London is full of cafés, bars and restaurants that let you take it outside. Still, for every rose-trimmed terrace there's a caff with two tables plonked next to traffic lights – so it helps to know where the good outdoor spots are. Here's our area-by-area alfresco dining guide, including restaurants in central London. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions. And don't forget to check our guide to the best riverside pubs and bars and the best beer gardens for alfresco drinks.
Outdoor dining in central London
Having been the scene of an infamous murder, and featured in Dickens’ ‘Little Dorrit’, Bleeding Heart Yard is part of British history. However, with its cobbles, starched linens and Gallic menu, it actually feels more French. Tables on the terrace (which operates in summer only) are bookable. Should the weather disappoint, you can either huddle under one of the blankets provided, or effect a shrug, mutter, ‘bof’, and head inside – if the buzzy bistro is full, choose a table in the elegant restaurant or the more informal tavern.
This tiny courtyard on Pickering Place (the site of London’s last pistol duel, fact fans) is, in theory, a public square accessed via an eighteenth-century oak-panelled passageway running off St James’ (as well as via the restaurant). A summer-only affair, it’s one of those hidden gems that more people than you’d like seem to know about – still, its tables are mostly filled with in-the-know Londoners wining and dining out-of-town relatives, rather than rucksack-toting, selfie-snapping tourists. Pitch up for a dose of knowingly old-school French cooking, with polished service.
This summer-only alfresco area is such a Soho oasis that as you approach it you’ll worry it might be a mirage. Its stone floors and gleaming modern sculpture are softened by lush, mature oak trees, cream parasols and linen tablecloths. The nice-enough Modern European menu is made more alluring by the fact that tables outside are bookable (you’ll be moved inside in bad weather). Alternatively, walk in for liquid refreshment after a hard day in W1: order a cocktail, take on water at the designer drinking fountain, and repeat.
Anna Hansen’s Clerkenwell restaurant, situated in a magnificent Grade II-listed Georgian building on St John’s Square, shares its nine alfresco tables with the pretty mandarin trees planted there. The first-come, first-served perches – only set out on warm, sunny days – are far enough from the noise and exhaust fumes of Clerkenwell Road but still close enough to people-watch. The globetrotting menu is particularly suited to dining in the sun – Hansen’s signature sugar-cured prawn omelette, on the menu from brunch until dinner, brings the south-east Asian sunshine.
Hidden between Hyde Park and the museums of South Kensington, this lesser-known Polish restaurant is a world away from the tourist-packed mass-market cafés that line the pedestrianised museum thoroughfare. Its light-filled dining room is all old-school elegance with chic, modern touches. In summer, you can eat in a small marquee that overlooks the peaceful, tree-lined greenery of Prince’s Gardens (tables are first come, first served). Despite majoring in traditional Polish dishes, the menu also offers lighter options, from beetroot-marinated gravadlax to pan-fried mackerel fillets with olive, caper and fig salsa.
We thought you couldn’t sit outside in an upmarket Soho setting and eat well without paying through the proboscis. Yet that’s precisely what the Carnaby Street branch of this ramen mini-chain allows you to do. A cut above its courtyard neighbours, it offers a huge bowl of its signature tonkotsu (wheat noodles in a rich broth, with the likes of barbecued pork and soft-boiled eggs) for £11 – which is swoon-worthy in itself, and even more so when you factor in the elegant parasols, complete with heaters for colder days.
Just when we thought it couldn’t be any more Spanish, the Covent Garden branch of Barrafina added a terrace to its offering, complete with parasols for Spanish-style weather, and heaters to combat your typical British summer (and winter). As with the restaurant’s dining room, it’s first come, first served, but on sufficiently sunny days, once you’re at the front of the queue, take your tapas alfresco, order a glass of the house vermut negre, and imagine you’re on holiday rather than mustering the energy for your next tube journey.
The only thing better than getting a table inside this Exmouth Market hotspot is snagging one of the 20-odd alfresco seats outside – arrive early for a plum spot. The three large communal tables, rough-hewn from reclaimed scaffolding, sit under a retractable awning, providing shelter should the heavens open; with the other four, you’ll just have to take your chances. There’s an extensive selection of deservedly popular small plates and a handful of mains. The vibe is laid-back, and service is invariably warm and sunny, even if the weather isn’t.
