Admittedly we Londoners love a dingy local boozer just as much as we do a classy compact cocktail bar, but there are occasions when neither quite hit the mark. In the summer we want to free our hair to the wind and catch the last of the evening sun on our backs, and in the winter we want to escape stuffy central heating and sweaty-bodied masses for a breath of crisp fresh air. Fortunately this does not prove much of an issue – for hallelujah, we are blessed with the humble beauty and airy haven that is the rooftop bar.
Better still we are spoilt for choice with locations right across the capital offering terrace views of the city skyline from North, South, East and West. Some offer dining space too – ideal for an idyllic lunch in the sun or a memorable dinner under the stars.
Unsurprisingly many of the largest hotspots are located in the City – catering for the mass of cooped-up office workers in desperate need of an open-air escape from their desks. However don’t overlook the smaller more secretive sun-spots (which locals in the know try to keep to themselves) – for a relaxed post-work drink with a colleague or an intimate gathering with friends these can be just the ticket.
So whether it’s for a wild night out on the tiles or a civilised supper under the stars, get yourself to one of London's best rooftop bars and enjoy the great outdoors! Take a perch and gaze out over one of the most outstanding cityscapes in the world (if we may say so ourselves). Scroll down to find SquareMeal’s list of the best rooftop bars in London in which to enjoy a beverage (or three) al fresco. We’re confident that one or two of these top-floor hotspots will become regular destinations on your drinking agenda.
Best rooftop bars in central London
Many of these central spots offer 360 degree views of the capital – perfect for tourists looking for landmarks or office workers seeking an escape from their desks and a breath of fresh air.
The Terrace bar at Madison
What: Beloved by the capital’s pretty young things, The Terrace Bar at Madison is one of the most Instagrammed locations in the capital. It’s no surprise, considering the views of St Paul’s Cathedral and other landmarks. The terrace is also home to a raucous party atmosphere, thanks to live DJ sets and fun cocktails. If you’re feeling peckish, order from the menu of bar snacks, which features things likes truffle fries, flatbreads from a Josper grill topped with grilled halloumi and a black pudding Scotch egg served with tartare sauce.
Where: One New Change, EC4M 9AF
What: Home to the glowing orange tree which you’ve seen on your Instagram feed countless times, the outdoor bar at Sushisamba’s original City location has an undeniable buzz. Filled with City types splashing the cash, and unbeatable views of the capital’s skyline, this is the place to come for cocktails with a view. Sip on a selection of Brazilian-Japanese fusion cocktails, before heading inside to enjoy a decadent menu featuring the likes of green bean tempura with black truffle aioli or sushi rolls topped with lobster and crab.
Where: Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY
Sky Pod at Sky Garden
What: Sky Garden may be known for its lush greenery (the perfect backdrop for an impromptu photoshoot), but its sprawling views of the capital are also worth a mention. The Sky Pod bar, which isn’t separated from the rest of the space, allows guests to stand around admiring the views or pull up a chair to rest their legs. All the usual drinks can be found here (including a selection of signature cocktails), while the food menu features sharing platters of charcuterie, seafood or dessert.
Where: Level 35, 20 Fenchurch Street, EC3M 3BY
Iris at The Gherkin
What: The only indoor rooftop bar in the capital to boast unobstructed 350-degree views, Iris at The Gherkin is a bar that should be on every discerning Londoner’s ‘to visit’ list. Due to the building’s high security, tables have to be booked in advance and you also have to bring valid ID. You’ll soon forget about all that faff though, thanks to those stunning views across the capital, as well as an impressive cocktail list which features the likes of Flower Pot, which mixes Yuzu, rose liquor, watermelon, Peychoud bitter and elderflower.
Where: 30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8EP
Oxo Tower Bar
What: Tables on the terrace at Oxo Tower’s bar can be hard to come by in the summer months, but you’ll be glad to know that they can be booked in advance. Once you’ve secured a spot at this eighth-floor bar, you can admire the Insta-worthy panoramic views of London’s skyline, including St Paul’s. The extensive list of cocktails and wines appeals, but our favourite part of the experience is the accomplished bar snacks – think chorizo sausage rolls, a battered fish sandwich with tartare sauce or a Wagyu beef burger with sweet potato chips.
