Everybody needs a little down time now and again, and one of the best ways to rest and relax is to pay a visit to a nice, peaceful spa - known in German as a Heilbad or a Kurort. This guide explains what facilities you can expect to find and how you should behave, and also lists some of the most well-known German spas, which nowadays are considered attractions in their own right.
Heading to the spa to unwind is by no means a new phenomenon; in fact, the truth is quite the opposite! The word “spa” is believed to have derived from the Belgian town of Spa, which was once known by the Roman name Aquae Spadanae.
Since then, spas have come a long way, nowadays offering traditional healing therapies from all corners of the world - from hot relaxing saunas to chilly ice baths - and experimenting with new technologies to make your ever-relaxing trip to the spa even more peaceful.
Thermal baths in Germany
Thermal baths in particular are a time-honoured spa tradition, with spas all over the world offering relaxing warm bathing spots both indoors and outside.
In Germany, thermal baths are not only part of a destination spa, but are also destinations in their own right. Some of the best thermal spas in the country include natural hot springs set in beautiful mountainous landscapes and national parks - definitely worth a visit for a truly immersive relaxation experience.
What is the word for spa in German?
As is the case with many German words, the word for “spa” is not straightforward, since the language has specific words for specific types of spa.
If you’ve been here for a while, you may notice that the names of many towns and cities in Germany start with, or end with, the word “Bad” - this indicates that they are traditional spa towns, such as Bad Homburg, Bad Honnef, or Wiesbaden. Towns with “Bad”’ in the name are often home to a Heilbad, or medicinal bath. Medicinal baths, in locations where natural hot springs occur, have been popular across Europe for hundreds of years.
The Kurort is a more unique type of spa, with its origins in comparatively recent history. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics, sanitaria and health retreats were very popular ways for busy workers to recuperate at the weekend and on holidays. The resorts combined a hotel stay with healing spa treatments such as aromatherapy and massage.
Though many of these spa retreats collapsed as the Soviet Union dissolved, there are still many health retreats in Germany. The country is also home to Luftkurorte - spa resorts with pure and clean air, which is considered beneficial to health and recovery.
Unlike many other countries, in Germany there is an emphasis on preventative therapy as well as medicine. This means that there are often instances in which spa treatment can be covered by German health insurance, and that doctors can prescribe a trip to the spa for those who need to take a break.
With so many different spa towns and resorts to visit across all of Germany’s federal states, it's no surprise that the range of different treatments available also offers something for everyone.
German bath house
Though often centred around a large swimming pool, bath houses in Germany are by no means regular public leisure centres. Instead, they usually offer a luxury set of heated swimming pools and saunas for people to relax in.
Though not all spas offer massage therapy, those that do usually have a wide range of relaxing treatments. Pedicures, reflexology and back massages are commonly available at many spas and energy-healing treatments such as chakra-balancing massage can be found in spas with a more holistic feel.
The sauna is a great place to detox and rest sore muscles. Often, expats and internationals can find the prospect of entering a sauna daunting, since Germans are known for their “no swimsuit” culture. After the initial shock, however, it can be quite liberating and the health benefits are more worthwhile - just remember to bring your towel to sit on!
Saunas in Germany also have a Saunameister (sauna master) who will perform an Aufguss during your session in the spa. The Aufguss entails infusing water with essential oils and pouring it on the sauna coals, before the Saunameister uses a towel to wave the scent around the room.
Is it necessary for me to bring my own towel? Do I really have to get in that cold shower before I jump in the pool? As an expat, it can be difficult to know what the rules are for visiting spas and saunas in Germany, so here are some tips to help you avoid embarrassment.
While you’re at the spa, it’s a good idea to stick to these principles:
- Read the spa’s rules! They will probably be posted on the walls of the changing rooms, or on the spa’s website.
- For hygienic reasons, make sure to shower before entering the swimming pool or bathing areas.
- It’s important to wear poolside shoes such as flip-flops, since being barefoot in common pool areas is frowned upon in Germany.
German sauna culture
Love it or hate it, going to a sauna in Germany means being in the nude! Here are some rules you should stick to:
- Saunas are a clothing-free zone, so it’s best to do as the locals do and ditch your swimsuit. It might be uncomfortable at first, but by keeping yourself covered up you risk making other sauna-users uncomfortable, and they may actually perceive you as unhygienic.
