What do you do on an average Saturday afternoon with friends? Well my flatmate and I decided to hit up as many rooftop bars in London, as ‘research’ ahead of the Summer properly starting. Here are my top tips for where to head for rooftop bars in central London.
London rooftop bar crawl
We started off in Trafalgar Square after brunch at the National Gallery Cafe.
So it made sense to check out the nearest rooftop and luckily there is one overlooking Trafalgar Square. Here’s our planned route to hit up 5 rooftop bars in London:
Our first stop was the Trafalgar St James hotel. When you head into the hotel reception make sure to register at the desk next to the Rooftop sign. If you are a hotel guest then they keep back tables for you, otherwise you’ll need a reservation or to turn up early like we did.
Why drink at The Rooftop St James?
For the views! Overlooking Trafalgar Square on one side and Parliament on the other, they are really quite stunning.
What to drink?
Here Laura went for a a champagne cocktail with Bulleit bourbon, Manuka tea syrup and apple. I stuck to my favourite cocktail – the negroni. This one was a white negroni with Sipsmith’s VJOP, Cocchi, Mondino Amaro, grapefruit bitters and woodsmoke (apparently – it wasn’t that smokey). When Becki joined us she chose a spiced espresso martini.
Walking along the Strand from Trafalgar Square, dodge the tourists and escape into the luxury of the ME hotel. Walk through the reception right to the back, past the ground floor bar and turn left to find the elevators. The final lift on the left allows you to access the rooftop level without a key card (otherwise you need to be a hotel guest with a key card to operate the lifts).
Why drink at Radio Rooftop?
To people watch! We were fascinated by all the different people that came up to this bar. Again as a hotel bar they keep back tables for hotel guests, but this place books up quickly and everyone wants a coveted outside table when the sun comes out. I’d definitely recommend booking if you are in a big group, you want to eat or are hankering for a particular table.
There are some decent views of the river if you can get a spot out on the right side of the balcony, but it seems people come here more for the vibe. It definitely has an Ibizan feel!
Getting into the vibe
What to drink?
Everyone else seemed to be hitting up the Aperol Spritz – I think this is their signature spritz. We also saw people drinking fizz, however we hit up a selection of their summer cocktails.
It’s a bit of a trek down to the river and along to Sea Containers House. We walked along the North side of the river and crossed over Blackfriars Bridge to avoid the tourist groups. When you get to Sea Containers House you need to go into the hotel and walk to the reception at the back. There is a special lift to 12th Knot tucked in the corner.
Why drink at 12th Knot?
We were warmly welcomed at the entrance and they quickly found us a table at the window (inside, but floor to ceiling windows ensure a great view). Whilst we had a time limit on how long we could use the table, it was a generous 1.5 hours – perfect for our bar crawl! At this time the sky was clouding over, despite it still being warm out. So we didn’t want to tempt fate and try for the balcony seats despite the views across to St Paul’s.
What to drink?
We were really wowed by our drinks! Becki ordered a Milky Whey Colada, which surprised us all being completely clear. It was so clever how they used a milk wash to clarify the drink and still keep the flavours of a pina colada.
I stuck with my ‘bitter’ choice with a rum and vermouth cocktail, topped with a coffee foam. It worked really well as a variation on a classic aperitivo drink.
Confession time… This is where the London rooftop bar crawl actually ended. I had to go and get changed to meet someone else and so Laura and Becki didn’t actually make it to Madison. (Although we had discussed it and could almost see it from 12th Knot!). So here are some bonus suggestions to complete your rooftop bar crawl in London, based on previous experiences:
Across the river right by St Paul’s Cathedral, Madison is at the top of the One New Change shopping centre. Walk through the ground floor of the shopping centre to find the special lift to access Madison. Be warned that there may be a queue to go up! Again, whilst you can turn up, there is no guaranteed access unless you have a booking or are super early.
Why drink at Madison?
That view of St Paul’s Cathedral! Because of the view this place attracts a lot of tourists, as well as city types during the week.
The lift up to Madison rooftop
What to drink?
Here it feels most appropriate to raise a glass of Champagne in the direction of St Paul’s, but their wine is also good.
To access the Sky Garden you do need to book a time slot – so it’s not a turn up and access thing. This is due to the security and crowd management in the building (think airport style scans before you get in the lift). You exit at the 35th floor and the garden is spread out over several floors and wraps 360 degrees around the restaurant and brassiere. You don’t need to book at the restaurants to drink though – there is a bar as you enter in front of the balcony area.
Why drink at Sky Garden?
An alternative view across the river – you can see the Shard, Tower Bridge, and Canary Wharf to name a few views. It’s also lovely to be drinking in a garden, but 35 floors above the rest of London with 360 degree views.
What to drink?
Definitely try out the cocktails here!
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So which rooftop bar(s) are you going to be hitting up on your next trip to London? Let me know in the comments below:
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