This lovely, sheltered courtyard, complete with heaters and blankets, is only open for brunch and lunch in fair weather, and closes promptly at 8pm. Either run the gauntlet of booking a table in the restaurant proper (good luck with that) and ask them to allocate you an alfresco table should the sun show its face, or turn up on the day with everything crossed. If you’re willing to forgo Nuno Mendes’ celebrated menu, a late afternoon cocktail between services is a good bet.
Although Clerkenwell Kitchen doesn’t take bookings for its seven outdoor tables, it’s well worth trying your luck on spec. The alfresco area, in a quiet courtyard surrounded by tall office buildings, has a lovely flowerbed and perky sun umbrellas to enhance your enjoyment of the daily changing, seasonal, organic fare – plus a small Perspex porch to shelter under if the weather turns. The place is licensed, the service friendly and the atmosphere relaxed.
London’s ultimate name-drop restaurant is for trust-funders or special occasion spendthrifts, but on a hot day, the sedate summer-only terrace is one of the best alfresco lunch spots in London, with cast-iron chairs, starched napery and a blue-and-white striped awning. You can’t book a terrace table, but you can request one when you book in the restaurant. Service is flawless, with staff on hand to refill champagne glasses from the tableside ice buckets, while wallet-busting dishes encapsulate Escoffier-style fine-dining. If lunch is too much dough, try a late-afternoon drink.
With its hanging baskets, lanterns and brown-paper table covers and dripping candles, Aurora’s shady terrace is cute as a button – it even has an ivy-clad private ‘room’ out there, with colourful cushions, sackcloth curtains and a wicker canopy. The terrace is bookable, open all summer (weather permitting), and gets inundated with Soho sunseekers. If you’re one of the lucky ones, celebrate by ordering the daily pasta special – or a holiday classic such as prosciutto with melon – paired with one of the restaurant’s food-friendly wines.
Outdoor dining in north London
After a stroll through Highgate Wood, Pavilion Café’s blissfully bucolic setting is a logical next step. Behind the picket fence is a cheerful garden brasserie where diners sit at generously proportioned tables amid tubs of petunias and climbing roses. The all-encompassing menu (from fish-finger sandwiches to grilled halloumi with roasted vegetables) is supplemented by daily specials and a drinks list that includes organic cider and beers, plus several wine bargains. The only problem is finding a table at busy times – and catching waiters’ attention.
This sleek summer-only terrace overlooks the pedestrianised walkway leading from Regent’s Canal to King’s Cross St Pancras station. Life feels pretty good sitting here on a sunny day, sipping a glass of Vinoteca’s affordable, well-chosen wines by the glass (some ‘straight from keg or box’) and tucking into one of the dishes from the tantalising Modern European menu, the only passing traffic the occasional bike-riding commuter. On colder days, food isn’t served outside – hey, these chefs have standards, and they don’t want the weather to spoil their dishes.
Restaurant group D&D London does outdoor spaces so well. With a whopping 90 seats on its gigantic, L-shaped terrace, a plum location on the pedestrianised stretch outside King’s Cross station, and a year-round approach to alfresco dining which sees the outdoor space equipped with heaters, blankets and umbrellas, this polished café-restaurant is no exception. Open-air diners can choose from the all-day Grand Café menu – an all-encompassing eastern European compendium featuring everything from goulash and goujons to schnitzels and sachertorte.
This family-run Modern European restaurant used to be renowned for the alfresco tables in its lush garden. They’re still there – and the garden’s expertly tended, densely tended plants are still a thing of beauty – but the team has also struck gold with its spacious conservatory, which offers the same bucolic views, but whose roof keeps unwelcome rain, excessive sunshine, and wind at bay – on hot days, the bi-fold doors let the outside in. If you still prefer to dine au naturel, be sure to book an outdoor table.
Fretting about getting your five-a-day? No need at this upmarket, yet unstuffy, King’s Cross restaurant, which pays special attention to veggies and grains without overlooking meat. The cooking is supervised by acclaimed French chef Bruno Loubet, whose menu of vibrant, exotic dishes are more Sydney than St Pancras. The alfresco area, with its brightly coloured metal furniture, is a relaxed setting from which to watch the world go by, and comes complete with the feelgood factor of watching children splashing through Granary Square’s choreographed fountains.