- Make sure to bring a towel to sit on in the sauna - it is really important to make sure that your body does not touch the sauna seating directly. This goes for feet too - no resting your feet directly on the wood!
- Keep your eyes to yourself. It goes without saying, but make sure to only look people in the eye or the face, and take care not to stare at others.
- Don’t wear flip-flops inside the sauna; simply leave them outside the door.
Best spas in Germany
Now that the rules on spas and saunas are clearer, why not explore the possibilities for a trip to a German spa! Since there’s so many, you’ll surely find one in your local area, but some are so special that you might find yourself driving or catching a train to experience the best of the best. If you are travelling further distances, some spas might also offer a transfer service from their closest airport - make sure to check the options before booking.
Here are some of Germany’s best-rated relaxation spots:
Spa hotels in Germany
Rest and recuperate in a beautiful German spa hotel - there are plenty of wonderful choices!
Relax in stunning surroundings, in beautiful Bavaria, while the staff at Wellnesshotel Jagdhof take care of you with endless spa treatments and buffets of German food. Offering a selection of heated indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzis, saunas and a brine bath, Wellnesshotel Jagdhof has something to help everyone unwind.
Alpenhotel Zechmeisterlehen combines fantastic food and a stunning location with spa relaxation and beauty treatments - all within a family-friendly setting! With an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, a jacuzzi, brine pool and even a natural water pond, the hotel provides a truly wide range of choices for its guests.
Located right next to a glacier, Das Graseck is the perfect place to get some peace and quiet outside of the city. Accessible only by hotel gondola, it is truly a unique hotel, which also offers a preventative medical experience including a health checkup and treatment.
Wellness resorts in Germany
In need of a designated relaxation getaway? Look no further than the great German wellness resort! It’s a one-stop shop for some peace and quiet away from work, study or simply the general stress of inner-city life.
Strandhotel Kurhaus Juist
Tucked away by a beautiful beach on the Dutch border with Germany, Strandhotel Kurhaus Juist offers some of the country’s best spa treatments in stunning surroundings. With beachside yoga classes and a swimming area with a sea view, the hotel creates a calm, serene atmosphere in a grand and luxurious environment.
Villa Stéphanie at Brenners Park-Hotel and Spa
In its previous life a palace, Villa Stéphanie is a beautiful property situated next to Brenners Park Hotel, which is home to one of the most modern spas in Europe, and some of the most advanced spa treatment facilities. Alongside Villa Stéphanie lies Haus Julius, which houses a clinic that specialises in combining holistic medicine with nutrition and detox science to find the perfect programme for guests.
Thermal spas in Germany
Seeking out serenity but not wanting to visit a spa resort or hotel? A thermal spa might be the best option for you! Bathing in warm water can have many of the same benefits as spending a weekend at a wellness retreat, but often for much cheaper! Here are some of the best thermal spas that Germany has to offer.
Thermen und Badewelt Sinsheim
From afar, Thermen und Badewelt Sinsheim may look like part of a tropical resort somewhere in the pacific, with clear blue water and exotic palm trees, but this relaxation paradise is instead located in Baden-Württemberg! Thermen und Badewelt Sinsheim is home to several large heated swimming pools (both indoor and outdoor), and is also equipped with a sauna and a sports swimming pool.
Known for being the largest spa in the world, Therme Erding has a reputation for going all-out. The complex has a wave pool, tropical spa, and more than 30 saunas and steam baths!
Water parks in Germany
If relaxing at the weekend is still not your style, why not head to a water park for a more adrenaline-filled break. Essentially an amusement park with some additional water, these leisure parks are a perfect getaway for the whole family during the school holidays.
Galaxy Water Slide World
Galaxy Water Slide World, on the same location as Therme Erding, is home to 27 water slides and even has a VR water slide experience for the most adventurous of visitors. The complex is conveniently located near Munich, and boasts the largest water slide in Europe.
Want to feel like you’re really in paradise? Tropical Islands Resort in Brandenburg can take you there! The resort offers everything from mini golf to indoor hot-air balloon rides all while surrounded by artificial rainforests, tropical landscapes and swimming pools!
Ready for your spa visit?
Now that you know all about spas and saunas in Germany, it’s time to head out and book a trip! Summer or winter, whatever the weather, the spa is the place to be.