London comes alive in the summer, and when the sun is out, you’ll want to get outdoors and enjoy the sights and sounds. With a trusty bicycle, the whole of the capital is at your disposal.

Photo credit: Dave Pearce (London) Sky Garden (Walkie Talkie) via photopin (license)

Cycling through London’s many parks and green spaces is a pleasurable experience, but the more adventurous garden explorer looks to the roof! London’s roof gardens are a mix of the spectacular and the quirky, but they all offer a perfect way to relax and experience the tranquillity of the garden ambience while enjoying majestic city views. Here are the Best rooftop gardens in London.

The Roof Gardens, Kensington

One hundred feet above Kensington High Street, the Roof Gardens is a spectacular site, spread over 1.5 acres and including three lush, unique gardens: Spanish, Tudor and English. All three gardens are free to enter, although they are occasionally booked for private events, so it’s a good idea to give them a call before you set out.

The Spanish garden is based on the Alhambra in Granada, and the layout and the striking colours, which give a distinctly Moorish flavour, are drawn from an original plan dating from 1938.

The garden is packed with vibrantly coloured flowers and Mediterranean trees, and even in the depths of winter, provides a warm, Spanish feel. If you’re feeling in the mood for something more traditional, the Tudor garden offers a delightful combination of history and tranquillity. It’s designed around a walkway, which leads through red brick arches, and incorporates plants from the Tudor era. It’s a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy your lunch and is well served with umbrellas to keep off any sudden summer storms.

You can also enjoy a stroll through the English Woodland Garden. It’s hard to believe that you can find a woodland ambience just metres from bustling West London, but here you can wander through the maple and mulberry trees, some of which are 75 years old. The Woodland Garden is alive with narcissus, snowdrops, crocuses and bluebells, and the spectacular setting is also home to a range of ducks and the Roof Gardens’ most famous residents: four flamingos! This is, without doubt, the most spectacular roof garden in London.

Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, Lambeth

Every day, tens of thousands of people stroll along the Southbank without realising that one of the capital’s prettiest roof gardens is right above their heads. The roof garden on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall was created and built by the Eden Project and includes an allotment, a fruit orchard, and a bar and café where the weary cyclist can sit and savour a cool drink or a coffee while he or she gazes out over the Thames.

In fact, on a sunny day, you couldn’t find a prettier spot to stop and enjoy a snack or a drink in the whole of south London. The garden itself is a delightful arrangement of flowering plants, including spectacular nasturtiums, and incorporates delicate pergolas festooned with lilacs. For those who appreciate the joys of vegetable gardening, there is a working allotment (the cabbage patch is particularly impressive!), along with a traditional garden shed.

For those who like to explore, you can follow a path that winds to the back of the garden and around a corner and leads you into thickets of birch trees and fruit trees. The roof garden is maintained by a charity that works to promote gardening as a therapy, and the therapeutic effects of a visit to this tranquil spot can also be profound. There’s no better spot to recharge and soothe away the stresses of city life than this Thames-side roof garden.

Japanese-style garden at SOAS, Russell Square

London’s famous School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is situated close to the north-west corner of Russell Square, and it’s there you’ll find the capital’s most distinctive and unusual roof garden. The garden is built on top of the Brunei gallery and incorporates a minimalist design, which pays homage to Japanese culture.

This garden is one of those places that changes character according to the vagaries of the British weather, the time of day and the season, so it’s a spot that repays repeated visits, if you want to get the most out of the experience of sitting in its peaceful landscape.

The layout is a bespoke arrangement, with ideally-positioned stone featuring heavily, and is designed to produce the ideal venue for meditation or thinking time, so is well-suited to a midday break from your cycling exploration of the city. One feature to note is the Kanji character, a Japanese symbol that translates as ‘forgiveness’ that has been carved on the granite water basin, and offers a focus for contemplation.

Although, in keeping with the characteristics of Zen gardening, plants are at a minimum, there is a profusion of lemon thyme, planted in a distinctive, eye-catching chequerboard pattern, and plenty of climbing wisteria, which offer some welcome shade in the heat of a summer’s day. The purple wisteria blooms, which are at their peak towards the end of summer, fill the garden with a splash of colour, adorning the immaculate layout.

As mentioned above, stone is a major feature of this garden. There is a sweeping curve of rectangular sand stone which blends seamlessly with green slate, and the central area, which is decorated with regularly-raked granite chippings, is studded with slabs of basalt rock. This design conjures the impression of a timeless bridge crossing a stream, and dark pebbles offer a striking contrast to the formal granite edging and gentle yellow thyme.

The garden is available for visitors to enjoy as a meditation retreat or a peaceful spot to enjoy a break from the exertion of travel. It also sometimes stages performances based around Japanese culture, including plays and dramas, as well as flower displays and sculpture exhibitions. Wherever you are heading on your cycle trip through London, the Japanese-style garden at the SOAS will provide you with calming Zen tranquillity.

Culpeper Roof Garden, Whitechapel

There are many patches of green in unlikely places all over London, but this roof garden is one of the quirkiest. The Culpeper gastropub on Commercial Street is a popular venue, just a short distance from the heart of the City of London’s skyscrapers, and it’s a great spot to recharge and take on some much-needed sustenance while you’re cycling through the city. The biggest attraction for garden-lovers, however, is the roof garden.

The roof space is used to grow vegetables by the owners of the pub, and all of the fresh produce grown there is featured on the menu. Visitors will find rustic tables and wooden benches laid out among plant pots and borders packed with every kind of vegetable, and decorated with lush, trailing vines. The fragrances of fresh lettuce and tomatoes mingle with the scent of food cooking below to make this the ideal lunch-time retreat.

While enjoying the ambience offered by the profusion of plants, visitors have access to a bar and a wood-fired grill. It can be busy on warm days, but if you can get there early enough, it’s a beautiful hideaway that offers the rustic feel of a working garden, and the perfect spot to enjoy a drink and a snack in the summer sun.

Sky Garden, City of London

Of all the roof gardens to be found in London, the Sky Garden is, without doubt, the grandest. An architectural marvel as well as a horticultural hot spot, the garden can be found at 20 Fenchurch Street, and is a one-of-a-kind public garden that takes in three whole storeys and gives visitors unrivalled 360-degree views right across the City of London.

It was designed to offer both leisure space and to give visitors a chance to enjoy a completely different perspective on the capital. It is, in fact, London’s highest public garden, and visitors are able to enjoy an immaculately-maintained and landscaped garden 155 metres above London, which includes an open-air terrace and observation decks.

The garden itself was created by an award-winning landscape gardening firm. In putting the garden together, the designers chose a number of Mediterranean and South African species, which dominate the packed terraces, and offer a unique backdrop for an English garden. The arrangement is of the same quality you would find in an exclusive private garden with spectacular flowering plants such as African Lily and Bird of Paradise offering colour all year round. Every plant has been selected for its ability to reflect and complement the light that reaches the space through the roof canopy and to stroll through the garden at the height of summer is an indulgent treat.

Entry is free, although spaces are limited, so it’s a good idea to visit the Sky Garden website and book online ahead of your visit. If you’re feeling peckish while you’re enjoying the garden, there are a range of restaurants and bars that provide the kind of spectacular views over the city that you would expect from a London roof garden.
Wherever you are in the capital, there is something to see, so while the weather’s good, get out on your cycle and explore these beautiful roof gardens, which capture London’s eccentric charm and offer the perfect hideaway or lunchtime retreat.

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