Travel
5 min

London spas the perfect retreat

Where to get your ‘second wind’ when trekking through England’s capital

Reception area at Gentlemen's Tonic. Credit: gentlemenstonic.com

For some, London’s hustle and bustle and British way may seem out of step with health and wellness. A culture that is historically identified by rigid social etiquette and a stoic work ethic does not exactly conjure images of unwinding and self-care. However, steeped with royal pedigree and speckled with palaces, London can accommodate the most discerning travellers, and pulls no punches in the luxury department. And while poolside massages in breezy private cabanas may not be on offer, London’s spas impress with local products, innovative treatments, lavish surroundings and impeccable service.

“London is a world leader in delivering some of the most unique and decadent spa experiences,” says Cathy Stapells, Canada’s public relations and communications manager for VisitBritain. “Available from affordable to luxe, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to be treated like royalty. Along with a variety of day spas, many of the top spas are to be found in London’s finest hotels. But you don’t have to be a guest to indulge yourself.”

London’s museums, galleries, parks and shops are spread across boroughs all over the city, making England’s capital best explored by foot in order to take in the charms and architecture between destinations. But all that trekking can leave a tourist ragged. Scheduling a spa visit during the day can give a tourist the necessary second wind to keep calm and carry on without sporting a stiff upper lip on sore legs and feet.

Knightsbridge
The Peak Health Club and Spa 
Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel
Crowning the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, the Peak Health Club and Spa extends across the ninth floor of this luxury property. And indulging in the Peak’s extensive amenities and treatments does not have to leave you too relaxed to resume your great British adventure. The spa’s signature Ytsara massages leave clients re-energized by increasing blood circulation, boosting immune systems and releasing stiffness. An east-meets-west mashup, the treatment combines Thai-inspired therapies with North American techniques.

The Peak’s complete facilities span two floors and overlook Sloane Street’s luxury designer shops such as Chanel, Tom Ford and Versace. An impressive, stainless steel swimming pool , extensive Jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms help round out the spa visit.

Pimlico and Vauxhall
The Spa at Dolphin Square

Blocks away from the Tate Britain — an impressive gallery space with architecture that rivals the art within — and just across the Thames from Vauxhall’s gay village, the spa at Dolphin Square transports visitors with its exotic Moroccan décor and treatments. The atmospheric steam room uses mineral-enriched water from its own artesian well to help draw out the inevitable grime that will plug your pores from London’s car pollution.

Before a treatment, patrons are encouraged to unwind by alternating between the steam room, showers and relaxation room, where heated marble slabs help release tension.  Robed and slippered, patrons shuffle with their spa mentors into a range of treatment rooms equipped accordingly.

Two signature body treatments are worth considering. For the time constrained, the shea butter massage is a 25-minute antidote to schlepping about the city, and leaves the skin purified and saturated with exotic oils. The Arabian massage is inspired by Bedouin travellers, and those nomads were forced to practice self-care as a survival mechanism. A full-body exfoliant kicks off the treatment, followed by a muscle-relieving massage.

Marylebone
The Landmark London Hotel Health Club and Spa

Blocks away from Madame Tussauds’ replicas of celebrities and royal family members, The Landmark London Hotel lives up to its name. Within the striking gothic exterior, the train-station-turned-hotel features an atrium centre where palm trees stand atop an intimate, contemporary spa beneath. The tranquillity is an ideal tonic to the hubbub of Tussauds and the nearby Paddington Station.

Easing into a treatment session is helped by the Klaf’s sanarium, part steam room and part sauna, which overlooks the hotel pool. The complementing fragrances of menthol and sandalwood transport spa-goers, making them oblivious to the young hotel guests cannonballing into the pool.

New to the spa is the organic warm spiced mud wrap. The treatment features purifying ingredients such as organic ginger, peat and orange peel. This creamy mud formulation is lathered across the body before the client is encased by ocean-fresh Fucus serratus to spur the skin’s absorption of the muddy goodness. A moisturiser by Voya, the spa’s cosmetic line, is then massaged into the body.

