A fresh influx of newly arrived study abroad students to Florence this fall means many new visitors to the city. Students from abroad bring not only a new culture, language and perspective, but also their visiting friends and relatives from back home, all of whom use the opportunity to see Florence for the first, second, and sometimes third time. But let's face it, travelling to Europe is expensive, especially right now. A hostel is an affordable alternative for visiting friends and relatives who need lodging. Florence boasts a variety of hostels, with some of the best just minutes from Michelangelo's most-dazzling marble and Botticelli's best brush strokes. TF sent David Wheeler around Florence to check out the city's top-rated hostels, and here's what he discovered.
1. Academy Hostel
There is a reason HostelWorld.com has rated Academy Hostel No. 1 in Florence and No. 4 in the world for small hostels. Or, rather, there are several reasons: cozy setting (the hostel holds a maximum of 25 people), a social atmosphere, clean rooms and bathrooms, free lockers, free wi-fi, free breakfast, fresh towels and linens every three days, snacks in the evening and friendly bilingual (or trilingual) staff members who are happy to recommend restaurants and book tours. And location? Walk outside, and you're a few steps from the Duomo.
Academy Hostel is ‘not a party hostel,' explained Romina, a staff member. Indeed, on a recent Monday evening, gray-haired guests mingled with the college kids in the common room. ‘There is no age limit-except for infants,' she said. ‘Even families with older kids can stay here.'
2. Fattoria Basetto
Although Fattoria Basetto is located outside of Florence proper, this hostel is unrivaled in its historical character and summer-camp atmosphere. Basetto is a converted fourteenth-century monastery in picture-perfect Certaldo, a medieval village on a hill in the southern part of the province of Florence. At the nightly barbecue, you'll bond with guests from different continents, some traveling alone, others in small groups.
In the morning (self-serve breakfast is provided), you can get a group together for the all-day bike ride through the Tuscan countryside. Bike rental is free. Unless you're a Tour d'Italia veteran, the trip by bicycle from Certaldo to the neighboring town of San Gimignano takes about four hours, mostly uphill. But keep in mind, this is four hours of nothing but breathtaking views of rolling Tuscan hills, vineyards and olive gardens. It's like watching the Travel Channel in 3-D on an IMAX theater screen. And the reward for that uphill climb is the downhill breeze on the way back-pedal a few times and then just coast the rest of the way.
3. Archi Rossi
As the backpackers who stay here will tell you, one of the main draws of Archi Rossi is the food. At breakfast, which is free, guests can choose from dishes like omelets, bacon and eggs, and three-layer egg sandwiches. ‘The food is the stand-out thing about this hostel,' a Canadian college student told me. The guests also rave about the restaurant's (three- or four-euro) dinner entrees, including pasta and pizza. Inexpensive snack food is available between mealtimes.
The restaurant opens onto a charming courtyard, where guests can eat together on the spacious open-air terrace or sunbathe on the grass. Archi Rossi, located on via Faenza, is a three-minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station, and a five-minute walk from the Duomo.
4. Plus Florence
Did you love everything about college except going to class? If so, look no further than Plus Florence. This hostel, located on via Santa Caterina d'Alessandra, holds up to 400 people in a building that feels like a mix between a big university dorm and an all-inclusive resort. In addition to the basics, such as free wi-fi and linens, Plus Florence has a restaurant, a pool, a sauna, a steam room, a laundry room, an exercise facility and two bars-one with a view of the Duomo during the day, the other with a D.J. and dance floor during the night.
5. The David Inn
If you don't have an Italian friend to host you in Florence, don't worry. You can stay with Damiano, which is like staying with a friend. Damiano is the manager of the David Inn on via Ricasoli, a one-minute walk from the Duomo. ‘My idea is to have a family hostel,' said Damiano when I met him. ‘The secret of my success is the personal rapport with the guests.'
The David Inn, which holds a maximum of 12 people, offers free wi-fi, two computers, a kitchen, and a small common room with English television channels. Guests are welcome to stay during the daily cleaning (11am to 1:30pm). Reception closes at 3am, but those planning to stay out later can just ask Damiano for the key.
6. Soggiorno Pitti
‘We're directly across from one of the most important monuments in Florence,' said the friendly Soggiorno Pitti staff member Niccolò when I visited this hostel. ‘Most people choose this place because of the location.' Indeed, from the windows of the lobby, you can gaze at the magnificent Palazzo Pitti. Walk down to the street below, and you're on piazza Pitti one of Florence's most thriving streets. Turn left, and you'll be at the famed Ponte Vecchio in no time.
7. Youth Hostel Firenze 2000
Want hotel-style accommodations at hostel prices? Check out Youth Hostel Firenze 2000, located near the historic Santo Spirito area of Florence. Like a hotel, Firenze 2000 offers private rooms and bathrooms. Unlike a hotel, Firenze 2000 starts at 23 euro per night. Start your day with a free pastry from the hostel, then pick up a cornetto or cup of fruit at one of the many nearby cafes.
8. Emerald Fields
The terrace adjacent to the kitchen may not exactly be an emerald field, but it's certainly a relaxing patio with some shade-enhancing foliage. The well-located Emerald Fields on via Guelfa offers a kitchen with an oven, toaster, microwave and refrigerator (but no stove). From the kitchen, you can walk outside to a small terrace and meet fellow travelers. Linens are provided, but towels cost one euro to rent. All rooms have free lockers and wi-fi. There's a lockout during cleaning (11am to 2pm).
9. Leonardo House
Ready for some peace and quiet? Leonardo House on via Trebbio might be your hostel in Florence. With no common room to facilitate group bonding, Leonardo House caters to travelers with a preplanned agenda of sightseeing. The hostel provides towels and linens, changed every three days. There is free wi-fi and a computer in the lobby. Guests have a key to the outside door, so they can come in at any time of the night. From Leonardo House, it's a two-minute walk to the Duomo.
10. Hostel Sampaoli
At Sampaoli, located on via San Gallo, you don't reserve a bed: you reserve a whole room. Towels, linens, and even shower gel are all provided by the friendly English-speaking staff. There is no common room or kitchen, but guests share a fridge-just remember to label your food. Whereas other hostels in the vicinity are a magnet for young Americans, this hostel seems to attract families and couples from a wide variety of countries.