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Baden-Baden Spa in Germany
Baden-Baden, Germany’s most elegant spa town, is bursting with hot springs, swanky shops and historic hotels.
If you like old-world luxury, natural beauty, thermal baths and a stately (and by stately, I mean slow) pace, Baden-Baden is the destination for you.
I rank it as one of the top three spa towns in Europe, and – as a spa writer who has reviewed countless spas and wellness resorts for various magazines and newspapers – I’ve been to a heck of a lot.
That said, it takes a particular type of traveller to appreciate Baden-Baden’s charms. If you’re looking for a fast pace, an onslaught of tourist sights and urban action, it’s not your best bet.
As a perennially exhausted traveller in search of comfort, nature, serenity, and a trace of a world gone by, it suits me well. So much so that I dragged my husband here for a lengthy spa vacation on our honeymoon. (Before dragging him to spa towns in Switzerland and Italy.)
Is Baden-Baden Worth It?
In my spa-loving opinion, yes. It’s a UNESCO Great Spa Towns of Europe and so gloriously staid and sophisticated you’d be hard pressed to find another town like it.
My first glimpse of Baden-Baden was eye-opening – I had no idea places like this even existed.
Imposing stone hotels line the shaded Lichtentaler Allee park like modern day castles. Cobbled lanes lead to upscale shops.
Like a step back into history, the Neoclassical Kurhaus (the ‘cure house’) is a vision of columns and hand-painted frescos.
European Bathing Culture
If you do want to visit a Baden Baden spa – and it’s a great way to experience European bathing culture – here’s a guide to the best spas and bathhouses including the famous Friedrichsbad Bathhouse and the Caracalla Spa Baden-Baden.
Even if you’re not sure how to spa, or what European spas are all about, it’s a good way to dip your toes into the wellness tradition.
Where is Baden-Baden?
Baden Baden sits at the edge of the Black Forest in Southern Germany, 170 km (105 miles) south of Frankfurt. From Frankfurt it’s easy to get here by train (usually with one change), and an hour from Heidelberg.
History of the Spa Town
Baden Baden has a long past as a hot springs destination. The Roman Emperor Caracalla came here in the third century to soak his arthritis away, and you can still glimpse the ruins of the Roman baths today.
Skip a thousand years or two and you’ll find the Russian writer, Dostoevsky, going broke in Baden-Baden’s ornate casino.
Tolstoy was inspired to set a scene in Anna Karenina in this atmospheric Black Forest town, while the American novelist, Mark Twain, bathed in the thermal waters of Friedrichsbad – a Roman Irish bathhouse that is still steaming along today.
The Best Baden-Baden Baths
For the best spa and thermal water experience, you have the choice of two famous bathhouses, Friedrichsbad and the Baden Baden Spa Caracalla.
Run by the same company, Carasana, these two renowned spas offer completely different styles of baths and are both worth a visit.
Friedrichsbad Baden Baden is a regimented 3-hour bathing ritual set in Neoclassical splendour, while the Caracalla spa has an upscale thermal waterpark sort of feel.
There are also a few other ways to spa in Baden-Baden that I’ll touch on below.
Friedrichsbad Baden-Baden – A Naked Experience
If you visit Friedrichsbad, you’ll be shedding your aches, and also your clothes. Yes, the Friedrichsbad bath experience is completely without clothes.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
A Roman Irish Bath Experience
Friedrichsbad Baden-Baden is an authentic Roman Irish bath experience. Though, um, what is Roman Irish bathing culture? Is it some ancient healing ritual we’ve been missing all our lives? Not exactly.
The Roman-Irish bathing tradition only dates back to 1869 in Dublin, when an Irish doctor named Richard Barter opened a bathhouse influenced by the dry-air bathing traditions of ancient Rome.
The dry air bath was meant to encourage perspiration, which is considered healing, avoiding the heavier steam of Turkish-style baths that restrict sweating.
Clearly the Irish-Roman bath idea caught on, because Friedrichsbad Baden Baden opened in 1877, eight years later.
A 17-Step Bathing Ritual
Today the bath circuit at the Friedrichsbad spa is a 17-step wellness ritual of dry air bathing, steaming, soaking and being pummelled and scrubbed with a brush – all while being very very naked.
It’s a dream of a building. You’ll be sweating amidst richly-painted tiles and a Beaux Arts dome, but clothing is not an option.
And don’t expect to get dressed again for awhile – the complete bathing process takes more than three hours. It also includes views of the opposite sex you might not want to see.
Yes, in addition to being naked at the spa, you’ll have the pleasure of being in mixed company.
If You’re Shy, Go to Friedrichsbad on Non Co-ed Bathing Days
The Baden Baden Friedrichsbad baths are co-ed experience, though when I went with my husband we opted for a non co-ed day (meaning women and men do separate circuits).
Who cares if we were on our honeymoon? I still didn’t want to spa naked with him.
💦 Spa Tip: Even on segregated bathing days you’ll bump noses with the opposite sex during one stage of the Roman Irish bathing ritual, and it’s a step you won’t want to miss: soaking in the thermal pool under the lofty dome.
