From the classic elegance of Big Ben to the gleaming, ultra-modern Shard, London’s skyline is pretty extraordinary.
And where better to admire sweeping views of London skies that dining, high above the city?
The British capital takes the concept of “haute cuisine” to searing heights.
From the global pop-up dining experience Dinner in the Sky, that straps groups of diners around a table and hoists them 100 feet up in the air by crane, to watching the sun rise over Duck and Waffle, these are the best – and most thrilling – “uppity” eateries in London when you travel to the British metropolis:
Helix and Iris, Searcys at the Gherkin
Helix Restaurant and Iris Bar, on levels 39 and 40 of the Norman Foster-designed Gherkin building – a much-loved star of the London skyline – opened to the public for the first time in July 2018, having previously only been available for exclusive hire and private events.
Helix’s executive chef Daniel Loftin is behind a menu featuring seasonal British produce such as Dorset crab, Rhug Estate Welsh lamb and English green asparagus.
Iris Bar, which offers spectacular 360-degree views over the City, has a London-inspired cocktail list, including the Jack the Ripper – with Mediterranean herbs vodka, beet juice, tomato, lemon and Worcester sauce – a dark local twist on the Bloody Mary.
It’s a swanky affair with prices to boot, but worthwhile for a special occasion.
Where to find it: Searcys at the Gherkin, 30 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A 8EP
Frank’s Cafe, Bold Tendencies
Head south of the river to Frank’s Cafe, an annual summer-only bar in Bold Tendencies, a parking-garage-turned-art-center in the city’s Peckham neighborhood.
A car park might not sound like the most glamorous of hang-outs, but just wait til you see the view from the top. The advantage of being a bit further from the center means this panoramic view takes in every London landmark from the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral and the 02 Arena in the East.
The vibe’s more casual than some of the spots on this list – a glass of house wine sells for £4.80 or upgrade to a cocktail for £8.50 – and you’ll be surrounded by crowds of millennial Londoners enjoying the sunset.
The food is simple and low-key – think barbeque pork neck and slaw or a half chicken to soak up the alcohol. There are plenty of vegan options too.
You can also head to Frank’s during the weekend for a delicious, low-key and tasty al fresco brunch with a view.
Oh, and even getting to the top is part of the experience. You’ll probably recognize the building’s hot pink staircase from many a London-based Instagram – it’s not a trip to Frank’s without snapping a pic of your own.
Where to find it: Bold Tendencies, 7th-10th Floor Multi Storey Car Park, 95A Rye Ln, London SE15 4ST
Oblix at the Shard
The Shard is home to several fancy eateries, but Oblix is the original and the most elevated, situated on the 32nd floor of the glass skyscraper. It’s actually split across two different spaces, both offering some pretty incredible views across London.
Oblix West is the restaurant – with a New York-inspired rotisserie theme featuring British and European produce – a departure for founder Rainer Becker, whose other restaurants, Zuma, Roka and Inko Nito, are Japanese-themed.
If you go during the day, you can enjoy a traditional Afternoon Tea, while Sunday afternoon is time for a British sunday roast.
Oblix East offers panoramas of the city’s Canary Wharf and skyscrapers, alongside some creative cocktail inventions.
Oblix diners are treated to panoramic views of the cityscape – staggering at sunset, but eminently Instagrammable all day long.
This is another upmarket affair, but visiting the Shard is on most people’s London bucket list, and you may as well pay £14 ($17) for a cocktail in the bar with a view, rather than forking out the £25 ($30) for the official “View from the Shard.”
Where to find it: Oblix, 32/F, The Shard, 31 St. Thomas St., London SE1 9RY
Duck and Waffle
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not treat yourself to waffles amongst the clouds? Duck and Waffle is located on the 40th floor of 110 Bishopsgate (Heron Tower) and even in London fog its impressive.
The Heron Tower also hosts the London outpost of Japanese-Peruvian-Brazilian restaurant Sushisamba, but we recommend Duck and Waffle for the eponymous signature dish.
