Hot springs and baths are a popular destination for wellness tourism and recreation. They have been used for centuries around the world as social and therapeutic spaces. While public bathing may not be so popular anymore there are still plenty of public baths around the world.
Saunas, spas and baths have not only been spaces to get clean, they have also served as antidotes to cold weather, and as places to socialise with friends. From geothermal hot springs to prettily patterned hammams, here are 13 incredible public baths around the world.
1. Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, Kashan, Iran
The Hammam-e Sultan Amir Ahmad, also known as the Qasemi Bathhouse, was originally constructed in the 16th century. It is covered with turquoise and gold tile work and artistic paintings. Today the bathhouse, with its large dressing hall (sarbineh) and hot bathing room (garmkhaneh) is a museum, giving an incredible insight into daily life in ancient Iran.
2. Cagaloglu Hamam, Istanbul, Turkey
Built around 1741 by Sultan Mahmut I, this historic bathhouse was one of the last to be built by the Ottomans. The grand ornamental ceilings and decorated walls make it a popular tourist spot. Like any other Turkish bath, you start off in two sauna-like heated rooms, before plunging into ice cold water and finishing up with a massage.
3. Blue Lagoon, Grindvik, Iceland
The famous Icelandic Blue Lagoon (not to be confused with the one on the Italian island of Capri) is a geothermal hot spring. Located just outside Reykjavik, this popular spot is the perfect place to relax. Hot springs are an ancient Viking tradition, used for both cleanliness and socialising. The minerals and algae in the springs give them the characteristic glowing milky blue-green colour. But you’ll be expected to shower before entering these pristine waters.
Also read: Top 11 things to do in Iceland
4. Takaragawa Onsen, Guma, Japan
Japan is famous for its volcanic hot springs or onsen. One of the most scenic is the Takaragawa Onsen, located in Guma. Set in a picturesque location, amidst mountains and trees it has been used since ancient times for both socialising and relaxation. It has three mixed baths and one separate one for women.
5. Sanduny Banya, Moscow, Russia
Opened in 1808, the Sanduny Banya is the oldest public bathhouse in Russia. These social saunas started as an escape from the frigid winter months. The banya is the most luxurious in Moscow and has several steam rooms and cold pools decorated in elegant Russian style. Much like Finnish saunas, they involve the use of a bundle of aromatic birch or oak twigs (veniks) to clean and exfoliate.
6. Sauna Arla, Helsinki, Finland
Opened in 1929, at the peak of Finnish industrialisation, the Arlan Public Sauna is one of the oldest public saunas in the capital. Still operating with traditional gas and wood fires, it retains much of its old-world charm. Hugely popular with tourists, it offers birch twigs for improving circulation and even continues to offer old-fashioned bloodletting.
7. Gellért Baths and Spa, Budapest, Hungary
Budapest was once called the “Spa City,” due to its numerous spas and the popularity of public bathhouses. Opened in 1919, the Gellért Baths and Spa are one of the most popular baths in the city. With thirteen separate baths, three pools, and eight saunas, it is located in the famous Hotel Gellért. The baths are built in the art-nouveau style and are all decorated with beautiful mosaics, stained glass windows, and sculptures.
8. Treme di Saturnia, Saturnia, Italy
The small town of Saturnia dates back to pre-classical times. Its geothermal springs were thought to be a gift from the god Jupiter. Located in the lush Tuscan countryside, Saturnia is still a popular destination for bathers. However, while it was once only open to Roman nobles, now anyone can enjoy the waters.
9. Bathhouse of Haseki Hurrem Sultan, Istanbul, Turkey
The Ayasofya Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı in Istanbul date back to the 16th century. They were commissioned by Roxelana, consort of Emperor Sultan Suleiman I. Built over the older Baths of Zeuxippus, they were meant to serve the religious community of the Hagia Sophia. It is designed in the classical Ottoman style with separate symmetrical sections for men and women. The Hammam is now open to visitors.
10. Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco
Much like the Turkish hammam, Moroccan hammams involve a visit to the sauna followed by a relaxing massage and a dip in an ice-cold pool. There are many many excellent bathhouses throughout the country, such as the Hammam Dar el-Bacha in Marrakesh. However, the most popular is the Hammam in the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. The largest mosque in Morocco, it was completed in 1993.
11. Hakone Onsen, Hakone, Japan
Located about 90 kilometres west of Tokyo, Hakone has some of the best onsens in Japan. The hot springs have been attracting tourists and pleasure-seekers for hundreds of years. There are seven hot springs at Hakone, and one of the most popular is the Miyanoshita Onsen. The resorts in Hakone provide all the facilities required for a short stay visit and include indoor and outdoor baths, as well as saunas for men and women.
12. Yangpachen Hot Springs, Yangbajing, Tibet, China
The Yangpachen Hot Springs is the highest-altitude hot spring spa in the world. Located over 14,700 feet above sea level the waters offer spectacular views of the Nyainqen Tanggula mountain range. The springs have two pools, one indoors and one outside. They also produce a significant portion of the electricity for the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
13. The Roman Baths, Bath, England
The Ancient Romans built numerous baths, but none are so well preserved as those at Bath. Set amidst the city’s elegant Georgian buildings, this impressive building was built over naturally occurring hot springs. Dating back to the 1st century AD, it was also a religious spa. Though you can’t actually bathe in the waters anymore, you can still taste the mineral-rich waters here.
Also read: 44 of the most beautiful places in the UK
There are lots of other incredible public baths around the world, and if we’ve missed any be sure to share them in the comments below.