London crawling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2011, 12:00am


Nowhere does London come to vivid life as much as in its historic pubs, where the mere act of ordering writes you into a time line stretching back, almost unchanged, for hundreds of years.

For, surely, people back then weren't that much different; chatting, laughing, supping from their pewter tankard of ale or mead. So order a drink, chat to the locals or just watch the world go by - and become part of history.

These 10 drinking dens are all within an easy 5 1/2-kilometre walk in the City of London, often referred to as just the City or the Square Mile. This is the historic heart of London, the area around which the rest of the metropolis grew - an area whose boundaries have varied little since the Middle Ages.

Few of those original inns remain - thanks mostly to the Great Fire of London in 1666 (a date etched into every Londoner's heart) - but many of the pubs that exist today are built on sites where they once stood. Try not to drink in them all in one day, though; it can be done but the next day you'll feel like you've walked 400 kilometres, not just experienced 400 years of history.

Here's how to do it, starting at:

1. The Lamb And Flag 33 Rose Street, WC2

Where Samuel Butler, John Dryden and Charles Dickens are said to have frequented. This lovely little building was built in 1623. Once known as The Bucket of Blood, it was renamed The Lamb and Flag in 1883 and today is popular with tourists and locals alike. The walls are festooned with letters, old newspapers, cartoons, paintings and photos. It's cosy and relaxing with lots of brass and glass and a quiet hubbub that marks it out as a working boozer, not a time-trap or tourist theme pub.

2. The Seven Stars 53-54 Carey Street, WC2

The walk to the Seven Stars is the longest in our crawl and should take about 10 to 15 minutes. The Seven Stars is a smart-looking pub near Lincoln's Inn Fields, one of the traditional haunts of London's lawyers. But don't let that put you off because the Stars has good food and beer. It doesn't look particularly old but it is one of the few central London pubs that survived the Great Fire of London. It celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2002.

3. Cittie Of Yorke 22 High Holborn, WC1

Five minutes' walk from the Stars is the Cittie of Yorke, a cathedral among pubs and one of the capital's great unsung attractions. It was established as the site of a public house in 1420 (though the current building dates from the 1890s). Go through to the rear into a cavernous, church-like vaulted space dominated by a series of enormous wine vats high above a long narrow bar. Opposite the bar is a series of intimate wooden 'snugs', each seating about six people in semi-confessional privacy.

4. Ye Olde Mitre Ely Court, EC1

Just a few minutes from the Cittie, turn left into Hatton Garden, the jewellery centre of London, and keep an eye out for a small blue bishop's mitre, attached to a lamp post. 'Ye Olde Mitre public House,' it reveals, 'established 1546.' What it doesn't reveal is that it was demolished and rebuilt in 1772. Another sign further in boasts that it is 'possibly the oldest pub in London'. There are two bars, the smallest of which would fill up if more than 15 people walked in at once. This is a large part of its charm, as is its ever-changing list of real ales.

5. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese 145 Fleet Street, EC4

The words 'Ye Olde' should make any self-respecting tourist run screaming, but Ye Olde Mitre and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese - a five-minute walk down New Fetter Lane and left into Fleet Street - are exceptions. The current pub dates from 1667 (thanks again to that fire). There was a pub here called The Horn Tavern in 1538 and the cellar is from a 13th-century monastery. An atmospheric higgledy-piggledy warren of small bars and basements and corridors and bigger bars and cellar bars, this is like climbing through history.

6. Old Bell Tavern 95 Fleet Street, EC4

Come out of the Cheese and turn left. Ahead of you is the imposing dome of St Paul's Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who built many of the current pubs after the fire to keep happy the many workers employed in the rebuilding of London. How times change! One such pub is the Old Bell, just up the street on the right with its wonderfully ornate stained-glass windows. The black oak bar, set in a horseshoe shape in the middle of the pub, is festooned with beer mats and offers an eclectic range of guest ales. Very popular at lunchtime, it's been here since 1678.

7. Ye Olde Watling 29 Watling Street, EC4

Watling Street was built by the Romans as part of the road network from Dover to London via Canterbury. This is another of Wren's pubs - built from the timbers of old ships in 1668, after which the architect used an upstairs room (now a restaurant) as an office during the rebuilding of St Paul's. Lots of illustrations of the nearby cathedral on the walls and, past the sparse front bar, there is a more comfortable room with high windows that look out onto St Mary Aldermary Church.

8. Jamaica Wine House St Michael's Alley, EC3

The alleyway opposite the Watling takes you through to Cheapside and a right turn that leads to the wonderfully named Poultry and on into Cornhill, where your destination is on the right, by the parish church of St Michael in Cornhill. Many of today's older public houses started as coffee houses and the Jamaica is said to be one of the oldest, dating back to 1652. The current building is from the 19th century. Little nooks make this a comfy drinking hole.

9. The Olde Wine Shades 6 Martin Lane, EC4

This is going to be a little confusing, but if you've been drinking all the way through this crawl then it's all going to be confusing about now. There is no beer here. The Wine Shades was built in 1663 and is one of the few licensed premises to have survived the Great Fire. As you would expect, it does a fine line in wine. The interior is a bit haphazard and not at all straight. But that might have been me.

10. The George Inn 77 Borough High Street, SE1

The George Inn is London's last galleried coaching inn and is now owned by the National Trust. It was rebuilt in 1676 after a fire (not 'the fire' - the George lies across the River Thames) but there was an inn there in 1543. Today, it serves solid pub food, a good selection of ales and is well frequented by office workers as they wait for the trains to take them back to the suburbs. There is nowhere better to be on a sunny day than the beer garden.

The inn crowd

Pub tours of London

Guided three-hour tour of five historic City of London pubs. Costs from about GBP34 (HK$430) and includes half a pint of beer in each pub. Visit for details.

Carry on to the last drop

Historic pub crawl along the South Bank of the Thames. Uncover some of Southwark's darkest secrets and have a pint or two in a fantastic range of pubs. Tours last two hours (but may overrun) and cost GBP6. Pre-booking on 08001079433 is essential. Visit for details.

London walks

The people at have different pub walks on different nights, including an Along the Thames Pub Walk, Literary London, The Ancient City at Night and The Parliamentary Pub Walk. These civilised walks include stops at two pubs and a finish in a third. As they say, 'if you're looking for a 'crawl' ... you're barking up the wrong tree'. No need to book and prices are GBP8 (GBP6 with a 'season ticket'). See website for details.

London Discovery Tours

On the four tours available at - Riverside Pubs, Secret City, Bawdy London Pubs and the intriguingly named Wits, Wantons and Wenchers - a guide will help you 'spend about 20 minutes getting to know an area and then you take a break in one of its intriguing inns or taverns'. The cost is GBP7 per person. To arrange a tour call 02085308443.

The London Pub Crawl Company

Great website with free downloadable crawls and the chance to try a guided tour (maximum six persons) for GBP150 (GBP25 each and beer not included). Visit