London's best rooftop bars

Get a taste of the high life with our pick of London's best spots to enjoy cocktails in the clouds

As much as we love London's dark and dingy pubs, there are occasions when tatty banquettes and yellowed walls don't quite cut it. For a classier night of inebriation, get yourself to one of London's best rooftop bars. Here, you'll find swish cocktails, plush lounges and gourmet snacks galore, not to mention a front-row seat to the sexiest skyline on the planet.

On the Roof with Q

There’s no James Bond genius on this roof, masterminding his weaponry and gadgets. But there is an element of stealth and intrigue to this summer spin-off from Camden’s Q Grill. It’s reached by an express lift to the eighth floor from a discreet entrance opposite a Selfridges perfume counter. You’re whisked high above Oxford Street to a lair that would be the envy of Ian Fleming’s hero. The flags of many nations fly along the parapet; beautiful people cluster around a cocktail bar; attentive staff are at your beck and call from brunch time until late evening. Discreet, too: no views, but also no prying eyes.

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West End

Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Bar & Café

First planted as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, this rooftop area was left to become concrete tundra for decades. But with guidance from the Eden Project, this rooftop is now replanted every summer. In addition to the Astroturf there is now a real lawn, large planters of vegetables and a wildflower ‘meadow’. The café is run by caterer Company of Cooks, so expect a selection of decent pastries and savoury snacks (with the occasional hot sarnie, too), plus glasses of Pimm’s or pink gin lemonade (both £6.90).

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Radio Rooftop Bar

The name Radio derives from the location – a grand art deco edifice once known as Marconi House, but now the fancy ME London hotel. Radio is on the roof, ten floors up, where transmission aerials once stood. The terrace is equipped with a retractable roof, big sofas and space heaters. It mainly faces south (oh look – there’s the Oxo Tower and Big Ben). The bar attached to this view is great too. This is a sleek, glammed-up, ‘Sex and the City’ destination for long-legged model types and ski-holiday–brochure chaps with unseasonal tans. A man with a clipboard decides where you can sit; a DJ keeps it upbeat.

Open all year (weather permitting).

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Aldwych

Boundary Rooftop

This unsurprisingly popular spot is perched atop the Terence Conran-designed Boundary Project hot and restaurants. It was remodelled in 2013, with a weatherproof pergola allowing the bar and dining area to stay open in all weathers, and heaters to keep the chill off.

Open all year (weather permitting).

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Brick Lane

Sushisamba (bar)

Faster than a bullet train, the express lift up the side of the Heron Tower builds the excitement on the ascent to Sushisamba. Occupying the top floors of one of the highest buildings in the City, it offers breathtaking views down over the adjacent Gherkin; further afield you can see the Thames, St Paul’s Cathedral and much else besides. Sushisamba has two small bars, plus an outdoor roof terrace bar; tell the door staff you do not have a meal reservation but are going to the bar, then take the lift to the thirty-eighth floor and walk straight in. Cocktails are pricey and the list short, but this is still a destination bar par excellence, with unbeatable views, a crowd who are blinged up for the occasion, and relatively easy access.

Tree terrace open all year (weather permitting). Note: may close due to high winds.

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City

Vista

Perched on the top of the Trafalgar Hotel in Trafalgar Square, this smartened up bar has impressive views – Nelson's Column spears the skyline, plus there's the London Eye and Big Ben. The drinks are tailored for tourists and expense accounts, with cocktails costing over twelve quid apiece.

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Trafalgar Square

Aqua

Visiting the terrace bars at either of the two Aqua restaurants feels like walking into a set for a music video with a London skyline. The two ritzy roof terraces serve up exotic cocktails (from £9.50) to a well-groomed clientele. Aqua Kyoto's terrace bar has an extensive saké list too.

Open all year (weather permitting).

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Soho

Frank's Cafe

Frank's Café is a summer-only bar which emerged on top of Peckham's multi-storey car park in summer 2007 as part of a sculpture exhibition. Peckham is not famed for being scenic, but sit under the illuminated red canopy at twilight and you can drink in unparalleled views across London along with your Campari-based cocktail, prosecco or bottled beer.

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Peckham

Sky Pod

Located at the top of the Walkie Talkie building, Sky Pod takes the accolade for the highest rooftop bar in London.

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City

Bird of Smithfield

Venue says: Book our romantic private room on Saturday 14th February, and we'll make sure your night is one for the memory book! More info 020 7559 5199

The top floor of this new bar and restaurant is small, and doesn't have startling views, but it's open air.

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Smithfield

Coppa

Love rooftop dining, but hate the inevitable squish? Then you should cop a look at Coppa – this summertime-only southern Italian sibling of Lardo (a fashionable Hackney pizzeria and charcuterie joint) will once again take over the huge rooftop space of the Hothouse building, with seating for up to 200, and views across London Fields. Open every weekend from 24 May until late September 2014, the menu kicks off with antipasti such as fennel and orange salad, cured meats, panzanella (bread salad), and patatine fritte (French – well, Italian – fries). More substantial eats come in the form of barbecued rotisserie chicken, while drinks include ice-cold cordials and aperitivos (house negronis and spritzes). All on deckchairs or in coloured cabanas, Italian Riviera style. Bookings and walk-ins both welcomed. (NB. access is via Martello Street, at the railway arch end).

