When I set foot in a new locale, one of the first steps I take is up—as high as I can go. After years of traveling to new places every few weeks, I’ve learned that a panoramic perch is the best way to survey the cityscape and get a sense of where everything is. Plus, seeing a major metro from above gives me a mental map of my surroundings when my feet are back on the ground.
The only downside to most viewpoint attractions is that they are often pricey and packed, which is why one of my all-time favorite travel hacks is searching for a bird’s-eye beverage.
For the same cost (or less) and fewer crowds, rooftop bars allow you to “drink in” a destination and turn sightseeing into an occasion. Leave your backpack, camera bag, and sensible walking shoes at the hotel—you’ll want to dress up for this.
From Bangkok to Bali and Sydney to New York City, we’ve gathered eight sky-high excuses for exploring the local scene in your heels or loafers.
After all, is there anything better than a tipple at the top o’ the town? Bottoms up!
With a glowing bar that changes color like a Hypercolor T-shirt and a bang-up view of Bangkok, Sky Bar at Lebua at State Tower takes bird’s-eye beverages to new heights. Standing 820 feet above street level on the 63rd floor, the always busy perch made famous by The Hangover Part II movie is well worth the cost of its US$17 drinks. Since you’ll be consuming at cloud level, dress up for the occasion—lebua at State Tower is vigilant about its dress code—but don’t spend too much time on your hair because imbibing at one of the tallest bars in the world means the windblown look is where it’s at.
Perfectly positioned for view-finding over Darling Harbour, Blu Bar on 36—the floor, that is—in the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney, is “the” destination for lofty libations. Low-lit in cool hues to highlight the bright lights below, the posh perch’s floor-to-ceiling observation windows ensure not one of Sydney’s famed sights goes unnoticed. Pull up a bar stool at dusk to toast your trip while the sun swathes Sydney in the day’s most radiant light.
Bali’s bar-with-a-view game is straight up, thanks to thirsty tourists who storm the island’s sugary shores year-round. For a no-fuss approach to imbibing, don your bathing suit, find a spot under the umbrellas lining Seminyak Beach, and order a Bintang brew. A casual beer on the beach is perfect during the day, but nightfall calls for a classy cocktail at MoonLite Kitchen and Bar at Anantara Seminyak Bali Resort, where standing with a sweet-and-spicy Thai toddy over the Indian Ocean will make every future sip pale in comparison.
The basic assumption with rooftop bars is you’ll be up high looking down. Reflections in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia flips this notion on its head. Nestled into a lantern-lit and teak-furnished courtyard on the fourth floor, Reflections has you look up at the cityscape. If the notion of “Canada” and “outdoor bar” have you confused, know this: Vancouver is one of the mildest cities in the northern country, and an army of heaters plus a central fire pit ensure the only thing that’s cool is the drinks.
During the summer months, New York boasts a bevy of rooftop bars, but come winter, many close shop. Not The Skylark. Complete with a multi-level design blending a heated patio and an indoor bar fit for Don Draper, this midtown drinkery is a must for the mixology alone. (We’re looking at you, Pisco Yuzu Aperitif, with your transcontinental mix of pisco, lillet, and yuzu juice.) Add in an ultra New York view of the Empire State Building as well as a savory mac-and-cheese cupcake, and your rooftop experience just got a lift.
Sin City is taking highballs to new heights. Enter the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel with a Vegas twist: You can sip while you sightsee 550 feet above the Strip. Plan ahead and buy a “Happy Half Hour” ticket, and it’s all you can drink during the glass-enclosed capsule’s 30-minute revolution.
For a celestial view of the City of Angels, head “Upstairs,” the cheeky name of the bar in the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles. Hanging at the top of a 1927-built tower, the hot spot’s Hollywood-heyday cocktail list hints at its history, while the indoor-outdoor space is a study in the latest urban design trends: concrete floors, wood-slab tables, and white leather chairs. For an ever-changing vibe, check out the nightly reel of events ranging from pop-up shops to local bands.
Ahoy! What about a rooftop bar at sea? Perched on deck 13 of Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream, the aptly named Currents is where the crow’s nest and cocktails come together in breezy bliss. Positioned above the misted adult pool, the sexy 10-seat bar hugs the ship’s contours and offers a sleek peek of the Caribbean Sea.