DAY 1: 09:00 There’s no sense in delaying the inevitable, so start your day at the Colosseum (Piazza del Colosseo). If you stay at the Rose B&B Hostel (Via Sforza, 40, Rome, Italy 00184; hostelbookers.com), you can walk to Rome’s most iconic sight – which means you won’t have to get up too early to avoid the queues. Dorm beds from about £15pn. You’ll need a couple of hours to explore what was the largest amphitheatre the Roman Empire ever built, a mind-bogglingly near-complete relic of the bloody gladiatorial era.
11:00 The day is yet young, so wander on to the Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda), a 2000-year-old temple dedicated to the Roman gods. Marvel at its enormous Corinthian columns and realise that, having seen two of Ancient Rome’s most revered achievements before lunchtime, you really are in the world’s most incredible open-air museum.
12:30 You’re going to spend the vast majority of your day pounding the pavement, so take the opportunity to refuel at any of Rome’s cute backstreet trattorias (where prices will be half those on the main tourist drags).
13:30 Divert briefly from the tourist trail to take in one of Rome’s lesser known but more memorable experiences – a visit to the Capuchin Crypt (Via Vittorio Veneto 27).Underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, catacombs are elaborately decorated with the skulls and bones of more than 4000 Capuchin monks. Creepy, but captivating.
14:00 Now it’s time to get serious: there are five major sights to squeeze in before dinner time, all within walking distance. Start at Campo de Fiori (Parione Centro Storicho), a square where you can soak up the atmosphere of the frenzied market. Alternatively, come back at sundown when it transforms into an al-fresco boozer.
14:30 Now on to Piazza del Popolo, once a popular site for public executions (the last took place in the 1820s). An Egyptian obelisk crafted under Seti I – a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt and son of Rameses I – stands proud at the centre.
15:30 The Trevi Fountain (Piazza di Trevi) is next on the list; this baroque creation depicting Neptune’s chariot led by seahorses makes essential snapping. Throw two coins in and it’s said you’ll fall for an Italian; throw in a third and you’ll snag them for a spouse.
16:30 Now make your way to Piazza di Spagna and the 138 Spanish Steps (Campo Marzio). The widest staircase in Europe is always full of folk, with yet more hordes surrounding the 17th century Fontana della Barcaccia (‘Fountain of the Old Boat’) at the base. The view from here, gazing up the staircase to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top, is well worth the schlep.
18:00 Reward yourself with a slap-up meal at nearby La Buca di Ripetta (Via di Ripetta 36). The reasonably priced Roman food (think baked suckling pig) will set you back a not-too-terrible £34 a meal with wine.
20:00 If you like your scene edgy, try Villaggio Globale (Via di Monte Testaccio 22; vglobale.biz) – the space used to be a squat, and before that, a slaughterhouse. Cheap beer.
22:30 Fancy something more glam? Goa (Via Libetta 13; 06 574 82 77) is Rome’s superclub, with international DJs and dress-to-impress door policy.
DAY 2: 10:00 Sore head? That’s too bad, because there’s shedloads more to see. Get yourself to the Vatican Museums (Viale Vaticano; vatican.va), where the 5.5-hectare complex demands time and patience. There’s an impossible amount to see, so be selective – the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms are the not-to-be-missed. Remember to dress respectfully; ladies showing their shoulders will not be admitted.
13:00 Just a final push before lunch to St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican City’s enormous Renaissance church (you could fit a bunch of St Paul’s in here). The most famous sight is Michelangelo’s Pieta, the 15th century sculpture that depicts Mary cradling Jesus after the crucifixion.
14:00 You’ve earned a £2 beer, so head to Bar San Calisto (Piazza San Calisto) in Trastevere, and also grab lunch.
15:00 Feeling revived? Then explore this hood, a warren of old-world alleys with washing lines strung across. Pit stops for beer and gelato will not be frowned upon. Try B>Gallery (Piazza Santa Cecilia 16 Trastevere; b-gallery.it). The bookshop/ bar is also home to a basement gallery, with installations and photography.
20:00 Finally, head over to Babette (Via Margutta 1, av; 06 321 15 59), where you can take advantage of an all-you-can-eat buffet in a setting of super-cool exposed brick and vintage painted signs. Then, go rest your weary head – it’s been awesome, but bloody exhausting.