Our guide to the very best of naked bathing around the world.
Getting naked is not in everyone’s skillset. We are awkward in the high school locker room, awkward in the gym changing room, and even awkward on the beach in swimwear. But you never know when, in this great age of travel, an opportunity to challenge yourself and your deep-seated instinct to cover your privates will arrive. Whether you have an interest in wellness and self-care or the drive to experience local culture to the max, some of the best bathing escapades in the world require you to go naked. We thoroughly recommend you get over your qualms and go for it. There’s really nothing like being naked amongst hundreds of other naked people to recalibrate your body acceptance, remind yourself we’ve all got bumps, and realize that no one is looking anyway. And if they are looking, rise above it with your mind and your eyes, as you’ll never see these people again. You wouldn’t want to miss out on any of these steam dreams, now would you?
Top Picks for You
WHERE: Osaka, Japan
Whether you find yourself at an urban reimagining such as Osaka’s SpaWorld, or an authentic countryside volcanic hot spring, the one thing that unites all onsen is they’re downright blissful. Your earthly worries will melt away in the hot pools and steam rooms. Any public onsen (not to be confused with its private guesthouse sister, the ryokan) is split into separate men’s and women’s areas, where locals go in groups of friends or families to make a day out of it, much like a trip to the mall. Japan has zen, chill, and hyper cleanliness on lock and this extends to the onsen, making it the ideal place to relax and recuperate after a busy day of sightseeing. Our hero, SpaWorld ups the ante with their internationally-themed zones, so you can travel around a whole continent (Europe Zone or Asia Zone each spread across a whole floor of this spa-tropolis) with a rotating array of pools of different designs and temperatures.
INSIDER TIPCover any tattoos you might have with band-aids you can buy from Family Mart or 7/11 before arriving. Tattoos are still banned in the majority of onsen across Japan.
WHERE: Helsinki, Finland
This mid-century sauna is a true gem in a city of steam havens. Tucked away in the foundations of a large housing block in Helsinki’s hip neighborhood of Kallio, Arla Sauna invites you to relive the community spirit of this retro, rescued hot spot, where workers would come to hang out, clean, and revive themselves after a hard day at the mill. Hosting two sex-segregated saunas across two floors, the original interior decor is as charming as the devoted staff. Finns, being sauna diehards by birthright, will spoon water on the sauna stove to dizzying temperatures, so do speak up if it gets too hot! When you’ve had enough heat, grab your towels and head outside to the courtyard where the locals happily chat to you as you cool down on the courtyard bench over a drink of iced water.
INSIDER TIPIf you find yourself in Helsinki outside of the winter months you can find the anarchic and free-to-use Sompasauna, the DIY pop-up sauna on the shores of the Baltic.
The Porchester Baths Spa
WHERE: London, England
There are very few places more delightful in busy old London town than ladies’ day (or indeed its equivalent men’s day) at this charming art deco spa. One of London’s only surviving bathhouses that didn’t see a character cleansing refurbishment, The Porchester has been open since 1929 and was modeled on the typically British interpretation of Turkish Baths (a.k.a. not much like a Turkish hammam at all) featuring two steam rooms, a large scorcher of a sauna, three “Turkish” hot rooms and a beautiful and ruddy freezing cold pool. This all occupies the lower floor while the relaxation quad is hosted on the lamp-lit entrance floor. You can also visit on mixed-sex days but you’ll miss the retired local ladies of West London’s vibrant international communities out in force, showing you how it’s done, ready for a chat.
INSIDER TIPBring your own slippers and sheet to sit on in the sauna so you don’t get any fleshy bits burnt.
Dragon Hill Spa Jjimjilbang
WHERE: Seoul, South Korea
Who knew the one thing missing from your life was a bath full of jasmine. With medicinal roots and contemporary wellness, sweating your cares away in a jjimjilbang (loosely translated as “heat room”) is a Seoul highlight. Once inside, these mega spas include the best of all your faves, a sequence of hot pools, steam rooms, scrub treatments, and igloo-shaped salt saunas, but you’ve got a few hurdles to cross first. Phase one, ditch your shoes at the footwear lockers at the entrance. You won’t be allowed to the ticket desk wearing them. Once in the entrance hall find the ticket desk where you’ll be given towels, a robe, and your wristband, complete with electronic key. This super useful bit of tech means you can pay for any refreshments, treatments, and extras without needing your wallet. Which is just as well, as you will be butt naked under those robes and have no place to store them! The pools, steam rooms, and scrub treatments are sex-segregated but refreshment areas and salt saunas (where you wear your robes) are communal.
INSIDER TIPTo get the most out of your time in the overwhelming amount of pools and rooms, make sure you rotate around the different heats. Start in a medium temperature (usually 82-86 degrees Fahrenheit) before moving to a hotter pool or room, then cooling down in a dip pool or cold shower. This cycle is great for your circulation and will leave you floating on air.
WHERE: Istanbul, Turkey
This 16th-century hammam bathhouse is not much on the outside, but the inside is a sight to behold, the fantastic domed ceiling transporting you from contemporary Istanbul back to old Constantinople. Found just around the corner from the famous Blue Mosque, like all hammam, the Çemberlitas is less about pampering and more about cleanliness, which after all, is next to godliness. Ordering a scrub here (and you really must order a scrub here) sees you escorted to the single-sex steam palace, where your therapist will lie you on the large antique slab, probably squeezed in next to another tourist and definitely not wearing much. Here you’ll be washed down with wonderful cyprus soap, scrubbed, and left to steam, leaving you cleaner than you’ve ever felt in your life and culturally enriched to boot.
The Rudas Baths
WHERE: Budapest, Hungary
The oldest and most extreme of the Budapest baths, The Rudas is often overlooked in favor of its tourist trendy counterparts, the Gellert and the Szechenyi. Missing a visit to the Rudas though, would be a great mistake. Dating back to Ottoman rule, this classic Turkish-style dome hosts six pools, two steam rooms, an extremely hot sauna, and the coldest dip pool you’ll find in the city. A visit here is usually swimwear donned, however, Tuesdays are now ladies day at this domed heaven (men get mornings to themselves on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) and the locals make the most of these single-sex windows, whipping off their pants and going for a float in this domed heaven, letting the minerals of Budapest’s natural hot springs seep into their bones.
INSIDER TIPThe Rudas is open until 4 a.m. on weekends, ideal to hit up after dinner for a less naked trip with a group of friends.
WHERE: Tallinn, Estonia
Halfway between Finland and Russia, Tallinn was geographically bound to have the crème de la crème of banya-esque “saun.” Kalma Saun, located in the arty, bohemian district of Kalma, is a pristine old girl dating back to the ‘30s. This beautifully kept sauna can rise to an impressive temperature and should you follow the locals’ example of smacking your skin with birch leaves (available to buy at the entrance), you’ll find after a few rotations between the heat and the banya style cold pool to dip in, you’ll reach peak saun nirvana. It’s a humble, no-frills place, but done right an incredibly Kalma-ing one.