In a pickle for how to spend those long, lazy summer days? Hop on a train to London and soak up the best of the southern sunshine with these outdoor drinking spots.
You may think of London as a sightseer’s paradise, but there are just as many delights tucked away behind closed doors. When the sun shines the city transforms into a hidden world of top-notch beer gardens, rooftop bars and sun terraces. So if a spot of al fresco frolicking is high on your summer agenda, grab those sunnies and get yourself down to London, pronto.
1. Big Chill, King’s Cross
A mere minute’s stroll up the road from King’s Cross station, Big Chill bar offers London day trippers the chance to soak up the sun without delay. This trendy bar is a multi-storey affair with a vibrant interior, but you’ll want to head straight to the top floor. That’s where their famous rooftop terrace awaits.
An array of colourful picnic chairs and sun loungers offer the ideal place to pitch up for the day with a locally brewed pint or delectable cocktail in hand. The rooftop even has its very own bar, so you can sup a steady stream of frozen gin and tonics without ever having to tackle the stairs. Hungry? The Chuck Burgers pop-up will keep your tummy filled long into the evening.
Big Chill, 257-259 Pentonville Road, King’s Cross, London, N1 9NL.
2. Pergola Paddington
It may be the home of the notorious marmalade-loving bear, but Paddington hasn’t always been high on London’s hit-list for summer fun. Luckily that’s all changed thanks to the welcome arrival of Pergola Paddington. Think of this rooftop wonder as a vast fresh air food court, complete with four stalls from top London street food vendors and two fully-stocked bars serving all manner of drinks, plus seating for a whopping 850 people.
And it doesn’t stop there. Make your visit an all day session by booking your very own daybed. Who says summer boozing should be done upright? Swing by on a Sunday for bottomless brunch or simply work your way through the wines, beers and cocktails under the twinkling fairy lights. Looking a little cloudy overhead? There’s plenty of undercover seating too. This is still Blighty, after all.
Pergola Paddington, 5 Kingdom Street, Paddington Central, London, W2 6PY. Open spring/summer months.
3. Madison, St Pauls
If it’s great views of London you’re after, you’re in the right place. The outlook from Madison bar and restaurant, perched atop a snazzy shopping centre opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, has to be seen to be believed. And when we say opposite, we mean right opposite. Grab a glass of Champagne and stroll out across the terrace in full view of the Cathedral’s majestic dome. You can almost reach out and touch it.
The roof terrace is an absolute sun-trap during the day, and at night the panorama becomes extra magical when London’s landmarks illuminate one by one. It’s a pretty classy affair and steaks get big billing on the restaurant menu, but you’re just as welcome to stick to the terrace bar if you’re not feeling peckish. Booze with views, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Madison, Rooftop Terrace One, New Change, St Paul’s, London, EC4M 9AF.
4. The Faltering Fullback, Finsbury Park
A few miles north of King’s Cross is a London beer garden to rival all others. From the front this Irish pub looks like any other charming local boozer, all great beers and sticky floors. But out the back, a verdant summertime wonderland awaits.
Step through and you’ll discover four decked beer garden levels winding their way around the exterior in higgledy-piggledy fashion. There are hidden corners, cascading staircases and even a random bookcase or two. Abundant shrubs and hanging baskets make it a true oasis when the sun is shining, while the nooks and crannies offer the perfect place to while away a summer’s day. Inside the pub is a simpler setup, but who’s thinking about the interior when you have a freakin’ tree house at your disposal?
Faltering Fullback, 19 Perth Road, Finsbury Park, London, N4 3HB.
5. Golden Bee, Old Street
Next door to trendy Shoreditch is bustling Old Street and it’s home to masses of trendy start-ups and offices. But where you find cool offices, you find cool drinking dens. Case in point, The Golden Bee. Enter on street level through the unassuming doorway (check for the bee icon, so you know you’re in the right place) and head straight on up. A buzzing lounge bar leads out to the tranquil roof terrace and it’s a far cry from the London hustle down below.
Gather round the fire pit and go to town with the 2-4-1 cocktail Happy Hour on weekdays. Who’d say no to double pornstar martinis and aperol spritzes? If you’re visiting on a weekend, you’d best get your dancing shoes on – DJs take over the reigns on Friday and Saturday nights until the early hours.
Golden Bee, Singer Street, Old Street, London, EC1V 9DD.
