Rooftop bars 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 worth checking out, so we’ve ranked them using the powers of science and opinion. Two things that go hand in hand. Here’s where you should be drinking on a roof.
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 everything you could want in an afternoon drinking destination.
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 - if the weather is cooperating - 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.
There are a few rooftop bars in and around the City, but Aviary is the best of the lot, by some margin. 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, 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 Bam, 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.
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.
It’s not really a rooftop bar, but the terrace at the Rumpus Room overlooks St Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge. It’s one of the best views in London. 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.
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.
The Tankyard is not the kind of rooftop bar that you find on the penthouse of a five-star hotel in Mayfair. It’s a local pub in Kennington. But it does have a wonderful all year roof-terrace that fills you with simmering rage at the cruelty of a world that didn’t put a pub like this on the corner of your street. Yes, it is on a main road in Kennington, so your conversation will be interrupted by loud trucks and screaming po-po vans every 10 mins or so - but you will get over it as you dive into a pint, burger, great chips, and the chilled atmosphere.
For: It’s a proper boozer and inexpensive.
Against: There’s not much of a view to speak of, and the noise from passing traffic might disturb your peace.
Skylight at Tobacco Dock is yet another converted carpark, and it’s where you end up going when someone in your group suggests you ‘discover Wapping’. There’s bound to be arguments and moaning from some of your friends, but the resistance will begrudgingly end when everyone discovers that it’s moments from Shadwell Overground. Or just a mile and a half from Brick Lane. What you find when you get there might be underwhelming at first, but when you make it up through the car park to the roof you’ll find plenty of seating, a friendly, laid-back crowd, great views towards the City, four separate bar areas, a couple of street food eating options, and games like croquet and pétanque. You’ll soon forget that half your group aren’t talking to one another.
For: Friendly, unpretentious crowd. Inexpensive. No suits.
Against: Wapping will never not feel out of the way.
Shoreditch’s most hip and happening hotel (The Ace) has pretty excellent views looking over the city and all the fine gentrification around it. It’s only open to non-guests on Fridays and you have to RSVP, but this is quite a nice way to start the evening whilst it’s still light before heading out to something that’s likely to be less panoramic.
For: Great views. Great drinks.
Against: It’s Fridays only for the public, and there’s no space for big groups.
‘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 it was replaced by Frank’s, Madison used to be London’s Instagram rooftop brag of choice. There’s an incredible view of St Paul’s 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 and out-of-towners on a night out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Its current theme is ‘Lost Vegas’, and although we don’t really understand what that means, if lots of bits and bobs (for the ’gram) is your sort of thing then you’ll love this place. 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.
If you’re the sort of person who revels in drinking from a glass and looking down on grass-dwelling people below drinking from tins, then you’ll enjoy the Red Lion. This Hoxton Square boozer is pretty unremarkable, but it does the basics right: it has drinks, decent pizza, and a roof garden that’s very enjoyable (especially if you manage to nab a table).
For: It’s a normal pub with normal people.
Against: Food options aren’t great, and the view isn’t exactly breathtaking.
If you want to know what happens when someone goes to the south of France and comes back with big ideas for a rooftop bar in Shoreditch, come to the Boundary Rooftop at the Boundary Project. Once you get past the snooty staff on the ground floor desk, you’ll find a slightly characterless space populated by suits, and people who are looking at each other like they can’t quite figure out how or why their night has ended up here. That said, outdoor space is at a premium in Shoreditch, and while this should never be your first choice, the views aren’t bad, and a beer, or a glass of wine and a plate of oysters in the sun isn’t exactly the worst way to spend an hour or so.
For: Decent views.
Against: Balearic beats, blandness, and a boring menu.
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.
Southbank Centre Roof Garden, Café & Bar
A bit of a sanctuary on top of the Southbank Centre, this garden is an absolute gem if you get there bright and early, or at least before the hordes do. It’s not a place where you come to have a few drinks (there’s a cafe and they don’t serve alcohol) but it’s a lovely green space to look out onto the Thames from and enjoy a serene start to the day.
For: Great views in an unexpected location.
Against: Doesn’t serve booze, and it gets very busy by lunchtime.
The John Lewis Gardening Society is a pleasant fake lawn on top of the Oxford Street shop with a couple of bars, and a Butchies concession. The views aren’t all that exciting, so unless you’re the kind of person who’d write home about a glimpse of the London Eye through the rooftops, you’ll be looking elsewhere for your distractions. The scene up here is exactly what you’d expect to find on the roof of Britain’s favourite department store. That’s to say, it’s all very nice, and that’s about it.
For: It’s somewhere totally inoffensive you can go when your parents are in town.
Against: It’s somewhere totally inoffensive that everyone in town has brought their parents to.