There’s something uniquely British about the experience of drinking a pint of ale in a centuries-old pub. Forget Starbucks and the modern concept of “the third space,” Londoners have always loved their public houses, and for many, visiting the local watering hole is an after-work ritual repeated several times a week. While visiting London, be sure to join in on the tradition, and for an extra dose of culture, look out for a pub quiz. You might not know the answers, unless you are a follower of random football clubs, cricket, rugby or Brit Pop trivia, but that’s okay. It’s still fun to people watch. Or, stop by for a meal, pubs—historic or not—serve excellent food, and if you ask, you can normally find a plaque with the history of the boozer located on the wall. And if you are lucky you’ll find a jar of pickled eggs on the bar. Toss one down the hatch, if you dare.
Built in 1720 and originally the Officers Mess, or dining hall, for the Duke of Wellington’s soldiers, this is a wonderfully traditional pub painted red white and blue to match the Union Jack. Its Beef Wellington, a traditional dish of beef lined with Madeira-soaked mushrooms wrapped in pastry, is said to be the best in London.
Cittie of York
In a location that has hosted pubs since the 15th century, the back room at Cittie of York has ornately carved wooden booths, 1,000-gallon wine vats on display, and enormous lights soaring down from the high roof. It’s a popular spot for city—in other words finance—types, lawyers, and barristers who have been fighting the law at the nearby highest court in the land, The Old Bailey.
This public house is worth visiting for its authentic Victorian décor. It’s one of the last pubs to boast the once-traditional glass ‘snob-screen’ around the horse-shoe shaped bar so gentlemen can keep their distance from the bar staff. The pub also claims historic patrons, such as Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath, and Ted Hughes.
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern
At this Holborn pub, expect Tudor beams, coal fires, and beer jugs overlooked by portraits of Henry VIII, the king of England who famously had six wives. Different rooms divide the space up, like the Bishop’s Room, which refers to Bishop Goodrich, who established a pub on this spot in 1546, and Ye Closet, a cubbyhole that sits only six people.
The Spaniards Inn
At the time it was built in 1585 as a tollgate, The Spaniards Inn was two hours from London by coach and a favorite hangout of highwaymen like Dick Turbin, whose story was largely romanticized after his beheading. Dickens mentioned the pub in The Pickwick Papers, and it's said that Keats wrote “Ode to a Nightingale” in its largely untouched garden.