6. Frank’s, Peckham
London’s well known for its quirky spots. It’s also known for making the most of its limited space. Smush the two together and you’ve got Frank’s. It’s a humungous, summer-only rooftop bar sitting pretty atop a south London car park. And it’s got more than a few aces up its sleeve.
A one-stop-shop for rooftop revelry, the massive open-air bar is just the tip of the iceberg. Next to the first-rate cocktails and street food, you’ll find a bunch of specially-commissioned, site-specific artworks to admire. You’re free to wander, and if the sun gets too much, you can pop downstairs to soak up their programme of live events instead. It could be anything from a live orchestra to cutting edge dance. Just remember to head back upstairs to the bar at sunset – the view over London is what summer dreams are made of.
Frank’s, Bold Tendencies, 7th-10th Floor Multi Storey Car Park, 95A Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST. Open summer months.
7. The Mayflower, Rotherhithe
Imagine sitting on the edge of a river, drink in hand, watching the warm sun go down over the shimmering water. Doesn’t sound like London, does it? Well forget what you’ve heard, because The Mayflower will blow your expectations out of the water. It’s not a big beer garden by any means. It’s a tiddly terrace, in fact. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in setting.
This beautiful little beer garden sits right on the water. Look left and you’ll see Tower Bridge reaching across the Thames. Look right and you’ll see the looming skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Look ahead and there’s nothing but river in front of you. At high tide the water even splashes up through the boards beneath your feet. Team that with real ale, an interior full of Victorian charm and a claim to being London’s oldest pub and you’re onto an absolute winner.
The Mayflower, 117 Rotherhithe Street, Rotherhithe, London, SE16 4NF.
8. Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, South Bank
Chances are your summer voyage to London will include a Thames-side stroll down South Bank to visit all its world-class arts venues. In which case, this rooftop gem is certainly worth knowing about. Lots of visitors to London will pop into Southbank Centre for a music concert or spoken word performance, but nowhere near as many know about the garden tucked away out of sight on its roof.
Home to an abundance of wildflowers, potted plants and vegetable patches, this outdoor haven overlooks the Thames yet feels a million miles away from the city centre. It’s a marvellous place to watch the world go by below, even if a little smugness does creep in. Treat yourself to a jug of Pimms from the on-site bar and toast your success in finding this gem (top tip, look for the yellow staircase).
Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, South Bank, London, SE1 8XX. Open April-October.
9. Radio Rooftop, Aldwych
Located halfway between Covent Garden and the river, Radio Rooftop boasts an outdoor terrace that’s all about the five stars. This upmarket joint sits atop a five star hotel, in a five star location, with five star views over the city. The sleek, asymmetric design of the rooftop bar is a magnet for city slickers, while the extensive drinks menu appeals to anyone willing to pay a premium for a beautifully crafted cocktail courtesy of master mixologists.
It’s a no sportswear kinda place and reservations are a must, but the faff is worth it when you step out of the lift on the 10th floor and survey the view. When the likes of The Shard, London Eye, Houses of Parliament and Somerset House are all laid out right in front of you, it’s probably worth a night without your old Fifa sweatshirt, right?
Radio Rooftop, 336-337 Strand, Aldwych, London, WC2R 1HA.
10. The George Inn, London Bridge
London Bridge is the place to go for a taste of ye olde world London, all cobbled backstreets and timber buildings. And there is no beer garden with quite the same sense of history than the one at The George Inn. It’s so old it’s owned by the National Trust, for Pete’s sake.
Dating back to medieval times and London’s last standing galleried coaching inn, The George Inn sits in its own pedestrianised courtyard off the main drag, and would have once been a welcome resting stop for travellers and their horses. Today, the entire yard is covered with outdoor seating. There are no far-reaching views and you probably won’t get much of a tan, but this is as close as you’ll get to boozing straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.
The George Inn, The George Inn Yard, 77 Borough High Street, London Bridge, London, SE1 1NH.
11. Bar Elba, Waterloo
One hidden entrance and 76 stairs is all that stands between you and this rooftop refuge opposite Waterloo station. Bar Elba may be a little tricky to find (if you’re stuck, look around the corner) and on the fourth floor with no lifts, but the promise of margaritas, martinis and iced teas in the sunshine should be enough to lure you up.
