Last updated March 9, 2023
Mankind has been bathing together for tens of thousands of years—a collective act so to speak. In ancient Asia, Greece and Rome public baths served as community centers.
The allure of public baths is still present today, but in another form. We’re experiencing a revival of communal bathing as people return to proven wellness practices based on the abundant health benefits of thermal waters.
The minerals found in thermal baths can contribute to enhanced skin health, possible treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis as well as improved mood and stress relief.
Read on to find out what you can expect when visiting a public bath. And most importantly, whether visiting these thermal waters on your next wellness vacation might be for you.
Mineral Waters Are Good for the Soul
Mineral water is mineral-filled water found naturally in a hot spring. It contains a variety of minerals that have seeped into the water from the surrounding groundrock. It’s highly concentrated as hot water can contain much more dissolved solids than cold water.
Thermal baths and hot springs contain mineral-rich water of high temperatures usually heated by either volcanic activity or convective circulation. In many cultures, going to a thermal bath is a way of life.
For those places with access to natural hot springs and thermal water, the springs were a place to bathe, relax and chat. Perhaps talk about business or catch up on gossip. The practice hasn’t changed much to this very day. Only now, through scientific research and study we know a little more about the potential health benefits of mineral water.
Due to this, thermal baths around the world attract millions of visitors each year who seek out the potential health benefits of thermal water, particularly those with skin conditions.
Some of the best countries to visit for thermal baths and hot springs are Japan, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Chile and many parts of the U.S. In fact, you’ll find that many countries have at least a couple of great natural hot springs to take advantage of.
The Art of Public Baths
Public bath etiquette varies from one culture to another and from one country to another. For example, in Japan, it’s customary to bathe naked in an onsen (swimsuits are prohibited). On the other hand, when visiting public thermal baths in Budapest, Hungary, you must wear a swimsuit at all times.
For this reason, the best advice is to plan your visit accordingly. Learn the the dos and don’ts of that particular bath. Here are a few things you can expect when visiting thermal baths wherever in the world:
- Most thermal baths will require you to wash or shower before entering the mineral bath. Not only is this for hygiene reasons, but also to make sure that products such as deodorant or body lotion don’t interfere with the properties of the water.
- While a towel and slippers are typically offered in more private luxury baths, it’s always a good idea to bring your own. You’ll need a towel to dry off and flip-flops or slippers to get around. Most public baths will require you to wear flip-flops, mostly for hygiene reasons.
- Most public baths have pools of varying temperatures. You can choose the temperature that you feel most comfortable in for bathing. If you’ve never been to a thermal bath before, it’s a good idea to test the water before jumping right in. Literally.
- For the most part, public baths are quiet places with a calm atmosphere. Visitors are discouraged from having loud conversations, swimming, jumping, shouting, etc.
- Many thermal baths don’t allow or even discourage young children from bathing. It’s a good idea to check the guidelines before visiting.
Is the Public Bath Experience for You?
I’m a firm believer in trying everything at least once. If you like the idea of bathing in mineral-rich water or combining self-care time with a travel itinerary then I highly recommend trying a public bath at your next travel destination.
The main element of visiting a thermal bath that most are uncomfortable with is the public nudity. Yes, there are some particular thermal baths where nudity is obligatory—but that’s not the case everywhere.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like the idea of not wearing a swimsuit in public then don’t worry. Many public thermal baths also work a weekly schedule where nudity might be exempt on certain days.
In general, nudity isn’t mandatory in most public baths today—with the exception of some baths in Germany and many onsen in Japan.
Given the popularity of public thermal baths, why not add some relaxation time on your next destination’s itinerary? With many different types of thermal baths and hot springs around the world, it’s not hard to fall in love with the public baths ritual.
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