From the splintered tip of the Shard to the neon-lit letters of the Oxo Tower to the classical-style dome of St. Paul’s, London’s skyline is a smorgasbord of recognizable landmarks. If you want to experience traditional British pub culture, sipping an ale at a cozy, ground-level watering hole is a good place to start. But why stop there when there are so many fabulous elevated establishments where every drink comes with a view of London’s old-meets-modern cityscape?
For front-row views of St. Paul’s, head for Madison. Located on the top level of One New Change shopping complex in the City of London, this rooftop bar attracts a suited worker-heavy crowd as well as the odd celebrity. While you can order snacks as well as full-blown dinner plates, it’s also possible just to grab a quick drink here. With beers going for between £5 and £6, and cocktails averaging around £11 and £12, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If your budget won’t stretch to a drink, you can still get the elevator up to the One New Change public roof terrace and enjoy up-close views of St. Paul’s without paying a penny.
Heron Tower: Sushisamba and Duck and Waffle
Also in the City are Sushisamba and Duck and Waffle, which occupy the 38th and 40th floor respectively of the 46-story Heron Tower. Both venues are, technically speaking, restaurants: Sushisamba specializes in Peruvian-Japanese-Brazilian fusion food, while Duck and Waffle serves sustainably sourced British-style grub. But even if you don’t plan on dining, don’t let that deter you; both have bar areas for punters who just want to drink.
Sushisamba and Duck and Waffle are popular so if you want to get a seat at their no-reservations bars, you’ll have to be strategic. Avoid busy weekend nights and ensure your party is small – you’re much more likely to get a table for two than for a big group, for instance. You’ll want to dress for the occasion too; flip flops and gym shoes will see you turned away at the door.
Drinks aren’t exactly cheap, but sky-high bars rarely have rock-bottom prices. And considering Heron Tower’s placement smack bang in the middle of the City of London, there are more than enough high-earners willing to flash their cash here. In any case, the prices are justified by the dizzying views, arguably the best in the city. The window seats here are literally within stone’s throw of the Gherkin.
The South Bank
Hop over the River Thames to the South Bank for more rooftop drinking opportunities. There are excellent cocktails from London’s mixology master of the moment, Ryan Chetiyawardana, to be enjoyed in the Rumpus Room, a greenhouse-style glassy box of a bar located on the 12th floor of the Mondrian Hotel. The dress code here is smart casual and cocktails average around £12 or £13 a pop.
If you want somewhere with a slightly more verdant feel, try the nearby Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Bar and Café on top of the Southbank Centre. Here, patrons sip sundowners and bite into sandwiches and snacks amid an allotment-style garden of grass, blooming flowers, bushes, trees and sprouting thickets. The bar overlooks the London Eye and views extend across the River Thames.
To experience London’s views in a more low-key, locals’ environment, take the Overground line south to the trendy neighborhood of Peckham. Here, you’ll find Frank’s Café, a favorite nice-weather hangout for Londoners, perched atop a 10-story car park. Because of its distance from the city proper, it offers a fabulous silhouetted sunset vision of the London skyline, with the Shard, the London Eye and the Gherkin all visible. Summery cocktails, beer and wine are all reasonably priced. It’s open only during the warmer months and is all outside, which means there is nowhere to run should the weather take a turn. Hence, it’s worth double checking the forecast before making the journey out here!
If you are more the pub type, try our London pub food and ale tour, or check out a full range of our London tours to experience Britain’s capital to its fullest.