Check out our sticky-fingered guide to the best cold stuff in the capital. We've put together a list of top-notch ice-cream parlours serving unforgettable frozen cones, scoops, ice lollies and ice-cream sandwiches. Think we've missed a great London ice-cream parlour? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
The best ice cream in central London
What’s the vibe? Like mama used to make. The gelato at this cute café near the Royal Opera House is churned fresh every day in machines from Italy, kept in traditional lidded pots at the counter and served with a spatula – it’s so super-smooth there’s no need for a scoop. The flavours, too, are unashamedly old-school, and all the better for it: the nougat, panettone and gianduja are exceptional.
Signature scoop: Biscotti. You’ll never look at the plastic-wrapped ones that come with your coffee in the same way again.
What’s the vibe? Jacob Kenedy’s gelateria, just across Archer Street from big brother Bocca di Lupo, is the one to beat. It’s tiny and draws a cool crowd around the clock, but standing in line next to the freezer-cabinets of ice-cream cakes is no great hardship. The flavours are quirky but grown-up – fresh mint stracciatella, blood-orange sorbet and ricotta and sour cherry. If the queue defeats you, head over to Vico on Cambridge Circus, now home to a Gelupo concession.
Signature scoop: Tiramisu. Go for a three-scoop tub if you’re hungry.
What’s the vibe? Grab-and-go. This no-frills joint at the top of Greek Street doesn’t lend itself to lingering, but there’s no nicer way to while away an afternoon than with a cone of its gelato in nearby Soho Square. The billowing tubs are made in the time-honoured way on site from fresh milk and cream, with no nasties. Sorbets are a strong point, too – try the Mediterranean lemon or Sicilian mandarin.
Signature scoop: Get your teeth into Torroncino, made with single-origin almond or hazelnut nougat.
What’s the vibe? A family affair. Morelli’s is a fourth-generation business – great-grandfather Mario apparently brought the cappuccino to Britain – and its tiny jewel of a store in Covent Garden (there’s another in Notting Hill) sparkles. You can get a cone of their gelato to go, but it’s worth sticking around for the sundaes, which come in glorious Italian glassware festooned with swizzle-sticks, whipped cream and wafers. Probably the most fun you can have sitting down.
Signature scoop: Nocciola, made with hazelnuts from Piedmont, topped with hot fudge sauce – customers get through three tonnes of the stuff each year.
What’s the vibe? Scoop’s flagship in Seven Dials (there are two others, in Soho and South Kensington) is cute and colourful, but it’s the voluptuous tubs of gelato behind the counter that are the real draw. Provenance is the thing here – the milk is the Channel Islands’ finest, the pistachios are from Sicily, and the peppermint extract is flown in from Piedmont. Purists, rejoice.
Signature scoop: Malaga – rum and raisin puts on its Sunday best, courtesy of Chilean sultanas aged in Marsala wine.
What’s the vibe? Plant-based ice cream? We can take it or leaf it. But the stuff at Yorica, London’s first dairy-, egg-, nut- and gluten-free ice-creamery, is an exception. This Wardour Street newbie feels like a Sydney surf shack, all blonde wood and super-smiley staff. You choose your ice cream – made with rice milk – or vegan frozen yoghurt, top it with fresh fruit, brownie bits or marshmallows, then dig in. And no, it doesn’t count as one of your five a day.
Signature scoop: Beetroot and dark chocolate – not half as scary as it sounds.
What’s the vibe? This international chain’s best-placed branch is a wafer’s throw from Covent Garden piazza, but there are outposts across the capital, from Chelsea to Camden. The focus is on classic flavours (pistachio, strawberry, Madagascan vanilla), with a couple of more exotic options like coconut and lemongrass in the mix. The Dolmio-day décor could do with an overhaul, but the flower cones, which come with slabs of ice cream in place of petals, are highly photogenic.
Signature scoop: L’Inimitable. If you’ve ever eaten Nutella straight from the jar (and let’s face it, who hasn’t), this will blow your mind.
The best ice cream in north London
What’s the vibe? Richard Makin’s ice-cream van, the star attraction at West India Quay, King’s Cross and Druid Street markets, has parked up at KERB’s new street-food collective in Camden. His flavours are the stuff of childhood dreams: think brown toast and jam, root beer and lemon butter meringue. Get them between your cookies of choice, or unadorned in a cup – either way, they’re eye-poppingly good.
Signature scoop: Cop Car: white coffee studded with glazed donut pieces.
What’s the vibe? World’s best science lab. Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur, Camden Lock’s very own Willy Wonka, broke the mould when he and wife Nyisha started making ice cream with liquid nitrogen back in 2010. Gimmick? Nope: because the custard base gets frozen instantly, the results are gorgeously dense and crystal-free. Toppings – grilled white chocolate, truffled crumble and caramelised pretzels – are appropriately out-there.
Signature scoop: Burnt butter caramel. Try it sandwiched between two of their extra-chewy brownies.
