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Britain's historic pubs - Ten historic pubs you have to stop for a drink in.

Britain's pubs are more than places to eat and drink. Pubs have been at the centre of British life for centuries, frequented by writers, politicians, criminals, royalty, even ghosts. Step into one of these establishments and drink in the history.


1. Drink at Shakespeare's and Dickens' local: The George Inn, London.
Shakespeare lived in London's Southwark area for ten years, so it's highly likely that he visited The George. It was certainly one of Charles Dickens' favourite spots; the author mentions it in Little Dorrit and his life insurance policy is on display here.

The medieval George is London's last remaining galleried inn, and still lives up to Dickens' description of galleried inns in The Pick wick Papers: "great, rambling, queer, old places, with galleries, and passages, and stair-cases, wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories".
Web site:

2. Fortify yourself for a grisly experience: The Viaduct, London.

This Victorian gin palace was built on the site of a prison, and five grim cells remain beneath it. Ask nicely and a member of staff might allow you to visit them. Back in the pub, find the bullet hole in one of the pub's murals - it's from an over-excited patron celebrating the end of the First World War - and take your pick from the still-extensive gin menu. Web site  of the pub:

3. Get lost in a smugglers' hideout: The Mermaid Inn, south-east England.

The Mermaid Inn creaks with history. There's the Giant's Fireplace, secret passageways, sloping ceilings and wall carvings by fleeing Catholic priests. It's easy to picture the notorious Hawkshead Gang of smugglers meeting here in the 18th century. The Mermaid is in Rye, a medieval town with cobbled streets, timber-framed houses, wonky roofs and old­ fashioned lanterns, just over one hour from London by train. Web site:

4. Sit in the seats of literary giants: The Eagle and Child, Oxford, south England.

The Eagle and Child hosted the weekly meetings of The Inklings, a group of university professors who counted JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis among their ranks. Grab the table where the authors once sat - it's rightly the most popular seat in the place - and pore over the pub's photos, drawings and other mementoes as you sip your pint. Oxford is just over an hour's train journey from London. Web site:

5. Toast ground-breaking scientists: The Eagle, Cambridge, east England.

The Eagle is one of Cambridge's oldest inns, but that's not what makes this pub interesting: modern history has unfolded within these walls. It was here that Francis Crick and James Watson announced they had discovered DNA, in 1953. Order a pint of Eagle's DNA ale and read the names inscribed on the RAF Bar's ceiling by World War II pilots. Cambridge is one hour north of London by train. Web site:

6. Explore ancient cellars and caves: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham, central England.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be England's oldest pub. While the exterior dates from the 17th century, the pub joins with a network of caves beneath Nottingham Castle and has roots in the 12th century. Book a tour of caves lined with kegs, beer mats and a host of ghosts. Nottingham is under two hours north of London by train. Website:


7. Play 19th-century skittles in Edinburgh's oldest pub: The Sheep Heid Inn.

There's no shortage of historic pubs in
Scotland's capital, but only The Sheep Heid is both Edinburgh's oldest licensed premises and home to the country's oldest skittle alley, which is still available for hire (book in advance). The pub has hosted some impressive figures throughout its long history, including Mary Queen of Scots, James VI and I, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Robert Louis Stevenson. Web site:


8. Drink in daring escapades: MacNab's, Isle of Skye.

MacNab's Inn has overlooked the town of Portree's colourful natural harbour since the early 1700s and has many a tale to tell. The most famous is that of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the leader of the Jacobite rebellion, and Flora Macdonald.

Flora helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape disguised as her maid - an escapade commemorated in the famous Scottish folk tune The Skye Boat Song. The pair said their final farewell at MacNab's, which nowadays stocks an excellent selection of Skye whisky and ales. Portree is 235 miles (380 km) north west of Edinburgh. Web site:


9. Raise a glass to Dylan Thomas: Brown's Hotel, west Wales.

Brown's has served thousands of patrons since 1752, but none raise as much interest, or as many eyebrows, as loyal regular, Dylan Thomas. The Welsh poet and writer gathered stories for Under Milk Wood from tales told in the bar; he was known to leave Brown's' phone number as his own; and his wake was held here in 1953. Book the Liquor, Literature & Laugharne package. Brown's is in Laugharne, 80 miles (130 km) west of Cardiff by road. Web site:


10. Hear traditional music beneath Northern Ireland's oldest thatch: The Crosskeys Inn.

The Crosskeys Inn started life as a coaching stop on the old Belfast-Londonderry road. The oldest part of the bar dates back to 1654 - it's been carbon dated by experts from Belfast University - and the original 'scraws' used in the thatching process can still be seen in the roof  structure. Nowadays, it's also a top-notch traditional Irish folk music venue, 45 minutes northwest of Belfast by road. Web site:

Author: Visit Britain - About Britain's pubs 2016.

See also

United Kingdom > Accommodation > Iconic countryside pubs
United Kingdom > Accommodation > Britain's gourmet gastropubs

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Britain's pubs are more than places to eat and drink. Pubs have been at the centre of British life for centuries, frequented by writers, politicians, criminals, royalty, even ghosts. Step into one of these establishments and drink in the history.