We're all about a secret underground dive bar or two – but in a city as beautiful as Sydney, it seems like a damn shame to retreat into the depths for every tipple. From a sundowner by the Harbour to a sunny rooftop in the Inner West, our town is awash with sky-high watering holes. So we've rounded up the best spots in the city to sip a cold one under a gorgeous open sky. But drinkers beware: Sydney's rooftop bars play host to some of the most contested seats in the city, so get in early for a spot in the sun.
The 41 best rooftop bars in Sydney
Down an amber ale in the afternoon sun or see the city from on high at Sydney's best rooftop bars
Sydney's best rooftop bars
Behind a somewhat austere stone facade, the Woollahra Hotel is all about abundance. It’s a pub, sure – but it’s a pub in Woollahra, a little pocket just off the tail end of Paddington and home to pretty terraces, tree-lined streets and one of the city’s highest median incomes. While the hotel’s been around forever (since the 1930’s, to be exact), it’s just reopened its doors after a three-month hiatus and a well-deserved glow-up. Walking upstairs from the main entrance leads you to a picture-perfect semi-outdoor terrace complete with a vertical living garden – fern fronds will gently brush you during dinner, like it or not – and an expansive, glass-walled dining space.
Sydney can't get enough of rooftop bars. And we can't get enough of breweries. So it was only a matter of time before one of Marrickville's most beloved craft beer purveyors bit the bullet and brought this love affair full circle. Enter: Marrickville Springs, the '80s tropicana resort-style bar atop Philter Brewing in Sydney's Inner West. The airy sky-high bar is pretty in pink, with warm wooden bench seating and tropical plants galore.
Zanzibar has changed their name and changed up their offering. Don't worry, you can still get beers on the roof and late night party vibes are still strong on weekends, but in between they've revamped the drinks offerings, hosting wine and whisky dinners and given this multi-storey Newtown pub a bit of a spruce up.
A house of low and slow barbecue and bourbon has arrived in Sydney's north west, smoking up the Hillside Hotel’s rooftop. Pitmaster Brad Shorten is behind Fire and Brimstone, a barbecue spot inspired by America's deep south. Fire and Brimstone is only open three nights a week, and it's a first in, first served the brisket kind of affair, so get in nice and early because they shut up shop once they've sold out of meat.
A rooftop burger bar is about as peak-Sydney as it gets, especially when the burgers are from Mary's, the city's proudest bun-based export. Those famously juicy cheeseburgers and their super savoury vegan counterparts can now be consumed in the bright light of a sunny afternoon on the roof of the Lansdowne Hotel. Liquid refreshment is in the form of beers and natty wines, which you earn after trekking up from the entrance on Knox Street.
The Cauliflower on Botany Road is a Sydney institution. They've jazzed up the interiors and opened up a rooftop rum bar upstairs. On the food front, all your classic pub grub is there for the taking, from your schnittys to your steaks and beer-battered barramundi. But they’re also pumping out more novel bites, nailing Asian, Caribbean and vegetarian briefs in dishes like spiced Szechuan calamari, jerk chicken wings, cauliflower curry and roast mushroom tacos with chimichurri. Best of all, you can still get a cheap counter feed here thanks to daily food specials that won't break the bank – hello $3 tacos.
This perennial Eastern Suburbs favourite got a major facelift from top to bottom in 2019. The ground floor remains largely the same, the crown jewel, though – quite literally – is the venue’s rooftop, which somehow remains one of the best kept secrets in town. There’s a retractable roof and rosé on tap, which means you can soak in those unparalleled city views with a glass of something nice in hand, rain or shine, all year long.
Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel is packed on weekends as Sydneysiders come to enjoy Sunday Sessions with buckets of tiger prawns and an Aperol spritz or two as the sun is setting. The rooftop offers stunning views of sparkling blue water and live music often plays late into the night.
This former bank is one of Oxford Street’s more revered and historic gay bars. The upstairs bar of this popular queer haunt is lounge-inspired, where designer lamps and mood lighting set a retro-inspired tone, all pretty swish. Further up, there's an awesome rooftop cocktail bar where you can watch the sun go down over the city. Rotating DJs, top-shelf drag shows, a standard selection of beers on tap and a creative cocktail list makes the Colombian a great spot to chill with friends (or take a walk on the wild side).
