Rooftop views are a rarity in Rome, where buildings aren’t allowed to be taller than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. For views of the Eternal City from above, head to these five lookouts.
Minerva Roof Garden at the Grand Hotel de la Minerve
Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom, and wise insiders know they’ll usually be able to find a comfortable perch at the Minerva Roof Garden—even without a reservation. The L-shaped terrace, which wraps around the five-star Grand Hotel de la Minerve, is one of the largest in the city. From it, you can admire the intricate brickwork on the roof of the Pantheon below. Built in AD 126, the Pantheon inspired Michelangelo’s plan for the dome of St. Peter’s. Let your gaze wander across the red tiled roofs to the winged statues of Victory and her four horses that top the elaborate monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, nicknamed “the wedding cake”. The terrace is open every day from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., with high tea served between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. At sundown, switch to one of their signature cocktails, such as the Cobblestone, a house spritz made with Aperol, raspberry purée, almond syrup, and ginger beer.
The Up Sunset Bar at Rinascente, Via del Tritone
Romans have been slow to embrace the concept of a department store, preferring their local boutiques, but the new Rinascente Via del Tritone luxury mall has them reconsidering their options. The Up Sunset Bar sits on the sixth floor atop five levels of stores selling over 800 of the world’s finest brands, including Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and TAG Heuer. No other building in the area matches its height, so sightlines to distant architectural icons like St. Peter’s Basilica, the Villa Borghese, and Borromini’s delicate bell tower are uninterrupted. The sophisticated open-air bar serves a short menu of sandwiches and desserts, coffees and cocktails. One floor down is Madeiterraneo Restaurant, where the same 180-degree views are complemented by Michelin-starred chef Riccardo Di Giacinto’s robust menu centred on Mediterranean culinary traditions. Remember—shop first, cocktails later.
One of the newest viewpoints in Rome is also one of the oldest. The terrace on the fifth tier of the Colosseum opened to the public in 2017, with a caveat: tickets to the tour that takes you there are in high demand and must be booked in advance. The combined Underground and Belvedere tours, led by officially-sanctioned Colosseum tour guides, will take you from the depths to the heights of this double amphitheatre built in AD 70. Begin with a visit to reconstructions of the trap doors and elevators that once magically produced wild animals and gladiators to the delight of 50,000 spectators. Then step onto the Colosseum floor for the first time and feel yourself transported back to ancient Rome. It is breathtaking, and seeing the entire edifice from the fifth tier—which overlooks the entire site and the Forum—is even more impressive.
The Palatine Hill at the Forum
Continuously occupied since the Bronze Age, the Palatine Hill became the location of an imperial palace under Augustus in 27 BC. It was repeatedly demolished, rebuilt, and expanded by subsequent rulers, most notably Nero. He had a revolving banquet hall installed in his Golden Palace to mimic the celestial bodies. These days, everyone’s a star on the huge terrace that’s become selfie central. From this vantage point, you’ll have a clear view of the nearby Capitoline Hill, the Roman Forum 40 metres below, and the Imperial Forum in the distance. To get there, enter the site through the Forum gate and take the stairs up the Palatine Hill. It’s typically less crowded here than in the ruins along the Sacred Way. The view from the terrace is worth the climb, and it’s truly spectacular when the setting sun makes the stones shine like gold. The Colosseum gleams to the east, the result of a multi-million-dollar restoration of its façade, funded by luxury goods maker Tod’s.
There may be no better vantage point for seeing the Vatican than the one framed by the stone arches of Caffetteria Ristorante le Terrazze, at the Castel Sant’Angelo. One of Emperor Hadrian’s building projects, along with the Pantheon, it was his mausoleum until it was sacked by the Visigoths in AD 410. It’s been used as a papal residence, a fortress, and a castle; today, it’s a museum where you can get an unparalleled view of St. Peter’s Basilica for the price of a cup of creamy espresso. Attentive wait staff provide table service with a selection of hearty sandwiches and light desserts. The best way to snag a white-linen-covered table is, of course, to arrive early. The capacity is strictly monitored, so best to make a reservation. With seven levels of exhibits to explore, it’s easy to spend several hours at Castel Sant’Angelo, and there are superb views of the city from many of the levels. Leave some time to admire the angels adorning the elegant Ponte Sant’Angelo, which crosses the Tiber in front of the Castel, their swirling robes frozen in stone.
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