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.
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. Note the smart casual dress code: no sportswear or flip flops.
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 terrace. 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 ogling. Classic cocktails rub shoulders with new creations, 10 floors up. Reservations are recommended, and no sportswear or trainers are permitted.
Radio Rooftop Bar, 336-337 Strand, WC2R 1HA
Ham Yard Hotel, Piccadilly Circus
OK, this gorgeous roof terrace is only open to hotel guests or under private hire, but it's still worth knowing about. If you've got a birthday celebration or company event on the cards, we suggest you try to strong-arm the organisers into having it here. The space is marvellously pretty and even has a kitchen garden and some rooftop beehives for goodness' sake.
Ham Yard Hotel, 1 Ham Yard, W1D 7DT
Alto by San Carlo, Oxford Street
This rooftop oasis places the emphasis on seasonal Italian produce and fresh ingredients. The Italian garden setting can be enjoyed with a drink in hand on the al fresco sun terrace, or with a full-blown seafood dinner at your table.
Alto by San Carlo at Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB
The Rooftop, Trafalgar Square
Get a God complex as you watch the hustle of Trafalgar Square down below from this swish bar on top of The Trafalgar Hotel. It's glamorous with prices to match — there's a minimum spend of between £35-£50 per person, depending when you visit.
The Rooftop, The Trafalgar Hotel, 2 Spring Gardens, Trafalgar Square, SW1A 2TS
During the sunnier months, visitors to this high-end, meat-heavy restaurant can enjoy pre or post-dinner drinks on the romantic roof terrace, complete with fireplace and pillows. Despite it being part of the reputation-led chain, few know about it. Wind, rain and chilly temperatures do close it though, so it's worth a call to make sure it's open before you set out especially.
Gaucho Piccadilly, 25 Swallow Street, W1B 4QR
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. Call by for a drink from noon until 10pm (weather permitting), or look out for the hotel's regular rooftop parties and events. It also boasts a retractable roof — so any drizzle shouldn't be a problem.
Angler, South Place Hotel, 3 South Place, EC2M 2AF
Located on the cusp of the City and Shoreditch, find Aviary perched on the 10th floor of The Montcalm Hotel on Finsbury Square. With a nod to the glamorous art deco era, this place has a swish City look, but without the snobbiness that usually comes with it. Come here for raw seafood on the rocks, and cocktails, served up with a large spacious terrace, winter igloos and killer city skyline views.
Aviary Roof Terrace, 10th Floor Montcalm Royal London House, 22-25 Finsbury Square, EC2A 1DX
Jin Bo Law, Aldgate
Perched on the 14th floor of Dorsett City Hotel, right next to Aldgate station, Jin Bo Law has some of the best views over the City of London rooftops. The balcony runs the length of this swanky Asian-style cocktail bar, which, despite the views, seems to be a little quieter than many on this list.
Jin Bo Law, Dorsett City Hotel, 9 Aldgate High Street, EC3N 1AH
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 chef Tommy Boland. 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.
Bird of Smithfield, 26 Smithfield Street, EC1A 9LB
The Culpeper, Commercial Street
It's where they grow the fresh herbs and vegetables used in this pub's tasty menu, but Culpeper's roof garden also houses al fresco dining and a bar. Oh, and an eight-foot gherkin. It offers a full menu and drinks during the summer months.
Piculpepper at The Culpepper, 40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP
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.
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 on the extensive bar menu. The food menu has a New York-inspired slant, and we’d recommend the Saturday brunch menu for a better 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. Open early till late daily, there’s access to the al fresco strip, while the rest of the space is sufficiently glass-clad and greenery-filled to do a similar job. There are two bars, and two restaurants to choose from up there. If it's drinks you're after, Sky Bar is the livelier of the two, with live music nights. More sophisticated vibes are found at City Garden.
The Sky Garden, 1 Sky Garden Walk, London, EC3M 8AF
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
Savage Garden, Tower Hill
Formerly known as SkyLounge, this sky-high terrace had a makeover with vibrant interiors drawing a 'cool' crowd. It's not in the Tower of London itself, though it's not far off, situated on the 12th floor of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. And it's actually two terraces, giving you views in pretty much any direction you like.
Savage Garden, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 7 Pepys Street, EC3N 4AF
Rooftop bars in north London
Abbey Tavern, Kentish Town
This boozer's biggest draw is its pretty wood-decked, fairy-light-strewn roof terrace which comes with loads of seating, if not the most scenic views. Where better to enjoy its pub kitchen wares of burgers and Sunday roasts 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 all that scenic.
