There are plenty of cool craft beer pubs and sophisticated cocktail bars in London, but the city excels in its traditional pubs, with age-old stone walls and cozy Victorian snugs, perfect for chilly evenings. Relax in a bar where the likes of Shakespeare and Dickens supped ale, and soak up centuries of history.
The George Inn
"Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety," as Shakespeare wrote in his epic "Henry V."
It’s likely he was referring to his experiences of The George Inn, an Elizabethan inn-yard theatre in a cobbled courtyard. It's located near where he lived in Southwark, so he was probably a regular here. Many more famous names drank here, including Dickens, Chaucer, Churchill and Princess Margaret.
The original inn was burnt down in 1676 and quickly rebuilt to the one you see today—in fact this is London’s last remaining galleried inn, and now owned by the National Trust. Its charming wood-panelled interior, oak beams and outdoor seating, where the horse-drawn coaches would have rested, draw in many after-work locals for a pint of real ale.
Old Bank of England
Glamour meets grisly history at the venue where the bank traded for 87 years until 1975. After that it was bought by a London brewing company that restored the building to its former glory, including the chandeliers. It was also on the site of the infamous barbershop owned by Sweeney Todd—aka the Demon Barber of Fleet Street—and Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop.
With humorous nod to its past, the pub serves pies today, including its "safer"—and far more tasty—fillings of steak and ale. It’s the ornate main bar which is the real draw, though, its ornate dark wood fittings, high ceilings and walls lined with old prints. In the cellars lie the original vaults which housed some of the Crown Jewels during World War I.
Gordon's Wine Bar
At this intimate, family-owned bar you can forget the beer. Dating back to 1890, this is thought to be London’s oldest wine bar. Only flickering candles on rickety wooden tables light the labyrinthine brick-walled cellar.
This is the place to choose from a huge range of fortified wines from wooden casks behind the bar—perhaps a sherry or Madeira. There's also a lengthy wine list chalked up on the blackboard, ranging from South American labels to biodynamic Merlots and chilled port. You can experience a literary connection here also: the famous 17th-century London diarist, Samuel Pepys, lived in the building in the 1680s. And in the room above, novelist Rudyard Kipling wrote "The Light That Failed," which was published in 1890.
The Princess Louise
This is your archetypal Victorian pub, in a 19th-century Grade II-listed building in Holborn, an area of many of these traditional pubs. Most of its décor is original, including the dark wood and engraved glass at the bar and the marble urinals in the gents. Wooden dividers are reminiscent of the Victorian-era snugs, where women could drink in the bar and be relatively tucked away.