Recent advances In chemical synthesis have made it possible to produce gold and silver nanowires that are free of large-scale crystalline defects and surface roughness. Surface plasmons can propagate along the wires, allowing them to serve as optical waveguides with cross sections much smaller than the optical wavelength. Gold nanowires provide improved chemical stability as compared to silver nanowires, but at the cost of higher losses for the propagating plasmons. In order to characterize this trade-off, we measured the propagation length and group velocity of plasmons in both gold and silver nanowires. Propagation lengths are measured by fluorescence imaging of the plasmonic near fields. Group velocities are deduced from the spacing of fringes in the spectrum of coherent light transmitted by the wires. In contrast to previous work we interpret these fringes as arising from a far-field interference effect. The measured propagation characteristics agree with numerical simulations, indicating that propagation in these wires is dominated by the material properties of the metals, with additional losses due to scattering from roughness or grain boundaries providing at most a minor contribution. The propagation lengths and group velocities can also be described by a simple analytical model that considers only the lowest-order waveguide mode in a solid metal cylinder, showing that this single mode dominates in real nanowires. Comparison between experiments and theory Indicates that widely used tabulated values for dielectric functions provide a good description of plasmons in gold nanowires but significantly overestimate plasmon losses in silver nanowires.