The best rooftop bars in London for the summer

David Ellis

Not long back, Londoners were layering up against the cold as the Beast from the East came back for another sniff. What a few weeks can do; now it’s a race to the top as everyone vies to head up for cocktails that little closer to the sun.

Grand central

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 it’s 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; sea bream tartare, crispy broccoli and charred lamb chops are a must.

Oop north

Where there’s no room for gardens, landlords have gone up on the roof. The Lock Tavern in Camden and its Brazilian neighbour Boteco both look 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 House nearby, whose brightly coloured top has a bar on the roof and DJs, too. Further up, pop in to legendary boozer the Faltering Fullback.

Eastern promise

City types will indulge 39 stories up with cocktails at SUSHISAMBA, but the party is really getting going from May 3 at the Queen of Hoxton, which this year is a Vegas-style playground. On the same day, Stratford’s Roof East fires into life with a rooftop cinema, crazy golf and a roller disco. The Dalston Roof Park is set for another season of DJs, parties and pints in the sun. In Old Street, the Magic Roundabout is hosting rooftop parties all summer long, with DJs, cocktails and games galore. Around the corner is Golden Bee. Despite all appearances, it’s 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 Boundary bar and grill, which is covered in case of showers. Those just after a pub should try the upmarket Culpeper or the Red Lion in Hoxton, and despite the hideous proclamation that “Rather than a pub, the Fox operates more like a craft beer market”, the Fox on Kingsland Road has a sweet terrace that’s a suntrap.

Southern comfort

If carpark are your bag, head up to Frank’s in Peckham. It’s basic, but catching a sunset here explains why it’s constantly busy. Nearby is the Bussey Rooftop Bar, open May 3, 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 the Rumpus Room on the Southbank. More chilled the Queen Elizabeth hall roof garden, which hums along merrily beside the river – of which, Tom’s Kitchen at HMS Belfast is one of the best waterside spots for supper.

Go west

Next week Paddington’s Pergola on the Roof opens its doors; head over for the food, which includes the likes of Patty & Bun, DF Mexico, Canard and MAM. 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.