When the sun’s out, it’s time to get high. Head for London’s best rooftop bars, roof terraces, open-air bars and sky-high drinking dens.
(Updated May 2016)
Rooftop bars in the West End
Aqua Spirit, Regent Street
A great spot to know about, this slick cocktail sanctuary high above Regent Street — part of Aqua Kyoto restaurant — is in a prime position for post-shopping recuperation. The views over Oxford Street and the West End are as appealing as the Japanese bar food and Asian-accented drinks list. No bookings are taken for the terrace (open for lunch from noon-3pm and drinks thereafter) so it’s best to arrive early.
Aqua Spirit, 5th floor, 240 Regent Street, W1B 3BR
The Carpenter’s Arms, Fitzrovia
This characterful pub just off Tottenham Court Road has something special up its sleeve — a rooftop beer garden. It may not be the greenest of gardens, but it’s a pretty sweet spot for a pint in the sunshine all the same.
The Carpenter’s Arms, 68-70 Whitfield Street, W1T 4EY
Radio Rooftop Bar, Aldwych
Set atop the ME London hotel, Radio Bar — so called because it’s on the site of the old Marconi House — is a sleek asymmetric treat for the eyes in itself. But naturally it’s the stunning panoramic views across pretty much the whole city that you’ll be looking at. Classic cocktails rub shoulders with new creations named Radio-Active and AM/FM. No reservations are taken; the bar is open until 2am Thursday-Saturday.
Radio Rooftop Bar, 336-337 Strand, WC2R 1HA
Forest Restaurant and Bar On The Roof, Oxford Street
This rooftop oasis places the emphasis on fresh British produce and uses locally-sourced ingredients. Each month's menu celebrates a particular seasonal fruit or vegetable, so check the website to see what's on offer when you're planning to visit.
Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB
NOTCH LDN, Marble Arch
Taking over the space left by the short-lived Roofnic, Notch perches on top of the Marble Arch Marriott and promises classic drinks and freshly-mixed summery cocktails. Food comes from ex-Nobu chef, Mark Morrans, and includes a tempting mix of fried chicken, sea bass and pulled beef. It's open whatever the weather.
Notch, 535 Oxford Street, W1C 2QW
Vista, Trafalgar Square
Get a God complex as you watch the hustle of Trafalgar Square down below and look Nelson square in the face from this swish bar on top of The Trafalgar Hotel. It’s glamorous with prices to match — including a £5 cover charge. It's been updated for 2016 with a swanky new Mexican influence and a South American-style run shack.
Vista, The Trafalgar Hotel, 2 Spring Gardens, Trafalgar Square, SW1A 2TS
Rooftop bars in the City and Clerkenwell
Planted with lavender, herbs and olive trees, this rooftop terrace at South Place Hotel brings a little piece of Provence to Moorgate — not that there’s anywhere in Provence that also affords you a bird’s eye view of the ongoing Crossrail works. Call by for a drink daily from noon until 11.30pm (weather permitting), or look out for the hotel’s regular rooftop parties and events. They've just had a new retractable roof installed — so any drizzle shouldn't be a problem.
Angler rooftop terrace, 3 South Place, EC2M 2AF
Culpepper, Commercial Street
Closed on Mondays
It's where they grow the fresh herbs and vegetables used in this east London pub's tasty menu, but Culpepper's roof garden also houses a woodfire grill, greenhouse dining room and bar. It's now open for summer and operates on a first come, first served basis, offering a full menu and drinks from noon (5pm on Tuesdays).
The Culpepper, 40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP
Bird of Smithfield, Smithfield
Spread over five floors in a renovated Georgian town house, Bird of Smithfield serves excellent British food — including meat from across the way — courtesy of ex-Ivy chef Alan Bird. More to the point, it comes with a rooftop terrace bar offering great views across the top of the meat market and beyond. Last orders for roof-based beverages are 9.30pm. Look out for their range of free events this summer.
