Discover the best 16 old streets in London, from ancient Roman roads to medieval alleyways, in our guide here.
Exploring old streets in London is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the city. In an instant, you can leave the modern world behind, as you venture down an alleyway that has been there for a thousand years, chancing on a pub that has been there for centuries.
London is full of these amazing places, and we’ve chosen the best of them for you to seek out.
Our guide to the old streets of London takes you to Roman roads that have been in place for 2,000 years, and we’ve also chosen some of the most atmospheric London streets to explore. Some of these are more recent, like the fine Georgian houses of Spitalfields or the 19th century workers’ terraces near Waterloo station. These places are evocative of their time, they transport you back in time to another era.
We have grouped our old streets in London by area, and many are clustered around the City of London and nearby Spitalfields, the beginning of London’s East End.
Old Streets In London – An Introduction
London – which began as Roman Londinium – is over 2,000 years old, and some of its oldest streets date back to those early times.
The main concentration of old London streets is in the City of London, with some to the west in Central London, around the City of Westminster.
The smaller old streets in London that we describe date from medieval times – in most cases before the Great Fire of 1666
The Great Fire of London destroyed the vast majority of buildings in the City of London, but the street layout – and the often unusual names – remained.
So many of the narrow alleyways of London date back to medieval times, but the buildings along them are often around 300 years old.
The oldest streets in London are those following the Roman – and even pre-Roman – roads out of London, including Watling Street and Old Street.
Many believe the oldest street in medieval London to be Cloth Fair, which runs alongside the Romanesque church of St Bartholomew the Great.
Old Streets In London – The City of London
Watling Street is one of the most famous old streets in London, part of a cross-country road that ran from the English Channel coast to a Roman fort near what is now the border with Wales.
Confusingly, only one small part of the ancient, long-distance Watling Street is still called Watling Street. The Watling Street we see today is a small side street in the City of London with a superb view of St Paul’s Cathedral.
It is likely that this smaller Watling Street was part of the longer one, at least for some of its long history. Other parts of what are believed to be Watling Street are very close by, around One New Change and the site of Newgate.
It’s possible that the Romans used a ferry across the Thames, linking the two parts of the longer Watling Street, and that the longer route was later re-routed via a crossing close to Westminster.
The shorter Watling Street in the City of London runs east from St Paul’s Cathedral to Queen Victoria Street, a distance of less than 200 metres. Most of the buildings date from the 19th and 20th centuries, but this side street is distinguished by the presence of two Christopher Wren churches.
The tower of the church of St Augustine Watling Street stands next to St Paul’s, the body of the church having been destroyed during the Blitz. At the other end of Watling Street you’ll find St Mary Aldermary, another Wren church with, unusually, a Gothic exterior.
Watling Street in its entirety ran from Dover, on the English Channel coast, to the Roman fort at Viroconium Cornoviorum, modern Wroxeter in Shropshire.
It roughly follows the line of the modern A2 from Dover to London via Old Kent Road, and then the A5 across England to Shropshire. Edgware Road, known for its many Middle Eastern restaurants, follows part of Watling Street towards the suburbs.
Nearest Tube: Mansion House or Bank (Queen Victoria Street exit)
It has been suggested that Cloth Fair – named after the Bartholomew Fair at which cloth and fabrics were sold – may be the oldest street in London. The Fair began in 1133, and continued up until the 19th century, by which time it had degenerated into a glorified booze-up.
Cloth Fair runs alongside the wonderful Priory Church of St Bartholomew The Great, the oldest surviving intact church in London. Its Romanesque apse is beautifully preserved, and some movie-goers will no doubt recognize it as a location in Shakespeare in Love. It’s a magnificent old church, undoubtedly one of the best churches in London to visit.
The ornate patterned brickwork adds to the old feel of Cloth Fair, as do the narrow alleyways and lanes that lead the short distance to Long lane and Smithfield Market.