What’s the vibe? Chocolatier Paul takes the sweet stuff seriously, so when he decided to start selling ice cream in his Camden Passage shop, he called in the experts. East London’s punny gelato wizards Hackney Lick make three flavours for him, using the same top-notch ingredients that go into the truffles. Ask for all of the toppings: cocoa nibs, dark chocolate pearls and hot chocolate sauce.
Signature scoop: 64 percent Madagascan dark chocolate and sea-salt caramel – a homage to Paul’s bestseller.
What’s the vibe? A twinkling gem on Tufnell Park’s main thoroughfare, Ruby Violet is decked out with vintage tiles and furniture. Flavours tend towards the weird and wonderful (Seville orange marmalade, liquorice with blackcurrant ripple), but less adventurous tastes are amply catered for too. Not on the Northern line? There’s an offshoot in Granary Square, just behind King’s Cross station.
Signature scoop: Elderflower and Prosecco sorbet – summer, licked.
What’s the vibe? This is easily the jolliest place on Upper Street. Decked out with bunting and swing-seats, it has a devoted local following – customers can suggest a Flavour of the Month, and the person responsible for the winning one gets a free scoop every day for four weeks. They’ve just opened a second branch in Seven Dials, too.
Signature scoop: Espresso and chocolate biscotti. You could almost get away with having it for breakfast.
What’s the vibe? Chalk Farm may be miles from the seaside, but this place lives up to its name – if it doesn’t put you in a holiday mood, nothing will. Marine Ices has been scooping since 1931, moving out of its original premises on Haverstock Hill in 2014 to a new and improved parlour with a retro look. Malted milk, coconut ruffle and tutti frutti give the menu a Famous Five feel, and the staff are all smiles.
Signature scoop: Cappuccino hits the spot on a hot day.
The best ice cream in east London
What’s the vibe? If putting a smile on people’s faces was an Olympic sport, La Gelatiera would definitely go home with a gold. Their new opening in E20 is a more sociable spot than the Covent Garden original, with a ‘theatre’ where you can watch the gelato being made. They switch the menu up daily, but the 90-odd flavours on rotation (extra-dark chocolate sorbet with Calabrian chilli, Sicilian pistachio, pineapple and fresh mint) are all intriguing.
Signature scoop: Honey, rosemary and orange zest. Like eating a Mediterranean garden (in a good way).
What’s the vibe? This vintage bicycle with a freezer on the back is a firm Broadway Market favourite (keep an eye out for it at Spitalfields and One New Change, too). Nonna’s is named after founder Sophia’s Italian grandmother, and the menu, which changes weekly, blends Continental techniques with best-of-Blighty ingredients; give the Kentish cobnut, salted toffee apple or Eton mess a go.
Signature scoop: Blackberry and vanilla crumble – better than the real thing, to be honest.
What’s the vibe? You’d think Shoreditch would be packed with small-batch, artisan ice-cream parlours – but for now, you’ll have to head over to Spitalfields to get your fix. Patisserie Valerie’s eastern outpost has a choice of 20-odd gelati, sorbets and frozen yoghurts, with nothing to frighten the horses (although they used to do a terrifying banana one the colour of Facebook). The terrace is a real sun-trap in the summer.
Signature scoop: You can’t go wrong with double chocolate.
What’s the vibe? A hipper Mr Whippy. Boxpark’s brand new dessert bar, which feels like a cross between a skate shop and a Tokyo tea-house, has reinvented soft-serve ice cream for the Snapchat generation. Really, though, it’s just a backdrop for toppings – the photogenic likes of blue bubblegum crunch, smashed Pocky biscuits and Oreo gravel are arranged in petri-dishes on the counter ready for sprinkling.
Signature scoop: Matcha-vanilla with a popcorn shell. When you’re going to spend at least five minutes snapping your sundae, structural integrity is key.
The best ice cream in south London
What’s the vibe? Funny name, seriously good ice cream. In the heart of Borough Market, white-tiled 3Bis (the postcode of Italy’s first ice-cream factory, apparently) has a playful feel, with cabinets full of chocolate-splattered lollies and a whirring gelato machine that churns it in front of you. As in the rest of the market, quality doesn’t come cheap – a large cone won’t leave you with change from a fiver, but it’s totally worth it.
Signature scoop: Pretty-as-a-picture pistachio.
What’s the vibe? Peering into the chiller cabinet at Danieli, you feel a bit like a latter-day Howard Carter stumbling across Tutankhamun’s treasures. Richmond Green’s much-loved parlour serves gelato that’s truly a wonder to behold. Chocolate is a speciality, paired with everything from chilli to praline and Earl Grey tea. Happily, the sorbets don’t play second fiddle – try the pear or wild strawberry. A tiny outpost opened in Covent Garden in 2012.
Signature scoop: Banana and salted peanut. Caramel, we’re done.
