If there’s anything that gets Londoners excited about summer like a group of drag queens at a Dolly Parton concert, it’s rooftop bars. Let’s ignore the fact that they’re often cramped, overpriced, and more often than not, have views that do not whelm. But when they’re good, they’re brilliant. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to round up a few of our favourites and a few well-known spots, and rank them using a highly scientific formula. It’s completely official - promise.
Here’s where to get drunk on a roof.
Check out the rest of our Summer Guide here.
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 - it’s just four quid for a pint.
Against: There’s a ridiculously long queue after 6.30pm - get there early, or prepare to have your patience tested.
Bokan’s a swanky-looking restaurant and bar set across three floors at the top of the Novotel in the Docklands. It doesn’t sound promising, until you clock the jaw-dropping view, surprisingly good drinks, and the cushy terrace that feels like you’re metres away from the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf and the O2. Bokan makes a compelling case for ugly, pointless high-rises all by itself.
For: The view’s excellent from every angle - even the loos - and the terrace has sofas and is basically afternoon drinking goals.
Against: It’s in Canary Wharf.
This open-air rooftop bar in the centre of Shoreditch is an excellent place to lounge around with a few friends. The entrance is hidden in the Courthouse Hotel, and it gets bonus points for the fact that it never gets uncivilised owing to the crowd control from the lobby. The seats are comfy, the music’s laid back, and the views are pretty.
For: It doesn’t get rammed, and it feels like you could be on a terrace in Ibiza. It’s in the middle of Shoreditch.
Against: The door control at the lobby means that you need to get there early, and the drinks are an afterthought.
Shepherds Bush is known for a few things (falafel, music), but it’s also where the Chelsea set go for a bit of rough. Found on top of the old BBC building near Shepherds Bush, Pergola On The Roof is incredibly pretty, like a cross between an open-air food court and a garden in California,. There’s even a colour wall for your social media pictures, for Christ’s sake. The food lineup’s very strong - tacos from Breddos, seafood from Bonnie Gull, and fancy French and Italian plates from 8 Hoxton Square.
For: It’s spacious, ridiculously pretty, and the food offerings wipe the floor with other rooftop spots.
Against: The queue can be awful at peak times, and the view is pretty forgettable.
There are a few rooftop bars in and around the City, but Aviary is by some margin the best of the lot. It’s inside Montcalm House in Finsbury Square, and after jumping in the lift, you’ll hop out to one of the loveliest terraces in town. Seriously - the only time we’ve seen this many sofas in one place was when we were squatting in Ikea. The view over the square and the skyscrapers of the City is excellent, and though it gets crowded on a nice day, there’s plenty of room to sprawl with mates.
For: The drinks are good, the view’s fantastic, and it genuinely feels like a great place to hang out.
Against: Drinks are tres expensive.
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 - including the canal and some cool old silos, but also the City in the distance - and also a DIY vibe going on 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 loiter, 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.
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 crowding, 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.
It’s not really a rooftop bar, but the terrace at the Rumpus Room has one of the best views of London, overlooking St Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge. The bar itself is in the Mondrian Hotel and is very swanky, and also has a kitchen that’ll do you tasty little sharing platters. The overall vibe and lack of tourists give it the edge over the more famous bar at the OXO Tower.
For: There’s a view and the bar’s comfy. Also, table service and pork buns.
Against: It’s expensive, it gets rammed, and it’s a complete scene at the weekends (hit it after work). Best to book a table to avoid disappointment.
Let’s just admit it, shall we? Central London isn’t the best for rooftop bars. Most of them are usually a scene, or full of daytrippers from Slough, and you’ll be lucky if you get a peek of anything better than a few rooftops and the odd naked person dancing to Sia. The good news is that Sisu (formerly Notch) is one of the better options in town. There’s a big terrace with plenty of space for groups, a laid-back vibe, and while the drinks won’t blow you away, you do get a lot of bang for your buck.
