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.
RECOMMENDED: Outdoor London
The best rooftop bars in London
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 £12.50) to a well-groomed clientele. Aqua Kyoto's terrace bar has an extensive saké list too.
Open all year (weather permitting).
Perched on the top of the Trafalgar Hotel in Trafalgar Square, this smart bar has impressive views – Nelson's Column spears the skyline, plus there's the London Eye and Big Ben. This year, the drinks list comes courtesy of Bloom Gin, which has taken over the space, decking it out in flowers and foliage. Tables can be booked before 5pm; after that, it's first come, first served.
The Bloom Gin Rooftop Bar is open until 30 September (weather permitting).
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.
An events space rather than a straightforward bar, Dalston Roof Park, which began as a collection of community-minded rooftop allotments run by the Bootstrap Company, is styled as an English herb garden complete with planters and bright-green AstroTurf. It offers views of the City skyscrapers from an entirely different perspective, as well as one-off events such as music gigs from the likes of Rudimental and Jessie Ware. This year, expect ethical locally-sourced, barbecued meats courtesy of resident chef and food-waste campaigner Tom Hunt; to drink, try beer from Bootstrap's new brewery. Summer-long membership costs just £5.
Open from May 1 (weather permitting).Read more
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.
Please call the venue for 2015 opening dates.
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 (£6.90) or summery cocktails such as a strawberry prosecco bellini (£8.05)
Open until late September (weather permitting).
Radio sits on top of the grand art deco edifice that’s now the fancy ME London hotel, ten floors up. Its 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. The only thing that threatens to rain on your parade is the attitude of some of the staff – numerous negative comments about their behaviour are a cause for concern.
Open all year (weather permitting). Booking recommended at peak times.Read more
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.
Like the Dr Who of the bar world, the terrace on the fifth floor of Selfridges – run by the folks behind Q Grill – is continually regenerating, with the changing seasons heralding a new theme. From May 2015, this sheltered open-air perch will unveil its latest transformation: a seaside-style setting with deckchairs, a crisp blue-and-white colour scheme, and a couple of private booths fashioned as beach huts.
Vintage Salt will take over from Le Chalet from My 1, and will run until late September.Read more
More rooftop bars in London
Venue says: Alan Bird took flight from the Ivy and set up Bird of Smithfield in May 2012. It's set within an old Georgian townhouse, and spread over five floors. A home-away-from-home, a members' club with no membership... Bird welcomes guests with delicious, homemade British classics with a twist and naughtily good cocktails. Bird is open from 7.30am for breakfast, all the way through through to midnight (and later some nights), with live music on Friday nights in their basement cocktail bar - The Birdcage, which is also available for private hire. Their ground floor bar is open all day long, with an all day bar menu, including mouth-wateringly good burgers with smoked brisket. The restaurant on the first floor serves an a la carte menu and is available to book for lunch or dinner, Monday to Friday and dinner on Saturdays. There's also a beautiful private room available to hire exclusively on the second floor, and a roof terrace up at the top. A venue for all occasions - casual or corporate lunches and dinners, birthdays, engagement evenings, weddings, live music, DJs, two-for-one cocktails, meetings and more...
The top floor of this new bar and restaurant is small, and doesn't have startling views, but it's in the open air and open all year round (weather permitting).Read more
Coq d’Argent is accessed via a private lift, which speedily delivers City suits to a verdant rooftop garden, complete with its own lawn, trailing vines and ringed walkway. In summer, it’s a great choice for alfresco dining: the location offers striking skyline views across London as well as regional French cooking. This summer, look out for occasional themed events taking over the bar; otherwise, it's business as usual until late September/early October, depending on the weather.Read more
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 objects 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, with some parts completely open to the elements and other covered areas for rainy or windy weather.
Open all year round.
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 it is open all year round (weather permitting) and will be packed when the sun shines.Read more
Venue says: Happy hour! Tuesday to Friday from 5pm-7pm! 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 drinks selection includes Heineken, Sol and Desperados, while cocktails all cost £8.50. 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. Open all year round.Read more
The Lyric Hammersmith's large roof terrace has a smart new look following a complete refurbishment. This summer, a barbecue will dish up gourmet burgers, grilled fish and the like, and the bar will serve jugs of cocktails and craft beers. The year-round food offering is overseen by Peyton & Byrne, with a menu of street food-style bites majoring in grills and salads.Read more
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 hen-party cackles (Pornstar Martini, Hot Bitch Martini). There are also bar snacks and a more formal brasserie menu, and DJs hit the decks from Thursday to Saturday nights.Read more
Until this year, the rooftop bar on top of Dalston’s Netil House could only host a limited number of events per year due to its restricted licence. However, this year all that has changed, and the bar is now gearing up to make the most of the space both day and night all summer long (weather permitting), with a programme of yoga classes, outdoor cinema, one-off workshops, rooftop hot tubs and more.
Open all year round from 1 May 2015.
The downstairs bit of this grungy bar and club is better suited to nocturnal drinking, but walk up to the expansive rooftop and you'll find a slice of Old Habana and a sun-seeking Shoreditch crowd. For summer 2015, the space has been transformed into a Cuban paradise with rum-based cocktails such as frozen daiquiris, flavoured iced coffee, finger-licking street food and colourful Cuba references including a pastel-coloured 1950s' vintage car. What’s more, a semi-permanent cover means the the unpredictable British weather can't rain on this rooftop parade.Read more
This hip hangout may be on the bijou 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 occasionally some open-air grillin’ goes down.Read more
Admittedly, just getting here is half the fun – there’s a sense of achievement once you’ve successfully navigated entry-phone, lift and winding stairs and corridors. But what you find at the end of the journey is also pretty special. In summer, the enormous deck terrace planted with herbs and vegetables is a wonderful treat - this year, from May onwards (depending on the weather...), it will offer an evening barbecue of small and sharing plates, plus a simplfied drinks list. Meanwhile, the small inner café with its wooden floor and colourful furniture is a pretty eyrie on cooler days (a separate à la carte menu is available here).Read more
Find more bars for outdoor drinking
We've rounded up London's best beer gardens, some included for their bucolic atmosphere and fine foliage, some for their summery drinks or irresistible barbecue food, some for their riverside locations (although we also have those covered in our guide to London's best riverside pubs and bars) – and even a couple for their water features. We’ve organised them by north, south, east and west (and no, there aren't any good beer gardens in central London) so you can easily track down your nearest alfresco supping spot.Read more