After a long day of sightseeing, is there anything better than pampering yourself in a thermal bath? There is something very special about reconnecting with nature in a pool of mineral rich water, heated by the very centre of the earth, and humans have enjoyed this healing ritual for millenia. For some countries, like Japan and Iceland, thermal baths are an integral part of society, and experiencing this piece of traditional culture was high on our itinerary wish list when we visited.
We've been lucky enough to visit some really beautiful thermal baths and spas around the world, and we've listed 6 below that really should be on your bucket list.
1. The Blue Lagoon: Grindavík, Iceland
The queen of spectacular spas is Iceland's stunning Blue Lagoon. Surrounded by a dramatic black lava field, the geothermal water really is blue.
Book the 8am slot -it's an early start, but you'll have a good couple of hours before the masses turn up and in later months of the year it will still be dark. There is something magical about sitting in the glowing blue water with steam all around and dark skies overhead.
Even the cheapest 'Comfort' package includes unlimited time in the spa (another reason to arrive early), healing silica mud for your face and body, a towel and a free drink from the swim up bar.
As well as relaxing in the water, there are saunas and steam rooms, and a warm waterfall to help pummel the knots from your shoulders. Absolute bliss and the perfect way to wind down after an action packed trip, as the Blue Lagoon is on the way to the airport.
Need some more ideas for an Iceland trip? Check out our other blogs, including a recommended itinerary and our top tips to visit on a budget!
2. Hammam Al Andalus: Granada, Spain
Nestled down a side street in historic Granada, the building housing the hammam dates back to the 13th century and feels very authentic. Hammam al Andalus has been breathtakingly restored in the Mudejar style and we felt immediately as if we were back in the Alhambra: arched doorways, coloured geometric tiles, vaulted ceilings with star shaped sky lights and wonderful lace-like stucco plasterwork on the walls.
Dimly lit and intimate, the hammam has a number of pools ranging in temperature, a steam room, and a reclining space where you can enjoy complimentary tea.
Treat yourself to the Mimma 15 package - 75 minutes of enjoying the Arab baths and a 15 minute massage with scented oils. A towel and locker use is included in the fee.
We have a full blog about visiting Hammam Al Andalus here!
3. Shibu Onsen, Japan
Wandering through this beautiful, historic town was like travelling back in time. Old wooden Ryokan guesthouses (some 400 years old!) line narrow paved lanes, and scattered throughout are the town's famous nine public onsen. Bear in mind, these small bath houses are kept locked and only locals and people staying in a local hotel can have a master key.
After checking into your accommodation, you'll be provided with a yukata (cotton kimono) and wooden geta (clog like sandals) to wear around the town. You'll also be given a regular large bath towel, and a tiny one.
Shibu Onsen's nine bath houses are each said to treat a different ailment, from circulation to skin problems. They say visiting all nine is good luck, so be sure to complete the tour!
Yes, you have to bathe naked, but men and women are kept separately in different buildings and it's actually very liberating. You'll only be given one master key per hotel room, so if you're a mixed sex couple or group, one of you will need to open the door to their side of the onsen, then give the key to the other person to let themselves in.
Oh and don't forget to visit the region's snow monkeys, famous for using their own thermal baths!
We've written a complete guide to visiting Shibu Onsen's bathhouses, you can read it here.
Planning a trip to Japan? We have loads more blogs to help with some inspiration.
4. Hürlimannbad & Spa: Zurich, Switzerland
For a real treat after a day of pavement pounding, pamper yourself in the luxurious steam rooms and heated pools of Zurich's Roman Irish spa. The rooms are all numbered so you can follow the suggested circuit through detoxifying steam rooms, exfoliating treatments, baths of different temperatures, massaging bubble jets and warm platforms to stretch out on.
Next, soak your stress away in giant wooden barrels of thermal waters as the lights gently ripple on ceiling of the 100 year old old stone vaults (the spa is set within an old brewery). We loved the Emerald bath, a magical dimly lit warm meditation pool with tiled walls and the spa lounge: a quiet sanctuary with comfy sofas and free tea where you can read or sit in peaceful thought after your bathing ritual.
