It has become a bit of a tradition of mine that when traveling with my husband — and, come to think of it, even when traveling on my own — to search out decent rooftop bars, preferably good champagne bars to boot. I simply love a good roof terrace for the views and for the atmosphere and find that sitting above a city’s rooftops gives you not only a unique aspect of that city, but also a romance that cannot be beaten.
Having been to Rome recently, I was spoiled for choice, with many rooftop terraces offering quite unique reasons to love them. A disclaimer first: These are just some of my personal favorites, a tiny slice of the many gorgeous bars with rooftop settings you can find in Rome. But I have to leave some for you to discover for yourself, right?
So here are some personal finds — in no particular order, loved for all sorts of reasons, and not all night-time bars either.
1. Il Palazzetto
This is my absolute favorite for location and occasion. Il Palazzetto — run by the wonderful Hassler Roma hotel next door, a luxury hotel worth the splurge — sits right at the top of the Spanish Steps with views that simply cannot be beaten, or so you’d think. But come sunset, and the entire city around you changes, starts to glow, and it’s like someone sprinkled magic dust over the setting.
The bar itself can be accessed either by a small bridge from the top of the Spanish Steps (you’ll spot the queue at the weekends and best book ahead) or via the hotel Il Palazzetto, whose main entrance lies in a small alley leading to the Spagna Metro station from the square. Emerge at the top to find the small duplex bar with a great bar menu. Order a drink, and you’ll get chips, nuts, and various snacks for free, inviting you to stay a little longer. Or a lot longer.
Pro Tip: Did you know that the Spanish Steps were not only named after the Spanish embassy just opposite, but are also considered the longest and widest steps in Europe? Longest I don’t believe; after all, there are only 135 steps, but widest, maybe.
2. Castel Sant’Angelo
A Unique Location
One of the sightseeing musts is the Castel Sant’Angelo. When you visit, you’ll eventually find yourself at the terrace just below the very top, where a café, the Le Terrazze, Castel Sant’Angelo is nestled into the fortifications. Overgrown with vines and with peepholes in the wall, the setting is historic and spectacular.
It does not matter what time of day you get there; I personally had a very good first coffee there after beating the crowds to the top, but you can have breakfast, lunch, or afternoon snacks with basic food but decent enough paninis. The coffee is simply an excuse to sit down and watch Rome from this ancient fortification, which started off as Hadrian’s Mausoleum, then turned into a fort, barracks, and museum. It is also the place to look out for the marble cannon balls, one of the quirkier things to see in Rome.
Pro Tip: Steps away lies the Atlante Hotel with its rather lovely rooftop restaurant Les Etoiles Roma overlooking St. Peter’s.
3. The Pavillions Rome, The First Musica
Views Across The River
Sometimes, when you find yourself at the top of one of a city’s main attractions, you find that you are actually missing out on a whole lot. Just think of Paris as viewed from the Eiffel Tower. It’s missing something, don’t you think? And that can happen on a roof terrace in the heart of Rome as well, you are somehow missing the whole picture. But when you head up to the Alto Bar at The Pavillions Rome, The First Musica, you have Rome spread out in front of you.
Located on the “other” side of the river Tiber — i.e., the side of the Vatican — you can sit back and look at the old city of Rome sparkling across the river from you. This is also a more modern bar with DJs and live, but relaxed, lounge music at the weekends, and some decent mixology going on.
Pro Tip: Cross the Ponte Cavour and you’ll find yourself at the Augustus Mausoleum, the tomb of Emperor Augustus, built in 26 B.C. It’s perfectly round and looks like a mini Castel Sant’Angelo, Hadrian’s tomb. Then you have a choice: Turn left toward Piazza del Popolo, or meander right along Via del Corso toward the Trevi Fountain.
4. Hotel Ponte Sisto
A Secluded Spot
First of all, a warning: This terrace is wonderful because it is never too busy, is set away from the hustle and bustle below, and has lovely garden views. But the reason it is quite secluded is that it is officially only for the guests of the hotel. The lovely Hotel Ponte Sisto, one of my choices for a boutique stay in Rome, lies just steps from the Campo Fiori and all the buzz that entails, but the side street is quiet, and behind the hotel is a lovely garden with mature trees.
So it’s just a case of getting in. I was lucky to have friends staying there, but, in fact, nobody asked. As with so many places, it all hinges on your attitude. If you walk in as if you own the place, chances are you will not be stopped. And it’s not as if it is Versailles. But get upstairs, and you’ll be rewarded with a little gem.
Pro Tip: Can’t get in? No worries. Just head down the street to the Otium Hotel’s Rooftop Bar, it has fabulous views across to the “Typewriter,” the Altar to the Fatherland.
5. The Court Rooftop Bar, Palazzo Manfredi
Steps From The Colosseum
The Spanish Steps and the Vatican are amazing, but when you think of Rome, it’s the Colosseum that is the iconic sight you think of, no? It simply is quintessential Rome, and it is as stunning in the day as it is at night. So, why not combine the two and get your fill of this ancient wonder? Sightsee and explore its grounds during the day, and then, after a little siesta maybe, head to The Court Rooftop Bar at the Palazzo Manfredi. This lovely hotel is in a dream location, right by the Parco del Colle Opio, steps away from the Colosseum, and has a perfect bar on the roof with simply spectacular views. At the weekend, best book ahead. Or, even better, stay at the hotel.
Pro Tip: Come early and go for a walk around the park before your aperitivo. The Trajan Baths are spectacular and hidden right in the vast green expanse.
6. The American Bar, Hotel Forum
Old-World Celebrity Glitz
What do old-world celebrities such as Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, and Gregory Peck have in common with various kings and even the Dalai Lama? They all stayed at the Hotel Forum, and without a doubt had a drink at the wonderful American Bar on the rooftop. Right behind the Roman Forum, lies this slightly old-fashioned, somewhat shabby-chic, time capsule of a hotel that once attracted all the greats. It is still lovely, don’t get me wrong, but nowadays it might be the bar that is its biggest draw. Looking out across the Monti quarter, the Typewriter, the ancient Roman ruins, and the higgledy-piggledy roofs that are so much part of Rome, this is a place to linger, watch the sun go down, and then have another drink, or indeed dinner.
Pro Tip: The Monti quarter is a typical Roman neighborhood, hemmed by huge busy sights, but turn into the little lanes, and you’ll have old women chatting on doorsteps, miniature gardens outside houses, and a generally lovely atmosphere worth exploring in more detail.
7. Aleph Rome Hotel
There are rooftop terraces with views, cozy corners, extensive cocktail menus, and great food. But not many, certainly not slap bang in the heart of Rome, have a pool. The Aleph Rome Hotel’s Organics Sky Garden has just that. And you don’t have to stay in the hotel to make use of it. In summer, walk-in guests can get a day pass to have a dip with their drink. But equally, you don’t have to get wet either. The Sky Blue Restaurant overlooking the pool offers not just great views, but also some seriously good food. Just think truffle pasta.
Pro Tip: Just off the Via Vittorio Veneta, you are within easy walking distance of the Villa Borghese Park, the Spanish Steps, and the grand architecture of many larger-than-life embassies around you. You could walk around, or just recline on your sun lounge, drink in hand, and look at their roofs. Perfect for Dolce far Niente, the sweet Italian art of doing nothing.