Cocktails shouldn’t taste better at altitude, but somehow they do – especially when that extra height guarantees that you’re also drinking in sensational views of London. So whether it's a special occasion or you're just wanting to get high in the capital, here are our top London bars with a view – from famed rooftop bars to hangouts with a particularly gorgeous backdrop.
The best London bars with views
The no-bookings policy of Aqua Shard’s atrium bar makes it a place of pilgrimage for hopeful walk-ins looking for a view with their vodka. Although you can point out the gems studding the capital’s skyline from wherever you’re sitting, arrive early for the best seats alongside the sloping windows if you want unfettered views of St Paul’s, the City, the Thames, Canary Wharf and beyond. The well-executed cocktail list puts an emphasis on tea- and gin-based concoctions to anchor this otherwise anonymous bar in its location.
The bar at Duck & Waffle’s entrance pulls out all the stops to compete with its buzzy alfresco rival at Sushisamba, one floor below. Its funky graffitied walls and colourful glass chandeliers set the scene for inventive seasonal cocktails featuring plenty of homemade tinctures and tipples; indulgent bar snacks such as Manchego-stuffed devils on horseback or the restaurant’s signature barbecue-spiced shards of deep-fried pig’s ear are further draws. The view is so spectacular you won’t be able to stay in your seat, but no one will mind your city-gazing.
Its car-park setting is a hipster paradise, its no-nonsense cocktails hit the spot when the sun is hot, but it’s the views of London that get people most excited about this cool, summer-only hangout – that and the fact they’ve finally made it past the punishing queue. Easy-to-make cocktails such as Aperol spritz are best, because the bar gets overwhelmed at peak times. No matter: the full sweep of London looks gorgeous from this perspective – see Instagram for smug selfie spoilers from devotees.
In this L-shaped bar, you’re greeted by a floor-to-ceiling view of the City and beyond. The Gherkin seems within nibbling distance, The Shard spikes up to your left and Tower Bridge looks like it’s made of Lego. Enjoy those impressive views while you experiment with cocktails that fuse Asian ingredients with classic cocktail formulas. The interior impresses too, with a giant golden pineapple adorning the back bar.
Snuggled up next to St Paul’s Cathedral, this sleek bar at the top of the One New Change complex offers unbeatable views of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece and the City beyond. A glass lift takes gawpers from the ground floor, sweeping up parallel with the St Paul’s’ east elevation. Once in the bar or its generous outdoor space, an unrivalled close-up is offered of the cathedral’s best bits, with the ball and cross silhouetted perfectly against the sky. Enjoy it with a pretty cocktail and some Brit-style tapas.
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Every summer, this rooftop co-working-hub-slash-café in Hackney’s Netil House puts on a series of events, from alfresco cinema screenings and quirky gigs, to hot-tub nights and yoga sessions, all accompanied by street food snacks from hip pop-ups and cocktails from the bar. Up here, you get that big-sky feeling so rare in our crowded capital: the almost 360-degree view takes in London Fields, Hackney Downs and Victoria Park, parts of Regent’s Canal, and the far-off skyscrapers of the City.
This Ibiza-style rooftop chill-out lounge is a victim of its own success – everybody, from boys straight out of TOWIE, to middle-aged sightseers and Duchess of Cambridge lookalikes want in, meaning you can’t help but feel like a tourist here. To get in, you’d better look the part – the doormen are practised at shattering dreams. Once you find a spot on the sofas and order from the list of fruity, punchy sundowners (£13), you’ll enjoy views of Tower Bridge, St Paul’s, the London Eye, and just about everything else in London worth seeing from on high.
As rooftop views go, this one is iconic. The bar on top of the Trafalgar Hotel is in the direct eye line of Admiral Nelson. Cue smug selfie-takers providing entertainment up on floor seven. The bar has had a revamp: it’s now modernist-looking in marble and royal blue. Boxed-in spaces have retractable roofs, or brave the elements under heaters and blankets to make the most of Trafalgar Square from above. Prices are still sky-high, but they’ve done away with the £5 cover charge, making a splurge more justifiable. And for Nelson’s gaze alone, this rooftop deserves a visit. Selfie stick optional.
Get all of London, all at once at the top of the Walkie Talkie. Don’t expect to just waltz in, however – you’ve either got to book online, or attempt entry during one of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them walk-in periods. Signature cocktails cost £14 plus service, or order a boozy hot tea or hot choc for less. Taking them out onto the terrace is a complete no-no – remember, you don’t want to become the spectacle...
Jason Atherton’s City outpost in Tower 42 (once the UK’s tallest building; now dwarfed by its neighbours) has a smashing standalone bar that employs all of his signature cocktail calling cards to warrant you shelling out £13. Its views take in London’s jumble of historic rooftops and bang-up-to-date protrusions. If you tire of the views outside, try gawping at one of the signature cocktails – they’re pretty gorgeous, too.
The express lift alone is a big enough kick for London view-seekers, but once up at Sushisamba, take advantage of a beautiful terrace housing the bar as well as a quirky orange-lit tree. The view from this side of the bar isn’t the prettiest, but it is vast from all the way up on floor 38. And head back indoors and peer out the other side to spy the tip of the Gherkin. Sky-high sipping.
Tower 42’s top level is given over to this reservations-only bar for high fliers: champagne flights and champagne cocktails are the order of the day here – or a vintage magnum if you’ve got cash to burn. The oddly shaped room and floor-to-ceiling windows maximise viewing space – from this pimped-up platform you’ll get striking vistas of the Thames meandering past the city’s architectural highlights. It’s no longer London’s tallest building, but Tower 42’s outdoor view still wows (its dated interior, not so much...).
Look out on London from inside one of its most iconic buildings. Searcys' Iris bar is on the fortieth floor of 30 St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin. Up here, enjoy bloomin’ big G&Ts or glasses of sparkling wine while feeling fairly smug about life.
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