Some might argue that you can learn more about a place by visiting the local pub than you can at the local museum!
When travelling to a new country, city or town, visiting a local watering hole is a great way to get an insight into that community.
Pubs are places where stories are shared and friendships are forged. People go from strangers to confidants over a few pints. They are far more than just somewhere to nurse a drink; they have deep cultural significance. A pub can teach you a lot about the heritage of that area.
Even if you aren’t fond of alcohol, pubs today serve food and offer live music and other entertainment. Their architecture and history can also be impressive, which is why many offer guided tours for curious visitors.
We’ve researched some of the planet’s oldest public houses so you can build them into your itinerary when planning your next trip. From ghostly tales to love stories, if the walls of these pubs could speak, here are some of the stories they would tell!
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- 1 Sean’s Bar on the Shannon est. AD 900
- 2 A Barrelful of History at The Bingley Arms est. AD 953
- 3 More of the Oldest Pubs in Europe
- 4 Raise a Tank at the White Horse Tavern, est. 1673
- 5 Ontario’s Olde Angel Inn est. 1789
- 6 The Mysterious Macquarie Arms est. 1815
- 7 Have a Whale of a Time at The Duke, est. 1827
- 8 Drink in the History
Sean’s Bar on the Shannon est. AD 900
The Irish pub culture is famous the world over. There are over 7,000 pubs in Ireland, and the subject of which one is the oldest is hotly contested. Sean’s Bar in Athlone, Westmeath has been in business since the Dark Ages and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, this is the oldest pub in Ireland. It is located at the heart of the country, on the banks of Ireland’s longest river: the Shannon.
Before grabbing a Guinness in Sean’s Bar, you can visit nearby Norman Castle Athlone (from the 12th century). Sean’s is less than an hour’s drive from Galway Airport (45 mins) and can be a great stop-off if you’re in this beautiful part of the country. Visiting this pub for a pint and some ‘good craic‘ (a good time) can be the perfect addition to your Ireland itinerary!
Heading to Dublin? Check out The Brazen Head, the oldest bar in the city dating back to 1198. While you’re in town, you can also visit the Guinness Storehouse to find out how the ‘black stuff’ is made.
A Barrelful of History at The Bingley Arms est. AD 953
Pubs are an important part of British culture, and their history can be traced back to Roman taverns in Britain.
Many tourists visiting the UK look up the oldest pubs in their destination when planning their trip. There are over 3,500 pubs just in London, so you will certainly be spoiled for choice. Looking further north, there are 365 pubs in the historical city of York. An impressive number for a city that is just 271 km² (168 sq mi) in size!
But which is the oldest pub in England?
The Bingley Arms in Leeds, or ‘The Priests Inn’ as it was known hundreds of years ago, dates back to 953. Each room of this pub, which is just a 20-minute drive from Leeds and Bradford Airport, or an hour from Manchester Airport, is filled with history.
In times gone by, this watering hole was a popular place for travelling monks to rest. The pub even has two ‘priest holes’ from 1539 AD where Catholic priests would hide from persecution during Henry VIII’s reign. Take shelter from a rainy day at The Bingley Arms when visiting the Yorkshire region!
More of the Oldest Pubs in Europe
Although Britain and Ireland might be the European countries best known for their pub culture, there are many other well-established taverns across the continent.
When you travel to Bologna in Italy, as well as trying the world-famous spaghetti bolognese, you can also visit the country’s oldest wine bar (‘osteria’). The Al Brindisi bar in Ferrera (estimated 1100) is a 40-minute drive from Bologna Airport. Venetian artist Titian and Pope John Paul II are just two of the notable names to have dined here!
Germany also has many famous pubs and beer halls. Zum Riesen in Mittenberg, Bavaria, a tavern where Elvis Presley once spent the night, is said to be one of the oldest. Meanwhile, in Prague, U Krále Brabantského is one of the city’s oldest medieval taverns. It is located on the historic ‘Royal Route’ and close to the popular tourist attraction Prague Castle.
In beer capital Belgium, you can step back in time at Herberg Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Bruges. Dating from 1515, it was a famous hangout for artistic greats like Baroque painter Ruben.
Make sure to check out some of these brilliant bars on your Eurotrip!
Raise a Tank at the White Horse Tavern, est. 1673
Across the pond, the question of which establishment holds the title of the oldest pub in the country also sparks a lot of debate.
The White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island is the oldest operating restaurant in the States and one of the oldest in the world. This New England historical landmark continues serving up fresh fish from Narragansett Bay as they’ve been doing for centuries.
If you fancy a glass of wine with your seafood, bear in mind the drinking laws. Just as visa rules differ between countries, drinking rules do too. If you’re coming from Europe, you may be surprised that the minimum legal drinking age in the US is 21. Each US state also has its own liquor laws.
If you visit New York, you’ll find that the oldest bar here is significantly younger than The White Horse Tavern. Manhattan’s oldest bar, the Fraunces Tavern, was founded in 1762. Today it is not only a bar and restaurant, but also a museum honoring the tavern tradition in the city!
Ontario’s Olde Angel Inn est. 1789
Wondering where you can grab a glass in the Great White North in a historical setting? Just 25 km from the top tourist site Niagara Falls, you can find the Olde Angel Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Ontario. Built in 1789 as The Harmonious Coach, it also holds the title of one of Canada’s oldest buildings.
Despite what the original name might suggest, its history isn’t all hunky-dory. The pub is said to be haunted by the ghost of Captain Colin Swayze. Legend says that he was a lovestruck British officer tragically killed at the inn while waiting to meet his lover during the 1813 American invasion.
If you’re intrigued by the ghostly history and like the look of the hearty food on the menu, it is worth swinging by for a restoring drink or meal after a trip to Niagara Falls. It’s also just a 40-minute drive from Niagara Falls International Airport.
The Mysterious Macquarie Arms est. 1815
Planning to visit Sydney, Australia’s largest city? An easy drive or train ride northwest of the city will get you to the Macquarie Arms, Sydney’s oldest pub. It is located in the historic town of Windsor along the winding banks of the Hawkesbury River. With its shady beer gardens for the summer and warming fires for the winter, it is great to visit at any time of year.
The setting may be idyllic, but the history is rather dark. If you have a penchant for the paranormal, don’t miss out on a local ghost tour that includes Macquire’s. Learn about the convicts that constructed the pub, the ‘Rum Smugglers Tunnels’ and more!
Off the mainland, The Bush Inn on Tasmania is the island state’s oldest continually trading hotel. The pub, which is located 30 minutes northwest of the capital Hobart, has Australian heritage status and it was also the site of Australia’s first long-distance phone call in 1888!
Have a Whale of a Time at The Duke, est. 1827
The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, New Zealand was the first legal pub in the country. It was originally named ‘Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop’ after the owner, a former convict who changed his ways.
Russel has changed a lot since the 19th century, when the Duke’s punters were whalers and sealers working in the so-called ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific’! Today Russel is a romantic holiday destination with excellent gastronomy and galleries.
It takes approximately three and a half hours to drive to The Duke of Marlborough Hotel from Auckland. In Auckland itself you can visit the historical Riverhead Tavern, believed to be the oldest riverside pub in the country.
Drink in the History
So there you go, here are some of the oldest pubs in different locations around the world! Each has its own unique history and stories to tell. Have you been to any of them yet? Or will you pay a visit one day on your travels and become part of their story?