Destination Guides

11 of the oldest hidden pubs and inns in Britain and Ireland

If you love cosy inns, lively pubs, and rich history, you’ll feel right at home in the olde towns and villages of Britain and Ireland. The region is famed for having some of the oldest (and the best) pubs and inns in the world, with some dating back over 1,000 years old…. You just have to know where to look! If you can’t wait to enjoy a pint surrounded by incredible history, traditional architecture, and a classic pub atmosphere, read on to discover 11 of the oldest hidden pubs and inns in Britain and Ireland.

1. The Porch House, Stow on the Wold, The Cotswolds

If you’re looking for the oldest pubs in Britain, you can’t go past The Porch House. This beautiful old inn dates back to 947 AD and the Guinness Book of Records authenticates it as the oldest pub in England. Once known as the Royalist Hotel, this pub is full of ancient treasures and rich history. Be sure to check out the 16th century stone fireplace inscribed with symbols known as ‘witch marks’ to protect against evil spirits.

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2. Sean’s Bar, Athlone, County Westmeath

Sean’s Bar is not only one of the oldest pubs in Britain and Ireland… It’s been authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest pub in all of Europe. Dating back to 900 AD, Sean’s Bar has got some serious history. You can still see a section of the original wattle and wicker walls dating back to the 9th century. Ancient coins or ‘tavern tokens’ from the Dark Ages were also found in the pub and are now displayed in the National Museum of Ireland. Sean’s Bar even created its own whiskey, after the owners discovered that whiskey distilling originated in the Athlone region. If you’re looking for a genuine Irish pub experience with plenty of ‘caint, ceol, agus craic’ (chat, music and craic), Sean’s Bar is unmissable.

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3. Old Ferry Boat Inn, St Ives, Cambridgeshire

The Old Ferry Boat Inn rivals The Porch House as England’s oldest inn. Legend says that this old pub has been serving alcohol since 560 AD and many people consider it to be the oldest pub in England. The Old Ferry Boat Inn is even mentioned in the Domesday Book and it’s said to be haunted!

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4. Brazen Head, Usher’s Quay, Dublin

Looking for the oldest pubs in Ireland? The Brazen Head has got to be on your list. It’s the oldest pub in Dublin, dating back to 1198 AD, and it’s just a ten-minute walk from the famous Temple Bar. There’s plenty of extraordinary history to explore as Robert Emmet used the Brazen Head when planning The Rising of 1803. He chose the pub because it was close to Dublin Castle, from where the English ruled Ireland. After the rebellion failed, Emmet was hanged nearby. Legend says Emmet’s ghost still haunts the pub. 

The Brazen Head was also a favourite spot of famous figures like James Joyce, Michael Collins, Brendan Behan, and Jonathan Swift, while Ireland’s beloved musician Garth Brooks has also had a drink here. Be sure to check out all the photos and documents lining the walls of this historical pub.

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5. The George Inn, Norton St Philip, Somerset

The George Inn claims to be the oldest tavern in Britain, having held a licence to serve ale from 1397. As you sit down to enjoy a pint, it’s incredible to imagine the history this place has seen. English diarist Samuel Pepys stopped here on his way from Salisbury to Bath in 1668. The Duke of Monmouth used the inn as the headquarters during the 1685 rebellion as his army retreated from Bath. After the rebellion failed, notorious Judge Jeffries used The George Inn as a courtroom during the Bloody Assizes, sentencing twelve people to death. The inn is a much more peaceful place these days and one of the best hidden British pubs.

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6. The Old Bell Hotel, Malmesbury, Wiltshire

We’ve got plenty of contenders for the oldest pubs in Britain and Ireland… But what about the oldest hotel? The Old Bell Hotel claims to be England’s oldest purpose-built hotel, dating back to 1220. Sitting on the grounds of the beautiful 12th century Malmesbury Abbey, it was originally built as a guest house for visiting monks. Today it’s a charming hotel and restaurant, clad in fragrant wisteria and filled with legends… Like the Grey Lady who haunts the building! 

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7. Kyteler’s Inn, Gardens, Kilkenny

If you’re looking for the best Irish pubs with a big dose of history, be sure to visit Kyteler’s Inn. It was established in 1263 by the infamous Dame Alice de Kyteler, who gained notoriety due to her four marriages and great fortune. After the townsfolk accused her of witchcraft and sentenced her to death, Dame Alice fled to England. The inn passed through various owners over the decades, and it wasn’t properly revived again until it was bought in 1986 by the current owner Nicky Flynn. Today, Kyleter’s Inn is a lovely place to relax with a pint of Kilkenny beer… And some say that the ghost of Dame Alice haunts the pub.

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8. The Crown Inn, Chiddingfold, Surrey

The oldest pubs in Britain always have a rich history… And The Crown Inn has a particularly royal past. It was originally built in 1383 to give shelter to pilgrims walking the pilgrimage trail from Winchester to Canterbury. King Edward VI even stayed overnight here in 1552 when he was 14-years-old. It’s easy to feel the history and romance in this beautiful medieval building, with stunning stained-glass windows and a traditional Wealden crown post roof. It’s even got old fireplaces where you can cosy up with a pint. 

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9. Three Crowns Hotel, Chagford, Devon

If medieval history fascinates you, be sure to check out the Three Crowns Hotel in Devon. Dating back to the 13th century, the hotel has retained plenty of its medieval features with its partly thatched roof,  granite facade, beamed ceiling, glass atrium, and massive inglenook fireplaces. It was once an old manor house and if you head to the stone porch, you’ll be walking in the place where the Roundheads killed Cavalier Sidney Godolphin in hand-to-hand fighting in 1642. You won’t find any sort of combat here anymore though… It’s now a gorgeous 5-star inn, perfect for kicking back with a pint and a hearty meal. 

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10. McHugh’s Bar, Belfast

Image credit: McHugh’s Bar – Facebook page

Located in Queen’s Square in the oldest building in Belfast, McHugh’s Bar is one of the best and oldest Irish pubs. Dating back to 1711, it’s always operated as a pub, and the good times have not stopped rolling for centuries here. You’ll wander into a wonderful atmosphere full of music, laughter and stories, and you’ll hear the best live music on Saturday and Sunday evenings. If you get hungry, be sure to try the boxty (traditional Irish potato cake) for a true Irish pub experience. 

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11. The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex

The Mermaid Inn has a long and lively history dating all the way back to 1156 when it was originally built. While the original cellars remain, the rest of the inn was rebuilt in 1420 after the Mermaid Inn and the town of Rye were razed to the ground by French Raiders in 1377. By the 1730s, the Mermaid had become a favourite haunt of the infamous Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers. As you enjoy a drink in the grand old Giants Fireplace Bar, you can imagine what it was like when the gang revelled here 300 years ago… And see if you can spot the secret passageway entrance!

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Have you visited any of the oldest pubs in Britain and Ireland? Let us know in the comments below!

Banner image credit: The George Inn – Norton St Philip – Facebook page

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