Sure, everyone loves a good pub garden, but whether you’re clutching a lukewarm pint or a posh cocktail, everything tastes better at a rooftop bar. If you’ve been sticking to ground level boozing, prepare to have your head turned, because London’s ever-expanding skyline is the ideal backdrop for drinks with added oomph – not to mention killer Instagram fodder.
It’s time to conquer that vertigo and see the city in its best light, with this guide to the UK capital’s rooftop bars. Don’t assume these gems are just summer haunts either – winter rooftop drinking is the height of cool.
The Best Rooftop Bars In London
Culpeper Roof Garden
Once inner London’s best-kept secret, this pint-sized fourth-floor terrace a stone’s throw from Old Spitalfields Market is now hot property. The saving grace is that they take bookings, so you can (quite literally) nab a patch for you and your mates among fresh herbs and veg, much of which is used in the cocktail and downstairs gastropub menu.
What To Instagram: Up your cornichon content with a shot of Culpeper’s giant glowing gherkin, set against its skyscraper equivalent of 30 St. Mary Axe. Between a rock and a hard pickle, basically.
40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP
Jin Bo Law
One of the city’s newest openings, Jin Bo Law is the Dorsett City Hotel’s 14th-floor bar, with views into the past and future: 18th-century church St. Botolph’s on one side and the Gotham-like architecture of The City on the other. Come for the visual delights, but stay for the unique Asian-inspired cocktail menu, awash with soju, shochu and umeshu.
What To Instagram: The Milk & Cookies cocktail – a glorious white chocolate concoction with Daijinjo sake, vanilla milk and bitters served in a glass carton. Your average white Russian this is not.
9 Aldgate High Street, EC3N 1AH
Like that soft flannel shirt you keep going back to, Frank’s is a staple rooftop location. No matter how many times you’ve been, its alternative south east London tableau is still worthy of a wolf whistle. Come at sunset for heavenly pita and hummus, washed down with an Aperol or three. Just avoid the festival-standard loos if you can.
What To Instagram: The iconic pink staircase might be the most ‘grammed background since the loos at Mayfair food and drink haunt Sketch, but there’s a reason for that. Switch to selfie mode and make the most of that oh-so-flattering light.
95A Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
Iris At The Gherkin
Always wondered what it’s like to go up the iconic Gherkin building? 30 St Mary Axe (its official name) has opened its top floors to the public at long last and boy, is it a 360-degree treat. The killer cocktails are inspired by the view – such as the Caribbean-influenced old fashioned named ‘The Brixton Pound’. Big birthday celebrations, classy after-work drinks, visits from out-of-towners: Iris is panoramic perfection.
What To Instagram: Sunset at The Gherkin is almost a religious experience. Snap it right in between the architectural hexagons for extra brownie points. Tropical sloe gin in a tiki mug optional.
30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8EP
Don’t baulk at the £3 entry price – Dalston Rooftop is worth every one of your hard-earned pennies. Social enterprise firm Bootstrap put a big effort into giving it a yearly revamp, but you can always bank on comfy deckchairs and beanbags, or at least a seat on the artificial grass when it gets busy. Things get pretty lively when the sun goes down, so wear your comfiest sneakers.
What To Instagram: Your mates and the tropical DJ booth. That or your hangover the next day.
18-22 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL
At the top of a workout-worthy nine flights of stairs up is Hackney’s hottest rooftop spot. Aptly named, this pared-back spot packs a punchy 360-degree view, which sweetens the taste of the relatively limited drinks menu. Grab a pint and a perch to drink in the vistas, before heading down to the trendy Mare Street Market to sate your hunger.
What To Instagram: That skyline, which includes London’s mini-family of not-so-mini skyscrapers and the stark contrast of a burgundy-hued gasholder. Get a few of the criss-cross fairy lights in, and you’ve found a picture guaranteed double taps.
1 Westgate Street, E8 3RL
One for the ‘feeling fancy’ list, this glossy 1920s-style cocktail bar is perched at the top of South Bank’s Mondrian hotel, with a panoramic view of all the big hitter buildings. Interior buffs will swoon at the shiny trappings, and you’ll struggle not to admire your own reflection in the ceiling mirror.
What To Instagram: You (or your drinking partner), plus a dry martini on the rattan swing chair overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral and the River Thames. As classy as they come.
20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD
As namesakes go, Bar Elba’s is pretty unique – a reference to the island Napoleon and 600 of his men were exiled to in 1814, but the concept ends there. With vermouth-based slushies, twinkling fairy lights and the words ‘Liberté, Egalité, Rosé’ adorning the walls, it’s like your most extra beach holiday, by way of Waterloo. The Little Corporal would be proud.
What To Instagram: The graffiti-style ‘Greetings from Exile’ wall with a cup of frosé in the foreground. The kind of banishment we could get used to.
109-117 Waterloo Road, SE1 8UL
Queen of Hoxton
Queen of the summer-to-winter transition, this long-running rooftop may be nestled in the concrete jungle that is Liverpool Street, but it feels like a proper escape. With plenty of nooks and crannies for colonising, plus a wigwam if the weather lets you down, it’s the dream starting point for a big night out. With a regularly changing theme, keep an eye on the eclectic events programme.
What To Instagram: Did you even go to Queen of Hoxton if you didn’t get a snap in the photoautomat? A photo within an Instagram – you’re so meta.
1 Curtain Road, EC2A 3JX
Radio Rooftop Bar
Flash the cash at this central London spot, where the skyline is as glitzy as the 15-strong gin menu. With distinct Mykonos club vibes — think sleek design lines, plenty of glass and a house soundtrack — this is a solid spot for a drink, but perhaps not for a whole night. Be sure to grab the corner seats, which are a plum spot for keen snappers.
What To Instagram: Cranes, cranes, cranes – and some of London’s biggest landmarks, obviously.
336-337 Strand, WC2R 1HA