London life is hectic. Whether you’re rushing on and off the tube to make meetings, trying to navigate the clogged up streets with a buggy or attempting to find pavement space to go for a jog – things are busy. Especially on ground level. Look up though, and it’s a different story. London’s rooftops are increasingly being used as sky-high escape zones, where you can do everything from take a yoga lesson to go for a swim.
Julia Scodie, founder of Exercise in the City, found that her pilates sessions on the rooftop of Coq D’Argent were a huge hit with stressed out London workers.
“I think the location makes people more mindful during the class; you're taking in a great view, there’s the feeling of the sun on your face and a breeze on your skin. You may be less likely to think about work or other stresses, so it’s great for your mental health as well as the physical side of things.”
There are plenty more rooftop-bound exercise classes across the city, including sunrise yoga classes, 36 floors up in London’s highest public garden, Sky Garden on Fenchurch Street. After the class, pupils can wander through tree ferns and fig trees, admiring exotic Mediterranean and South African plants and flowers as they go. Meanwhile, London Rooftop Gym in Shoreditch is home to Gauri Chopra and her team of personal trainers and instructors. Workout in the gym, with its squat rack and cables or book onto a rooftop bootcamp; both come with sweeping views over London.
Not far away, White Collar Factory, next to Old Street roundabout, has opened a 150m rooftop running track on the 16th floor. With extended cladding to protect runners from wind and rain, the two-lane track is currently open to all workers in the building. Google’s HQ in King’s Cross will be next to open a rooftop running track for employees, not to mention sky-high basketball courts and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Of course, escaping London’s hectic streets doesn’t have to involve working up a sweat, and there are plenty of options for those who are just looking for some peaceful downtime a few floors up. Take the Islamic Gardens, which opened last year at the Aga Khan Centre in Kings Cross. Here, a series of beautifully ornate terraces, courtyards and gardens are open to the public, each inspired by Islamic architectural style and culture. The Garden of Life, for example, is inspired by the great gardens of the Mughal Empire, while the Garden of Light is influenced by the Islamic courtyards of Andalusia, with patterned screens and inscribed marble.
Fen Court, meanwhile, opened earlier this year, atop an office block in the City. Unlike many rooftops in the City, this one is open to the public, meaning harried office workers (or anyone else for that matter) can zoom up with a sandwich in their lunch break. As well as 360-degree views over London, including close-ups of the Walkie Talkie and The Shard, visitors can admire water features, gorgeous wildflowers and wisteria, 15 storeys up. There are rumours of a rooftop restaurant arriving soon, but for now, this is the perfect place to relax and unwind when London life is feeling like a grind.
Considering the UK climate, it’s a wonder that rooftop pools are so coveted – springing up in every swanky hotel worth its salt across the city. And the pool to outdo all pools is on the way. An open-air lido on top of a 55m skyscraper is in planning stages, but it will feature an infinity edge from every angle as well as a transparent floor, allowing swimmers to see right down into the building.
Of course, if all else fails – there are worse ways to relax than by heading skyward for a cocktail and London delivers in spades on this front. A new rooftop bar seems to open every week in the capital, but sometimes, it’s best to stick with what you know. The Oxo Tower has been around forever, but with views over the Thames and some of the best cocktails in the business, it’s still one of the best.