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.
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 big sofas and space heaters, and mainly faces south: 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.
- ME London, 336-337 The Strand, WC2R 1HA. Temple tube.
This unsurprisingly popular spot is perched atop the Terence Conran-designed Boundary Project. It was remodelled in 2013, with a weatherproof pergola allowing the bar and dining area to stay open in all weathers.
- 2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD. Old Street tube/rail or Shoreditch High Street tube.
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 39th floor and walk straight in. The cocktail list is brief – seven drinks costing £11 or £12 (plus 15 per cent for service), and a little unimaginative (mojitos and such). Although the cocktails are disappointing, this is still a destination bar par excellence, with unbeatable views, a crowd who are blinged up for the occasion, and relatively easy access.
- Floors 38 & 39, Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY. Liverpool St tube/rail.
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 more than a tenner.
- The Trafalgar, Trafalgar Square, (2 Spring Gardens), SW1A 2TS. Charing Cross tube/rail.
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).
- Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, (Belvedere Road), SE1 8XX. Waterloo tube/rail.
Become a friend of Dalston Roof Park (£3 donation) and you'll get free access to this idyllic roof garden. This year, in keeping with the English tea time theme, the bright green Astroturf is dotted with deckchairs and children's chairs, apple crates as tables, mini teapots as ashtrays, pretty little lightbulbs strung around the perimeter of the garden, and liquor-spiked teas. With on-the-hoof eats from one of a rotation of mobile food stalls, what’s not to like?
- Print House, 18 Ashwin St, E8 3DL. Dalston Kingsland tube.
The 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.
- 1 Curtain Road, EC2A 3JX. Shoreditch High Street rail or Liverpool Street tube/rail.
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. A so-so range of beers includes Leffe and London Pride on tap, and the wine is limited to a couple of ordinary reds and whites. The pub's kitchen does some decent Thai food, including classic curries and fried noodles.
- 19 Perth Rd, N4 3HB
This revamped Dalston boozer boasts a refurbed roof terrace, which is decked and embellished with flowers. It's not huge, but will be packed when the sun shines, with liquid refreshment from a newly-installed spirits and draught bar (with Camden Helles and Sandford’s cider on tap) and food from one of a rotation of weekend street food vendors, serving up the likes of hogroast in a bap, or intriguing-sounding ‘Korean tacos’.
- 372 Kingsland Rd, E8 4DA. Haggerston Overground.
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.
- Singer St, EC1V 9DD. Old Street tube.
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.
- One New Change, EC4M 9AF. St Paul’s tube.
This gallery, bar and club is the epitome of Camden style. Its large roof terrace is ideal for supping cocktails (get two-for-one from 5-8pm Wednesday to Sunday) and observing both the art and the art crowd.
- Horse Hospital, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Rd, NW1 8AH. Camden Town tube.
The view from the 12th floor roof terrace of this snazzy, relatively new hotel – now part of the Hilton brand – takes in both the ancient majesty of the Tower of London and the Shard, the latest structure to pierce the motley London skyline. The view on the terrace is somewhat less diverse. The ubiquitous City uniform of grey jackets populate the tables, which are spaced out, no doubt, to allow sensitive talk of financial affairs. Prices reflect the locale, being on the steeper side of the Hill.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London, (7 Pepys Str), EC3N 4AF
Visiting the terrace bars at either of the 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. Kyoto's terrace bar has an extensive saké list too.
- 5th Floor, 30 Argyll Street, W1F 7EB. Oxford Circus tube.
The large outdoor terrace at this café come into its own in summer.
- The Exchange, (28 London Bridge Street), SE1 9SG. London Bridge tube/rail.
The top floor of this new bar and restaurant is small, and doesn't have startling views, but it's open air.
- 26 Smithfield Street, EC1A 9LB. Farringdon tube/rail or Barbican tube.
The Lyric Hammersmith has a large terrace overlooking hectic King Street.
- 2 King St, W6 0QL. Hammersmith tube.
Reopens on 30 June 2013. Review from 2012: Frank's Café emerged on top of Peckham's multi-storey car park in summer 2007 as part of the Bold Tendencies 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.
- 10th floor, Peckham multi-storey car park, 95a Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
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