Bathhouse Decorum: What to Do and Not to Do While at the Bath

We've curated a list of need-to-know info and solutions to help you avoid common traveler faux pas at the bathhouse while you're on your grand European tour.

If you’re headed abroad for vacation and adventure, be sure to take some down time in a hot sauna.

For the bold traveler new to saunas, bathhouses, hammams or sento, here's what to expect and how to handle communal bathing abroad.

The Badehaus of Germany

If you’re in German for holiday, expect to be invited for a trip to the baths. Germans, in addition to Finnish, are all about the baths.

You also can expect nudity. Many German baths are nude-only, as are most European baths. Most facilities also deny entrance to children under 15 years old.

If you're traveling from outside Europe, be sure to cover your bum if you sit down anywhere. Germans, and most Europeans, are serious about bum-covering in communal space.

Insider Tip: Germans highly value privacy. That means decorum dictates avoiding excessive eye contact, wide smiles and small talk while at the baths.

 a bathhouse in Germany with female statues on the wall of the building

Hammams in Turkey

Turkish baths have been a cultural hot-spot for centuries.

That being said, some of the best and oldest bathhouses, called hammams, in the world can be found in Istanbul and the surrounding Turkish cities.

Hammams are typically separated by gender, and it’s common for women to wear only the disposable underwear that is handed out at the front desk when entering the hammam.

There are three main rooms and corresponding experiences in a Turkish bath. The first is the shower, then there is a hellacious steam room that’s kept at high temperatures to help detox the body.

After the steam room, bath-goers can either opt to have an attendant scrub them or they can scrub themselves, rinsing with surprisingly cold water.

There’s a room, after the cold rinse, that is kept at a lower temperature than the steam room for patrons to relax in. This is typically the room where massages and other extra services are given.

Turkish baths, especially in Istanbul and other major cities in Turkey, are geared toward tourist. For the authentic hammams that the locals visit, ask around as you meet people.

Insider Tip: Though being topless is customary, getting totally naked isn’t. Also, wear dark underwear to avoid transparency after bathing.

 a modern hammam in Turkey

Thermal Baths in Budapest, Hungary

Thermal baths are common in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary.

There are dozens of thermals baths, as Budapest sits on a bed of hot springs. The baths are as accessible, fortunately, as they are plentiful.

Bathing in Budapest is very much like swimming in a hometown community pool. The only difference is that the pools in Budapest are 100 degrees and have medicinal properties.

That being said, wearing a bathing suit to most of the baths and bringing your own towel is important. There are some separated hammam-style bathhouses in Budapest where totally-nude is alright, but most are al-fresco experiences that dictate the use of a bathing suit.

Insider Tip: If you end up at Széchényi Spa in Budapest, look for older men standing at the outskirts of the pool playing games of chess.

 people bathing at Széchényi Spa in Budapest, Hungary

Jamie Jackson
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