Rooftop bars and restaurants are a funny thing in London. They should, in theory, be one of the best things in the city. Unfortunately they’re often not. Glorious views aren’t a given. In fact, views full stop aren’t a given. Drinks ascend in price the higher you go, which, incidentally, is why you always find the cheapest drinks in dark, underground, hovels. And there will often be a tonne of people standing around on your chosen roof just to say that they did, to take a picture, post it, and then move on.
That said, there are a few bars and restaurants that are 100% worth your precious time, and you’ll find all of them in this guide.
A Peckham wine bar that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world, or at the very least, neck and neck with London’s finest pigeons, Forza Wine is arguably one of London’s best rooftops. This place avoids any of the ‘2-4-1 on pitchers of woo woo’ overpriced hype and instead is all about oil-drenched panzanella in the sun, great little sharing plates, and as you might have guessed from the name, a natural-filled wine list. A round of the frozen negronis and their soft serve should also be considered mandatory.
For: Soft serve! Frozen negronis! Romance! Big views of south!
Against: We refuse to speak ill of anywhere that serves soft serve to adults, sorry.
There are approximately four days a year in Britain where you can feasibly get away with drinking several frozen pina coladas without risking immediate hypothermia. And on one of those days, you should absolutely be going to Bar Elba. A huge rooftop bar in Waterloo, this place is a strictly boozy affair that really comes into its own when the weather is glorious, thanks to the jugs of sangria, massive group tables, and summer-ready colourful aesthetic. When it comes to food you can expect your classic stomach-liners like hot dogs, loaded fries, and BBQ chicken wings, but really you’re here for the drinks. FYI they also host regular outdoor cinema nights.
For: Enough space for a massive group hang in the sunshine. Did we mention the frozen pina coladas?
Against: Less about food, more about drinking. Please see ‘frozen pina coladas’.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
The trendy person’s rooftop of choice, the bar at the top of the Netil 360 building in London Fields is a good call for when you can’t be arsed to venture west of Bethnal Green tube at the weekend. There’s a 360-degree view of the east London skyline, and also the City in the distance. It’s got a bit of a DIY vibe going on, but that fits the area perfectly. There is also pizza.
For: Despite being in deepest east London, there’s actually an excellent view from the top. It’s also laid back enough that you can hang out all day. And you’re perfectly situated for the bars and restaurants on Broadway Market afterwards.
Against: Said pizza kind of sucks. Just drink up, and head to Martello Hall afterwards for a good one.
Netil 360 may be the bar with the views and expansive outdoor space, but just next door is NT’s Loft, the spot best placed for harvesting summer vibes. If you’re looking for a good magic hour light for your new online dating pic, this is the place to hit up. And when you have finished doing that, grab a grilled cheese sandwich and a cocktail and head out to the terrace for the most London view imaginable: watching the trains run past on the railway lines.
For: Great summer vibes. Good food. Good drinks.
Against: Not as good a view as you get next door at Netil 360.
There’s London rooftops and then there’s Seabird. If you’re currently having a very physical reaction to this picture of their Riviera-eat-your-heart-out rooftop terrace then, same. A seafood specialist spot on the 14th floor of The Hoxton Hotel in Southwark, their outdoor space feels distinctly New York rooftop meets Cote d’Azur vacation, complete with London’s longest oyster list. Hello, boujie. Although you can just hit Seabird up for one of their fun, creative cocktails, we’d suggest going all out for a special occasion featuring their whole lobster combined with oysters, champagne, and at least 80 ‘candid’ photos with that view across the river.
For: That oyster list, baby.
Against: Drink prices can stack up quick and you also have to factor in the cost of your new ‘expressive cushion habit’ prompted by the sofas.
photo credit: David Paw
Frank's Café & Campari Bar
Otherwise known as ‘the one at the top of a multi storey car park in Peckham’, Frank’s is still the best place to gather a group of friends together for a hang in the evening. The queues can be brutal depending on when you get there, but put it this way - if you’re going to skive off work early, save it for this.
For: Because you’re so far south, you can see the entire, uninterrupted skyline. It’s glorious. Also, the drinks are reasonably priced.
Against: There’s a ridiculously long queue after 6.30pm - get there early, or prepare to have your patience tested.
If you’re looking for a rooftop so high that it gives you vertigo and the ability to point in the distance and say ‘I think that might be... Kent’ then move along. The Marksman isn’t for you. But if you’re after a banging roast and a nice icy cold pint on a sunny Shoreditch Sunday, then we have a feeling you’ll love this polished pub. Although the view from their second-storey terrace is mostly of local rooftops and buses merrily plodding along Hackney Road, this place is a great shout if you want to do the whole open-air sun trap thing in a casual way. Plus, we’d take their signature gravy-packed beef and barley buns and seafood options over vertigo any day.
For: Proper pub food, cold pints, and zero pretentious energy.
Against: Views are less ‘wow’ and more ‘oh look, a pigeon nest’.
The Pantechnicon is the sort of building you’d expect to be a huge movie set. But no, this grand building with huge columns and PANTECHNICON written in all caps at the top, is very real. And the roof garden and terrace on the fourth floor - with all its foliage, light wood, and glass ceilings - where you’ll find a Nordic cocktail menu, as well as a food menu of smorrebrod, small plates with things like scallop, courgette, reindeer, and sea lettuce, and big plates with things like melt-in-the-mouth cod with spiced cauliflower and sea purslane. It’s the perfect, hidden rooftop for a date, or an intimate catch-up.
For: Majestic views, majestic Nordic cocktails, being allowed to use the word ‘majestic’ in public because it’s all just so majestic.