The Castle, 54 Pentonville Road, N1 9HF
Big Chill, King's Cross
A couple of minutes' walk from King's Cross station you'll find Big Chill bar — and on the top of that, its buzzing popular rooftop terrace. It's a pretty laid back affair, just a few picnic tables and far more people milling around with a pint in hand. The cocktail menu is extensive, the food is burger-centric and weekends are for dancing, thanks to the resident DJs Thursday through to Saturday.
Big Chill, 257-259 Pentonville Road, N1 9NL
The Faltering Fullback, Finsbury Park
This legendary Irish pub tucked away behind Finsbury Park deserves a spot on this list despite it technically, technically, being a beer garden. Why? The multi-level garden sprawls across four levels of decking and is basically a glorified tree house. Elevated views and bountiful greenery make it a strong rival to many of the bars on this list. No bookings, so on sunny days you'll need to pop down early to secure a table.
Faltering Fullback, 19 Perth Road, Finsbury Park, N4 3HB
Rooftop bars in Shoreditch and east London
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 heated glass orangery meaning it's open all day every day irrelevant of the weather.
Boundary Rooftop, 2-4 Boundary Street, Shoreditch, E2 7DD
Golden Bee, Shoreditch
A stone’s throw from Old Street station is the terrace of the Golden Bee. Make the most of it with two-for-one happy hour cocktails on certain days of the week.
Golden Bee, Singer Street, Shoreditch, EC1V 9DD
Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch
The roof of the Queen of Hoxton is open all year round with seasonal transformations keeping Londoners on their toes. For Summer 2022, it's been transformed into a cherry blossom garden, completely with pastel pink florals and colourful lanterns throughout, along with themed food and cocktails.
Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Road, EC2A 3JX
Red Lion, Hoxton
Either relaxed or rammed depending on the weather, open seven days a week, the Red Lion’s roof terrace is there whenever you fancy an open-air drink. Food is purely pizza and burger focussed. Warning: it's one heck of a suntrap.
Red Lion, 41 Hoxton Street, N1 6NH
Roof East, Stratford
This summer sees the return of Roof East in a loosely-termed 'adult adventure playground' atop a multi-storey car park in Stratford. It's pretty packed up there with lawn bowls, Birdies Crazy Golf Club and Rooftop Film Club getting involved in some sky-based action along with London's highest baseball batting cage. Sustenance comes in the form of a range of street food vendors and a selection of cocktail bars.
Roof East, Stratford multi-storey car park, Great Eastern Way, E15 1XE
Another car park contender is Skylight. Already this multi-level bar has made a name for itself by offering London's only rooftop ice skating rink during the winter months. For summer 2022, we're treated instead to lawn games, and summertime cocktails at the main pergola bar. Hungry? Burgers, nachos and churros are all on the menu.
Skylight at Tobacco Dock, Pennington Street Car Park, E1W 2SF. There's now a second Skylight venue too, in Peckham, South London.
Netil House, Bethnal Green
Like most things in east London, Netil House isn't quite as edgy and cool as it used to be — for example, it's no longer BYOB. But it's still a top place to do a bit of remote 'working' or just hang out with a beer, slice of pizza and watch the sun set over east London.
Netil House, 1 Westgate Street, Bethnal Green E8 3RL
Dalston Roof Park, Dalston
A roof garden on the top of the Print House building, just off Dalston Lane, Dalston Roof Park is open seven days a week with a busy roster of events during summertime. The space is the creation of Bootstrap, a training and enterprise charity, and all proceeds from the bar are ploughed back into the work they do in the local area. Alongside booze and quiz nights, you can expect a steady stream of community and music events too.
Dalston Roof Park, The Print House, 18-22 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL
Befriend a member and get on up to London's most exclusive sky high bar. This east London warehouse-turned hip private members' club is seriously worth trying to blag your way in somehow — rooftop pool says it all.
Shoreditch House, 1 Ebor Street, Shoreditch E1 6AW
Rooftop bars in south London
Frank's is a paradigm of the south London rooftop bar. This expansive bar and grill atop a multi-storey car park in Peckham has become a regular fixture of a London summer. Expect hot wings, charred aubergine, and lamb kebabs, Campari-based potions, and scenic views of the City and across south London.