The restaurant is open 24/7, and you can get delicious breakfast bites all day. The duck and waffle will cost you £18 ($22), but two eggs any style comes in at £8 ($10) – comparable to many less glamorous brunch spots in the capital.
The crowd encompasses everyone from city slickers having important meetings, fellow tourists snapping pics and foodies ready to indulge in waffley delights.
Where to find it: 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AY
Galvin at Windows
Holding fort in upper-crust Mayfair is Galvin at Windows, the Michelin-starred French restaurant on the 28th floor of the Hilton Park Lane Hotel. Known for its sterling service, the restaurant also supports the charity Galvin’s Chance, which helps disadvantaged young people get into hospitality.
More classical in style than some of the city’s newer high-rise eateries, visitors are still treated to stunning aerial views of London’s Hyde Park.
Plus, in early September 2019, the restaurant rebranded and overhauled their bar, which is now called 10° at Galvin at Windows. The bar takes its name from “golden hour,” the period just before sunset or just after sunrise, where the sky is illuminated in pink and gold, so the interior follows suit – think gold accents and warm furnishings.
Appropriately enough, there’s also a cocktail called Golden Hour, a decadent gin and champagne concoction.
Where to find it: Galvin at Windows, 28/F, 22 Park Lane, London W1K 1BE
London in the Sky
A summer-only (and only for the brave) experience, London in the Sky whisks 22 brave souls 100 feet in the air to enjoy food and drink among the clouds, with unparalleled views.
You can sign up for 45 minute breakfast or Prosecco and cake – or dinner, which lasts an hour.
The 2019 season’s come to an end, but you can already book ahead for a 2020 sky-high extravanganza.
Tickets start at £59 ($72) per person.
Where to find it: Look up, or check out: www.londoninthesky.co.uk
OXO Tower Restaurant
The iconic rooftop OXO restaurant has been wowing restaurant-goers since 1996, operated by chic British department store stalwart Harvey Nichols.
As one of London’s older rooftop restaurants, OXO is at a much lower altitude than its City counterparts. Don’t let that put you off – this lower vantage point allows diners to watch the boats drift by on the Thames and enjoy a stunning view of St Paul’s Cathedral – and is more palatable for those with a fear of heights.
There’s an outdoor terrace, but the views from inside are equally beautiful.
Why not try OXO’s “Not Afternoon Tea,” a scone-free affair in which Champagne is traded for cocktails, and desserts are modeled after ice cream vans. For purists, there is also a more traditional afternoon tea and a vegan edition.
Alternatively, it’s the perfect spot to indulge in brunch and while away your Sunday morning, looking out over the Thames.
Where to find it: Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH
Madison Terrace Bar & Lounge
Another hangout for city bankers, it’s worth swinging by Madison to admire it’s up-close-and-personal view of St Paul’s Cathedral.
This architectural marvel’s been a staple of the London skyline for hundreds of years. From Madison’s swish sky-high setting, you get an incredible look at Sir Christopher Wren’s design.
You wouldn’t expect this view from the top of a shopping center, but it’s pretty impressive.
Enjoy a characuterie board or truffle fries as you drink on the terrace, or head into the restaurant for views and Manhattan-inspired food, including fillet steak and lobster roll.
Where to find it: One New Change, Rooftop Terrace One, New Change, London EC4M 9AF
Head to the “Walkie Talkie” skyscraper (AKA 20 Fenchurch Street) to enjoy a landscaped indoor garden known as the Sky Garden, wide observation desks and state-of-the art restaurants and bars.
Fenchurch Rooftop Restaurant serves “British contemporary” food and stylish cocktails. It’s the perfect place to sit and admire the city below.
The Sky Garden is also well worth wandering around: its lush greenery forming a striking contrast with the concrete jungle glimpsed through the windows. A visit to the Garden is free, you just need to book online in advance. The building is also home to the Darwin Brasserie and the Sky Pod Bar.
