For those living in cold weather climates, the winter months can leave you yearning for warmth. Tropical islands and beach resorts might be on your mind, but there’s another type of destination that can offer not only warmth, but a plethora of health benefits as well. Around the world, hot springs and thermal baths beg travelers to take a dip, thaw their bones and soak in the splendid warm water. This week’s Bucket List takes you around the world from Iceland to Japan, one hot spring at a time.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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While it's not the city's only option, Szechenyi Thermal Baths
is by far among the best and most popular in Budapest, as well as the largest medicinal bath in Europe. It boasts 18 pools, 10 saunas and more within a neo-baroque palace that dates back to 1913. Budapest has been dubbed the City of Baths, and the tradition of soaking in thermal springs goes back to the earliest Roman settlers. At Szechenyi, the mineral-rich water contains calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and several other components said to offer medicinal benefits. The water is drawn from two nearby hot springs that average between 165 and 171 degrees Fahrenheit at the source and 81 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the pools.
Photo by Shawn Harquail, CC BY-NC 2.0
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One of the most picturesque hot springs in the world is in Grindavik, Iceland. Known as the Blue Lagoon, this geothermal spa can be found in a man-made lagoon on a lava field less than an hour drive from Reykjavik. The mineral-rich water contains sulfur and silica, the latter of which helps give it its namesake blue color. The water averages around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and travels more than 6,500 feet from below the surface before it's pumped into the lagoon from a nearby geothermal power plant. Many believe soaking in the Blue Lagoon can help treat various skin conditions, in addition to being undeniably relaxing.
Photo by Moyan Brenn, CC BY 2.0
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One of Japan's most unique hot springs can be found in Nagano Prefecture, where they sit surrounded by towering cliffs and dense forest. The area is known as Hell's Valley and is home to Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park, where the hot springs attract a special kind of guest. The park's pools are famous for attracting large gatherings of Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) who soak in the warm water all winter long. While humans aren't permitted to bathe there, the park is open for spectating and the macaques aren't shy. If you find yourself wanting to take a dip, head to the nearby Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan, a Japanese-style house hotel in Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. While the hot springs there are not guaranteed to be void of primates, humans are invited to take a dip. The onsen dates back to 1864 and today offers both public and private baths.
Photo by SteFou!, CC BY 2.0
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The Turkish hot springs at Pamukkale are as relaxing to soak in as they are impressive to look at. Located in Denizli Province, the terraced hot springs were once the site of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis. The name Pamukkale, which translates to cotton castle, is an homage to the travertine terraces that formed from sedimentary rock deposited by flowing mineral water. The area is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been a popular place to bathe for thousands of years. Today, in an effort to protect the area, soaking in the hot springs is regulated to specific pools.
Photo by Moody Man, CC BY-NC 2.0
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With the Canadian Rockies as your backdrop, the Banff Upper Hot Springs offers therapeutic soaking in an idyllic setting. Located within Banff National Park at 5,200 feet above sea level, this open-air pool is the highest hot spring in all of Canada. The natural mineral water, which ranges in temperature from 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, contains calcium, sulphate and magnesium and more said to deliver medicinal benefits.
Photo by Andrew Bowden, CC BY-SA 2.0
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In a city named Bath, you can expect top notch opportunities for soaking. Unlike many of the other open-air destinations in this gallery, Thermae Bath Spa is housed in an ultra-modern facility. It's home to the the only naturally hot and mineral-rich water in the United Kingdom. Within the New Royal Bath building you'll find two indoor thermal baths, an indoor pool, open-air rooftop pool, in addition to four futuristic-looking steam rooms housed in circular glass pods. There are additional thermal baths housed in 18th-century Georgian-style buildings nearby, as well. For contrast and a bit of history, don't miss a visit to the Roman baths. While you can't soak in them, the complex is historically important as it once served as the public bathing space of the Romans. Along with the below-ground pools, it's home to a Roman temple and a modern-day museum of relics. In part due to the remains of these baths, the entire city is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photo by Jesse Loughborough, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Given Japan's proximity on the Ring of Fire, hot springs can be found throughout the country. One of the most popular is Kusatsu Hot Springs, or Kusatsu Onsen. Some 230,000 barrels of water flow from a spring that originates on a nearby active volcano. It's officially the largest flowing hot spring by volume in Japan. The water at Kusatsu is among the most acidic in the country as well. Guests claim pain and other ailments are instantly cured with a dip in the waters. According to the onsen's website, "it can cure any ailment except heartache." The water enters the onsen via wooden channels before it carries on to various spas in the area. Among the bathing options include a large outdoor pool that can accommodate up to 100 people, as well as additional saunas and tubs of varying temperatures.
Photo by Aiko Konishi, CC BY 2.0