Frank’s, 10th Floor, 95a Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
Bussey Rooftop Bar, Peckham
Another rooftop recommendation in Peckham is the bar perched on top of cultural hub, Bussey Building. A spring/summer makeover has turned the space into a plant-filled suntrap; and a mighty fine place to admire sunsets over London. Cocktail and hot dog in hand, of course. Plus, Rooftop Film Club takes up residence here for a few months each summer.
Bussey Rooftop Bar, Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
The Tankard, Kennington
Formerly a Grand Union outlet, this site now belongs to Brewdog, offering a roof terrace overlooking the Imperial War Museum grounds. Food is typical pub grub, with plenty of vegan and veggie options.
The Tankard, 111 Kennington Road, SE11 6SF
Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, South Bank
Originally a partnership with the Eden Project, this rooftop recommendation continues to be a natural haven of wildflowers, fruit trees and allotments. Light snacks and sandwiches line your stomach, but watching the sun go down over the Thames with a G&T in hand can't be beaten.
Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX (open April-October only)
Midnight Apothecary at Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe
Every summer the Brunel Museum's rooftop garden hosts the Midnight Apothecary pop-up cocktail bar atop Brunel’s Thames Tunnel Shaft. The Cocktail Gardener creates botanical drinks infused with and based on ingredients from the museum's garden, served around a campfire. A beautifully atmospheric way to spend a summer evening, and you can order food from Deliveroo/JustEat etc too.
Midnight Apothecary at Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, SE16 4LF (tickets should be booked in advance)
12th Knot, South Bank
Just sneaking into the south London list is Sea Containers London's riverside bar overlooking the Thames. 12th Knot (formerly Rumpus Room) is terrace-top rather than rooftop, but the views down the river are spectacular, the cocktails are classic and walk-ins are welcome (although it does get very busy).
12th Knot, 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PD
Bar Elba, Waterloo
Opposite Waterloo station sits this rooftop bar atop Mercury House. It's solely a rooftop bar so don't expect to be able to dive inside if the elements turn, but that should be no problem thanks to the heaters and coverings that offer some protection from a British summer. The vibe is laid back — all fairy lights a-twinkle — and you can reward yourself for trudging up all those steps with a margarita and a burger or hot dog.
Bar Elba, Mercury House, 109-117 Waterloo Road, SE1 8UL
Fairytop Garden Zoo, Catford
Fairytop Garden Zoo is a relative newcomer to the south London rooftop scene, with a menu featuring all the summer faves (margaritas, palomas, Pimm's, spritzes) plus scrummy pizzas. The views might not be quite as spectacular as, say, Frank's — but poking over the back of Catford's houses, you can spy Canary Wharf.
Fairytop Garden Zoo, 108-110 Rushey Green, Catford, SE6 4HW
Rooftop bars in west London
Pergola Paddington, Paddington
After the demise of Kensington Roof Gardens, west London is in some serious need of rooftop representation. Luckily Pergola Paddington is open again this year, modelled on a Tulum-inspired beach club with Mexican food on the menu. Booking recommended.
Pergola Paddington, 5 Kingdom Street, Paddington Central, W2 6PY
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
The Alexandra, Wimbledon
Ok, technically this is south-west rather than west-west London, but it only requires a short hop over the Thames to make the most of this charming pub's rooftop bar. The Loft terrace comes with a burger shack and al fresco bar, from which it serves a good selection of beers. Low-key and charming, it's reliably packed on a sunny summer's day, so make sure to get there early if you want a table.
The Alexandra, 33 Wimbledon Hill Road, SW19 7NE
Rooftop bars in Canary Wharf
Bōkan, Canary Wharf
Considering the amount of teetering skyscrapers round here (and suits with cash to splash), it's surprising there aren't more snazzy, vertigo-inducing bars opening up in this part of town. But maybe this city slicker bar hails a rooftop revolution for Canary Wharf. There's a restaurant and bar on the 37th and 38th floors of the Novotel, but up on the 39th floor you'll find all the al fresco air terrace action with specialist gin bar, live jazz and daybeds.
Bōkan – 37th, 38th & 39th Floor, Novotel Canary Wharf, 40 Marsh Wall, E14 9TP
Boisdale, Canary Wharf
This tartan-clad, whisky-loaded bar comes with a great little rooftop bar too. Bring your colleagues, whip out the company credit card and settle in for a top night watching the sun go down with a dram in hand.
Boisdale, Cabot Place, Canary Wharf, E14 4QT
Any more rooftop bars or roof terraces which deserve a mention? Let us know in the comments below.