Considering how popular Florence is with student travelers and backpackers, it’s not surprising that you’ll find a number of cheap hostels in the city to choose from. Not all of them are located on the same side of the river as the Duomo and train station, even if that’s where you’ll see the biggest crowds of young people. In fact, one of the larger Florence hostels is on the other side of the river – the Oltrarno – and it’s called the Ostello Santa Monaca, or Santa Monaca Hostel.
Like many hostels and hotels throughout Italy, the Santa Monaca Hostel occupies an historic building. The hostel is on a quiet side street near the San Spirito church, though I’ve read that the square in front of the church can get pretty lively sometimes. (I was there twice at night and it was awfully quiet, but it was March. Could be different in June.) The building housing the Ostello Santa Monaca, however, is more than just an historic building – it was once a convent which dates back to the 15th century.
I have no way of knowing how much the interior of the hostel’s building has changed in the last 500+ years (with the exception of the modern plumbing and electricity, of course), but what I can say is that if I hadn’t been closely following the woman who was giving me the tour of the hostel, I would have gotten seriously and quickly lost in the maze of narrow staircases and hallways. I’m not kidding when I say that we went up one staircase and it wasn’t until we returned to the reception area (by way of a completely different staircase) that I realized where we were. I completely lost my bearings during the tour. So, if you’re one of those people who gets lost easily (I’m not), pay attention when you’re being shown where your room is!
L-R: Reception area, and cafeteria-style common room
When I visited the Ostello Santa Monaca, it was during cleaning time, so not everything was at its most beautiful. The rooms were very basic, and things were clean, and for a serious budget traveler who’s used to the most spartan of hostels this one would probably be fine – the staff were extremely pleasant and helpful, the location is great, and the price is definitely right. But still, I wouldn’t choose to stay at this hostel for myself.
L-R: Two examples of dorm rooms
Yes, it’s clean and it’s functional, but the bathrooms looked like they could use a serious update and the bedrooms are nothing to write home about. I’m willing to admit I’m not a hardcore traveler – I like a little soft carpeting underfoot now and then, and not just cold hard floors. I like private rooms and private bathrooms (Santa Monaca has neither). And while I’m all for historic charm, it seems there’s much more that could be done to enhance and even play up the history of the 15th century convent – right now, the interior has all the charm of an old hosptial wing.
L-R: Dorm room (with lockers visible), bathroom example
For all of the travelers out there with a shorter list of “must-haves” than mine, however, and those seriously concentrating on cheap travel, the Santa Monaca Hostel is a really cheap way to see Florence without being a bus ride away from the center.
L-R: Two sides of the same bathroom – sinks and showers
Location: Via Santa Monaca 6, 50124 Florence
Contact Information: tel: +39 055 268338, fax: +39 055 280185
Common Areas: kitchen, dining hall/common room, internet point
Dorms: dorms with 4, 6, 8, and 10 beds, both mixed dorms and male-only or female-only are available
Private Rooms: no private rooms available
Curfew/Lockout: The hostel closes at 02:00, so be in before the doors close (or plan to stay out until they open again at 06:00). The bedrooms are closed for cleaning between 10:00-14:00, but the common areas are open during that time so you don’t have to leave the hostel entirely if you don’t want to.
Check-in/Check-out: Check-in is between 06:00 and 02:00, and check-out is around 10:00.
Transportation Options: Florence is a city to walk in, and the hostel is within easy walking distance of the vast majority of the city’s attractions. The train station is on the other side of the river, and may be a bit far away to drag wheelie bags through the city all the way to or from your train – and people carrying backpacks will be good and tired by the time they get to the hostel – but there are taxis which can get you to/from the station if you’d prefer.
Safety: The area around the hostel felt very quiet; it’s not a main thoroughfare of the Oltrarno, and the Oltrarno is just a little quieter than the other side of the river anyway – so it felt very safe to me.
Fun Factor: I visited the hostel during the lockout period when the rooms were being cleaned, so although I saw evidence of people who were guests in the hostel, I didn’t actually see any people. So it’s hard to gauge the fun factor; but with all the rooms being dorms, you’ll certainly get lots of chances to meet other people when you stay here! And the bustle of central Florence is only a short walk away, too.
Freebies: sheets, hot showers, safe box in the reception area, satellite TV, WiFi
Extras You’ve Got to Pay For: laundry services, internet access, beverage vending machines
Good to Know: There is no meal service at Ostello Santa Monaca, but the common room has big cafeteria-style dining tables and benches, and there’s a nearby restaurant which the hostel has partnered with to give special discounts on breakfast, lunch and dinner to guests staying at the hostel.
The hostel may appeal to younger travelers, but there is no age limit at the hostel – all ages are welcome.
Payment Accepted: cash, major credit cards
Booking: Hostel Santa Monaca booking