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London Fields

Faltering Fullback

Tucked away down a side street off busy Stroud Green Road, this is a dream of a pub. Consequently, it's always busy, for all its hidden location. The secret of its success is several distinct zones: a front room with screens for match days (provided quirky objcets hanging from the ceiling don't intrude); a smaller, music-free central area; a barn-like back room with a raucous, studenty feel, picnic table seating, loud music and pool; and a pleasant beer garden which spans over the pub's entire roof – on multiple levels.

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Finsbury Park

Skylounge

This Cuervo-backed ‘cantina’ (that’s Jose Cuervo, the Diageo brand) has taken over Skylounge, the rooftop bar at the Hilton DoubleTree hotel in Tower Hill, as part of a summer 2014 ‘residency’. Expect crowd-pleasing tequila cocktails (‘Mexican Mules’, jugs of frozen margaritas and the like) alongside casual Mexican-themed bites, including nachos, bean burritos, fajitas and taquitos (which are tacos that have been rolled like cigars, filled and fried). The soundtrack will be Latin-flavoured too, from mariachi music to the Gypsy Kings. Only the views – of the City skyline, from the Shard to the Gherkin – will remain unchanged. Tables are available on a first-come, first served basis, from 4-10pm daily.

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London

Fox

The Fox is a boozer that has had decline reversed by new owners with a real interest in beer, and a straightforward approach to the provision of food. The pub’s been opened up and stripped back inside, and looks prepared for the crowds, with a lot of floor space. The addendum ‘craft beer house’ has been applied to the title, leaving us in no doubt what to expect to see behind the bar. Another nice feature of the Fox is its refurbed roof terrace, which is decked and embellished with flowers. It’s not huge, but will be packed when the sun shines.

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London

Coq d'Argent

Critics' choice

For summer 2014 only, City slicker Coq d’Argent will be adopting French Riviera chic and reinventing itself as ‘Yacht d’Argent’. Expect billowing white canopies (aka ‘sails’) and seafaring trinkets (vintage posters, a wooden anchor) alongside a France-meets-the-seaside menu (scallop croque monsieur, crayfish and chips, crab cocktails), and a Champagne-dominated drinks list.

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City

Golden Bee

Venue says: Happy hour from Tuesday to Friday! Come and get 2-for-1 cocktails!

This Shoreditch rooftop bar does what it says on the tin: it's on a rooftop and it’s a bar – but not much else. The small drinks selection includes Bud, Beck’s and Brahma beer, while cocktails can be mixed on demand (there's no menu). There’s no kitchen, but give them a buzz a few hours before you head down and they’ll order in sushi platters for you. That’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we like.

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Old Street

Red Lion

This hip hangout may be on the bijoux side, but it has a surprisingly sizeable roof space, that can put 50 bums on seats. It’s not super chi-chi, so don’t expect music, heaters, or a glass roof (there is one giant umbrella though, should the heavens open). Drinks have to be ordered inside, and for most of the year, so does food (US-style hot sarnies are supplied via nearby Red Dog Saloon), though when the sun starts seriously shining for 2014 they hope to put a chef up there, doing some kind of open-air grillin’ thang.

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Old Street

Queen of Hoxton

he downstairs bit of this grungy bar and club is better suited to nocturnal drinking, but walk up to the expansive rooftop to find deckchairs, wrought-iron furniture and benches filled with a sun-seeking crowd from the Shoreditch brigade. This year sees an all-new food and drink menu, with pulled pork buns and iced tea cocktails, or ice cream from the rum coke float stall. What’s more, the new semi-permanent cover means the the unpredictable British weather no longer threatens to rain on this rooftop parade.

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Spitalfields

Madison

This rooftop terrace bar in Jean Nouvel's One New Change shopping centre boasts brilliant views of St Paul's Cathedral. Cocktails range from standards (mojitos and whatnot) to concoctions with names ripe for being cackled at by hen parties (Pornstar Martini, Hot Bitch Martini). There are also bar snacks and a more formal brasserie menu.

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City
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Comments

3 comments
bigsands
bigsands

The Roof-Top bars are a step up from the pubs. The service is much better and you will be served your wine in a spotlessly clean glass. The toilets are also cleaner. Pubs need to step up. The Roof Gardens is my favourite, then Vista at the Trafalgar Hotel. However, they can all benefit from having live ensembles performing background music to create the best ambiance.

Sophie
Sophie

Surely the Roof Gardens Kensington should be included...Babylon's terrace for evening cocktails is unbeatable!

C.A.
C.A.

1 New Change rooftop bar - great views of St. Paul's.