Tucked away in the corner of North of Yorkshire, Britain, lies a spa town called Harrogate, home to the last entirely fully working Victorian Turkish Bath in England.
Locals and tourists flock here to have tea at Betty’s Tea Room, admire the historical buildings, or shop in the boutiques. Many do not know that a Victorian Turkish Bath 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.
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 hammams don’t have a plunge pool unless there is flowing water in the hammam. Instead, you splash yourself with cold water.
Benefits of a Turkish Baths
Turkish baths, steam rooms, and saunas are all known for their health benefits. Harrogate Victorian Turkish Baths offers you the best of all worlds:
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, you will be met by opulence and grandeur from an era long gone when you go downstairs. You can feel the building’s age since 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 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 ran around to take photos while respecting guests. At 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. You are moving around, stretching, and zoning out from here on out, which are neither 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, or steam rooms. It’s also not for you if you dislike sharing space without your whole 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 compartments and relax. As you relax, you will start to heat up and sweat. The sweat extraction cleanses you from head to toe as you get a hot shower or plunge into the cold pool. I am too chicken for the cold pools. They should be called “freeze-to-death pools” because they take out different levels. I prefer to shower. I also like to combine a body scrub and oil and lather myself for 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 unfamiliar 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 Baths several times while caring for my mother. I would drive 20 minutes from Leeds to Harrogate to sit and think. Crazy as it sounds, the heat not only clears your skin but also makes 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 various 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 several weekday mornings where a resident historian will guide you through the unique history and experience of the Turkish Baths. Tours last approximately 45 minutes and cost £3.75 per person. Please book a place by contacting them on 01423 556746. Much like the baths, times are subject to availability.
Frequently Asked Questions About Harrogate’s Victorian Turkish Baths
Do people bathe nude?
No, they do not.
Are towels provided?
Yes, towels are provided.
Are there hairdryers?
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 unable to get in because it was complete.
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 take in any of these items, you can’t jump in the plunge pool unless you have showered first; if you plan to wash your hair following the bath, you will need a 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?
Saturday is the most expensive, anywhere from £18 to £30, depending on the day you pick.
Is it clean?
Spotless, immaculate – could not be more sanitary.
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 for 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?
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Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job without breaking the bank. Nikki is always in search of off-the-beaten-track experiences and unique stays. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com or follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.