To celebrate the longevity of our hardy capital, we’ve devised a gripping tour of its most enduring sites. Step back hundreds of years and you’ll discover that Londoners liked to eat, drink, be merry and follow football as much we do today. You’ll see with fresh eyes a city that has bustled and blossomed almost undaunted since Roman times.

The Oldest Restaurant

Rules (1798)

Thomas Rule established his restaurant, predominantly as an oyster bar, in 1798. Later, having murdered his wife and daughter, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Happily, his restaurant has fared better over the centuries. Rules features in countless novels and movies and the great and the good flock to it for its original features and fine British cuisine.

The Oldest Theatre

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1663)

A theatre was first built on this site in 1663. Not only is it the oldest theatre in London but it is said to be among the most haunted. Andrew Lloyd Webber owns the Grade I listed building and has recently lavished it with a £60 million refurbishment.

The Oldest Department Store

Fortnum & Mason (1707)

Fortnum’s was founded as a grocery shop in 1707, in the wake of the Great Fire of London, and has enjoyed an extraordinarily successful run as a purveyor of fine foods, tea, homewares and toiletries ever since. Fortnum & Mason not only invented the Scotch egg but also introduced Heinz baked beans to the nation.

The Oldest House

41-42 Cloth Fair (1614)

Because it was enclosed in a set of priory walls, 41-42 Cloth Fair was the only house to survive the Great Fire of London. The original banister is still in place and some say there are skeletons in its foundations. In 2017, psychotherapist Matthew Bell said: ‘I’m the proud owner of the oldest inhabited house in the City of London, though I’m glad to say 41-42 Cloth Fair has been updated for modern life since it was built in 1614. These days, we have hot and cold running water as well as electricity, and we no longer have to throw our human waste out on to the people below.’

The Oldest Pub

The Seven Stars (1602)
The Seven Stars

The Seven Stars, Holborn, was built when Elizabeth I was on the throne. Rumour has it that Shakespeare was a customer. The pub has languished, little known and little used, at some points over the centuries but is thriving today under the dynamic ownership of publican Roxy Beaujolais.

The Oldest Football Stadium

Stamford Bridge (1877)

Stamford Bridge opened in 1877 and was used by the London Athletic Club until 1905, when Chelsea Football Club launched (as a rival to nearby Fulham FC), moved in and took over. Chelsea have played their home matches there ever since. The stadium also hosted greyhound racing from 1933 to 1968 and has welcomed key cricket, rugby and American Football matches over the years.

The Oldest Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery (1817)

Designed by Sir John Soane, Dulwich Picture Gallery is the oldest public art gallery in England. Thanks to key benefactors through its history, it houses one of the country’s finest collections of Old Masters. Among these is Rembrandt’s Portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most frequently stolen artwork in the world.

By Becky Ladenburg
March 2023