Julius Caesar designed Rome to glow in the dark.
Blanketed in marble, the forum cast a soft blue light that illuminated the streets as it reflected the moon. But despite this light, the alleys of ancient Rome were perilous once the day had faded. With more than 1 million inhabitants in the first century AD, the Eternal City was one of the earliest urban spaces.
If ancient poets are to be believed, 2,000 years ago, Rome was filled with tenements and thugs prowling the streets at night. The biggest thug of all was apparently the Emperor Nero, who would disguise himself in a wig and sneak out of the palace to drink and pick fights with unsuspecting Romans.
Today, the streets of Rome are perfectly safe after dark. Much of the ancient marble was re-appropriated to build St Peter’s Square, but many of Rome’s ancient monuments still glow in the moonlight. Between sightseeing and speakeasies, here are five things to do to experience Rome after dark.
1. Walk the walk: As the sun sets, take a passeggiata. This pre-dinner stroll is an Italian tradition that offers a break between the work of the day and the main meal. It is the time when neighbours can greet each other in the piazza, while also catching up on the daily gossip of the neighbourhood. If you meander up Via del Corso, you can climb the Pincio Terrace above Piazza del Popolo and watch twilight creep up on Rome’s stunning skyline.
2. Monumental surprise: The Pantheon and the Colosseum close their doors just before sunset, but can still be admired from outside at any hour. However, many of Rome’s open-air monuments are still accessible after dark. The recently restored Trevi Fountain looks even better at night when it is expertly lit from every side. Or, climb the Capitoline Hill to stand in a piazza designed by Michelangelo and view the regal Roman Forum from above.
3. Rooftop dining: Continue to admire the cityscape from above by booking a table on the tiny terrace of Hotel Raphaël (Largo Febo, 2). Located one street behind Piazza Navona, the rooftop overlooks Rome’s domed skyline. In the evening, an all-vegetarian menu keeps the options light and fresh as you admire the twinkling lights below.
4. Live music: With only 50 seats, art gallery/bistrot/bar Blackmarket (Via Panisperna, 101) is one of the most intimate venues in the city for a live show. From classic folk, to grunge, jazz and DJs, Blackmarket offers a mix of musical guests throughout the week. Only a few shows ever require pre-booking, so you are free to pop in, take a seat on their vintage furniture and see who is playing (or follow the listings on the Blackmarket Facebook page to find a specific show).
5. Cocktail master: While wine is the city’s drink of choice with dinner, you should embrace Rome’s growing cocktail scene if find yourself out late. For a boozy experience, seek out The Jerry Thomas Project (Vicolo Cellini, 30) – a speakeasy devoted to all things drink (except Vodka… don’t ask because they don’t serve it). Other rules include: no sleeping at the table, and no speaking about religion or politics. You’ll need the password but you can find this by scouring the website. For a less cloak-and-dagger experience, try Barnum (Via del Pellegrino, 87), a funky café with excellent cocktails and an eclectic crowd.
Keen to experience Rome after dark? Check out our hotel deals to plan your getaway.