It’s a true al fresco find. There’s no indoor area at all, but retractable coverings, heaters and colourful hanging lanterns keep the roomy terrace cosy if the weather turns. A casual crowd can be found here, chatting and slurping away on picnic-style seating. And once your thirst is quenched, it’s onto the food menu which is downright dirty in all the right ways. It may make you question why you’ve never teamed mojitos and cheese toasties before.
Bar Elba, Mercury House, 109-117 Waterloo Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UL.
12. Bokan, Canary Wharf
As one of London’s key financial districts, Canary Wharf has long been the playground for those willing to splash a little extra cash for something a little extra special. Enter Bokan, a three-storey powerhouse that combines good food, good drink and sublime views from the top of a towering hotel.
The snazzy rooftop bar and terrace sits above the restaurant on the 39th floor and boasts its own gin bar, a deluxe cocktail list inspired by the local area, and daybeds to recline on, survey the view and generally live your best life. The sky-high experience means sky-high prices, but the panorama of London’s skyline is truly breathtaking.
Bokan, 37th, 38th & 39th Floor, Novotel Canary Wharf, 40 Marsh Wall, Canary Wharf, London, E14 9TP.
13. The Dickens Inn, St Katharine Docks
Did you know there’s a marina right next to Tower Bridge? Most tourists don’t. It’s almost invisible from the road, but take a few steps back from the riverfront and you’ll find yourself in St Katharine Docks, a historic marina now filled with private yachts, great restaurants and… a cracking beer garden.
The Dickens Inn overlooks the water and has an exterior you wouldn’t believe existed in London. Formerly a warehouse building, the reconstructed pub retains its timber framing and the quirky tiered balconies are absolutely covered in hanging flowers. It’s a glorious sight to behold and a pint on the top level balcony, looking out over the water, shouldn’t be missed.
The Dickens Inn, Marble Quay, St Katharine’s Way, St Katharine Docks, London, E1W 1UH.
14. Punch and Judy, Covent Garden
Pub gardens are hard to come by in central London. And yet beautiful Covent Garden lays claim to a fine one, right slap bang wallop in the middle of its popular piazza. Head to the west side of the square and cast your gaze upwards – you’re likely to see a rather smug row of people downing beers from a first-floor balcony. That’s the Punch and Judy, and the entrance is nestled just round the corner.
Ok, it’s more of a beer balcony than a beer garden. And the drinks are standard pub fare rather than the exciting concoctions the capital is known for, but you take what you can get in central London. Plus, sunbathing while overlooking one of the city’s most popular visitor hotspots is hard to beat. You even get a front row seat to the street entertainers that peddle their wares directly opposite.
Punch and Judy, 40 The Market, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8RF.
15. The Rooftop, Trafalgar Square
Another central London sanctum, but one with a much loftier location, is the glamorous rooftop bar hanging high at The Trafalgar St. James hotel. The clue is in the name, as this bad boy commands a bird’s eye view of Trafalgar Square. Survey the bustle down below with an expertly crafted cocktail in hand. You’ll be paying a premium for the pleasure but everything, from the decor to the drinks, is meticulous.
Soak up the rays during summertime or cosy up with complementary blankets when it’s chilly. Whatever the season, seeing the West End light up after dark is a lovely sight to behold. What’s more, you’re in the heart of London’s theatre-land and perfectly placed to catch a show before, or after, your bevvy. Reservations are wise.
The Rooftop, Trafalgar St. James hotel, 2 Spring Gardens, Trafalgar Square, London, SW1A 2TS.
16. Angler, Moorgate
Precisely halfway between the monied glamour of Bank and the quirky character of Shoreditch, is Moorgate. The area may be small in size, but it manages to soak up the best parts of both its neighbours to offer swish venues popping with personality. Angler, a Michelin-starred restaurant perched on the seventh floor of South Place Hotel, is one such venue.
Michelin stars don’t come easy, so you know the British seafood and cocktails on offer here are up to scratch. But those not looking to eat in can still dine out on the view. Angler’s rooftop terrace is a little slice of southern France in London – planted rosemary and lavender sweeten the air as you gaze over the City of London. Sounds pretty refined, right? It is, but summertime also sees the roof garden host regular parties and live music events. Keep your eyes peeled.
Angler, South Place Hotel, 3 South Place, Moorgate, London, EC2M 2AF.
17. Savage Garden, Tower Hill
Boasting a shiny new makeover and edgy decor, Savage Garden has not one, but two rooftop terraces. Both promise mighty impressive views that cover almost every direction. Ready for some sightseeing? Over to your left you’ll see Tower Bridge, to the right you’ll find The Shard (the tallest building in the whole of Europe), The Gherkin is just behind you and the Tower of London is immediately below you.
