On those precious sunny London days, there’s no better feeling than sitting outside with a drink. Pub gardens have their time and place, but in a city growing taller by the day, there are more and more places where you can get up high. Here’s our pick of the best rooftop bars in London.
Potent negronis and uninterrupted views towards the centre of London have made Frank’s, summer-only bar atop a Peckham multi-story carpark, wildly popular. Scruffy it may be, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in attitude - especially with its millennial pink-painted staircase. To enjoy the rooftop at its best, come during the day at the weekend when there’s usually no wait to get in and plenty of seats up for grabs.
Sky Pod at Sky Garden, the City
Unlike other skyscraper bars in London, Sky Garden is a public space, and visitors are free to wander amid the 35th-floor flower beds without so much as buying a glass of prosecco. But to really make the most of this 155 metre-high oasis, come after 6pm, when you can bag one of the walk-in tables at Sky Pod. Just don’t forget to leave time to circle the gardens and make the most of the 360 degree views over the City.
Boundary Rooftop, Shoreditch
Looking for somewhere to watch the sun set over East London? Head to the smart Terence Conran-designed Boundary Rooftop, where you can cosy up with vin chaud and hot cocktails in winter or linger over a bottle of wine on lazy summer evenings. Unsurprisingly it’s both popular and reasonably pricey, so book ahead and come prepared to splurge.
Sushisamba, Heron Tower, the City
Rooftop bars in London don’t get much higher than Sushisamba, soaring above the City on the 38th floor of the Heron Tower (officially 110 Bishopsgate). This bar-restaurant is just as glitzy as you might expect – from the glass bubble lift that whisks you up the outside of the building to the sparkling orange tree that illuminates the terrace at night. Cocktails echo their mission to fuse Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian flavours, with the likes of nashi martinis and lychee coolers.
Heron Tower © Carl Sloan/Shutterstock
Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, South Bank
On sunny evenings it can sometimes feel like every inch of the South Bank is crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with drinkers. But there’s a way to escape the worst of the crowds. Head up the flight of yellow stairs to the top of the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, where the roof is transformed into a garden complete with a mini wildflower meadow and allotments come summer. Drinks choices are limited, but reasonably priced in comparison to competing venues.
Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch
The terrace at Shoreditch pub-club Queen of Hoxton is one of the few rooftop bars that doesn't take itself too seriously. Recent winters have seen a huge tent – once dubbed the WigWamBam – take over much of the space, while a rooftop cinema and colourful summer theming take over once temperatures heat up. The views aren’t the best in the capital, but drinking here is more focused around having fun.
Radio Rooftop, Covent Garden
If minimum spends and mixed reviews of the service don’t put you off, then the tenth-floor of the Aldwych ME Hotel is well worth checking out. The bar here crowns what was once Marconi House, where the BBC made their first radio broadcast – hence the catchy name. Today you might not find much in the way of ground-breaking media, but the views along the river and over south London are unrivalled.
Kensington Roof Gardens, Kensington
Live flamingoes? Check. Restaurant owned by Richard Branson? Check. London’s flashiest rooftop, first opened in 1938, doesn't disappoint. Although the gardens are nominally open to the public, the best way to explore them is by coming for drinks or a meal at Babylon. You can even kick off your evening with a Prince Harry cocktail, following in the footsteps of the royals who’ve reportedly partied at the “members-only” club here.
Madison, the City
You can’t find much better views of St Paul’s than those from the top of neighbouring shopping centre, One New Change. Half of the rooftop is exposed to the elements and free to wander, while Madison takes over the rest. Mostly indoors, this bar can feel a dominated by suited City-types in the week, so aim to come outside peak times when you might even be able to steal a sofa all to yourself. Snapping a perfectly framed view of the cathedral in the glass lift on the way up is almost obligatory.
Ham Yard Hotel, Soho
Opened in 2014, the Firmdale-owned Ham Yard Hotel is one the most recent additions to London’s high-end hotel scene. Its airy rooftop is officially for the use of guests only, but after a pop-up bar run by West London gin brand Sipsmith sold out this winter, it seems likely future events will make it more accessible. Look out for the two bee hives which supply the honey used in some of the house cocktails.
Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to London or Pocket Rough Guide to London. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Top image © Joris Photography/Shutterstock