Should you find yourself in a foreign land and with a few hours to spare, you’ll never regret checking out a region’s bathhouse. Unlike, say, avocado toast or Love Island, the public bathing craze, which has been going strong across the globe since the Neolithic age, has yet to truly catch on in the U.S.A. Our recommendation goes deeper than any novelty factor, though. No lap around a museum or hard-sought restaurant reservation compares to a couple hours at a bathhouse, where you’ll interact with locals and get fascinating exposure to foreign customs. In Finland, visitors cap off their sauna sessions by heading outdoors to roll around in a snowbank. At Russian banyas, bathers bat at one others’ skin with rough, aromatic eucalyptus branches and then snack on dumplings (and maybe vodka). From the onsens of Japan to the hammams of Marrakech, you won’t find a more immersive and intimate introduction to another culture than you will at a local bathhouse.
Which might come to explain our abiding love of CityWell, a spa and bathhouse in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. This gem of a spa pulls in elements from saunas and bathhouses around the world. It was while traveling in Australia, when founder and owner Liz Tortolani visited a Korean-style spa and tapped into her passion for bathing culture. “It was a life-changing experience to see all these women of all ages, shapes, and sizes taking care of themselves and each other,” she recalls. Not long afterwards, she found herself at an ancient bathhouse in Budapest, and experienced the healing benefits of hydrotherapy. “To see all the therapeutic treatments they were offering—mud baths, water therapy, massage—was very inspiring,” she explains. The final inspiration was in Berlin, at a co-ed sauna where men and women relaxed and detoxed in (naked) harmony. “It was so civilized, they were sipping bubbly and reading the paper and passing around orange slices after a sauna session.” Tortolani’s own oasis blends all of her memories—almonds and clementines to snack on, massages that will cure all manner of tension, and, most exotic of all, conversation amongst kindred strangers.