My advice? Relax and go with the flow. It’s easier said than done, but if you’re going to go to a German spa, accept that you’re going have to strip off your clothes at some point.
Why Friedrichsbad is Clothing Free
The lack of restrictive clothing means better circulation for you. And don’t worry, the atmosphere at the Friedrichsbad baths is anything but wild. It’s more like being in a temple dedicated to water.
After all, being nude is all part of the German sauna experience, where clothing is often forbidden.
(I should know. I’ve been kicked out for wearing a bathing suit, and learned my lesson fast.)
While there’s no escaping nudity at the Friedrichsbad Roman Irish bath, it does elevate a mineral bath into an adventure – maybe that’s why it’s the best-known Baden-Baden spa of all.
Caracalla Baden-Baden Baths
With 12 natural hot springs churning out an impressive 800,000 litres of steaming water a day in Baden-Baden, hydrotherapy (healing treatments using water) is the town’s raison d’etre.
If you’re intimidated by nude bathing at Friedrichsbad but still want to soak, head to the more modern Caracalla baths where swimsuits are required everywhere but the saunas.
This makes it the best option for a Baden Baden spa with clothes.
What to Expect at Caracalla
An airy take on a Roman temple, Caracalla Baden Baden is a spacious bathing complex of blue water, clear glass and white pillars.
This watery wonderland of waterfalls, fountains and aquatic air jets has both indoor and outdoor pools, and the garden-like surroundings are serene.
Soaking in the warm outdoor pools is my very favourite way of enjoying the Baden-Baden springs.
There is also a cafe so you can easily rehydrate and grab a bite to eat.
Caracalla Spa Pools
At the entrance you’ll be given a plastic bracelet, then you change in a private locker stall and store your things in a locker.
From there you’ll find two main areas. The pool area on the main level and the clothing free sauna area upstairs.
The pool area is good for families. There are indoor and outdoor thermal pools that range in temperature from 18° C to 38° C. There is also a rock grotto, steam bath, and salt water inhalation room.
A passageway connects the indoor and outdoor pools, and you can even bathe in the outdoor pool in winter.
In summer, you can make use of the grassy sunbathing area in the landscaped grounds where there are plenty of deck chairs.
Sauna Area at Caracalla Therme
The second section of the Caracalla Baths Baden Baden is the Sauna Area, and it’s not for children.
If you’ve never done more than lie in a cedar sauna, you’re in store for a whole new universe of wellness.
💦 Spa Tip: The Sauna Area is another naked spa adventure, but there’s a workaround – it’s acceptable to go into the saunas wrapped up in a towel. Once you get used to the atmosphere, you probably won’t bother.
You do need a towel to lie on though. It’s not okay to leave your sweat behind.
Also, if you’re on a higher level, do not rest your feet on the bench below without a towel underneath your feet. Another hard lesson learned. (Germans sauna goers are not shy about telling you the rules.)
The variety of wellness experiences in Caracalla’s Sauna Area is mind boggling. It’s also fun, like a sauna amusement park where everyone is very very quiet.
A Modern Approach to Wellness
It’s worth getting naked at the spa just to try out some of Caracalla Baden Baden’s more avant-garde sauna experiences.
You can have a sound and light experience in the intriguingly-named Spectaculum, be bombarded by wafting scents in the the Aroma Sauna, or chill out in the space-age Blue Space Sensesraum.
You can take it down a notch and relax in the Green Space Room, or go rustic in the Forest Sauna and the Fire Sauna.
Really, it’s a European spa experience that will open your eyes to a cutting-edge sauna culture, even if you find that some of the rooms sound a lot more exciting than they actually are.
Radisson Blu Badischer Hof Hotel Baden-Baden
Good Value Accommodation with Hot Springs
While the two main baths, Caracalla and Friedrichsbad, get all the press, there are a few other ways to spa in Baden-Baden. For that we need to look at some of the Baden Baden’s top hotels.
The 4-star Radisson Blu Badischer Hof is the only hotel in Baden-Baden that has thermal water pools.
Mark and I stayed here for a week after down-scaling from Brenners Park, and we made good use of the hotel’s indoor and outdoor hot springs pools, which were included in our stay.
Best of all, it wasn’t nearly as expensive as many of the luxury hotels in town and has a decent location.
A word about the Radisson Blu: The hotel has both an old world wing and a modern wing. After much squabbling, Mark and I chose to stay in one of the modern rooms. It was pretty standard but comfortable and quiet.
Mark is still complaining about losing that battle as he loves historic architecture, but I’d heard the old wing wasn’t as quiet. Happy wife, happy life!
Heliopark Bad Hotel Zum Hirsch
An Affordable Spa Hotel with a Central Location
I stayed at the Heliopark Hotel Zum Hirsch on my very first trip to Baden-Baden. While my room didn’t have thermal water taps, some of the rooms do, and you can have your own private mineral bath. It doesn’t have thermal pools in the spa though.