You will also find a great pub, The Rising Sun (pictured), and what is believed to be the oldest residential house in the City of London a few doors away at 41-42. This house was built between 1597 and 1614 and is still a private residence.
Nearest Tube: Barbican
Lombard Street got its name from Italian goldsmiths (from Lombardy) who arrived in London after King Edward I expelled the local Jewish population in the late 13th century.
It has long been an important address in the financial world, with three of the UK’s top five high street banks having had their headquarters there at one time or other. Lombard Street was also the venue for Lloyd’s Coffee House, which opened in 1691, and was the forerunner of the world-famous insurers Lloyd’s of London.
The layout of the street is unusual – it’s a narrow lane at the eastern end, around St Mary Woolnoth Street, and a wider, bustling street at the opposite end. The narrow part is the more interesting, with several centuries-old house signs still preserved. The most famous of these is the golden grasshopper, the emblem of the Gresham family – this sign dates from 1573.
Lombard Street is also notable for the church of St Edmund, King and Martyr, a Christopher Wren church later damaged by bombs in both World War I and World War II.
Nearest Tube: Bank
Threadneedle Street, in the heart of the City of London financial district, is one of best-known old streets of London, largely because it has been the home of the Bank of England since 1734.
However, the street’s history goes back at least several centuries before this.
The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors have had their headquarters on the street since 1347, the time that the Black Death reached British shores. It’s possible that their tools of the trade gave Threadneedle Street its name.
It’s one of the more unusual street names, and another possibility is that the street acquired its name because of a sign hanging there depicting three needles.
Until 2004, Threadneedle Street was also home to the London Stock Exchange, which moved to new premises in Paternoster Square, behind St Paul’s Cathedral.
Nearest Tube: Bank
Fleet Street is one of the great old streets in London, a throughfare since Roman times with so much history to explore. The view along much of it is dominated by the dome of St Paul’s, one of the most famous London landmarks, and a wander along it and its many narrow side streets could easily take up half a day or more.
The street gets its name from the river Fleet, which now flows beneath it into the Thames – at one time it was known as Fleet Bridge Street, but the river has long since been built over.
Fleet Street is one of the most famous streets in London because of it was the base of most of the UK’s national daily newspapers. They have all long since moved out, but you can still see vestiges of its journalistic past with the likes of the Art Deco Daily Express building at number 121-128.
The church of St Bride’s Fleet Street, just off the south side of the street, is still known as the journalists’ and print workers’ church. It’s instantly recognizable because of its layered ‘wedding cake’ spire, the second tallest of Sir Christopher Wren’s churches in London after the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
There are several classic old London pubs along Fleet Street worth seeking out. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of our favourites, a wonderfully atmospheric labyrinth of rooms frequented by Charles Dickens and visited by other authors including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton and Mark Twain. The pub was rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire – prior to that a pub had been there since at least 1532.
The Old Bell Tavern is another great old London pub at number 98, close to St Bride’s. The pub’s website claims that it was built by Sir Christopher Wren to house workers rebuilding St Bride’s.
While visiting Fleet Street, take time to explore the lanes running off it, both to the north and south. On the north side you’ll encounter some of the best streets in Central London, particularly around Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square. The streets around Temple Church, mostly housing legal offices, are also fascinating, somewhere you can get a taste of London off the beaten path.
Nearest Tube: Blackfriars – but the 11, 12, 15 and 26 buses are all much more convenient
Hart Street / Seething Lane
You’ll find some weird and wonderful names of streets in London, and one of my favourites is Seething Lane, where my editor Faye used to work. The name isn’t derived from seething and raging, rather an old English word, sifeda, for chaff – this area was once used for threshing wheat and removing chaff.
Seething Lane and Hart Street are now side streets full of finance company offices, and where they meet you’ll encounter one of the most intriguing churches in London. St Olave Hart Street – named after Norwegian saint-king Olaf II – was founded in the 13th century, and is one of the few City of London churches to have survived the Great Fire of 1666 intact.