The secluded back garden at this family-run tapas restaurant isn’t exactly a secret, but it certainly feels like one. Groups of three or more can reserve one of eight larger tables, but couples have to try their luck at one of the four smaller tables as walk-ins, and are subject to a two-and-a-half-hour turnaround. The owners avoid taking bookings if the weather’s looking dodgy, but if sunshine turns unexpectedly to showers (or, you know, hail), the awning is rolled out and the heaters are switched on. Toasty.
Whether you hit Hampstead Heath for an early-morning run, a dog walk, a high-summer swim, or whatever else (hey, we’re not judging), there’s always something tasty awaiting you at this casual café, part of the Kenwood House estate, should hunger strike. The all-day menu runs from their famous breakfasts, through to light lunches and yummy afternoon teas. The two terraces, which accommodate 300-odd people between them, offer parasols for shade and gorgeous views of Kenwood House’s sweeping lawn – plus an a weekend barbecue from August to October.
Outdoor dining in east London
Angler, the smartest of the restaurants in D&D’s business-like South Place Hotel, arrived quietly and conquered, netting itself a Michelin star back in 2013 almost as soon as it had opened. Its outdoor terrace, bordered with lavender bushes and olive trees, is open all year thanks to a retractable roof that shields diners from summer rain and winter chills. Tables can’t be booked, but once you’re ‘in’, you can feast on classy grills from the lunch menu, or bar snacks from 3pm, plus a gourmet barbecue in high summer.
Housed in railway arches, the interior of this hot little dog recalls New York’s hip Lower East Side, while its chic, traffic-free terrace marks its alfresco territory with immaculately groomed topiary. There’s a retractable awning to shelter you from raindrops, or excessive sunshine (ha), plus heaters for inevitable chilly days, making it just about feasible all year round. Just don’t pitch up with too large a crowd – first-come-first-served tables are limited to groups of four or less. The full daily-changing restaurant menu of modern British dishes is served outside.
Sit on The Botanist’s spacious terrace and you’ll get the full force of Broadgate Circle’s pumped-up ambience, plus a dose of Vitamin D if the sun shows up (if it does, so will the rest of the City... and there are no bookings). The all-day menu offers the upmarket but accessible fare for which the ETM group is known: dishes that fit the bill whether you’re wooing a client or treating your niece. It’s open all year round – although heaters prove no match for the cruel British winter.
Converted from the bike sheds of a former Victorian school, this unassuming restaurant sets up outdoor tables for around 20 diners on sunny days, on its plant-filled patio set within a grassy walled garden. The space is at the mercy of the elements, without parasols, heaters or retractable roof, but whatever the weather does, you can depend on the kitchen for chic yet homely dishes featuring seasonal ingredients, from artichoke, black olive and rocket salad and grilled lamb leg with lentils, to blood orange and bergamot ice cream.
Gordon Ramsay’s Limehouse gastropub makes the most of its Thames-edge location with a bright conservatory complete with retractable roof, serving pitch-perfect Modern European dishes from the restaurant menu, plus a handful of alfresco tables overlooking the wharves of Rotherhithe, serving poshed-up sharing platters, pies and sandwiches. Either way, you get to contemplate a summer sunset sparkling off the towers of Canary Wharf, a glass of superior wine or a real ale in your hand. And did we mention the barbecue on the terrace at weekends? Good times.
Regular locals and visiting foodies alike heart this bakery and coffee shop, not least because of the team’s ongoing commitment to top-quality ingredients sourced from producers less than 50 miles away. The menu runs from breakfast BLTs made with wild-garlic focaccia, to home-baked sourdough sandwiches filled with chicken Caesar or beetroot, goat’s cheese and mint, plus vibrant salads and sticky cakes and pastries. Outside seating, which runs to just over 100 seats, looks out over the west boating lake.
A good alfresco option in the Broadgate Circle amphitheatre, Aubaine’s classy, first-come-first-served terrace is perfect for people-watching: it apes French café culture, with chairs all turned to face passers by rather than your companion. There are smart parasols for full-on sunshine, cute herb pots on every neatly laid table, and an all-day Mediterranean menu that runs from croissants and coffee through to croque monsieurs and moules mariniere, to grilled fish and meats. Close your eyes to the City suits and you could almost be in France. Heaters are reportedly planned for winter.
