripper walking tours that pass by. The tiled murals on the wall are restored Victorian originals celebrating everyday life of that era.

    Location: 84 Commercial St, London E1 6LY, UK

    Open: Sunday–Wednesday from noon to midnight, Thursday–Saturday from noon to 1 am

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7247 7532


    photo by Ewan Munro (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Lamb and Flag

    A busy pub close to Covent Garden market

    The Lamb and Flag is a pub tucked away at the end of a cobbled alley in London. It’s been one of London’s licensed premises since 1772, then known as the Cooper’s Arms pub. For a time in the early 19th century, people referred to it as the Bucket of Blood as it hosted bare-knuckle fights, which regularly stained the floor’s sawdust red.

    Brawling is frowned upon these days and drinkers instead chat over a pint in a much friendlier environment, though the worn floorboards are a reminder of its past. Brass fixtures, wood darkened with countless layers of varnish and framed caricatures on the walls add character. It’s often packed to the gills and customers spill out onto the sidewalk when it isn't raining.

    Location: 33 Rose St, London WC2E 9EB, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from noon to 11 pm, Sunday from noon to 10.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7497 9504


    photo by Ewan Munro (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The Spaniards Inn

    A Hampstead local mentioned in some famous literary works

    The Spaniards Inn is one of north London’s oldest pubs, probably dating back to 1585. Around that time, highwaymen such as Dick Turpin would hide inside – hardly surprising as his father was the pub’s landlord for a time. As wealthy travelers approached, he’d emerge and rob the surprised victims.

    The origin of the pub’s name is a little hazy but it probably refers to the Spanish Ambassador to James I of England and VI of Scotland, who owned it as a country retreat. He didn’t care that Hampstead was a 2-hour carriage ride from the city centre. Today’s patrons can simply hop on the Tube. On a winter’s night, when a log fire burns in the grate, it’s definitely worth the ride.

    Location: Spaniards Rd, London NW3 7JJ, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 10 am to 11 pm, Sunday from 10 am to 10.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 8731 8406


    photo by Martin Addison (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The Holly Bush

    A popular pub in leafy Hampstead that’s thought to be haunted

    The Holly Bush has been a pub since 1807, but before that, this cozy Grade II-listed public house was a private home. This elegant place is in keeping with its upscale Hampstead location. Leather chairs, fancy curtains, chandeliers and rugs over the polished floorboards elevate this from your usual run-of-the-mill place. The cast iron fireplace is especially lovely on a cold day, when the bar staff light the fire.

    The Holly Bush serves excellent wine and a wide range of real ale. The food’s good too, but make a note to order at the bar. The woman who waits tables in a long white apron and dark skirt is the pub’s resident ghost.

    Location: 22 Holly Mount, London NW3 6SG, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from noon to 11 pm, Sunday from noon to 10.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7435 2892


    photo by Ewan Munro (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

    A Fleet Street institution, home of Polly the Parrot

    Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a centuries-old pub on Fleet Street. Outside, a wrought iron lantern doubles as the pub sign. Inside, coopers’ barrels are just the right height to stand your beer glass on. An inn has probably stood on this site since 1538 – today’s building was erected after the Great Fire of London. The cellars could be even older.

    Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were regulars, but a gray parrot called Polly eclipses their memory. This foul-mouthed bird spewed profanities during his 40-year residency and often entertained drinkers by imitating a cork popping followed by the glug, glug, glug of wine being poured. Polly was stuffed after his death in 1926. You can find him in a cage above the bar.

    Location: 145 Fleet St, London EC4A 2BU, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from noon to 11 pm (closed on Sundays)

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7353 6170


    photo by Images George Rex (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    The Star Tavern

    A genteel London pub in quiet, cobbled mews

    The Star Tavern is a traditional pub in London’s Belgravia, with a mirror over the mantelpiece and a fireplace flanked by bookcases. Its crystal chandeliers add an air of respectability. Indeed, it once attracted a celebrity crowd including movie stars like Diana Dors and Peter O’Toole. But so too came a criminal element; after Peter Scott robbed Sophia Loren of a £200,000 necklace, he announced his ill-gotten gains to his fellow drinkers here.

    The Great Train Robbery, which would be the biggest heist Britain had ever known, was also planned here. Mastermind Bruce Reynolds used to pull up in his flashy Aston Martin to go over details with the rest of the gang, yet their scheming somehow went unnoticed.

    Location: 6 Belgrave Mews W, London SW1X 8HT, UK

    Open: Monday–Saturday from noon to 11 pm, Sunday from noon to 9 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7235 3019


    photo by Edwardx (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Julia Hammond | Contributing Writer

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