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 bar 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
Venue says: “Come and enjoy the re-imagined Rumpus Room, sipping on cocktails alongside the dramatic views of the River Thames and St Paul''s Cathedral.”
Sure, you can go to the Rumpus Room for chic City views from floor 12 of the Mondrian Hotel, but that’s just one of the many strings to this beautiful bar’s bow. Stick around for champagne cocktails put together perfectly by smart staff, a beautiful interior should things get cold on the terrace and, of course, a spot of people watching. All with St Paul’s Cathedral smiling in the background.
Open: Year-round, 5pm-1am Tue-Wed, 5pm-2am Thu-Sat.
You’ll get double the gherkin at this idyllic inner-London spot, since The Culpeper’s rooftop space is used to grow vegetables for its kitchen, as well as for rooftop drinking with City views. The cocktails from the cute greenhouse bar are of real quality and pack in loads of herbs from the neighbouring beds.
Open: 5pm-10.30pm Tue, noon-10.30pm Wed–Sat, noon–9.30pm Sun (closed Mon).
Peckham’s most popular summer-only bar, unglamorously perched on a multi-storey car park, has gained such cult status that its reopening kind of heralds the start of summer. On freakishly hot days, expect to queue for ages to drink Frank’s Campari-based cocktails under the billowing red canopy and enjoy the alternative London skyline – spectacular at sunset.
Open: Mid-May. Timings TBC.
Less about the views and more about the booze, Aqua Spirit is home to two year-round terraces that work as slick and moody sunset spots. They’re usually packed with good-looking late-night daters, who retire to the restaurant bar when the night gets too chilly. No bookings.
Open: Year-round (weather permitting), noon–1am Mon–Sat, noon–8pm Sun.
E8’s happening rooftop bar started as a community allotment but has since snowballed into a multi-faceted events space with deck chairs dotting the artificial grass, a dedicated bar, pop-up food offerings and a roster of events that takes in alfresco cinema, big-name bands, DJs and more.
Open: April 29–late summer. 5pm–11pm Tue–Fri; 3pm–midnight Sat; 3pm–10pm Sun.
This roomy open-air terrace perched up on floor ten has a killer panoramic view across Finsbury Square that brings all the City workers out from their offices. In colder weather, you can cuddle up on modernist furniture under blankets and heaters or refuel indoors at the venue's swanky restaurant with a steak-heavy menu.
Open: 11.30am-midnight Mon-Sat, 11.30am-11pm Sun.
On sunny days, this sky-high rooftop bar on the thirty-eighth floor of the City’s Heron Tower – named the Tree Bar thanks to the prettily lit tree at its centre – attracts crowds like Rio Carnival. It’s worth the scrum for the serious cocktails and sensational widescreen views of the capital.
Open: Year-round (weather permitting), 11.30am–1.30am Sun–Tue, 11.30am–2am Wed–Sat.
Depending on whether you get in or not, Radio Rooftop Bar can make or break your night – so it pays to book (although you’re subject to a hangover-inducing £75 per person spend most nights). However, the hype is sustained by way of swanky signature cocktails and 360-degree views of London’s skyline.
Open: Year-round (weather permitting), noon–1am Mon–Wed, noon–2am Thu-Fri, 11am-2am Sat, 11am-midnight Sun.
Boundary does rooftop drinking in style. A glass roof, heaters, and warming cocktails such as a hot negroni keep chills at bay in winter while maintaining the illusion of alfresco drinking. In warm weather, posh pitchers of Aperol spritz and inventive cocktails such as salted caramel julep see you through summer in style.
Open: Year-round, 11.30am–11pm Mon–Sun.
Last year, the folks behind Roofnic took the best bits of their festival-style debut – great-value cocktails, sun-friendly tunes and that space-age canopy – and polished up the rest. So our bets are on another new look and new name for 2017, with a solid food selection and the high of feeling removed from London while slap-bang in the centre of it. No bookings.
Notch is closed. Watch this space for more on Notch's 2017 guise.
More rooftop bars in London
The King's Cross branch of this buzzy bar harbours one of the area's few rooftop bars – an expansive, attractive space whose wooden shacks serve up modern pub grub such as nachos and hot dogs, plus bottomless boozy brunches on sunny weekends. There’s a rooftop bar serving in summer, plus eclectic live DJ sets.