When you’re dining alfresco in old Bombay, it’s called a verandah, daahling – not a terrace. And this Irani-style Bombay café has an all-singing, all-dancing one, with vintage decor, and a retractable roof for when the sun goes all subcontinental on us. Kick back and order classic dishes made in the Irani café spirit, such as gently spiced minced lamb with buttery pau buns, or go for one of Dishoom’s east-west mash-ups, such as the much-loved sugar-cured bacon naan. There are no bookings, so look sharp.
Yauatcha’s City branch takes up the whole second floor in restaurant-packed Broadgate Circle, and is by far the best alfresco option in the complex – the restaurant is book-ended by two heated, summer-only terraces – alas, no bookings – from which to watch City slickers letting off steam (or blowing smoke) in the arena below. Foodwise, there are strong parallels with the Soho flagship: a patisserie selling macarons in every hue; an all-day dim sum menu including Yauatcha favourites such as venison puffs; and larger dishes and big-hitting wines for heavy-duty business meetings.
With its first-floor wraparound terrace taking in the waterways, and a canalside alfresco area, this gastropub is convincing competition for the more established terraces on Granary Square. All its alfresco spaces are first come, first served, so prepare for a bun fight on hot days. There are no parasols or heaters, but while the weather holds, you can enjoy menu highlights including wood-grilled meats, superfood salads, and flatbreads topped with thoughtful, seasonal combinations, teamed with fresh juices, wines by the glass, or on-trend cocktails.
Outdoor dining in south London
This sleek, modern, glass-sided café is popular with art lovers and local families alike, thanks to its location within the three acres of verdant, tranquil gardens surrounding Dulwich Village’s bijou art gallery. On a sunny day, vie for an alfresco table dotted on the lawns in the shade of the spreading trees – it’s summertime perfection, especially since outdoor table service is usually provided. The café menu does a good line in posh salads and afternoon teas. At weekends, a ‘cabin’ located in the garden dispenses hot drinks and snacks.
Brixton produces many impressive community and cooperative initiatives, but Pop – a collection of shipping containers on a formerly disused space that house food, drink and fashion start-ups (plus a few familiar names) – is one of its best yet. Weave past the bouncers and through the young, beautiful, achingly trendy masses, beer in hand, exploring the foodie offerings as music pumps in the background. Who needs festivals? Another vibrant, varied and inexpensive eating destination in Brixton to keep the brilliant Village Market on its toes.
This lovely alfresco spot could qualify as a waterside venue – if you swap London’s rivers and canals for its open-air pools, that is. Nudging up against the 1930s art-deco splendour of Brockwell Lido, this bohemian café serves a restaurant-worthy menu that attracts its own, non-swimmer crowd, day and night. It also does a great line in homemade cakes and poolside cocktails, depending on what floats your boat. Arrive early for a spot by the azure water – poolside seats are snapped up quicker than Michael Phelps seeing away a mountain of egg-white omelettes.
With around 150 tables spread across a pair of decks right on the riverfront, this is a great place to let kids go free-range and watch the Thames flowing past. Some of the tables have heaters, some umbrellas, so arrive early and pick the best spot (you can also book terrace tables in advance). The Italian menu stops off at most of the pizza and pasta options you’d anticipate, but with plenty of fish and meat too. Desserts are well-trodden trattoria classics, but there is also banoffee pie on the menu.
The Victoria’s Richmond Park location alone would guarantee it a permanently full house. However, the fact that chef Paul Merrett heads up the kitchen, turning out accomplished gastropub fare, from ham hock terrine with smoked apple purée to tender steaks with triple-cooked chips, makes it even more of a destination – particularly for families. The leafy walled garden, complete with supersized heated parasols, kids’ play area and open-air bar, is another big draw – arrive early to guarantee yourself a spot. On in-between days, hedge your bets in the conservatory.
Outdoor dining in west London
This bucolic hotspot does not take bookings, which can be both a blessing and a curse; book a table in the restaurant’s dining room and angle for a terrace seat upon arrival, or chance your luck as a walk-in. On a summer day, the venue’s smartly painted pergola, bloom-filled terracotta pots, water feature and striped seat cushions put you in an off-duty mood faster than you can order a signature Ivy Garden Royale; at night, fire pits, roaring hearths and lap blankets keep the diners toasty and the vibe chic.