What’s the vibe? The clue’s in the name. This Borough Market stalwart sells lick-and-go cones and cups full of ice cream made by four friends from the milk of goats on a small farm in Essex. It’s lactose-free and naturally lower in calories than cow’s milk ice cream – but even if #clean anything gets your, um, goat, you’ll be back for seconds.
Signature scoop: Billy Vanilli (no kidding).
What’s the vibe? Brixton Village’s Lab G (it stands for Laboratorio Artigianale del Buon Gelato) is nothing much to look at, but the super-friendly staff serve up some of the best ices this side of the Coliseum. Flavours are a mix of the classic (vanilla, tiramisu) and totally cuckoo (anyone for parmesan sorbet?). If you’re lucky there might be freshly baked brioche buns on the counter, ready to be filled with your scoop of choice.
Signature scoop: Pain au chocolat. Why has nobody thought of this before?
What’s the vibe? Kitty Travers’ ice-cream truck has been hailed as Britain’s best, and if you manage to track the tiny three-wheeler down in Bermondsey, you’ll see why. Normally at Spa Terminus market on Saturdays, it dispenses a weekly-changing selection of seasonal frozen treats, with an emphasis on the fruity – think nectarine and lemon verbena sorbet, or kumquat custard ice cream.
Signature scoop: Novello orange choc-ice with cinnamon rye crumb – quite a mouthful, in more ways than one.
What’s the vibe? Fro-yo to go. Scoopsy Daisy’s husband-and-wife duo whip up sweetly flopsy cones of organic frozen yoghurt in their pastel-painted servery at Lewisham’s Model Market on Fridays and Saturdays. Fruit is their thing (nectarine, cherry and raspberry), but keep an eye out for cocoa – we like to dunk one of South East Cakery’s brownies into ours when nobody’s looking.
Signature scoop: Pink-and-white striped strawberry swirl.
What’s the vibe? On sunny Saturdays the queue for Nardulli stretches most of the way back to Clapham Common tube station. You won’t find any techy whizz-bangery here: just classic gelati (Valrhona chocolate, liquorice, macadamia nut) made the old-fashioned way. There’s a handful of tables, but we’d recommend you give them a miss – get out onto the grass and pretend you’re on (Roman) holiday.
Signature scoop: Fig – the richest, darkest fruit purée swirled into an extra-creamy base. Sorry, where were we?
The best ice cream in west London
What’s the vibe? A portal to Portobello, this cheery gelateria makes a great starting point for a stroll. There are 13 staple flavours, plus guest stars (they’ve been known to whip up the odd batch of Vegemite gelato). Can’t choose between a cone or a cup? You don’t have to, thanks to their portable – and edible – wafer baskets. There are branches in King’s Cross, Holland Park, St John's Wood and Fulham, too.
Signature scoop: Amarena: a silky fior di latte base spiked with cherry.
What’s the vibe? A little piece of Florence in Fulham. Café and takeaway Ice and Slice specialises in rectangular pizzas and dense, intensely flavoured gelati. Made daily in tiny batches, these run the gamut from an ultra-creamy salted caramel to cornflake crunch. The take-home tubs are good value, and if slurping is more your style, they’ll blend any two flavours into a bespoke milkshake.
Signature scoop: Aperol spritz – everyone’s favourite aperitif in frozen form.
What’s the vibe? An oldie, but a goodie. Looks-wise, Oddono’s has nothing on the new generation of bare-brick gelaterias, but there’s still a whiff of Continental chic about it. Maybe it’s all those French mothers who pop in for an affogato after dropping their enfants off at the Lycée Français up the road. Tried-and-trusted flavours like mango, strawberry and coconut will see you right.
Signature scoop: Bacio, named after Italy’s foil-wrapped chocolate-and-hazelnut ‘kisses’.
What’s the vibe? This light, bright, faintly space-age parlour has come into its own since Exhibition Road’s pedestrian-friendly revamp; South Kensington is now one of the nicest places in London to stroll with a cup of the cold stuff. There’s an astonishing 50-plus flavours of gelato behind the counter at Snowflake, plus chocolate-dipped mini cones, waffles and crepes. Where to start? We recommend an A to Z approach – kick things off with a scoop of amaretto, apple or almond.
Signature scoop: Snowflake, made to a top-secret recipe.
What’s the vibe? Tucked away in the Chelsea Farmers Market, Dri Dri operates out of the world’s poshest potting shed. The gelato is hidden in covered wells (pozzetti, if we’re getting technical) behind the counter, but the staff are happy for you to sample to your heart’s content before you order. Highlights include their pear and chocolate sorbet, and the seriously boozy tiramisu.
Signature scoop: Chocolate with puffed rice – Coco Pops for grown-ups.
Find show-stopping ice cream in London
Are you tired of eating the same old ice cream, with only the ‘how long to brain-freeze’ game to keep things interesting? What you need is a hand-picked list of the best signature flavours, from the capital’s finest ice-cream makers, so you can spend all summer sampling and judging them for yourself.