Oxford Circus
Sanook Spa at The Courthouse Hotel

What Sanook Spa lacks in size and amenities, it makes up for in client care and proximity to London’s most buzzing shopping corridors, Oxford and Regent Streets. The streets are like catnip for shoppers, with popular stores like Selfridges, Top Shop, River Island, All Saints and Primark.

Sanook, which means “enjoy yourself” in Thai, embraces this ethos using rich and restorative oils, scrubs and masks by La Sultane de Saba. The fragrance of shea butter permeates the dimly-lit bijou spa, lulling guests into a state of relaxation. A simple but well-maintained heated swimming pool and sauna add to the experience.

Sloane Square
QMS Medicosmetics

Steps away from Sloane Square and tucked beyond the high-end department store Peter Jones, QMS Medicosmetics performs the ultimate facial that takes on massage-like qualities. While not a full-body treatment, QMS’s luxurious facial therapies — from deep-pore cleansing to age-defying oxygenating — have a way of filtrating throughout the entire body.

The facial begins with a thorough cleanse, followed by an exfoliation that gently sloughs off dead skin cells. A series of masks are then slathered on to soothe and hydrate the skin. The treatment then turns serious. A freshening tonic is applied from the salon’s customized oxygen machine, which acts like a mini-hair dryer, dispersing a 95 percent pure concentrate of oxygen across the face that feels like a short bursts of cold air. The aestheticians assert that the oxygen increases the metabolism of the skin, helps boost circulation and has a rejuvenating effect. With skin hydrated and plump, a moisturizer and eye serum cap off the treatment.

Park Lane
Spa InterContinental at InterContinental London Park Lane

Stepping into Spa InterContinental on the hotel’s second floor is like escaping to a tranquil new world, galaxies away from the bustle beneath in the landmark’s buzzy lobby. Dim lighting, dark furnishings and minimal splashes of deep orchid pink and leafy green exude an exotic feel. A standard treatment begins with a tender massage which accentuates relaxation and uses luxurious products by Elemis, a home-grown British brand.

Treatment begins with a full-body massage using warmed Elemis oil and heated towels to accelerate the relief of muscle pains and strains. Heightening the sensation, a lavender bag is placed over the eyes. If that’s not enough to slip into a coma of relaxation, guests are tucked into the spa’s water-filled floatation bed for 20 minutes following the massage, which aestheticians claim will replicate the rest of four hours of sleep. A glass of cold water and skewered cubes of fruit cleanse and nourish patrons before they return, posture restored, to Park Lane.

Mayfair
Gentlemen’s Tonic

In fancypants Mayfair, nestled behind the very chic Park Lane, there sits a special man-cave-meets-spa. Catering to a male clientele, the white tiling and basic furnishings of Gentlemen’s Tonic diffuse any of the femininity typical to the average spa. The deep tissue massage takes muscular infiltration to a new level.

In addition to the body treatments, Gentlemen’s Tonic offers a wet shave that takes facial smoothness to a new level. Or layer, perhaps. Clients face the world after cycles of steaming-hot towel treatments and shaving products that achieve a knick-free smoothness unattainable with a usual generic razor and can of shaving cream.

Westminster
ESPA Life at The Corinthia Hotel London

A trip to London is incomplete without a photo of Big Ben and traipsing around Westminster for snaps of the Houses of Parliament . . . and playing wedded princess at Westminster Abbey.

And the nearby Corinthia, still gleaming since its 2012 opening, is an ideal antidote to a morning spent dodging tourists taking selfies. Beneath the grand new hotel is a subterranean oasis: ESPA Life. The four floors of the spa feature endless treatment pods with doorways that are indistinguishable from the corridors. From buffing nails to prepping clients for a marathon, the spa is full service visits include indulging on the thermal floor which features a steam room, steel swimming pool and vitality pool.

Once you resurface at the ground level, guests are sure to feel transformed, ready to resume exploration.

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay London, see our City GuideListings GuideEvents Guide and Activities Guide.