On the top level of the recently refurbished Shelbourne Hotel on Sussex Street you'll find the Rooftop, a Hamptons inspired watering hole, with some of the best views of Darling Harbour in town. Think palms, hanging chairs and rattan lounges with a backdrop of blush and bashful sunsets, or dazzling blue skies through a retractable roof. Pizzas, bar snacks and salads will keep you fueled for another flute of bubbles.
It’s only once you’re sitting on the beautiful deck of this third-floor cocktail lounge that you realise that it was the missing piece of Sydney’s bar puzzle all along. The Solotel group went and made Opera Bar a suave sister in the form of Smoke – the crowning glory of Barangaroo House. Up here, things are strictly professional. You are greeted at the entranceway, shown to a seat, started a tab and possibly given a time limit until the next booking arrives (they do not follow the finders keepers rules here).
The Burdekin is a skinny corner pub that has been guarding the entrance to Oxford Street since 1847, and it has recently added a rooftop bar to the mix. Standing five storeys up, this casual-chic watering hole is the only one of its kind on Oxford Street. Take in sweeping views of Sydney’s main drag for queer partying, stretching out to Hyde Park and to the Domain as you sip on original cocktails by the likes of the Back Ally, the Slutty Mermaid and the Pink Flamingo.
We don’t need to tell you how much Sydney loves a rooftop bar, and the top floor addition to the East Village Hotel (previously the Darlo Village) is an A-grade, lofty drinking perch. Sure, if cardio isn’t your friend you may even find you have to take a breather at the second floor, but that’s not going to be a problem because that’s where they added the Athletic Club, a vintage sports-themed bar that has a very toffy, “I went to Eton during the Downton Abbey years” vibe about it.
Not unlike its nearby neighbour, the Coogee Pavillion, three-in-one venue occupying the ground floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel Estate has maximised its appeal by having differently styled spaces geared to the needs of very different crowds. Making the most of its beachside location, the alfresco Terrace is pitched at a younger, casual clientele, who can kick back with friends, vodka soda in hand, as evening moves in over the Coogee sands just across the street. This leafy courtyard has its own dedicated bar, housed in a gleaming stainless steel Airstream-style trailer, and laidback, Coachella vibes that effortlessly transition to an after-dark party atmosphere with live music, DJ sets, a projector screening beachy flicks and twinkling bistro lights strung overhead.
There are few views in Sydney that can rival the majesty of the harbour panorama from rooftop of the Glenmore Hotel down in the Rocks. It's always a good bet for when you have visitors from out of town and weekends get crowded, but we're just as keen on heading here on a Monday for a $12 steak and a quiet drink with mates.
Like Narcissus staring adoringly at his own reflection, Sydney’s a city enamoured with its own good looks, hence our obsession with rooftop bars. Happily there’s a rooftop in town where you can do just that. The open-air, top floor bar is definitely the jewel in the Light Brigade’s rejuvenated crown. The old pub underwent extensive changes since the Bayfield family took ownership a few years back, and adding the top floor bar was a power move that makes the most of the pub’s prime Oxford Street location, with views stretching from Paddington clear across to the Coathanger.
Slim’s Rooftop is named after American socialite photographer Slim Aarons, though it could equally refer to the narrow stairs leading to rooftop — there’s a good amount of side-sashaying and waiting-on-the-landing as staff and patrons patiently wait to climb up or down the stairs. But don’t despair, because it’s a stairway to heaven. Slim’s is an open-air oasis with succulent plants and low walls, allowing for stunning views of the art-deco buildings on William Street and the glittery skyscrapers of the not-too-distant CBD.
So what if it's on top of a Westfield? You're smack bang in the centre of the city, which makes this massive Middle Eastern rooftop bar, lounge and restaurant a handy option to keep in your back pocket after a long day of shopping or if you're in need an al fresco hangout for after-work drinks. Cocktails have clever Levantine twists (cumin seeds, Turkish coffee, baklava caramel) and there's a solid menu of modern meze to keep your stomach lined, including a wicked duck gozleme.
This legendary boozer at Five Ways has been a Paddo locals' favourite for many a decade, but the roof still remains something of secret. If the climb to the top doesn't take your breath away, the skyline views certainly will – and a 2019 refresh saw the installation of a retractable roof and wine taps, which means that you can rosé all day even when the stormy weather hits.
We’re of the opinion that any high-rise in Sydney that could have a cracking cocktail bar on its roof and doesn’t is a tragic waste of lofty boozing opportunities. And one that does lobster and burgers is definitely making it onto the Christmas card list. There’s just something so much better about drinking at altitude and dinner on high.