London’s full of charming cafés, bars and restaurants that let you take things outside (conventional British ‘summertime’ weather be damned). But for every balmy, rose-trimmed terrace there’s a pub with two picnic benches outside next to the traffic lights. So it’s lucky, then, that we've put together the below guide to the best alfresco spots across central, north, east, west and south London. Don't forget to check our lists of the best riverside pubs and bars and the best beer gardens for alfresco drinks, either.
Outdoor dining in central London
Venue says: “Our opulent Russian inspired winter terrace is now open. Voted one of the best in London.”
Angler’s chic 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 afternoon bar snacks, plus a gourmet barbecue in summer.
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 (mainly City suits). There are smart parasols, cute succulent pots on every neatly laid table and an all-day, summery Mediterranean menu.
Out on its mini terrace, this branch of Barrafina supplies parasols for Spanish-style weather, and heaters to combat your typical British summer. As in the dining room, there are no bookings, but on sufficiently sunny days, it’s worth queuing to take your tapas alfresco and imagine you’re on holiday instead of mustering the energy for your next tube journey.
This immensely civilised but not at all stuck-up seafood stunner has a chic, shrub-lined terrace on a surprisingly quiet street just off the artery that divides Soho from Mayfair. It's a sunny, summery alternative to the restaurant's clubby wood-and-leather cosiness, while the short menu offers highlights from the oyster bar menu. No bookings are taken, so show up sharpish.
The buzzy bistro, elegant restaurant and informal tavern in Bleeding Heart Yard are très 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.
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 terrace is open year round – although heaters prove no match for the cruel British winter.
This tiny courtyard on Pickering Place (the site of London’s last pistol duel, fact fans) is 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. Expect knowingly old-school French cooking, with polished service.
The only thing better than getting a table inside this Exmouth Market hotspot is snagging one of the 20-odd alfresco seats – arrive early for a plum spot. The large communal tables are sheltered by an awning; with the others, you just take your chances. The vibe is laidback, and service is warm, 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 at 8pm. Either book 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.
When you’re dining alfresco in old Bombay, it’s called a verandah, daahling, not a terrace. And this stylish 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 from the mix of classic Indo-Irani dishes and East-West mash-ups. No bookings, so look sharp.
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. The menu is full of top-quality treats, or go for a sparkling sundowner come Pimm’s o’clock.
Restaurant group D&D London does outdoor spaces so well, and this polished café-restaurant is no exception, with a whopping 90 seats on its gigantic, L-shaped terrace and a plum location on the pedestrianised stretch outside King’s Cross station. There’s a year-round approach to alfresco dining too: the outdoor space is equipped with heaters, blankets and umbrellas.
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, and – could it be real? – the outside tables are bookable (you’ll be moved inside in bad weather).
By day in summer, this bucolic 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. No bookings – may the force be with you.
With its first-floor wraparound terrace and a canalside alfresco area, this bar-restaurant is a magnet for waterside drinkers and diners. 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, fill up on drinks-friendly dishes and on-trend cocktails.
Outdoor dining in north London
Venue says: “A family-run restaurant in Angel established in 1969. Menus from £15.50 (two courses), plus private dining options and weddings.”
This family-run restaurant used to be renowned for the alfresco tables in its lush garden. They’re still there – and the dense garden’s expertly 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.
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 is a winner; the only problem is finding a table at busy times – and catching the waiters’ attention.
Whether you hit Hampstead Heath for an early morning run, a dog walk, a high-summer swim, or otherwise (hey, we’re not judging), this casual café on the Kenwood House estate is great for sunny days. The two terraces can accommodate 300 people and offer shady parasols and gorgeous views of the sweeping lawn – plus a weather-dependent barbecue at weekends.
This tapas joint’s secluded back garden is an open secret. Groups of three plus can reserve a table, but couples have to try their luck as walk-ins. 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 switched on.
Outdoor dining in east London
The interior of this hot little dog recalls New York’s hip Lower East Side, while its 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. First-come-first-served tables are limited to groups of four or less.
Things don’t get much more bucolic in London’s East End than at this totally hip warehouse-style pizzeria-cum-brewery on the banks of the Lea. In summer, arrive as early as decency allows to bag a reclaimed riverside bench – then order a pint of craft beer, sun yourself and watch the birds and boats bobbing past until last orders.