Where: Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, SE1 9PH
Coq d’Argent Bar
What: Still the cock of the walk after all these years, Coq D’Argent’s three-pronged restaurant, bar and roof terrace space remains one of the most popular dining destinations for City workers. To drink in the views (while drinking a glass of champers), head to the grass-covered terrace, which comes complete with neatly trimmed hedges and its own fashion boutique-style soundtrack. To really get a feel for the atmosphere, we’d recommend swinging by at night, when the capital’s skyscrapers twinkle before your eyes.
Where: 1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ
Best rooftop bars in south London
These trendy terraces make equally alluring destinations by day or night but be sure to make a reservation - they fill up fast.
12th Knot at Sea Containers
What: Formerly known as Rumpus Room, imbibers at this colourful rooftop bar can enjoy stunning views across the South Bank, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. Cocktails here are serious business and they change with the seasons, drunk to a backdrop of live music on Wednesdays and DJs for the latter half of the week. Impossibly glamorous - note the glittering chandeliers and velvet furnishings – 12th Knot is full of flare and is always packed to the rafters with London’s cool set. It should be on every Londoner’s rooftop bar bucket list.
Where: 20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD
No.32 The Old Town
What: This South London hotspot is probably best known for its Med-inspired terrace, boasting views over leafy Clapham Common. In the summer months brunch seekers will do well to secure a spot outside without booking well in advance, as the al fresco sun trap fills up fast. That said, if you want a menu that spans everything from coconut chia pudding to a full-on steak and chips with truffle macaroni cheese then No 32. The Old Town is the spot for you. Bloody Marys seem to be the principal drink of choice with jugs aplenty, but if you’re feeling fancy then why not go for a carafe of a classic Bellini.
Where: 32 the Pavement, SW4 0JE
Best rooftop bars in west London
For those seeking somewhere sophisticated, these rooftop bars draw a classy crowd of young professionals – and offer some great dining spots too.
What: Part of the Aqua restaurant group (Aqua Shard, Aqua Kyoto etc.), this upmarket Spanish joint boasts a stunning rooftop terrace. Perfect for bigger groups, Aqua Nueva's outdoor terrace features long L-shaped couches laden with cushions, and tables equipped with high wicker stools to rest your drinks on. Views of the London Eye and other landmarks are a further draw, as is the menu of Spanish dishes – including the likes of Iberian ham croquettes, spiced crab tostadas and classic seafood paella
Where: 240 Regent Street (entrance 30 Argyll Street), W1B 3 BR
What: A place to see and be seen, this glamorous bar on the roof of the ME London hotel boasts views across the capital and a chic black and white colour scheme, offset by wicker chairs and lush greenery trailing the terrace borders. You can splash the cash by ordering from the comprehensive Champagne list, or keep things fresh by sampling a few of the drinks from Radio Rooftop’s considered selection of signature cocktails. If you’re feeling peckish, you can chow down on an internationally-inspired menu – think cheese croquettes with smoked cheddar aioli, beef sliders and cinnamon-dusted churros for dessert.
Where: 336-337 The Strand, WC2R 1HA
The Rooftop at the Trafalgar Hotel
What: If this hotel’s name isn’t enough of a hint, The Rooftop boasts picture-perfect views of bustling Trafalgar Square. Visitors are given a choice between either al fresco or canopy-covered seating, with the terrace featuring cosy banquette seating and a marble-streaked bar. Head here for classic cocktails and by-the-glass wines, as well as a menu of Asian-style bar bites: things like crispy duck bao buns, fries with sriracha mayonnaise and chargrilled broccoli with soy and sesame.
Where: 2 Spring Gardens, SW1A 2TS
Best rooftop bars in east London
Edgy east London is where the cool kids hang out. Climb up to some of these quirky rooftop hotspots and embrace your inner hipster with a bottle of something cold.
