Soaking Up The Culture

After a long journey or hours spent wandering unfamiliar streets, a perfect way to unwind while traveling is to try the local way of bathing. While stepping out of your comfort zone (and your clothes) can be daunting, these unique experiences can help broaden the mind and offer the chance to really experience local culture.



Dating back to the Ottoman Empire, a hamam may also be referred to as a Turkish bath. Found throughout the Islamic world, men and women typically bathe separately and while you will be given a robe or wrap to don, you won’t be keeping this long. The experience begins in a warm steam room before moving to another room where your hair and body are soaped thoroughly by a washer of the same gender. This is followed by a vigorous scrub or mud mask to remove dead skin cells before another rinse with basins of warm water. Wherever possible, follow up with an oil massage to indulge your softened skin. 


This Japanese ritual is a wonderful way to calm the mind after a long day of touring. Always shower and be sure to rinse off all soap before entering the water. An onsen is a place for quiet reflection and noisy chatting and splashing are unwelcome.  While public baths of mixed gender may require a swimsuit, it is expected you will otherwise bathe naked, with a small towel provided to protect modesty. This however should be left on the side of the pool and only used when moving between bathing areas.

While many public baths don’t allow entry to people with tattoos due to the association with organised crime, some public baths will make allowances during the upcoming Olympic Games for visitors. In the meantime, small tattoos concealed by a plaster shouldn’t hold you back.

Finnish Sauna

Saunas are integral to most social events in Finland and often a weekly routine for families. Unless in a mixed-gender facility, swimsuits are not allowed due to the chlorine they emit. Shower before entering and remove jewellery such as necklaces to avoid burning your skin. A small towel called pefletti can be placed on the sauna bench to sit on while you enjoy the steam, or löyly, that comes from water thrown on the hot rocks. Only stay as long as you feel comfortable before leaving for a cold drink or for the really brave, a dip in the frozen sea. Just remember to pack jandals to save your feet from frostbite on the way there.

Hungarian Hot Springs

Famous for their medicinal properties, Hungary’s thermal pools claim to not only soothe the weary traveller, but cure a range of ills too. A visit to Budapest is not complete without a soak at one of the many hot springs, with Széchenyi Baths among the most famous. Arrive early, taking a swimsuit and jandals for the walk between the nearly 20 pools on offer. If the labyrinthine changing rooms overwhelm you, just ask an attendant or follow the signs to your next bathing destination.


Words: Melanie Dower