At the bar, you’ll find creative cocktails that are an entire experience in themselves. Sure there are the classics like espresso martinis and whiskey sours, but why go classic when you can go all out with original inventions like the Wild Poison – bourbon, apricot brandy, smoked pine syrup and their own version of a poison apple. It’s all utterly stylish, a magnet for the trendy and heaps of fun.
Savage Garden, Floor 12, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 7 Pepys Street, Tower Hill, London, EC3N 4AF.
18. Sushisamba, Liverpool Street
When it comes to sky-high delights in London, Sushisamba needs to be on your radar. It’s not quite the tallest restaurant in the capital (pipped to the post by Duck & Waffle and Searcys at The Gherkin), but it does lay claim to the highest roof terrace in London. Most people come to splash out on the Japanese-Peruvian fusion food and gawk at the lavish interior, but you’re equally welcome to knock back a cocktail on that teetering terrace.
Residing on floor 38 of the Heron Tower and in the heart of the City of London, even the lift that zips you up to the top gives you a cracking outlook across the neighbouring skyscrapers. Heck, some people go just to ride the lift up and straight back down again. But that rooftop bar is hard to resist. The decor is stunning, the cocktails sure are tempting and that cosy seat around the fire pit is calling your name.
Sushisamba, 110 Bishopsgate, Liverpool Street, London, EC2N 4AY.
19. Queen of Hoxton, Shoreditch
When on the hunt for the quirkiness and character that Shoreditch is famed for, you need to get yourself down (or should that be up?) to Queen of Hoxton’s rooftop beer garden. Not content with simply chucking a few tables up there and calling it a day, these guys totally transform the roof terrace with a new theme every season.
Moulin Rouge, flower power and Moroccan medinas – you name it, they’ve done it. Whatever the decor, you can expect one thing – colour. And lots of it. Oh, and cocktails, they’ve got lots of them too. Add cheerful sharing platters and street food snacks to match the theme and you’re onto a real winner. Film buffs will be pleased to know that Rooftop Film Club pitches up here during the summer months, plus they host regular events like hip hop karaoke and drag bingo.
Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3JX.
20. Roof East, Stratford
If you’re heading out for a summer adventure around east London’s Olympic Park (now a lush parkland with lots of nature trails and picnic spots), make sure to pay a visit to Roof East’s fun-filled rooftop residence. It’s the second venue on this list to call a car park home, which means it has oodles of space in which to drink, dine, dance and generally have a damn good time.
They make good use of that space. Of course there are the obligatory bars – three in fact. Yes, they have a range of street food pop-ups ready to serve up delicious snacks from all over the world. But there are also a whole bunch of unexpected bonus treats too. Try an array of rooftop games like hip hop bowling, crazy golf, baseball batting cages and… Jenga. Feeling a little overwhelmed? Nothing one of their rooftop yoga classes won’t sort out.
Roof East, Stratford multi-storey car park, Great Eastern Way, Stratford, London, E15 1XE. Open summer months.
21. Coq d’Argent, Bank
For all the refinement of a good old British picnic, but with all the glamour of a rooftop terrace in one of London’s most enviable locations, it has to be Coq d’Argent. Located directly opposite The Royal Exchange, the restaurant and bar is already a favourite with after-work drinkers. But it’s that impeccably turfed roof garden and the glorious skyscraper views that makes this spot a really special find.
Once you’ve worked your way through the extensive drinks list that covers everything from wine to beer, cocktails to spirits, it’s time to head outdoors and make the most of the sun trap garden. The vibe is classy and cool, a far cry from the mad dash of traffic down below. And if you’re tempted by the French delights on the food menu, you needn’t forgo the sun. There’s an al fresco dining terrace with equally terrific views.
Coq d’Argent, No.1 Poultry, Bank, London, EC2R 8EJ.
Your train ride down to London just got better
The wait is over! Azuma is the biggest revolution of the East Coast mainline service in more than 30 years – inspired by bullet train technology and kitted out with all the mod cons, they’ll make your journey even more comfortable. Standard comes with an extra 7cm of legroom, as well as more overhead and under-seat storage, space for laptops and practical solutions like coat hooks. Try ‘em out for yourself on your next trip to the capital.