Tucked away in the corner of North of Yorkshire, Britain lies a spa town called Harrogate that is home to the last completely fully working Victorian Turkish Bath in England.
Locals and tourists alike flock here to see have tea at Betty’s Tea Room, admire the historical buildings or shop in the boutiques. Many do not know that there is a Victorian Turkish Bath that is open to the public. Many that live in this region have not been. I’ll never understand this. The Victorian Turkish Baths of Harrogate are quite possibly one of the most underrated things to do in Yorkshire.
What is a Victorian Turkish Bath?
A Turkish bath otherwise known as a “Hammam” is a place of bathing widely associated with the Islamic world. During the Victorian Era baths spread throughout Europe as a popular method of cleaning and relaxation.
There are two main differences between the Islamic hammam and Victorian Turkish baths. Victorian Turkish baths use dry air, and a dip in a cold pool follows bathing. Hammam’s typically use steamier air which is wetter. Most hammam’s don’t have a plunge pool unless there is flowing water to the hammam. Instead, you splash yourself with cold water.
The Best Historical Baths in Britain
Harrogate Victorian Turkish Baths
Built-in 1897 and renovated many times, most recently in 2018. Harrogate Council owns the Harrogate Turkish Baths and opens them to the public making them affordable to all. These ancient baths are not reserved for the rich and famous. Think champagne on a Coca-Cola budget. Members of every European Royal Family have visited Harrogate to take in the water– so should you.
When you first enter, the baths appear to be a modern-day spa housed in a Victorian building. However, when you go downstairs, you will be met by opulence and grandeur from an era long gone. You can feel the age of the building, you can sense the history, and the quietness consumes you. The Islamic influence is apparent, and suddenly you feel as if you are not in Yorkshire.
You will notice the original features such as the toilets, the wooden changing rooms and then the large lounge room filled with lounge beds. You will then be struck by the glazed tiles vibrant in color coupled with the arches.
My First Visit
On my first visit, I found myself running around to take photos while trying to be respectful of guests. On first blush, it reminded me of the Ironmonger Row Baths in London. Only the Harrogate Victorian Turkish Baths are much more exotic.
I also went alone, so there was a sense of shyness. You are getting into a bathing suit to walk past all the people relaxing. Gut reaction – is everyone looking at me? The reality is no one is interested in you or your attire. Everyone is zoned out in their happy place.
The second you walk to the baths and relax all is well. From here on out, you are moving around, stretching and zoning out which neither are an issue. Even during a unisex session!
What is the Harrogate Victorian Turkish Bath Experience Like?
Before I explain this, I should tell you this is not for you if you don’t enjoy the heat, sauna’s, or steam rooms. It’s also not for you if you don’t like to share space without your full attire. The idea is to relax, and you can only do that if you are open to hanging around with strangers in your bathing suit.
Turkish baths are chambers of varying heat. In the Harrogate baths, there are seven chambers and a steam room. You sit or lie in different chambers and relax. As you relax, you will start to heat up and sweat. The extraction of the sweat cleanses you from head to toe as you get a hot, shower or take a plunge in the cold pool. I am too chicken for the cold pools. They should be called “freeze to death pools” because they take cold to a different level. I prefer to shower. I also like to combine a body scrub and oil and lather myself in a while in baths.
As you acclimate to the heat, you go from chamber to chamber increasing the heat based on your tolerance level. Or, rotate into the steam room. If you are not familiar with steam rooms, they blast extreme amounts of steam into a small confined space, and you sweat. You will come out of a steam room soaking wet whereas you can sit in a Turkish bath and sweat.
I retreated to the Harrogate Victorian Turkish Bath’s several times while caring for my mother. I would drive 20 minutes or so from Leeds to Harrogate to sit and think. Crazy as it sounds, not only does the heat clear your skin but it clears your head. You will be rejuvenated, clean and calm. And, you will enjoy the best sleep of your life following a bath.
Harrogate Victorian Turkish Bath Spa
Despite the name, the Harrogate Victorian Turkish Baths are also home to a luxurious spa worthy of any spa snob’s attention. You can indulge in a broad variety of massages, reiki, reflexology, Indian head massage, traditional Hammam treatments, facials, and many other services. Their list is quite impressive! And, again affordable with an express body scrub coming in at £27.
Tour Harrogate Victorian Turkish Bath Spa
Harrogate Victorian Turkish Baths offer guided tours on various weekday mornings where a resident historian will guide you through the unique history and experience the Turkish Baths. Tours last approximately 45 minutes and cost £3.75 per person. Book a place by contacting them on 01423 556746. Much like the baths, tours are subject to availability.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do people bathe nude? No, they do not.
- Are towels provided? Yes, towels are provided.
- Are there hairdryers? Yes. There.
- Do I need a reservation? Yes. Without a doubt. Not to say you could not get lucky, but I have been on a whim and not been able to get in because it was full.
- What should I take with me? You only need a bathing suit. However, I recommend taking a body scrub, some oil, and hair treatment. If you do take in any of these items, you can’t jump in the plunge pool unless you have showered first if you are planning to wash your hair following the bath you will need conditioner.
- Do I need slippers or flip-flops? Your choice. I don’t take them with me. That’s an American thing!
- Are the baths unisex? There are men only, women only and unisex sessions. Check the calendar to find a session that suits your taste. The changing rooms are shared, but you will have a private stall.
- How long can I stay? Sessions last from two to three hours. Check the schedule to see which session is best for you.
- What does it cost? Anywhere from £18 to £30 depending on the day you pick with Saturday being the most expensive.
- Is it clean? Spotless, immaculate – could not be cleaner.
- Should I wear Jewelry? Yes, if it’s real. I recommend it because the heat and steam will clean your jewelry. If you want to prepare to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste and clean your jewelry while in the bath. The heat loosens all the dirt and debris! If you have any stones, they will sparkle like never before.
Think of all the possibilities! From a solo relaxing couple of hours to a group gathering. Spend a night or the weekend in Harrogate and enjoy the baths at night! Celebrate a special occasion here like a birthday or anniversary. You can reserve the place to yourself assuming you have a big enough party.
Ladies, what are you waiting for? If you live in Yorkshire get to it and book this royal experience today!
If you are visiting England, this is one of many reasons why Yorkshire should be on your list of places to visit! It’s beyond worth the trip. After all, where else in England can you bathe in a Victorian Turkish Bath that once hosted the Royals?