Although not strictly speaking alfresco – you’re dining under a glass roof – this place, set in an idyllic garden centre just past Richmond, feels as outdoor as can be. Few London dining rooms can match its natural good looks: a magical hothouse alive with palm trees and scented jasmine, its mismatched tables ornamented with terracotta pots of herbs. After lunch, potter around looking at the plants in the nurseries outside, then walk back to Richmond across the fields. Reservations are essential, but can be made three months in advance.
If you’ve never been to a German beer garden, Stein’s is good place to start. Set along a stretch of the Thames towpath, just a short walk from Richmond town centre, the large riverside garden can seat up to 300 alfresco diners at shared wooden tables, around half of which offer some shelter from the elements. Food is the best of Teutonic stodge, ignoring the fripperies of starters and going straight for no-nonsense mains, with generous plates of regional sausages with sauerkraut, fried potatoes or dumplings the order of the day.
This relaxed and relaxing little Greek bistro near Notting Hill’s Gate cinema has ten tables on its sweet first-floor terrace, which is open only during the summer months, when parasols and heaters are deployed as needed. The menu is a celebration of Greek meze, from dips and stuffed peppers to grilled octopus and spicy sausage. If a heavy downpour strikes, the owners will herd outdoor diners into one of two indoor function rooms – which might put as much of a dampener on the occasion as the rain.
The Fulham original relocated to these premises in January 2012 and has continued its tradition of upmarket Thai cuisine. More than 20 riverside tables are dragged out once summer looks to have properly settled in each year, and parasols come equipped with cunning heaters (take THAT, British summertime!). The riverside views offered from here are certainly better than the view the other way: Blue Elephant is part of a soulless modern complex in built-by-developers Imperial Wharf. But we sure love those helicopters.
The Putney branch of London-based all-day café chain Brew is worth having on your alfresco hitlist. The large terrace (covered and heated in winter) is stylishly decked out with pastel-hued folding chairs, cappuccino-coloured blankets and potted plants. It’s first come, first served at brunch and lunch, when the menu ranges from Turkish eggs with strained yoghurt and chilli butter, to confit onion tart or steak-frites. Tables are available to book at dinner – feast on wood-fired pizzas and pides with inventive toppings such as Peking-style duck or lamb shawarma.
You can sit inside the Saatchi Gallery’s fabulous brasserie, surrounded by modern art, but on a sunny day you can’t beat a seat in the museum’s equally well-curated grounds, whose first-come-first-served tables overlook Duke of York Square. Most of the year, outdoor service finishes at 6pm, but during July and August, this extends as late as 9pm, depending on the weather. The menu is full of top-quality classics: dainty Waldorf salad, prettily garnished beef tartare, or barbecued pork belly with braised endive, plus sparkling cocktails come Pimm’s o’clock.
The Notting Hill branch of this Venetian-inspired small-plates bar has the bonus of 20 pavement seats to assist in your admiration of W11’s beautiful people. It serves the same menu as indoors (the familiar Polpo favourites of cicchetti, fritto misto and meatballs, plus summery dishes such as crab and chickpea crostini or grilled lamb with caponata and basil) – and the best news is that you can even book a table (outside or inside) at lunch. Andiamo!
This gastropub has a dinky herb-garden-slash-terrace located in a walled courtyard. There are, however, drawbacks: the terrace is in shade every evening, and there are no heaters to stop you from turning blue; the tables can’t be booked; and the fact that this is where you retire for a puff on one of the fine Cuban stogies from the pub’s Wine & Cigar Shop will put some people off dining outside. But arrive early for an off-peak lunch during the summer months, and you could just strike gold in Shepherd’s Bush.
Despite its name and riverside location, The River Café’s gorgeous gardens are what make dining alfresco here such a treat. If you snag an outdoor table (request this when booking), you’ll either eat on the heated terrace, surrounded by fruit trees, herbs and edible flowers (there’s an awning here, too), or in the garden, amid the shady trees on the neatly trimmed lawns. The menu is a study in seasonal Italian deliciousness (try booking for the bargainous set lunch), with some ingredients sourced direct from the garden.
Carry on the outdoor dining
With limited sunshiney days in London, you need to make sure your picnic game is fully on point. Thankfully, we've taste-tested the best pre-packed picnic hampers available in London. So all you have to do is order one of these, dust off that blanket, find a dreamy spot in one of London's best parks and pray for good weather.