Bird of Smithfield, 26 Smithfield Street, EC1A 9LB
Coq d’Argent, Bank
Set atop the postmodern erection that is One Poultry, Coq d’Argent is a hard and fast favourite among City slickers. Its playfully designed rooftop terrace — complete with fake grass — is a real suntrap, while a large drinks list spans just about everything from beers and wines to spirits and cocktails. A full grill menu is available alongside bar snacks.
Coq d’Argent, No.1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ
Madison, St Paul’s
A breathtaking view of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral is the pièce de résistance at this restaurant and bar where champagne and wines get big billing. There’s plenty of reasonably priced bar food if you’re not up for a full dinner and we’d recommend the Sunday brunch for a good value visit.
Madison, Rooftop terrace, 1 New Change, EC4M 9AF
Sky Garden, Fenchurch Street
The Sky Garden — set on the 35th and 36th floors of the bulbous Walkie-Talkie building — is kind of a roof terrace. From 11am-6pm daily there’s access to an al fresco strip, while the rest of the space is sufficiently glass-clad and greenery-filled to do a similar job. We visited when it first opened; read our guide to the varying restaurant and bar options. There’s also live music in the form of a series of ‘sky high sessions’.
The Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street, EC3M 3BY
Sushisamba, Liverpool Street
The highest roof terrace in London, on floor 38 of the Heron Tower, Sushisamba has high prices to match but soaring views that just about make up for it. The lift ride up there is worth a go in itself any time of day, but for best effects go of an evening and nab a seat around the fire pit.
Sushisamba, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY
Rooftop bars in north London
Abbey Tavern, Kentish Town
This boozer’s biggest draw is its pretty wood-decked, fairy-light hung roof terrace which comes complete with comfy sofas, if not the most scenic views. The pub’s kitchen run by Phileas Hog is another high point, and where better to enjoy its wares of pies, burgers, sarnies and snacks than al fresco and on high?
Abbey Tavern 124 Kentish Town Road, NW1 9QB
The Castle, Angel
This Geronimo Inns gastropub on Pentonville Road is perfectly pleasant inside, but come a sunny day or a warm evening its spacious roof terrace is prime space — even if the views of, er, Pentonville Road aren’t that scenic.
The Castle, 51 Pentonville Road, N1 9HF
The Driver, King’s Cross
It’s not London’s prettiest terrace, and the fenced perimeters mean you might need to stand on tippy-toes to get a view, but this pub rooftop is still a great spot to soak up some sun with a pint in hand. On warm days you can expect regular rooftop BBQs too — check ahead.
The Driver, 2-4 Wharfdale Road, N1 9RY
Italian restaurant Vivo has a vast wood-decked roof terrace scattered with Mediterranean plants. The Upper Street masses still don’t really know about it so you should be able to enjoy a glass of prosecco or a sunny spritz in relative peace. Don’t expect views though — the surrounding fences are irritatingly just too tall for that.
Vivo, 57-58 Upper Street, N1 0NY
Rooftop bars in Shoreditch and east London
Dalston Roof Park, Dalston
This annual community project run by Bootstrap Company describes itself as an urban utopian oasis. While that may be something of an exaggeration, it gives you the right idea — there’s (fake) grass, (short) trees, street food and good vibes with regular live music and film nights planned. A membership fee of £12 will be charged to attain Bootstrap Friendship (i.e roof access) but it lasts all summer.
Dalston Roof Park, The Print House, 18-22 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL
Boundary Rooftop, Shoreditch
You could do worse than pass time in Shoreditch with drinks and Mediterranean nibbles on the Boundary rooftop. It does require a certain level of financial investment, though, and note that being a fairly squat building in an area devoid of interesting features, the views from on top aren’t the best you’ll find. The revamped space now comes with a weatherproof pergola meaning it’s open all day every day irrelevant of the weather.
Boundary Rooftop, 2-4 Boundary Street, Shoreditch, E2 7DD
The Fox, Haggerston
This Kingsland Road pub specialising in real ales and ciders boasts a large roof terrace. It goes into the dependable rather than particularly pretty category, but gets the cute fairy light treatment after dusk. Plus, it has a craft beer vending machine...
