That’s understandable. After all, if you come from a culture where public nudity is not the norm, it can take some screwing of your courage to the sticking place to relinquish your clothing. To say nothing of relaxing to any meaningful degree while wearing only your birthday suit in a room full of similarly (un)attired strangers. But I mean this seriously and un-ironically: if you have never been to a Dutch spa, you are missing out.
There are, of course, the undeniable bragging rights that come out of such an encounter. You become one of the initiated. And forever after whenever you go back to that place where nudity is not the norm, you have a party story everyone wants to hear. But the best thing about a Dutch spa is that it really is incredibly relaxing. There are reasons people have been doing this thing since ancient Rome. (Even beyond the reasons of hygiene back when massive numbers of people lacked indoor plumbing in their houses.)
I spent a day at the spa with my husband this week, so I am fresh off my spa high, and ready to tell all. Because I think one reason some people don’t go (besides the obvious nekkid part) is because they don’t know what to expect, or what to do, or how to feel comfortable. It kills me that so many people are missing out, especially in a world where we all need this kind of relaxation. So stick with me, and I’ll get you ready for your first trip to a Dutch spa.
Choose a Spa
I’ll recommend my four favourites, all easily reachable by bike or public transport from Amsterdam:
- Zuiver. If you’re in Amsterdam, the most obvious choice is Zuiver Spa, which is between Zuid and Amstelveen, just above Amsterdamse Bos (the Amsterdam “Forest”). It is easily accessible by bike from the city, quite luxurious, and has a nice big outdoor area.
- Leiden Wellness. If you are willing to venture a little farther afield, Leiden is 23 minutes by train from Amsterdam Zuid, and the spa is on the top floor of a high-rise hotel right next to the train station, with gorgeous views over the beautiful city of Leiden.
- Spa Weesp. When the weather is nice, we love going a little more off the beaten track to Weesp. If you go by public transport, you’ll have a delightful 15-20 minute ramble through the Dutch countryside before arriving at a spa that is all about natural outdoor beauty.
- Spa Gouda. If I were even able to pick a favourite, it would probably be Gouda, partially because it’s right in the middle of one of the cutest little Dutch towns, and you can do a bit of sightseeing on the way. We like popping in for brunch beforehand at Brownies&Downies.
Make a Reservation
Although it is sometimes possible to just walk in, reservations are recommended to make sure the spa isn’t full. Check Groupon first, since they often have great deals, especially for couples or groups. There’s nothing at all wrong with going to the spa by yourself, but especially your first time it is nice to have a co-conspirator. People go as couples, with a girlfriend (or guy-friend) or two, or in mixed groups.
Be aware that many spas have a regular women-only day, and if you just absolutely can’t do the naked thing, some also have a swimsuit day. Sometimes your reservation will include times on it (like evening after 18:00), but you can also get one for the whole day. Which I kind of recommend, because spending a whole day at the spa is just delightful.
Pack Your Stuff
You don’t have to bring anything to the spa except yourself. They have all the accoutrements available to rent there. But if you already have them around (or once you’ve become a spa addict like me), it’s nice to take your own. Here’s are the essentials:
- Spa slippers. These can also be flip-flops, crocs, or whatever, as long as they’re water-friendly and easy to slip on and off (I saw a guy wearing some kind of giant bear-paw shaped crocs once);
- Bathrobe. Some people like giant fluffy ones, but I just got a colourful thin, quick-drying hooded Turkish bathrobe, and I’m in love with it;
- Towel. Again, whatever is fine. Lots of people seem to just grab one out of their bathroom. A beach towel is probably too big.
And here are some nice-to-haves:
- A water bottle. Because you will be sweating A LOT and probably want to replenish;
- A book (it probably won’t get very wet, but not a leather-bound first edition);
- Your own bath gel/shampoo/conditioner/deodorant/etc. Soap/shampoo is usually provided, but if you prefer your own you can bring it;
- A bag to carry everything in. They usually provide plastic bags for anything you want to carry around (like your water bottle and book), but I bring a little mesh bag for that too.
Check in and Disrobe
At the front desk you show your reservation and rent anything you need (many spas will also have bathrobes, towels and slippers for sale, as well as various scrubs, lotions, and other products). They’ll give you a wristband that you’ll use to access the spa, open your locker, pay for food inside, etc. They may also offer to give you a tour if it’s your first time. It’s a good idea to take them up on that, since every Dutch spa I’ve visited is kind of like a maze, and you will get lost afterwards anyway, perhaps several times.