For: It’s in central London, and the cocktails are huge.
Against: There isn’t a lift - if you’re dressed to go out out, you might arrive looking like you’ve just come from a spin class after climbing five flights of stairs.
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 a designer 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.
‘Ah, the OXO Tower’, you think to yourself. ‘Now there’s a rooftop bar’. It’s true - the terrace is big, and the view’s easily one of the best you can have in London while sipping an Aperol Spritz outdoors. It’s even better since they refurbished it, though bear in mind that most of the space is kept aside for diners.
For: Unlike the pub ‘roof garden’ you occasionally visit with a view of Upper Street, the view here is in the big leagues. The refurb also means it’s prettier than ever.
Against: It’s predictably expensive, and the crowd consists mainly of out-of-towners and people who still think that Gordon Ramsay cooks for a living. The food at the restaurant is deeply mediocre.
Since Stratford went and got itself an underboob tattoo and started its own grime label, the neighbourhood also decided that it needed its own carpark rooftop bar. To be precise - it needed Roof East, a ‘bar’ on top of the old Stratford shopping centre, close to the station and the giant Westfield. It’s massive, and feels like a giant soft play area for adults, with loads of activities and games.
For: You could literally spend an entire day here strolling from crazy golf to a yoga class. Or you could just spend the entire time drinking - your call. We like the pizzas and chorizo hot dogs.
Against: If you didn’t look up and see the ArcelorMittal Orbit - the ugly, red ‘sculpture’ that was set up for the Olympics - the view looks like you could be in Croydon. Actually, the view would probably be much better in Croydon.
Since replaced by Frank’s, Madison used to be London’s Instagram rooftop brag of choice. There’s an incredible view of St Pauls that just gets better when the cathedral lights up at night, and there’s a plush bar that also doubles as a noisy scene full of finance types, out-of-towners on a night out, and the odd cougar or two. Not that we’d know.
For: The convenient location and view are a gimme, and it’s great for when you want to get dressed up for a night out.
Against: It can feel like half the cast of The Real Housewives of Cheshire are in here at the weekend, and drinks are predictably overpriced. Unless you get there early, waiting in line to get to the bar is inevitable.
Chances are that if you work in the City, this is already one of your regular haunts. If not, here’s a refresher: it’s a slick rooftop garden and terrace in the City that gets routinely rammed during the summer. The drinks are decent, and the crowd’s predominantly City boys and girls. While it gets crazy during the week, consider visiting at the weekend for a lazy lunch or drinks.
For: The view’s great, and the garden and terrace are legitimately lovely places to sit on a sunny day - even when it’s busy. If you manage it, the food at the attached French fine dining restaurant is surprisingly good.
Against: It’s totally a see-and-be-seen kind of place, and did we mention it gets ridiculously busy? Also, you will feel like a peasant - the members-only rooftop bar at The Ned is a few metres away, and it’s way nicer.
Depending on how much you enjoy porn star martinis, you’ll either love or hate Radio, the rooftop bar and lounge in the ME London hotel on the Strand. It’s basically an excuse for the fake tan crowd to pretend that they’re in a scripted episode of TOWIE - it’s both a misanthrope’s worst nightmare and also extremely compelling people-watching. The drinks are decent (and inevitably pricey), and the view from the terrace is nice, though it looks way better in the pictures.
For: People watching.
Against: You need to book a sofa outside in order to have a shot at lounging at peak times, and yes, there is a minimum spend.
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. It doesn’t look anywhere near this good as the pictures.
The rooftop bar and restaurant at Selfridges is in a prime location on Oxford Street, and besides doing a decent Aperol, there’s a full service restaurant with a menu packed with avocado and things people apparently eat in California.
For: It’s conveniently located in central London, and your nan might like it. Might.
Against: Prices that reflect being located above Selfridges. Non-existent views. Mediocre food. No matter how tempted you are - just don’t.