The Fox, 372 Kingsland Road, E8 4DA
Golden Bee, Shoreditch
A stone’s throw from hectic Old Street station is the comparatively tranquil terrace of the Golden Bee. Make the most of it with happy hours from 5-8pm on Tuesdays to Thursdays and 5-7pm on Fridays. Also check for regular rooftop cinema events.
Golden Bee, Singer Street, Shoreditch, EC1V 9DD
Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch
The roof of the Queen of Hoxton is open all year round — with a wigwam for shelter in the winter months. it's also hosting Rooftop Film Club events throughout the summer as well as A Tribute To Doctor Strange — a nostalgic nod to San Fransisco, peace and flower power, with a full cocktail and food menu.
Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Road, EC2A 3JX
Red Lion, Hoxton
Either relaxed or rammed depending on the weather, the Red Lion’s roof terrace is reliably open whenever you fancy an open-air drink. Food comes courtesy of Red Dog American Sandwiches around the corner on Hoxton Square (order at the bar and they’ll deliver to your table).
Red Lion, 41 Hoxton Street, N1 6NH
Roof East, Stratford
This year will see the return of Roof East in a loosely-termed ‘urban park’ atop a multi-storey car park in Stratford. It's pretty packed up there with Birdies Crazy Gold Club and Rooftop Film Club getting involved in some sky-based action. There's even an urban farm, plus a Roof East Bar and food from Rockadollar Dogs.
Roof East, Stratford multi-storey car park, Great Eastern Way, E15 1XE
Proof, London Fields
Part rooftop bar, part street food market, Playground (the street food bit) and Proof (on the roof) offer the complete hipster combination with a short and stylish drinks menu and a collection a fairy-lighted beach huts. Ale comes from Five Points Brewery and cocktails include frozen margaritas and negronis.
Proof, The Hothouse Building, Martello Street, E8 3QW
Rooftop bars in south London
Opening 19 May 2016
This rooftop bar and grill atop a multi-storey car park in Peckham has become a regular fixture of a London summer. Expect BBQ food with a twist (menu still TBC), scenic views of the City and across south London, and negronis galore.
Frank’s, 10th Floor, 95a Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
Grand Union, Kennington
This otherwise rather unremarkable branch of the Grand Union chain has one particularly attractive feature — a large roof terrace overlooking the Imperial War Museum grounds. Cocktails are a fiver from 12pm-8pm on Monday-Saturday, and all day on Sunday.
Grand Union, 111 Kennington Road, SE11 6SF
Midnight Apothecary at Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe
Fridays and Saturdays
Every summer the Brunel Museum’s rooftop garden hosts the Midnight Apothecary pop-up cocktail bar atop Brunel’s Thames Tunnel Shaft. Their Cocktail Gardener creates drinks infused with and based on ingredients from the museum’s garden, served around a campfire with grilled Greek food on Saturdays — courtesy of the excellently-named I Should Be Souvlaki. On Fridays, Piccalilli from Surrey Docks Farm provide artisan bread and grub. Despite the name, the evenings run from 5.30-10.30pm.
Midnight Apothecary at Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, SE16 4LF
Rooftop bars in west London
Kensington Roof Gardens, Kensington
At more than 75 years old, the Roof Gardens in Kensington is the oldest venue in this list. Now owned by Virgin, it is still one of the most special. The reason? It comes with four resident pink flamingos. A smart (but pricey) drinks list and views across west London are appealing, as is plush restaurant Babylon. But really it’s all about the flamingos.
Kensington Roof Gardens, 99 Kensington High Street, W8 5SA
Lyric Bar, Hammersmith
The bar at the Lyric theatre is open to all, whether you have a theatre ticket or not and it offers a real boost to west London’s rooftop options. With plenty of planters and foliage along with views across low-level west London, it even feels a little bit rural.
Lyric Bar, Lyric Square, King Street, W6 0QL
Any more rooftop bars or roof terraces which deserve a mention? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll add them in.