London’s sights and landmarks such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace are crowded but “must-see” tourist attractions.
But I’d suggest after you do those, toss your guidebook in the rubbish bin and head for a truly authentic London experience – Eating Europe’s London Old Docks Historic Pub Tour. You’ll learn about the fascinating history of this bustling trading port, full of thieves, dockers, sailors and pirates. And, you’ll get to eat and drink to your heart’s delight over an almost 4-hour time period, tasting London’s best craft brews, ciders, and its finest pub grub, including the best fish and chips you’ll ever taste, traditional “bangers and mash,” and many more dishes that’ll be sure to wow.
Our group explored four of the oldest taverns left on the riverside and took a deeper look at what lurked beneath the surface with our excellent local guide.
Our first stop was The Mayflower pub. And to be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the historical slap in the face that I got; it was from the landing steps to this pub that the pilgrim fathers set sail aboard The Mayflower ship for America in the 1600s! So, with a sense of wonder and excitement it was “down the hatch” with our first ale of the tour (the “Scurvy Ale”), which was paired with a delicious bangers and mash plate. The pub was very atmospheric and had several signs and plaques commemorating the 23 families who were on board the Mayflower. (There are now 28 million Americans living today who can trace their genealogy directly back to these families.)
As we left The Mayflower, we caught a train that carried us under the river, via the Thames Tunnel, designed by eminent 19th-century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and once considered the eighth wonder of the world. It was originally designed to allow horse-drawn carriages to pass under the River Thames. It eventually then became the starting point of the mass transportation model we now know as “the Tube.” Today you can still see the original brickworks in the tunnel. The tunnel’s grand entrance hall reopened to the public a few years ago for the first time in about 150 years.
Exiting the tunnel, we walked over to our second pub – The Prospect of Whitby. This is the site of the oldest riverside tavern in London, dating from around 1520. It was astonishing to think that there has been a pub on this site since the time of Henry VIII! And, the infamous pirate Captain Kidd was a regular patron here too! You can still see the original 400-year-old flagged stone floor in the building. We saw a noose hanging outside the pub along the river which was put there to commemorate Judge Jeffreys, a notorious judge in the 17th century who sentenced many river criminals to death. His nickname was “The Hanging Judge” as he showed little mercy to criminals. It was at this pub where we’d all agree we ate the best fish-n-chips we have ever had (and most likely ever will eat) in our lives. Included with the dish are the famous British mushy peas. We learned about how various ales are made while drinking a traditional in-house ale only found on this side of the Atlantic. The views of the river Thames from this pub were fantastic.
Up next, we headed over to our third pub – Turner’s Old Star – one of the last few remaining traditional east end pubs. This is an artist hangout type of place and named after Britain’s famous artist Joseph Turner. (Turner apparently was exceptionally secretive, especially over women. From the age of 25 he was to keep several mistresses who were to bear him four illegitimate children.) There have been many movies filmed inside this east end pub. We met the owners and ate a homemade steak pie and washed it down with a London Pride ale.
While we were feeling quite full and content by now, we saved some room for our last stop of the day at The Dickins Inn near the Tower Bridge. This large, timber-framed, 18th century warehouse is named after Britain’s beloved storyteller Charles Dickens. (The pub was opened by his great grandson.) Hitting the spot for us after partaking in so much great food and ale throughout the day, a light crisp refreshing cider was served. We all raised a toast to our wonderful and knowledgeable local guide, Leigh Savage, and enjoyed the lively atmosphere of the place.
The Historic London Old Docks Pub Tour by Eating Europe is quite possibly my favorite pub tour in the world (and I’ve been to many a pub tour with my Active World Journeys travel brand). Not only for the food and beverage value, but for the authenticity, history, and atmosphere of all the stops. I really felt like I was transported back to the 1600’s – 1700’s along the river Thames for an afternoon of booze and grub and good conversation with friends. One thing is for sure, this is the perfect way to experience London a little deeper, at a slower pace, and away from all the main tourist traps.