Six of the best historic London pubs

THE PROSPECT OF WHITBY

In the Middle Ages, English pubs were both venues for socialising and inns where travellers could change their horses and find accommodation. Many were located along roads and other trade routes. Visit the Prospect of Whitby and you can sit on a terrace with a view over the Thames. This pub started life in 1543 as the Devil's Tavern and became notorious as a smugglers' haven that relied on river transportation. The flag-stoned interior is crammed with nautical artefacts and barrels; sit at the pewter-topped bar and you may well feel like yo-ho-ho-ing for a bottle of rum. See greeneking-pubs.co.uk

THE GEORGE INN

The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed most of London's historic pubs. One of the oldest is the George Inn, London's last remaining galleried pub, now preserved as a National Trust monument. Only part of the original 1677 brick-and-wood complex stands, but that includes its covered galleries (now a restaurant) and its low-beamed interior, just the place to down some ale surrounded by oak furniture and copper kettles. There is a plaque next to the building  which commemorates the site of the Tabard Inn, where the pilgrims met before setting off on their journey in the opening of The Canterbury Tales. See nationaltrust.org.uk

YE OLDE CHESHIRE CHEESE

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese dates from 1667 and has a board at the door listing the 15 monarchs who have reigned since it was built. Its first famous patron was diarist Samuel Johnson, whose portrait hangs in the oak-panelled chop room, where you can still enjoy a steak or chop in front of a roaring fire. The pub has a warren of low-ceilinged rooms and floors still strewn with sawdust, as well as 13th-century monastic cellars. In the 19th century, the pub became the haunt of writers such as W. B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde. See visitlondon.com

YE OLD MITRE

In the 18th century, beer houses often had saloons for entertainment such as gaming, singing or billiards, as well as a dedicated room for smoking known as a snug. Few authentic snugs remain, but Ye Old Mitre has a fine remaining example called the Closet, entered by a different door from the main lounge area. The pub was remodelled in 1772 (it was first build in 1546) and shows off a blackened stump said to be the remains of a maypole around which Queen Elizabeth I danced – something that might only be believable after a few strong drinks. See yeoldemitreholborn.co.uk

THE DOVE

The 400-year-old Dove in Hammersmith, reached down a cobbled alley, also had some illustrious patrons. The composer of Rule Britannia lived on the upper floor and Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway and Richard Burton were notorious drinkers who once sat on the bar stools. A list of all its famous patrons hangs on the wall. The Dove is a very typically British pub with its red brick walls, oak beams and open fire, and has a wonderful setting with a terrace above the Thames. It also lays claim to a Guinness World Record for the world's smallest public bar room. See dovehammersmith.co.uk

THE LAMB & FLAG

This pub, named for an emblem of the Knights Templar, is tucked down an alley in Covent Garden in the heart of London. The site records pubs here since the early 18th century, but this incarnation dates from 1883 and has a facade of 1950s brick work, prettied up in summer with cascading flowerboxes. The interior is replete with low ceilings, dark wood, brass, leather banquettes and old fireplaces; onetime regular Charles Dickens would still feel right at home. The Victorian-era paintings, caricatures and newspaper cuttings that decorate the walls make for interesting browsing over beers. See lambandflagcoventgarden.co.uk

Brian Johnston was a guest of Visit Britain and Viking Cruises.

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