Where to find it: Sky Garden, 1 Sky Garden Walk, London EC3M 8AF
The Rooftop at Boundary London
For year-round rooftop dining, head to the hipster hotbed of Shoreditch, East London. The Rooftop at Boundary rewards visitors with vistas of East London and a heated orangery filled with citrus trees.
Cozy and inviting even in winter, the heated roof offers 360-degree views of the City skyscrapers and East London’s skyline. Food is served sizzling from the Robata Grill and cocktails are available into the early hours of the morning.
Where to find it: 2-4 Boundary Street, Shoreditch, London E2 7DD
alto by San Carlo at Selfridges
On the rooftop of fancy department store Selfridges, alto by San Carlo is an Italian spot with a retractable roof for when the sun shines.
Lunch and dinner can be enjoyed from this vantage point. There are no views of the city’s skyscrapers or the river, but you can survey London’s Oxford Street – Europe’s busiest shopping street – over burrata, which is a pretty dreamy set up.
Originally launched as a pop-up, alto by San Carlo is now a permanent fixture on Selfridges’ roof.
Where to find it: Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB
Aqua Nueva/Aqua Kyoto
Aqua Nueva delivers stunning Spanish food. Aqua Kyoto serves up Japanese-infused meals. Whichever side of the venue you opt for, you’ve got to check out the terraces.
There’s three in total, although occasionally one of them might be booked for a private event.
The Art Deco-style interiors offer intimate dining, but the rooftop exteriors are where it’s at. In the evening, Regent Street’s shops – including iconic Tudor-revival department store Liberty’s – are illuminated and diners can spot the London Eye in the distance.
Somewhere between a trendy evening hotspot and a fine-dining restaurant, this bar is as perfect for after-work summer cocktails as it is for a luxury evening meal.
Expect to see Soho media types kicking back with a post-work glass of rosé.
Where to find it: 5th floor, 240 Regent Street (Entrance 30 Argyll Street), London W1B 3BR
Coq d’Argent promises classic French food in a contemporary, rooftop setting. The rooftop comes complete with a lawn, hedges and spectacular views of London’s eastern cluster of skyscrapers.
The high-quality menu includes baked lobster and Australian sirloin steak. But beware, you’ll be surrounded by suits as this is bankers’ territory.
Where to find it: No. 1 Poultry, London EC2R 8EJ
Radio rooftop bar
A swish bar designed by legendary UK architectural firm Foster + Partners, Radio serves weekend brunch, a modern spin on afternoon tea, sharing plates, lunch and signature cocktails. Located in the five-star ME Hotel and overlooking the Strand and London’s theater district, visitors can peer at the hustle and bustle of the streets below or look out towards the river Thames.
Just watch out for the sky high prices and the Instagram influencers vying for the perfect pic.
Where to find it: ME London, 336-337 Strand, London WC2R 1HA
The Rooftop at Trafalgar St James
No visit to London is complete without a sojourn to Trafalgar Square, so once you’ve admired the view of Nelson’s Column from below, why not take a trip to the top of the Trafalgar Hotel to the elegant Rooftop at St James bar, for a more up close view of Admiral Nelson?
Like many London rooftop bars, cocktails lean towards the pricey end of the spectrum. Still, you can enjoy the view all year round here, as there’s a handy retractable roof.
The menu is Italian-influenced, serving aperitivo including tomato, oregano and garlic bruschetta and calamari and mains that include fancy focaccias.
The bar also offers a three-course bottomless brunch that, food-wise, sounds more like a lunch. It features freeflowing prosecco and mains that include fish and chips and pea risotto for £45 ($55).
Where to find it: 7th floor, The Trafalgar St. James Hotel, 2 Spring Gardens, St James’s, London SW1A 2TS
Qin Xie is a London-based freelance journalist and trained chef.
Francesca Street is a London-based journalist at CNN Travel.
This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017 and again in 2018 and 2019.