Gordon Ramsay’s Limehouse gastropub makes the most of its Thames-edge location with a bright conservatory complete with retractable roof, plus a handful of alfresco tables overlooking the wharves of Rotherhithe. Drinkers can enjoy a glass of superior wine or a real ale right by the river. And did we mention the barbecue on the terrace at summer weekends?
Regulars and visiting foodies heart this bakery and coffee shop, firstly because of the team’s commitment to top-quality ingredients sourced from local producers, and also for its wealth of outside seating (there’s space for 100 bums here). The peaceful views face Victoria Park’s west boating lake – all very serene until someone’s kid runs over your foot with their scooter.
Outdoor dining in south London
This sleek, modern, glass-sided café is popular with art lovers and local families, 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 one of the alfresco tables dotted on the lawn in the shade of spreading trees – it’s summertime perfection.
This lovely alfresco spot is a waterside venue with a difference – it nudges up against the 1930s art deco splendour of Brockwell Lido. Make no mistake: poolside seats just a splash away from the azure water are snapped up fast. That’s because this bohemian space serves a restaurant-worthy menu that attracts its own, non-swimmer crowd day and night.
There are just a few pavement tables outside this Herne Hill gastro-magnet, but if you get one, you’ll enjoy not only the chi-chi ambience of this boutique-lined street but also peerless cooking and spot-on service from a trio whose joint CV includes The Anchor & Hope, St John and Rochelle Canteen. Hell, we’d sit out here even in the rain.
Brixton is a foodie innovator, but Pop – a collection of shipping containers housing food, drink and fashion start-ups (plus a few familiar names) – really keeps the brilliant Village Market on its toes. Weave past the bouncers and achingly trendy masses, beer in hand, exploring the foodie offerings as music pumps in the background. Who needs festivals?
With around 150 tables spread across a pair of decks right on the riverfront, Marco Polo’s terrace is a great place to let the kids go free-range while you relax 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).
Outdoor dining in west London
Although not strictly speaking alfresco – you’re dining under a glass roof – this magical hothouse alive with palm trees and scented jasmine feels as outdoorsy as can be. After lunch, check out the adjoining nurseries, then walk across the fields to Richmond. Reservations are essential and should be made three months in advance: this is no ordinary garden-centre restaurant.
With its whitewashed walls and pops of colour, this Cali-style brasserie is big on the sunshine vibe whatever the weather outside. However, should some of the west coast’s year-round rays grace our shores, head to Pomona’s decked, pagoda-framed courtyard garden, where the smoothies and spritzes taste that much sweeter.
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, with some ingredients sourced direct from the garden.
If you’ve never been to a German beer garden, Stein’s is a 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.
The Victoria’s Richmond Park location alone makes it well worth a visit. However, with Paul Merrett as chef-director, a leafy walled garden complete with supersized heated parasols and open-air bar, and a conservatory for in-between days, you’ll see why this smart gastropub is almost permanently packed to the rafters. Arrive early to guarantee an alfresco perch.
This relaxed Greek bistro near Notting Hill’s Gate Cinema has a smattering of tables on its sweet first-floor terrace, which is open only during summer, when parasols and heaters are deployed as needed. Be warned: in heavy downpours, the owners will herd outdoor diners into one of two indoor function rooms (which can kill the mood somewhat).
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.
Searcys at The Gherkin
This Searcys on the thirty-ninth floor of 30 St Mary Axe, other wise known as The Gherkin, isn't exactly short of views. The tables run right around the venue, so every seat is a window seat overlooking the Thames and the cityscape. Executive chef Barry Tonks compiles seasonal menus with classic European dishes. Think stone bass and squid ink risotto, pumpkin raviolini, and seared tuna with pineapple and pickled mooli. Plus some delightful desserts that include apple tart tatin, baba au rum and peanut parfait with salted caramel and chocolate sorbet. Wines come from France, Chile, Austria, Italy and Argentina. Searcys Champagne expertise comes in handy for the Champers picks, and an intriguing range of cocktails are worth a perusal.
Venue says: “At the top of one of London’s most famous buildings is Searcys restaurant and bar at The Gherkin.”