Create a roof terrace: great ideas and inspiration

You can create an inviting roof terrace using outdoor furniture, plants and wooden planks – like the roof garden at the Ruby Marie Hotel in Vienna, for example.
Green oases of calm high above the hustle and bustle of the city – roof terraces are coveted retreats from everyday life, and not just in big cities. © Ruby Marie Hotel

Roof terraces and rooftop gardens started off as an outdoor trend, and it looks like they are here to stay. But what are they really like and how can you create your own inviting one? We've looked around some of the most beautiful roof gardens all over the world, where you can really relax in style, and have found a great deal of ideas and inspiration.

Why are roof terraces so popular at the moment?

The answer is quite simple: we don't have much space in our cities. Living space and usable space are at a premium. Just think of how much it costs to buy a plot of land for a new build in a city or even in rural areas. So whoever has a little bit of space at their disposal needs to think carefully about what they can do with it. The solution is to look upwards.

Hoteliers, restaurant owners and property developers in international metropolises like New York, Tokyo and Paris have already discovered the potential of rooftops. Rooftop bars, restaurants and hotels with large roof terraces and even public roof gardens have cropped up like skyscrapers all over Manhattan. The benefit of roof terraces is that they often give you a beautiful view of the city, are generally much larger than balconies and offer a lot of space for you to add your own personal touch.

Spectacular roof terraces that don't cost the earth

You can find impressive roof terraces in many cities. The best thing about them is that you don't have to own one to enjoy a bit of time to yourself on top of the world. Here are our secret recommendations of the best roof gardens:

  • Berlin in the evening: the expansive green roof terrace of the Bikini Berlin building complex glows in the warm light.
    Many department stores have their own roof terraces which are open to the public. For example, the roof garden at the Bikini Berlin shopping centre offers stunning views of the apes at Berlin Zoo – free of charge. © Bikini Berlin
  • You can create a roof terrace like the one at the Hiltl vegetarian restaurant in Zurich using potted plants and grouped seating areas.
    Many restaurants have a stylish roof terrace, including the Hiltl vegetarian restaurant in Zurich. Its green oasis features potted plants that are arranged to create cosy corners for sitting and relaxing. © Hiltl
  • Above Berlin's rooftops is a luxurious roof terrace featuring gravel flooring and an in-ground pool, with a view of the TV tower.
    Perfect for city breaks: the Airbnb accommodation run by Bernhard in Berlin is a hidden gem. The loft apartment has a rooftop pool and a great view of the TV tower.

Here's how you can create your own inviting roof terrace:

A brightly coloured roof terrace sits above the rooftops of a housing estate in a large city.
Hidden treasures: many of our cities have roof terraces. © istock

If you're lucky enough to have a roof terrace, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Roof terraces tend to be bigger than regular balconies (around 20 to 30 square metres) and so to ensure that your terrace looks cosy, you need to think about the structure and ambience when designing it.

Give your roof terrace a clear structure:

To ensure your spacious roof terrace looks welcoming, it's best to divide it up into several areas. For example, you could have one space for barbecues and parties, one lounge area for relaxing in, a herb garden and a children's corner. This is how you can structure your roof terrace:

  • Arrange your potted plants in groups, with some in the middle of the terrace, to create lush little areas.
  • Group together pieces of outdoor furniture and don't place them in the corners of the terrace. Is your furniture made of wood? Here are our tips on how to care for wood.
  • Outdoor rugs create more variety and also make the terrace look more structured. ·
  • Having different light sources on the roof terrace creates little islands of light.
  • Don't forget about sun protection: an awning or a parasol won't just provide shade, it will also make your roof terrace look neater.
  • A privacy screen will enable you to hide away from prying eyes.
  • If possible, use different types of flooring. This will help to give your roof terrace a more structured look.
A cosy corner with Moroccan-style daybeds made from natural materials is the ideal place to spend some time relaxing.
A combination of natural materials (such as wood, linen and reeds) and hardy potted plants can create a pleasant atmosphere on a roof terrace. © istock

Give your roof terrace some ambience:

A large roof terrace can sometimes look dull or sparse. The exposed location means that designing a roof terrace isn't always easy. This is how you can create more ambience


  • Having many different light sources such as permanent outdoor lights, lanterns, garlands or even a fireplace can give your roof terrace a unique charm. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to create beautiful hanging lights.
  • Items such as outdoor rugs, cushions or throws can make your roof terrace really cosy. If you like, you can choose ones in your favourite colours.
  • Green water jars, small water features or even a little water fountain add an inimitable charm, enhancing the look of your roof terrace and creating a pleasant ambient noise.
  • Plants turn a roof terrace into what it's meant to be: a relaxing haven. Wind and sun-resistant plants such as grass, shrubs, lavender, boxwood, herbs and even cherry laurel are ideal for this environment. Take a look at our step-by-step guide to planting a herb garden.

And here's one final tip: if you only have a small area available on your roof terrace, you can plant upwards. Here's our guide, to setting up a vertical garden made of rain gutters.