Against: It will inspire you to buy yet more plants for your flat which you will then murder.
Otherwise known as ‘the rooftop bar in Peckham that isn’t Frank’s’, the Bussey Rooftop Bar is, nonetheless, still an excellent and more grown-up place to grab a drink. It’s actually better if you prefer a conventional bar (as opposed to drinking in a car park), with a proper sound system, a bigger choice of drinks, and a chance to grab whatever’s showing at their rooftop cinema a few metres away.
For: Virtually the same view of the skyline as Frank’s, a nicer bar, less crowded, and there’s an open-air rooftop cinema next to the bar.
Against: Despite the lovely skyline, the view in the foreground is mostly of people getting drunk at Frank’s.
The rooftop at The Culpeper is like the sound one in your friend group - it’s super easy going and is always a good time. The gastropub downstairs provides very fancy food that, for a roof deck, approaches actual value for money, and there’s a pretty roof garden where the restaurant apparently grows some of their veg and herbs, because locally sourced, or something.
For: It’s attached to an East End gastropub, so the food and drink options are better than your average rooftop bar.
Against: The roof deck’s small, so when it’s full, it’s full.
Mercer Roof Terrace
Although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend Vintry and Mercer’s rooftop for big party vibes, we would recommend it for anyone who’s looking for a sophisticated cocktail with a view, or just anyone who really has a thing for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. At the top of this classy-meets-cool City hotel, it’s a lovely space for a date night cocktail with someone you’re looking to impress or for drinks with an out-of-towner who can take infinite pictures of the Shard whilst you merrily sip on a gin-packed cocktail. The food can be a little hit and miss for the price, but we’re more than happy to put that down to the weird curse of London rooftop restaurants and forgive all for the views and their supersonic heaters.
For: It’s all incredibly civilised.
Against: Erm, it’s all incredibly civilised.
This one goes out to anyone who listens to Gentle Wave ASMR on the overground whenever they’re stressed, sad, or entirely unwilling to admit that they haven’t managed to move to Margate just yet. Chiringuito is for you. A Bethnal Green rooftop bar that has that whole beachside hang thing going on, you can expect upbeat tunes, the constant whiff of nice meaty things from the BBQ, and those big comfy white sofas which we can only presume are red wine resistant. In fact, if it wasn’t for the buzz of Roman Road traffic, you could easily trick yourself into thinking that you could peer over the side of your table and watch the tide roll in after a couple of their margaritas and South American-inspired small plates.
For: Big beach energy, complete with BBQ.
Against: We’ve seen better views from the top of the no. 38 bus.
Just off Regent Street, the roof terrace at Aqua is a little bit sceney, a lot expensive, and very convenient. Visit it for a quick drink after work.
For: It’s just a couple of minutes from Oxford Circus tube, and there’s a swanky Japanese restaurant next door in case you’re hungry.
Against: The view from the terrace consists of a few chimneys and rooftops, which is great if you’re really into analysing roof tiles.
On the 7th floor of The Stratford Hotel, Allegra is the kind of flashy rooftop restaurant that will inevitably feature on series eight of Succession, when Shiv, like, takes the jet to London to destroy Juno Temple in the role of Boris Johnson’s PA. One part warm and two parts classy, this restaurant, bar, and sky terrace is from the people behind Chiltern Firehouse and is perfect for a special occasion meal or business situation over perfectionist fine art food that just so happens to also be very tasty. It’ll also work for a high-end golden hour date night involving oysters, charcuterie, and expert cocktails.
For: Living out your Cousin Greg fantasies ft. exquisite seasonal food.
Against: It’s all a little bit serious and quite expensive.
Alright, confession time. The Exhibit’s outdoor situation is less of a standard, big open-air rooftop and more of a balcony on one floor and a roof garden situation at the top. But you know what, we laugh in the face of semantics, especially when great nutty mai tais are involved. The point is, this multi-storey bar and restaurant in Balham will give you that summer feelgood energy you’re looking for without you necessarily having to enter a long winded booking battle to get a table. They have a long drinks list that covers everything from pints to pornstar martinis, and for a fun birthday one-two punch you can combine drinks on their terrace with a film in their upstairs cinema room. Cheers!
For: It’s cute, cheerful, and somewhat easier to get a booking at compared to London’s famed central rooftops. And cheaper.
Against: Technically it’s more of a terrace than a rooftop. Sue us.
The Queen of Hoxton is a Shoreditch boozer with a rooftop set aside for drinking on. For some reason, lots of rooftops have a colourful aesthetic going on. Apparently this raises the ‘summer vibes’ tenfold. The Queen of Hoxton is fully on board with this concept. You should anticipate plenty of stuff that will please your social media following, including fire pits, the big teepee bar, and colour props to pose next to. Arrive early to get your content and conversations in before it gets rammed.
For: There are things to entertain. It’s not your average rooftop.
Against: It gets heaving on a nice day. And at weekends.
Pergola Paddington Central
Ah, Pergola. Chances are you’ve probably been here at some point for a cheeky big group birthday hang or for a date with someone who just so happens to live right around the corner from Paddington - what are the chances! More pimms? - but in case you haven’t, we’ll break it down for you. Pergola is basically a high-energy, good times adult take on your school canteen set-up. The cocktails deals are great for the area, the changing rota of street food vendors are always top crowd-pleasers, and the bookable day beds might just convince you you’re on ‘VACAY BABY’ if the weather permits.
For: Foliage, day beds, good drink deals.
Against: The crowd here tends to skew a little younger, so if you’re kind of over hanging out with people who’ve still got a decade in them before they find their first grey, this might not be the place for you.