The best rooftop bars in London, from cocktail spots to perfect pubs

David Ellis, Ailis Brennan
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The best rooftop bars in London, from cocktail spots to perfect pubs

The sun’s rays are bestowing London with their glow once again – it’s been a while, so we don’t blame the population for wanting to get a few storeys closer to them.

Lazy rooftop days are just what summer ordered, and having a cold beer or spritz in hand only improves an already enviable set up.

All over the capital, London bars are opening up their higher echelons to the sun-seeking masses, offering splendid spots to catch some post-work or weekend warmth.

From luxurious cocktail spots to practically perfect pubs, these are the rooftop bars you need to sun yourself on in London.

Central London

Green machine: Coq D'Argent in the City

The city always keeps things stylish and Selfridges' roof deck is a haven of chic Italian cool, thanks to the San Carlo restaurant group's Alto – go for sea bass and spritz. The Aviary rooftop in Finsbury Square has gorgeous views and is built for dates, while the Radio Rooftop bar is popular year-round for drinking and dancing to Ibiza-style DJs. Twelve storeys up at the Tower of London DoubleTree Hilton, Savage Garden boasts a gin terrace and, in case the weather changes its mind, a retractable roof. Outside at French city favourite Coq D’Argent, the terrace is firing up its grill for another season – order a bottle of Chablis and settle in. Just along the road is another D&D spot, Madison, which looks out over St Paul's. Despite officious doormen by the lifts downstairs, the place is not as up itself as might be expected: wine is reasonable and everyone’s in for a good time. For something simpler, try Fitzrovia pub the Prince of Wales Feathers. The rooftop is practically a secret; perfect for an undisturbed pint in the sun.

There are fabulous views whichever way you look from the rooftop of the Trafalgar St. James; either stare out over Nelson's Column and the National Portrait Gallery or turn the other way for the London Eye and riverside icons. The refurbishment did wonders here; not only does the place hum with the sort of vibe that practically demands a second bottle of white be ordered, the menu has been done over too. Cocktails are the light, summery kind, all fruit and ice, but the classics are perfect for something stronger – negronis are rightly boozy, a Sidecar suitably refreshing (and brandy in the sun is a glorious, woozy-making thing) but the winner is the Tommy's Margarita, which should be ordered by the dozen. Soak them up with sharing plates; bao buns, crispy broccoli and topped flatbreads are among the selection.

North London

A fine boozer: The Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park

Where there’s no room for gardens, landlords have gone up on the roof. The Lock Tavern in Camden looks out over the Stables; it’s not the prettiest but its always lively. Down in King’s Cross, the Driver’s covered rooftop is more for fresh air than catching a tan, but sunseekers should go to the Big Chill nearby, whose brightly coloured top has a bar on the roof and DJs, too. Further up, pop in to legendary boozer the Faltering Fullback.

East London

Upmarket pub: The Culpeper in Spitalfields

City types will indulge 39 stories up with cocktails at Sushisamba, but the party is really getting going at the Queen of Hoxton, which this year is inspired by the colourful Mexican town of San Cristóbal. Stratford’s Roof East is also taking entertainment to the top with crazy golf, batting cages and street food stalls. The Dalston Roof Park is set for another season of DJs, parties and pints in the sun. Despite all appearances, Golden Bee is not in fact a strip club and the rooftop bar runs a happy hour Tuesdays through Thursdays, 5pm - 7pm. Check ahead, though, as it’s sometimes fully booked out for private events. Bird of Smithfield is the place for decent eats, as is the rooftop bar and grill at the Boundary, which is covered in case of showers. Those just after a pub should try the upmarket Culpeper or the Red Lion in Hoxton, and the Fox on Kingsland Road has a sweet terrace that’s a suntrap.

South London

Spectacular sunsets: Frank's Cafe in Peckham

If car parks are your bag, head up to Frank’s Cafe in Peckham. It’s basic, but catching a sunset here explains why it’s constantly busy. Nearby is the Bussey Rooftop Bar, which offers 360-degree views to drink down alongside the icy cocktails. Brixton’s double tiered Prince of Wales roof garden is a must, but if it’s too busy, head back down inside for some live music. Bar Elba in Waterloo is bright and drinks come by the jug, but for elegance looking out over the river, try 12th Knot at Sea Containers, which was formerly Rumpus Room. More chilled is the Queen Elizabeth hall roof garden, which hums along merrily beside the river.

West London

Floral fun: Pergola on the Roof in Paddington

Paddington’s Pergola on the Roof has returned this year; head over for the food, which includes the likes of Smash Patty by Patty & Bun, Babek Brothers, Honi Poke and An Choi. Meanwhile, sibling site Pergola Olympia will continue the year-round fun in its enclosed but generously windowed spot on top of the exhibition centre. In Marylebone, Alfie’s Antique Market has a little known rooftop kitchen offering brunch, lunch and afternoon tea – one for when you’re taking it easy. Chin chin.