This article is sponsored by CitizenM.
Us Londoners love a rooftop bar. From spring's first rays to summer's dying embers, we'll find any excuse to head up high for a pint/Aperol Spritz and enjoy the sun. Then, when winter rolls around, we chuck on a couple of extra layers, offer up a quick prayer to the gods of patios heaters, and do it all again... just with a mulled wine instead.
London's rooftop bars serve up a permanent rotation of menus, themes — and, of course, igloos — dotted across London's skyline. Here are some of the best, whatever month it is.
Queen of Hoxton's rooftop bar, Shoreditch
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Marketing itself as a playground for adults, east London party venue Queen of Hoxton doesn't take itself too seriously. It might sit on the edge of the Square Mile, but its heart and soul are firmly in Shoreditch.
The rooftop has a makeover with a new theme every season, although the wigwam is a permanent fixture. In recent years, Moulin Rouge, Dr Strangelove and Valhalla themes have come and gone, each incarnation bringing with it a themed food and drink menu, Instagrammable decor and a programme of events.
If it's views you're after, Queen of Hoxton has limited eyeline, due to it rubbing shoulders with Broadgate towers. But there's usually so much going on — life drawing classes, drag bingo, hip hop karaoke — maybe it doesn't matter.
New themes are usually unveiled around May and October each year — we're currently awaiting a summer 2023 announcement.
Oxo Tower, Bankside
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It's cheating slightly, calling the Oxo Tower venue a 'rooftop bar' as it's not strictly on the building's roof (how long until someone does open a venue on top of that famous tower though?). What it is: a restaurant, bar and brasserie all in one — 10 floors above London and with a stunning terrace that offers views along the river, and over towards St Paul's.
Even in bad weather, the venue is a decent option for after work drinks or a pre-theatre meal — provided you've booked a table. But it comes into its own when the sun is shining, and those floor-to-ceiling glass doors are wedged open — it's like central London has been invited inside.
The Rooftop at The Trafalgar St James
See eye to eye with Nelson (well, almost), high up on his perch, at what must be London's most central rooftop bar. The Rooftop at The Trafalgar St James is open to non-residents of the hotel.
It offers both covered and open-air seating areas, and we'd recommend braving the elements for the best view of the masses snapping selfies in Trafalgar Square below — fear not, blankets and heaters are provided in the chillier months.
The menu includes classic and signature cocktails plus spirits, wine and beer. Bar nibbles take the form of wasabi peanuts, and olives, with halloumi fries and crispy prawns gracing the small plates menu. Hungrier than that? Mains include a double cheeseburger, pork ribs, and a chicken caesar salad. (The menu is liable to change seasonally.)
We're all for being sociable, but can someone just reserve us a front row seat, hand us a bottle of wine and a plateful of snacks and leave us alone to people-watch for hours on end?
Note that there's a minimum spend of between £35-£50 per person depending on where you're seated and when you visit.
cloudM at citizenM Tower of London
Here's a rooftop bar that gives you an awful lot of bang for your buck! Overlooking the Tower of London, cloudM boasts incredible views of London's historic fortress, and Tower Bridge beyond it. Adjust your gaze ever-so-slightly to spot The Shard. Then walk just a few steps and you'll see the glittering skyscrapers of the Square Mile, including The Gherkin and The Leadenhall Building.
This majestic mash-up of old and new is made possible by cloudM's wraparound terrace, which showcases the view so spectacularly that you'll be absolutely shameless with your selfie-snapping. The bar itself is a double-height space with floor-to-ceiling windows so you can admire the panorama, even on a rainy day. The quirky interiors are worth ogling, too: think pop art-style wallpaper, statement lighting, and built-shelving stuffed with books and knick-knacks. There's even an electronic fireplace and comfy sofas for maximum cosiness.
As for the drinks menu? On top of beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks, cloudM offers a range of London-themed cocktails, such as the Chelsea Flower Show (gin, mint and lemon syrup, lily and jasmine flowering tea) and Wimbledon (Pimm's, mint and lemon syrup, JING sparkling tea). Cheese and charcuterie is also available, if you're feeling peckish. You'll find it all on the seventh floor at citizenM Tower Bridge — a boutique hotel that promises affordable luxury in a cracking London location.
Radio Rooftop Bar at ME London
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Look east to the skyscrapers of the City, west to central London... or down for views straight into the courtyard of Somerset House. Radio Rooftop, above the ME London hotel, has undergone several transformations in recent years — but it's finally found its mojo as a hip year-round hangout.
These days, food is as much of a priority as drinks, with an impressive menu running through breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and all-day dining. Dress code is 'smart and glamorous', and the drinks menu varies from season to season, with smokey winter warmers prevalent in the chillier months. Champagne features heavily, though the venue also has a decent range of no- and low-alcohol cocktails too.
Madison, One New Change, St Paul's
For some serious WOW factor, head up to Madison. It's located on the eighth floor, above One New Change shopping centre and offices. Maybe that doesn't sound all that romantic, but the views are impressive (it'd make for an epic first date venue). You're practically nose-to-nose with the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, meaning you're not just gazing out at the London skyline... you're in it.
The vibe is chilled, with comfy sofas and low tables that wouldn't look out of place in an Ibiza beach bar. The bar and seating area is covered, but the terrace area with the best views is open to the elements, making summer the optimum time to visit. Be warned though, in peak months, you'll be queuing even to get in the lift. Live DJs and musicians are a regular occurrence, and look out for bottomless brunches scheduled some weekends of the year.
Of course, you *could* come up here during the day and visit the roof terrace for free, but then you wouldn't have a cocktail in you hand, would you?
Coq d'Argent, Bank
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Some people call it a banker's haunt. We call it the Bagpuss building, on account of its stripes. Either way, Coq d'Argent is a surprisingly large venue, the restaurant mainly tucked away inside, serving up contemporary French cuisine.
Outside on the rooftop terrace, meals from the grill menu are served during lunch time, but in the evening, focus is firmly on spirits and cocktails, with bar snacks offered as a stomach-lining option.
The space is a combo of covered and open-air, with various pop-ups throughout the year, including the annual winter Lodge d'Argent, dressed to look like a ski lodge with food and drinks to match. Heaters and blankets are plentiful, but Coq d'Argent's terrace comes into its own in the summer, when those luscious (fake, we assume) green lawns give way to sunkissed views of the City skyline.
Bar Elba, Waterloo
Look, we know that when The Kinks sang Waterloo Sunset, they were talking about the view from Waterloo Bridge... but the sunset views across the roof of Waterloo station from Bar Elba are pretty darn special too. Wander around the other side of the bar to get a cracking view of The Shard, too.
Cocktails are the speciality, with all the classics (negronis, spritzes, espresso martinis), on the menu — and not too badly priced, the last time we were there. There's a small selection of beers, wines, and ciders, and a larger selection of shots if you're having one of those nights. If you are, get food too — they do burgers, hot dogs, fries, nachos and the like.
In winter, the whole bar is covered, with heaters to keep things toasty, and 'party pods' (igloos, basically), available to hire. Come summer they peel back the roof to let the sunshine in.