St Olave Hart Street was the diarist Samuel Pepys’ parish church, and he also lived and worked in a Royal Navy office on Seething Lane. Pepys and his wife were buried in the church in 1703. St Olave has another major literary connection – Charles Dickens was enthralled by the three skulls on the entrance gate to the churchyard, and referred to it as ‘the churchyard of St Ghastly Grim’.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill – and Fenchurch Street mainline station is even closer, barely a minute’s walk away.
Old Streets of London – Spitalfields
Brick Lane – formerly known as Whitechapel Lane – once ran through fields just outside the eastern edge of the City of London. It gained its present name having been a centre of brick manufacture, most likely in the 15th century. It has also been a brewing centre since the 17th century.
As one of the oldest streets in London, it has been the scene of several waves of immigration, from the French Huguenots in the late 17th and early 18th centuries to Irish, Ashkenazi Jews and most recently, Bangladeshi settlers.
Brick Lane is also one of the best food streets in London, with a great range of curry houses and plenty more, including the famous Brick Lane Beigel Bake near the junction with Bethnal Green Road. There is also a great selection of street food, especially during the hugely popular Brick Lane Sunday market.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street (a 7-8 minute walk) or Aldgate East (5 minutes).
Fournier Street, Spitalfields
Fournier Street, which runs from Nicholas Hawksmoor’s landmark Christ Church Spitalfields to Brick Lane, is one of the most beautiful historic streets in London.
It was built around 1720 to house Huguenot refugees fleeing religious persecution in France. The result is two rows of splendid early Georgian townhouses.
Some of the Huguenot residents were silk weavers, and they used the new houses to set up their silk looms. These tended to be on the upper floors of the properties which, thanks to their large windows, were flooded with natural light.
One of the shop signs from the street’s later Jewish era – S Schwartz at number 33 – has also been preserved, with the window space below used for street art. And speaking of art, the artists Gilbert and George are long-time residents of Fournier Street.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street or Aldgate East
Artillery Passage, at less than 50 metres in length, is probably the shortest of our selection of old streets in London. It’s one of several Georgian-era streets in the area just to the south of Spitalfields Market, which is located between Bishopsgate and Commercial Road.
The street, along with several others (Artillery Lane, Gun Street) was built on ground once occupied by King Henry VIII’s artillery field.
Small it may be, but it’s one of the most picturesque streets in London, a narrow lane with high Georgian houses on each side and beautiful old street lamps and sign holders.
When we recently visited it had a cluster of Asian restaurants. It’s well worth heading this way if you’re walking from the City towards Brick Lane.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street
Old Street isn’t one of the most attractive streets in London, but it’s certainly one of the oldest.
Its name gives the game away – it was known as Ealdestrate around 1200, and its origins are likely to be Roman, as much as 2,000 years ago. Old Street was part of a route that ran to the town of Camulodunum (modern Colchester), and ran just to the north of the settlement of Londinium.
Old Street passes through Shoreditch, which is one of the best areas in London for street art – and the best reason for heading this way to take a look around.
Nearest Tube: Old Street
Old Streets London – Central London, Soho and The West End
This old Soho street dates from around 1670, and was initially named after its builder Richard Frith. It was later renamed Thrift Street, only to revert later to its original name.
It has the one of the richest histories of any of the old streets in London that we describe. By the 18th century it was attracting artists and writers including William Hazlitt, who lodged at Number 6 towards the end of his life.
Most famously, the 8-year-old musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lodged at what was then 15 Thrift Street and is now 20 Frith Street. He lived there with his father and sister during a long European tour, and a blue plaque commemorates his time there.
Next door at Number 22, John Logie Baird carried out the first demonstration of television to some members of the Royal Institution in 1926. The ground floor is now occupied by Bar Italia, one of the most famous cafes in London, which has been keeping Soho caffeinated since 1949.
Just across the street from there you’ll find the renowned Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, another Soho institution.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road
This fine Soho street runs parallel to Frith Street and probably dates from around the same time, the 1670s. It is named after a Greek church that used to stand on what is now Charing Cross Road, one block to the east.
