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Squeaky Clean: The Most Inspiring Bathhouses in the World

From grand European bathhouses to alfresco thermal pools in Australia, here are five can’t-miss bathing experiences to try on your travels.

By Gayatri Bhaumik
September 8, 2022

The tradition of public bathhouses stems from prehistoric times. Experts agree that the Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro, in modern-day Pakistan, dates to 3000BC and is one of the earliest examples of public baths. But bathhouses really came into their own much later, under the ancient Greeks and Romans. These civilisations created bathhouses that were as much places to conduct business, socialise, learn, and exercise as they were to relax in healing waters. The Romans especially exported their particular brand of public bathing across their empire, building bathhouses as far as Britannia and Mesopotamia.

Of course, many other cultures developed their own public bathing traditions, from the Turkish hammams developed by the Ottomans to the onsens of Japan and rustic saunas of Finland and Sweden. The modern-day bathhouse, though, is very much a place of relaxation. A place where the stressors of 21st century life melt away in thermal pools filled with mineral-infused waters and plenty of spa treatments.

See also: Wellness Rituals: Across Northern Europe



Bathhouse | Photo: Adrian Gaut

In New York’s Williamsburg neighbourhood, Bathhouse is a modern ode to Roman bathing traditions. Outside, the 1930s-era former factory is all brickwork and windows—this was once a soda-bottling plant for the Brooklyn Bottling Company and Dr Brown’s Soda. Inside, though, is an intimate circuit of contemporary bathing experiences, from hot tubs and cold plunge pools to saunas and steam rooms. You can get a day pass, but splurge for a treatment—massages, scrubs, hammams, and facials—which come with access to all the amenities. Grab some healthy bites at the onsite restaurant when hunger strikes.



Photo: AIRE

Set in an 18th century townhouse near London’s Covent Garden—where J.M. Barrie, author of “Peter Pan”, once lived—AIRE is as close as you’ll get to the traditional Roman baths of yore in the 21st century. The Classical-inspired space features vaulted ceilings, exposed brickwork, and cornices, all paired with soothing tunes and flickering candlelight. The Ancient Thermal Baths include a Caldarium (hot bath) Frigidarium (cold bath) Vaporim (steam room) and Flotarium (saltwater bath). Treat yourself to one of the unique experiences on offer, like the Wine Bath Experience or Himalayan Salt Ritual.



Photo: Cagaloglu

Throw a stone in Istanbul and you’ll hit at least three hamami, the traditional Turkish baths, but few of them are as awe-inspiring as Cagaloglu. The last hamami built under the Ottoman Empire still retains its original grand marble fountains and soaring domes, and the who’s who of dignitaries and celebrities have bathed in these stunning surrounds, from King Edward VIII and Omar Sharif to Oprah Winfrey and Kate Moss. There’s a full menu of treatments, but the packages are a must try—go all out with the Elixir of Cagaloglu Hammam. Afterwards, retreat to Lokanta 174 for traditional Turkish cuisine.



Photo: Peninsula Hot Springs

An easy drive from Melbourne, Australia, Peninsula Hot Springs is an alfresco bathing experience that offers natural hot springs and sweeping natural panoramas. You’ll easily while away the day exploring the thermal mineral pools, Turkish-style hammam, saunas, plunge pools, reflexology walks, and more, but you’ll be hard-pressed to leave the Hilltop Pool, which offers 360-degree panoramas of the countryside. The adults-only Spa Dreaming Centre offers private and moonlit bathing, along with spa treatments and wellness cuisine. Extend your relaxation by booking the glamping experience, where you’ll sleep overnight in premium tents and enjoy exclusive wellness activities.



Photo: Rudas

Budapest is filled with palatial bathhouses boasting grand architecture. But while Gellert and Szechenyi are justifiably popular, be sure to put Rudas into your relaxing rotation. Built in the 16th century, is a Turkish-style bathhouse that’s been serving the city’s locals and visitors since the Ottoman rule. There’s a traditional Turkish bath under a soaring dome held up by pillars, along with six thermal pools boasting mineral waters that are said to have healing properties. The highlight, though, is the alfresco rooftop pool with views over the Danube River and Pest skyline.