The hotel is very central with a location right on the main cobblestoned street. It’s pretty from the outside, a pale yellow building with plenty of leafy plants and wrought iron balconies.
Since my stay they’ve renovated, and I think it lost some of its old-world charm. Nonetheless it’s convenient and there is a spa with a Finnish sauna and steam room.
Brenners Park Hotel & Spa – A Luxury 5-Star Hotel
The most deluxe Baden-Baden spa hotel is Brenners Park, a historic hotel on the Lichtentaler Allee. These are the most lavish digs in town.
Mark and I stayed here for the first two nights of our honeymoon, and it’s an ideal way to jumpstart a marriage.
The hotel has a Roman-inspired indoor pool, beauty salon, fitness room and plenty of privileged grandeur in the lounges and lobby. Opened in 1872, it’s one of Germany’s top hotels.
Check Prices for Brenners Park Hotel & Spa here.
The Villa Stephanie Spa & Wellness
A Luxury Destination Spa
Attached to Brenners Park is the Villa Stephanie, an elite wellness centre described as a ‘couture’ spa experience.
With only 15 rooms and suites, it’s a deluxe Baden-Baden ‘spa hotel within a hotel’ and offers a serious wellness getaway.
You can focus on digital detox, nutrition, pampering and even medical care. The world is your spa oyster here.
Thai Massage Baden Baden
If it’s a straight Thai massage you’re after, and you don’t need thermal water, lavish pools, and elegant bells and whistles, Sabai Jai Thai Massage is an affordable option.
The therapists base their massage technique on the teachings of the famous Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok.
I haven’t tried Sabai Jai myself, but that’s only because when I’m on a spa vacation in Germany, I want thermal water, lavish pools and elegant bells and whistles.
Historical Spa Attractions
While enjoying the many wellness opportunities in Baden-Baden, it’s also nice to look into the town’s past as one of the grandest spa destinations in all of Europe.
In the 19th century, the Trinkhalle (Drink Hall) in the Kurhaus is where guests would drink the thermal water, stroll, gossip, and see and be seen.
(Although if you want to see the largest drinking hall ever built you’ll have to go to Bad Kissingen.)
Baden-Baden’s Kurhaus is a striking building and you can still visit it but – excuse the pun – it’s a watered-down version of the traditional spa experience.
Up until recently you could buy a cup of water to sample the famous Baden Baden springs, but the fountains are now closed.
Instead you’ll find a tourist information desk. It’s handy but seems like a bit of an anticlimax to the town’s lengthy spa history.
The best part is walking outside along the building’s graceful arcade, which is lined with pillars and murals of the region.
The Lichententaler Allee
Historically, gentle exercise has been part of the traditional spa cure, and there is no better place to stroll than the Lichentaler Alle, tree-lined park promenade that follows the River Oos.
Many of the grand hotels back onto it, and everyone from Queen Victoria and Napoleon III to Mark Twain has walked it.
The Ancient Roman Baths
The Baden-Baden spa tradition goes back to the Romans, who made good use of the hot springs, and called the settlement Aquae Aureliae.
From mid March to mid November, you can tour the Soldiers Bath below the Friedrichsbad Baden Baden baths.
A European Spa Town that Never Loses its Popularity
The popularity of spa destinations might ebb and flow with the times, but Baden-Baden consistently stays at the top of the list. And, with spa travel and wellness more popular than ever, I can’t see it losing its lustre anytime soon.
Attracting a diverse mix of retired millionaires, European aristocrats, water devotees, spa lovers and day-tripping tourists, Baden Baden’s rank as the best spa town in Germany lies in its charming location along the River Oos, the fresh Black Forest air, gracious hotels, its world-class casino and, of course, the magical springs.
But its elite complacency isn’t for everyone. “I fully believe I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden,” Mark Twain wrote. “Baden-Baden is welcome to it.”
Getting to Baden-Baden
Frankfurt to Baden-Baden: It’s an 80-minute train ride from Frankfurt, and there are trains from the airport.
Karlsruhe: While Frankfurt is the biggest airport near Baden-Baden, much closer is the Karlsruhe Airport, about 40 km away. RyanAir offers dirt cheap flights to Karlsruhe from London, and buses from the airport go to Baden-Baden.
Heidelberg to Baden-Baden: Heidelberg is 90 km north of Baden-Baden. If you get a direct train it takes about an hour.
From Strasbourg: Baden-Baden is less than an hour’s drive from Baden-Baden. There aren’t many direct trains but there are buses.
Baden-Baden Train Station
The train station in Baden-Baden is not in the historical centre, and if it’s your first view of Baden Baden you likely won’t be impressed. You’ll need to take a taxi or a bus. Bus #201 and #205 go to the spa centre. Your destination is Leopoldsplatz.
Tours to Baden-Baden from Strasbourg: You can book a half day walking tour of Baden-Baden from Strasbourg here.
Day tours to Baden-Baden from Frankfurt: You can sign up for a full day tour of Strasbourg and Baden-Baden here. Also available from Frankfurt is a full day Heidelberg and Baden-Baden tour – check prices and availability.