Then you go into the locker room. It’s already co-ed here, so the first couple of things you should go ahead and shed are your inhibitions. Then take off your clothes, watch, jewelry, etc. and lock them in your locker, along with your phone. Yes, you read that right. The spa is a phone-free zone. After all, nobody wants anybody in there to be able to take photos of them naked, and it would get wet anyway, and most of all it is incredibly freeing to be without a phone. You may be less phone-addicted than I am, but for me, six or so hours without my phone is a revelation. Don’t worry; if you absolutely have to check in with your kids on WhatsApp and make sure they made it home from school OK, you can always go back to the locker room.
Before you do anything else, it’s polite to take a shower, just like when you go to the pool. The showers will be right next to the locker room to encourage this. But after that you’re free to explore. Sometimes they will have a specific “spa sequence” they recommend you follow, posted up on the wall, but it’s completely optional. Now you just do whatever you like, whenever you like, for the next several hours. Feel like soaking your feet in the foot bath first? Go ahead. Fancy a stint in the sauna? You’ll have several to choose from. Pool? Hot Tub? Steam-room? Relaxing with a book? All possible. Here’s a list of more or less what you might find (it varies a bit according to the spa):
- Saunas of varying temperatures, from 60 all the way up to 100. Some of them have little fires burning in them, others smell of this or that herb. Sometimes there’s herb scented water with a dipper that you can pour over hot stones. Rule one is that you must always sit or lie on your towel. Rule two is that you should be quiet; sometimes there are people in there talking, so you can read the room to some extent, but if in doubt, don’t open your mouth;
- Various pools of water scattered about. Try with a toe first. It could be a regular hot tub, have literal bits of ice floating in it, or be any temperature in between;
- Foot bath. Sit on your towel here too. If you are lucky, they might have a nice herbed salt scrub you can use;
- Pool. These are nicely warmed to about body temperature, and perhaps a bit more than waist-deep. People don’t really swim laps. It’s more about bobbing around, floating, and just enjoying the water on your bare-everywhere skin. At Zuiver the pool is a bit of a maze in itself, and you can swim from inside to outside;
- Steam sauna (sometimes they call this the Hammam, but sometimes the Hammam is something else);
- Showers, including the ones you first washed off in, but probably also other warm showers, cold showers, showers with ice to scrub yourself with, and even a giant icy bucket of water that you can tip over yourself all at once if you like;
- Speciality saunas, e.g.: an infrared sauna where you push a button to turn on the infrared, an ice sauna that is kind of like walking into a walk-in freezer naked, a sauna entirely walled in pink Himalayan salt, etc.;
- Rest rooms, or quiet rooms with comfortable chairs where you can curl up with a book or nap. Leiden even has ergonomic “nap pods” with headphones playing relaxing music. Most spas also have an outdoor area where you can relax in the sun when there is sun, which is admittedly not especially often in the Netherlands;
- Extra services not included in your spa admission: fish to nibble your toes, massages, facials, etc. You can sign up for these at the front desk; best to do it when you arrive if possible, because sometimes they fill up.
Have Something to Eat
I was pleasantly surprised by this bit. Because you’ll ideally be there for hours and aren’t allowed to bring in any outside food, the spa has a yummy restaurant where you can order anything from a nice tea to a full dinner. It’s a little weird at first to be eating dinner in a bathrobe, but it’s the kind of weirdness that–like being naked with a bunch of strangers in the first place–goes away very quickly. They just scan your wristband when you order, and you’ll settle up your bill at the end of the day.
Speaking of which, sadly all good things must come to an end. Before you know it, several hours will have flown by, and it will be time for you to head out. Go take a final dip in the pool, have one last go in the sauna, one last bucket of ice over your head, or whatever, and then finish as you began, with a shower. Most spas have a nice body scrub you can use. Then reverse the check-in process, recovering your personal belongings, clothing, and yes, your phone from the locker room, and turning in your wristband so you can settle your bill. That’s it!
Hopefully this has dissipated a bit of the mystique and left you excited to go, or at least a bit intrigued. Whether you’ve lived in the Netherlands for years or are just in Amsterdam for a weekend, give it a try! You won’t be sorry you did.