The highlight of the visit is the rooftop pool where you can relax on a bubble lounger with beautiful views of the city and on a clear day, mountains.
For more ideas of our top things to do in Zurich, check out our blog!
Or for a sweet treat on your Zurich city break, we have a guide to visiting Lindt: Home of Chocolate.
5. Thermae Bath Spa: Bath, England
The city of Bath has been famous for its healing mineral waters since at least the Roman period, although this tradition may have had even earlier origins. The settlement's Roman name, Aquae Sulis, refers to a Celtic goddess of healing and sacred waters, which suggests local Iron Age communities were also aware of and used the thermal waters.
Today, modern bathers can enjoy the New Royal Spa. A 2 hour Thermae Welcome package includes the Minerva bath (the largest thermal pool in the complex which also features a whirlpool bath) and full use of the Wellness Suite: scented aromatherapy steam rooms, an ice chamber, a multisensory Celestial Relaxation room with twinkling lights and heated loungers and a healing Infrared room for soothing muscles. Even the suite's showers use coloured light, aromatherapy and music to enhance the relaxing experience!
Like the Zurich spa, Bath's star attraction is its stunning rooftop pool, which is also included in your package. Here you can relax in the naturally warm thermal waters with views across the city, past the cathedral, to the hills beyond. It's also really lovely after dark when the lights make it feel even more cosy!
Use of a towel, robe and footwear are provided and there are lockers in the changing rooms. Keep and eye on the time! While you are permitted an extra 15 minutes on top of your 2 hour package to shower and dry your hair, any time over that will cost you £10 per 30 minutes.
6. Centre Termolúdic Caldea: Andorra la Vella, Andorra
Despite Andorra being the 6th smallest country in Europe, it is home to Europe's largest spa complex! The huge facilities are fabulously futuristic, topped by an pointy glass tower not unlike a smaller version of London's Shard. The indoor lagoon has elevated bubbling whirlpool baths and waterfalls, and you can swim through to an outdoor pool with a glass floor, a lazy river, massaging bubble jets and a large jacuzzi.
Inside, there are numerous facilities to explore, from steam rooms to ice baths to Roman style hot and (very!) cold pools, hot benches to lie on and massaging water jets to blast your back.
Bear in mind, Caldea isn't your typical dimly lit, soft music type spa, it's more like a big playful swimming pool complex with thermal spa facilities rather than flumes: bright airy lighting and children are allowed inside so the main lagoon can sometimes get noisy and echo-ey. While we visited, a school trip arrived, who were pretty boisterous, but the more than 6,000 square metres of space meant that we could easily keep our distance and enjoy the facilities. If you'd prefer, Caldea has exclusive adult only facilities, known as Inuu, which you can book for a more tranquil traditional spa experience.
Andorra has more than 35 natural thermal springs, and the mineral rich waters used by Caldea come from the Escaldes-Engordany and are very healing.
There are free lockers in the changing rooms but towels are not included, so make sure to bring your own, or rent a bathrobe for 5.50 Euros.
And 3 more we'd love to visit!
Terme di Saturnia, Italy
These BEAUTIFUL blue mineral baths are located in Tuscany, Italy. According to legend, the baths were created by lightning bolts thrown by Roman god Jupiter at his father Saturn. We've been planning a Tuscany road trip for ages and Terme di Saturnia is high on our wish list for when we go.
Széchenyi baths, Hungary
What do you get when you cross a classical palace with thermal water? Budapest's Széchenyi baths! Built in 1913, this huge complex has 15 indoor pools, 3 outdoor pools and other facilities like saunas and steam rooms. Hungary is thermal paradise, with over 1300 hot springs, and Budapest is known as the City of Baths for its many spa facilities.
Banff Upper Hot Springs, Canada
We cancelled our Banff campervan trip in 2020 because of you know what, but when we eventually rebook these hot springs will definitely be on our itinerary. People have been visiting these mineral rich baths since 1886, and what a wonderful place to relax- look at those mountain views! Like Iceland's Blue Lagoon, this would also be a great way to warm up if you're visiting in snowy months.