Open: Year-round (weather permitting), 11am–midnight Sun–Wed, 11am–1am Thu, 11am–3am Fri–Sat.
This dinky top-floor bar on the roof of Smithfield's five-floor dining venue has a lot going for it, not least a delicious and extensive bar menu dedicated to London's new-found summer favourite – the spritz. Try a honeysuckle fizz or stick to the classic Aperol spritz, a perfect thirst-quencher on hot summer nights.
Open: From May 8 until late Sep. Midday-10pm Mon-Fri, 5pm-10pm Sat, closed Sun.
This smart bar’s views of Nelson's Column, the London Eye and Big Ben impress; however, the £5 entry fee and pricey cocktails bring you back to earth with a bump. Parties of six or more can book tables – if you can’t round up that many friends, try your luck as a walk-in.
Open: Late-summer 2017. Timings TBC.
Coq d’Argent’s verdant rooftop garden has a neatly trimmed lawn, trailing vines, a ringed walkway, and stunning London-wide views – no wonder half the City heads up here in summer. To drink, there are high-quality spirits, fine wines and champagne for high-fliers, plus highbrow-meets-lowbrow cocktails, from a classic old fashioned to a pornstar martini.
Open: Year-round (heated terrace only in winter), 11.30am–midnight Mon–Thu, 11.30am–1am Fri, midnight-1am Sat, noon–4pm Sun. Check their website for private party closures.
The views on top of this King’s Cross gastropub are nothing special – or so we assume, since the panelled walls are built too high for drinkers (and smokers) to see over. On the plus side, there’s a lively rooftop barbecue in summer, good music, and plenty of lounge seating.
Open: Year-round, 5pm–midnight Mon–Sun.
This dream of a pub has a raucous, studenty feel, largely thanks to picnic table seating, loud music and a pool table. It also has a pleasant garden – all leafy bamboo and evergreen climbers – that spans the pub's entire roof on multiple levels, with some parts completely open to the elements and other covered areas for rainy or windy days.
Open: Year-round, noon–midnight Mon–Thu, noon–1am Fri–Sat, noon–11.30pm Sun.
There are no bookings in Gaucho’s heated, covered rooftop garden, but it doesn’t hurt to put in a request when you call up to reserve your (cowhide) seat – you’ll feel extra authentic quaffing your malbec or Argentine cocktails at altitude. A natty retractable roof lets in the sunshine on hot days.
Open: Year-round, noon–11pm Mon–Sun.
Venue says: “Join us at Golden Bee for rooftop drinks and amazing cocktails, now with our new retractable roof and revamped bar.”
This rooftop bar in Shoreditch takes a laid-back approach – it provides the rooftop space and the happy-hour cocktails and buckets of beer, and it expects its customers to bring the craic. Look out, too, for rooftop cinema screenings, complete with firepits and blankets in winter and bottomless popcorn whatever the season.
Open: Year-round 5pm–1am Tue-Wed, 5pm–2am Thu, 3pm–3am Fri-Sat, (closed Sun & Mon).
The Ham Yard Hotel’s deluxe roof terrace is usually off-limits to the hoi polloi, but if you want to see the water features, herbaceous borders, kitchen garden, beehives and chic sun terrace for yourself, cocktail in hand, without forking out for a hotel room, look out for seasonal ticketed events.
Open: Year-round, access limited to members of the public. Check their website for ticketed events.
The Lyric’s large roof terrace is a modern oasis, with smart decking, curved planters, and living canopies sheltering the tables. It’s open all year round, though few souls brave an alfresco drink in winter. Come summer, however, the throngs of locals, theatregoers and refreshment-seeking passers-by create a pleasantly buzzy ambience.
Open: Year-round, noon–11pm Mon–Sat.
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.
Piano Kensington is a venue for listening to jazz pianists five nights a week. They serve a regularly changing menu combining influences from numerous cuisines, and snacks on Sunday evening when there is no dinner service. The short wine list includes bottles from both Europe and the New World, with prices starting at £20.95, and several wines are available by the glass. Note: live music is played from 6-11.30pm Tuesday through Thursday; from 6pm-midnight Friday and Saturday; and from 8.30-11.30pm on ‘Jazz Sundays’, when there is no cover charge or entry fee.
Venue says: “Olav Bratli, one of Norways's top entertainers, entertains this weekend from 8.30pm.”