The Queen of Hoxton
What: The Queen of Hoxton is a three floor party palace featuring a basement nightclub, a buzzy ground-floor bar and this expansive roof terrace which has a Las Mexicanas theme. The vibrant design outside throws it back to childhood with an Art Attack-style rainbow colour scheme, along with coloured bunting and communal wooden tables. Sink down frozen Margaritas while tucking into the snacky likes of soft tacos and loaded fries, all the while enjoying the regular live entertainment, which takes the form of mariachi bands, dancers and more
Where: 1-5 Curtain Road, EC2A 3JX
Bokan at Novotel Canary Wharf
What: Thirty nine floors high, the wrap-around terrace at this sky-high restaurant and bar is worth the trek to Canary Wharf. You can expect plenty of buzz when you visit Bokan, thanks to bookable daybeds and a specialist gin bar, while Sundays see entertainment in the form of live jazz. The cocktail list pays homage to the area’s history with short explanations of the cocktail names written on the menu. Sips to try include Chaos on the River, which is a blend of Campari, Orgeat and lemon.
Where: 40 Marsh Wall, E14 9TP
Boundary Rooftop Bar & Grill
What: Open all-year round, the rooftop space at Boundary consists of a glass-walled orangery and an outdoor terrace, as well as a bar and grill restaurant. Boasting views of East London, Boundary’s menu changes with the seasons, meaning grilled meats and fish and vibrant salads in the summer, and Alpine-themed fare come the winter – think fondue and warm cocktails. Twinkling lights and house plants lined along the terrace borders add a romantic touch, making Boundary a good spot for date night.
Where: 2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD
What: Finding its nest on the rooftop of the Royal London House Hotel, tenth-floor Aviary is a chic and sleek rooftop bar, boasting an outdoor terrace that attracts the suited-and-booted folk of the City. The terrace is dotted with tables for two flanked by cosy white chairs, and boasts an impressive view which overlooks the likes of The Gherkin, the ‘walkie-talkie’ and The Shard. All your favourite drinks are taken care of with cocktails, wines and Champagnes all featuring, but note that Aviary is now totally cash-free
Where: 22-25 Finsbury Square, EC2A 1 DX
What: Booking a table is a pre-requisite for experiencing Golden Bee’s swish rooftop terrace, which should give you an idea of the VIP feeling a place like this evokes. A buzzy spot (pardon the pun), Golden Bee pulls in the crowds with its palm trees that are festooned with twinkling lights and the promise of sushi sharing platters for the table. The terrace closes at midnight, but guests who aren’t ready for the party to end can head downstairs to the Main Bar, where music and dancing rumbles on to the wee hours.
Where: Singer Street, EC1V 9DD
Best rooftop bars in north London
There’s gastropubs aplenty in North London but these venues’ rooftop rafters make them a cut above the rest.
What: This leafy gastropub is ostensibly a members’ club but in actual fact just about anyone will be welcomed through the doors of The Driver with open arms. As you ascend the stairs the vibe changes and the five floor climb is definitely worth it to enjoy a sip in the contemporary bijou rooftop bar. In the summer months head up for a boozy BBQ starting at £20 a head and an al fresco boogie in the sunshine with pals. We can see why this has become a popular spot for King's Cross creatives.
Where: 2-4 Wharfdale Road, N1 9RY
What: Another of Kings Cross’ busy little gastropubs, The Fellow is a well-frequented boozer popular with North Londoners looking for somewhere a little ‘off the beaten track’. The exposed brickwork and trendy lighting make it a cool hangout at anytime of day and the all-day menu produces solid versions of all the pub classics; steak & ale pie, sausage & mash, fish 'n’ chips. Upstairs the ‘secret’ rooftop terrace is anything but secret, drawing in a regular bunch of imbibers for post-work cocktails, particularly in the summer months.
Where: 24 York Way, N1 9AA
If you prefer somewhere more secluded and cosy for a tipple then you might want to check out our list of 13 secret bars instead.