London’s best spas inspired by overseas wellness traditions
Explore wellness rituals from around the world in the heart of the capital, from Moroccan-inspired hammam scrubs to invigorating Slavic sauna experiences. Explore wellness rituals from around the world in the heart of the capital, from Moroccan-inspired hammam scrubs to invigorating Slavic sauna experiences.
Over the course of human history, many civilisations have drawn on the power of steam and bathing to relax, relieve pain and remove bodily toxins. This science was incorporated into sacred ceremonial practices involving hot springs and sweat lodges, others — including those influenced by the Roman and Ottoman empires — made communal bathing a cornerstone of public life. Today, the practice of attending a hammam bath complex is still commonplace throughout North Africa and the Middle East, while saunas are a mainstay of Scandinavian and Eastern European communities — to name just a few places that have championed and finessed their own bathing and wellbeing rituals.
It’s fortunate, then, that the capital offers a range of specialised spas inspired by these traditions. From a luxurious update of the Roman thermae (thermal baths) tradition and an authentic Russian banya (steam baths) to the city’s best hammam-style spas, here’s where to book treatments in London.
1. AIRE Ancient Baths
Best for: romance and relaxation
Just moments from the busy Strand and Covent Garden, a subterranean world of candle-lit bathing awaits. Opened in summer 2021, this is the AIRE brand’s eighth international opening and first in the UK, set within the vaults beneath an unassuming townhouse once home to J M Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Its sizeable complex of atmospheric pools are inspired by the ancient Roman thermae tradition, lit almost exclusively by flickering tealights, tucked in alcoves or suspended from chandeliers.
Following a welcome drink, guests descend through darkened stairwells (and, slightly incongruously, a lift) to sample first the caldarium (heated to 39C), then the tepidarium (36C), finishing the circuit with a bracing plunge in one of two frigidaria (13C and 10C). There’s also a salt exfoliation area, a peppermint-infused steam room and a ‘floatarium’, which allows guests to experience buoyancy similar to the Dead Sea.
There’s a faraway, almost mythological feel to the whole space: giant amphorae tucked into niches, distressed mirrors, ornate jugs of mint tea and a soundtrack of chanting and gongs. The result is otherworldly and timeless, sensory and soporific; when an attendant chimes a bell to signify the session is over, it may take several moments to remember which century it is.
Suggested treatment: The 120-minute Love Yourself ritual includes a 45-minute full body massage with warm amethyst crystals and oil enriched with sandalwood essence in a private treatment room, plus time in the thermal baths. £210 per person.
2. The Bath House - Banya London
Best for: invigoration and socialising
At this former bank just a short walk from Victoria station, guests can immerse themselves in the classic Russian sauna experience. It all starts with the vigorous parenie ritual, whereby guests are ushered into a private room, low-lit and designed to resemble a Siberian timber sweat lodge, in which a bare-chested male banshik beats the skin with a supple bundle of soaked oak, birch and eucalyptus branches, known as a venik. The hot massage ends with an icy bucket sloshed over the head and a dunk in the chilly plunge pool. A parenie is said to remove toxins and improve metabolism, and it’s just one of many pillars of an authentic banya.
The heart of this smart spa is the large, communal parilka steam sauna and also, down the corridor, the relaxed restaurant area where guests cool off while wrapped in towels. After all, a trip to the banya is rarely a solitary affair: it’s a place to relax, catch up with friends and even do business. Book in groups of up to eight and enjoy the facilities, opting for treatments including clay body wraps or honey body scrubs. Punctuate the experience with herbal teas and Eastern European dishes, from blini with caviar to bowls of borscht, before toasting everyone’s health with a shot of vodka.
Suggested treatment: Opt for a Classic package including full use of the banya and lounge for three hours, including a 15-minute parenie experience and either a wrap, scrub, soap massage or classic massage lasting 30 minutes. £155 per person.
3. Casa Spa
Best for: cleansing and authenticity
Step off Maida Vale’s busy Edgware Road and discover an authentic hammam — and a local institution. Casa Spa is a women-only wellness space inspired by the bathing culture of Morocco and Tunisia, founded over 15 years ago by the Hallak family, who still run the business today. The decor helps to transport guests across the Mediterranean: resplendent mosaics, ornate mirrors and small statues — all hand-picked by the family.
The signature Authentic Moroccan Hammam is a rigorous treatment with the twin aims of relaxation and rejuvenation. Guests are first taken to a white marble steam chamber, before proceeding to an ornately tiled wet room. Here, the masseuse reels off the products and techniques she’s using: black olive oil soap, important for opening the pores; a kessa glove to exfoliate the skin; and a cleansing ghassoul mud mask using clay from the Atlas Mountains.
The final steps of the hammam ritual involve moisturising the scalp and hair with almond shampoo, a leg massage in a series of deft, chopping motions, and a final body cleanse in the shower area. Cocooned in towels, the treatment concludes with mint tea in a low-lit relaxation area richly decorated in textiles and antiques.
Suggested treatment: The Authentic Moroccan Hammam lasts 60 minutes and costs £64. Other hammam packages start from £48.
4. Banya No.1 — Hoxton
Best for: rejuvenation and de-stressing
A decade on from opening its doors near Old Street station, Banya No.1’s high-end steam and scrub rituals command a loyal following — and not just with those homesick for an authentic Eastern European cleanse. Scores of signed photos of famous patrons, from Renée Zellweger to Kate Moss, hang in the reception, and Justin Bieber was so impressed during a visit he ‘borrowed’ one of the spa’s massage therapists for the length of his European concert tour. The musician’s now a regular, whenever he’s in town.
Reinvigorating an appetite in London for Russian-style bathing that dates to the vapour baths of the early-20th century, the intimate subterranean spa offers a personalised experience. From waitresses ready with culinary recommendations in the cosy lounge (try fireweed tea, pickled appetisers and moreish cured fish) to the jolly banshiks in the timber sauna who conduct the skilled parenie, the staff are on-hand to usher guests through rounds of steam, treatments, massages, rinses, cold plunges and down time. The immune-boosting and sleep-enhancing benefits of a trip to a banya are well documented, and now, with a second Banya No.1 location in Chiswick since 2021, sweating it out in the capital has never looked so enticing.
Suggested treatment: Banya No.1’s Silver Package offers a three-hour banya session, including parenie, honey and salt or coffee scrub, mud mask and herbal tea. £115 off-peak, £130 peak times.
5. Porchester Spa
Best for: unwinding amid period settings
Claiming the title of London’s oldest spa, Porchester underwent renovations in late 2019 to emerge with refreshed facilities that help showcase the Grade II-listed property’s glamorous 1929 origins. Despite its mahogany and marble, its vaulted arches and art deco sconces, the Bayswater spa is unpretentious and favoured by a local crowd. Porchester Spa offers a circuit of three Turkish-style hot rooms, where you can work up from the coolest to hottest temperature, before sampling the steam rooms and icy plunge pool. Guests are required to bring their own towels.
Massage therapies can be booked in advance from a menu of exotic treatments, including a Swedish massage, Indian head massage and Colombian coffee and salt scrub. In keeping with the mores of Victorian bathhouses, different days are ringfenced for different genders, with the only mixed sessions taking place on Sundays.
Suggested treatment: Entry to Porchester Spa costs £27.50, with concessions from £9.09. Try the 30-minute Aromatherapy Massage for an additional £38.