Greek Street is one of my personal favourite old streets in London, partly because The Coach & Horses was one of my pre-gig watering holes when the wonderful Astoria and Astoria 2 were around the corner. It’s also home to Maison Bertaux, a French patisserie opened in 1871 by a man saddened by the fall of the Paris Commune the same year.
I’ve always thought of Greek Street as one of the best Victorian streets of London, simply because most of the buildings date from that period. Like Frith Street, it has a remarkable and varied history. Charles Dickens based the London home of Dr Manette and Lucy (in A Tale of Two Cities) on the House of St Barnabas. Venetian author and womanizer Giacomo Casanova lodged for a while at Number 47, and Josiah Wedgwood opened a pottery shop at Numbers 12-13.
Never mind its age, it’s still one of the best streets in London, and the one where you can still get a taste of the old Soho.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road
There are records of the ‘strondway’ in London back in 1002, but the street, which connects the City of Westminster with the City of London, is probably much older than this.
‘Strond’ is an old English word for riverbank or riverfront, and the Thames ran alongside it until the construction of the Victoria Embankment in the 1860s.
It is one of the most fascinating old streets in London, rich in places to visit. It is the southern edge of London’s theatre district, and home to one of the best-known luxury hotels in London, The Savoy.
You’ll also find one of the most famous buildings in London, Somerset House, where the excellent Courtauld Gallery is located. The superb courtyard plays host to one of the best ice rinks in London between November and January, an experience not to be missed.
The Strand is also famous for the church of St Clement Danes, which claims to have originated the ‘Oranges and Lemons Sing The Bells Of St Clement’s’ nursery rhyme. Also keep an eye out for the wonderful Twinings Tea Shop, which has been there since 1706.
Nearest Tube: Embankment, Charing Cross or Temple
Haymarket, which links Pall Mall with Piccadilly, was the venue for markets selling animal fodder including hay. This would have been in the 16th century, when the land west of Trafalgar Square was still rural.
The market continued to trade there until 1830, when it was moved to a location close to the Regent’s Park.
The street is now known for its theatres, including Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Theatre Royal, It’s an integral part of the London West End, where many visitors go to watch musical shows or theatre performances.
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross or Piccadilly Circus
Old Streets In London – Chelsea
Some of the most interesting old streets in London are in the district of Chelsea, and the one which has retained its original character most is Cheyne Walk.
The street used to overlook the Thames but the construction of Chelsea Embankment put some distance between the houses and the river. If anything this may have enhanced Cheyne Walk as a place to live, with greater privacy, and the street has had an extraordinary array of famous residents down the centuries.
Many of the splendid townhouses are red-brick – some are in the Georgian style with tall rectangular windows, while one or two have Hanseatic-style gables that could have come from anywhere between Amsterdam and Gdansk.
There is a brief break in Cheyne Walk for the Albert Bridge, perhaps the most beautiful of all bridges in London, and the other main landmark along its length is Chelsea Old Church and the statue of St Thomas More outside.
Old Streets In London – The South Bank
Roupell Street, near Waterloo Station, is one of the best old streets in London. It was built – along with four other streets, which make up the Roupell Street Conservation Area – from 1824 onwards by John Palmer Roupell. Roupell was a gold refiner and merchant by trade, and the houses on these streets were intended as homes for workers.
Roupell Street is a terrace of uniform brick late Georgian houses, and it’s extremely unusual to find working class housing that has survived intact for 200 years like this. Roupell Street and its neighbours – Theed Street, Whittelsey Street, Cornwall Street and Windmill Walk – are very evocative, and unsurprisingly have been used as locations for BBC series Doctor Who and Call The Midwife and the Kray twins film Legend.
These streets are very reminiscent of terraced streets in places I’ve lived in Manchester and also my home area, the South Wales Valleys.
Nearest Tube: Waterloo
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