Queen Victoria famously said, "Give my people plenty of beer, good beer, and cheap beer, and you will have no revolution among them." In fact, there are few more quintessentially British experiences than sipping a pint of ale in a historic London pub.
But, with over 7,000 pubs in London, it's hard to know where to start your visit to the City of Ale. Don't worry, in our London pubs guide we present our favourite tours — perhaps the best ways to get an insider's look into the history of public houses, and to discover the fascinating world or the city's ale & beer palaces.
We like this tour because it gives you a chance to discover English tipple with Britain's Beer Sommelier of the Year on a private pub tour.
We always opt for private tours when we can because of the personal attention and flexibility they offer.
This one is no exception as, with your expert guide, you learn about the history of pubs, beers, and British alehouse customs. You visit historic pubs and a Victorian gin palace rebuilt in 1666 after the Great Fire of London. Nice touches include a half-pint of beer in each pub plus a very useful mini-tutorial on the art of tasting British beer & ale.
Our private tour of the London pubs made us feel like real insiders. Our guide had very interesting stories to tell in each location — about architecture, history, scandals and of course the beer. We visited places we never would have found on our own and discovered a new favourite ale in London. We feel like true Londoners."
– 5-Star Review
This activity is another good way to discover ancient ale houses and literary drinking dens. The group size is limited to 12 beer-loving people.
With an expert London pubs guide at your side you learn the history of pubs, Elizabethan coaching inns, and Victorian gin palaces. You visit watering holes favoured by British novelists.
Wander cobblestone alleyways and stop at a 17th-century pub tucked away on a side street. Choose from a large selection of beers, ales & ciders on tap. Fridays & Sundays.
Great guide! Loved the choices of pubs, met fun people on the tour, loved the varied beer selection. A little more walking than my parents wanted to do but would still recommend it highly! What an awesome, different approach to sightseeing!"
– 5-Star Review
What we like about this pub tour is the variety it offers. You visit five traditional pubs in Trafalgar Square, Soho, and Seven Dials, sampling beers at each establishment and learning the history and culture of Britain's favourite beverage. You also garner tips about London's pub scene.
Your pub crawl takes you down hidden side streets that most tourists will never see. This small-group tour is limited to 15 to ensure you have more fun. Fridays & Sundays.
We had a great time. One of the best things we did in London. Our tour guide was very knowledgable and took us to some of the best pubs in London. I would recommend this tour to anyone."
– 5-Star Review
The question that is often asked is what is the oldest pub in London?
The answer has has long been debated, and the "title" has been granted to any number of pubs. But most historians now agree that the oldest surviving pubs date back to the 12th century.
In fact, it was 1393 when Richard III decreed that pubs must have exterior signs so that the local inspectors called examiners could identify them. "Whosoever shall brew ale in the town with intention of selling it must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale." Since the majority of Londoners were illiterate, bright simple signs with pictures became popular.
• The Prospect of Whitby was built in 1520 during the reign of Henry VIII. At that time it was named the Devil's Tavern and was a favourite with smugglers and thieves. The name was changed in 1777 to improve its image. Regulars included Charles Dickens, James M. Whistler, and the engraver Gustave Doré.
• The Jerusalem Tavern on Britton Street was founded in 1140! The present building dates from 1720 and features wooden tables and alcoves.
• The Olde Wine Shades public house opened just before the Great Fire of London in 1666 and is one of the only pubs to have survived that conflagration. The pub once featured a tunnel where smugglers would escape to the river Thames. The tunnel was sealed after damage during the Blitz of 1940.
• The Grenadier Pub is a latecomer, opened only in 1720. King George IV was among its visitors. The pub is tucked away away on a small mews where few visitors find it. Yet it's just steps away from Harrods and Hyde Park. Some claim that it's haunted by Cedric the ghost, a soldier who was beaten to death after cheating at cards.
• London public houses in one form or another have been serving alcohol to locals since Roman times.
• Karl Marx drafted The Communist Manifesto above the Red Lion pub in London.
• The historic Dog & Duck pub was named after a (justly) forgotten sport where dogs would chase a duck whose wings had been clipped.
• In 1852 there were 38 pubs on Oxford Street. Today there's only one, The Tottenham, one of the most ornate and best-preserved Victorian pubs in London.
• There are five London Underground stations named after nearby pubs — Angel, Manor House, Royal Oak, Swiss Cottage and Elephant and Castle.