Roman Baths: The Ultimate Guide

What are the best ancient Roman Baths to visit?

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When the Romans talked about civilising the world they weren’t only talking of conquest and military might. In fact, they saw the tactic of exporting their lifestyle as a key weapon in their subjugation of others – and nothing represented this better than Roman baths.

Today, over 1500 years since the fall of the Empire, there remain a host of ancient Roman bathhouses which have survived the elements and can still be explored, and among the very best are those at Herculaneum, Dougga and of course the Baths of Caracalla. Other popular sites tend to include Roman Baths in Bath, the Antonine Baths and the astonishing Baths of Diocletian.

We’ve put together an experts guide to surviving ancient Roman bathhouses and hypocausts, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of baths from ancient Rome which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.

1. Herculaneum

Only recently starting to creep out of Pompeii’s shadow, the fascinating ruins of Herculaneum contain two of the best preserved Roman baths in the world – the Forum baths and the Suburban baths. These are probably the best Roman baths found anywhere. Herculaneum was a port town established by the ancient Romans in what is now modern Ercolano, Italy. At its peak, it would have had around 4,000 citizens and served as a holiday town for wealthy Campanians and Romans. Like nearby Pompeii, Herculaneum was engulfed by the lava and mud which spewed from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Even the streets of Herculaneum are fascinating, displaying the high degree of planning employed by the Romans.

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2. Dougga

The Lucinian Baths at Dougga, also called the Baths of Caracalla, are a genuinely impressive example of surviving Roman baths. Quite a site to see, the towering walls and other structures have survived pretty much intact. Dougga itself boasts a series of impressive ruins amidst its seventy hectares, including a 3,500-seater theatre, an amphitheatre, temples such as those of Juno Caelestis and Saturn, public baths, a forum, a trifolium villa, two triumphal arches and the remains of a market.

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3. Baths of Caracalla

Among the most impressive Roman baths found anywhere in the world, the huge Baths of Caracalla in Rome are simply astounding – check out the streetview option in our entry for this site and take a virtual walkthrough! It was the Emperor Septimius Severus who began building these massive baths, but they are named after his son, the emperor Caracalla, who completed the works in 216 AD. With the original walls still towering above and impressive black and white mosaics underfoot this amazing ancient ruin is one of the best preserved of its kind anywhere in the world. However, the fun doesn’t stop there. For it is the recently opened underground sections which will really set your heart racing. An innocuous staircase will take you deep below ground to the tremendously well preserved tunnels and corridors which represent the unseen heart of this complex – where slaves and other workers would have scurried about to keep the waters heated and the customers happy.

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4. Roman Baths - Bath

The world famous Roman Baths complex in Bath contains an incredible set of thermal spas and an impressive ancient Roman bathing house. Ranked among the best known Roman baths in the world, this complex led to the naming of the very city in which it is now found. Boasting a combination of well-preserved remains mixed with some 19th century additions, it’s one of the best examples of Roman baths to have survived. It is unsurprising that the Romans chose to build such magnificent baths in this location. The area benefits from hot springs from the Mendip Hills, which arrive at the Roman Baths at a temperature of 46 degrees Celsius and rise due to enormous pressure. In fact, prior to the Romans discovering these springs, the Celts dedicated this phenomenon to the Godess Sulis. The Romans equated Sulis with their own deity, Minerva, and kept the original name, calling the town Aqua Sulis – the waters of Sulis. Today, the Roman Baths offer an incredibly comprehensive insight into the lives of the Romans in the town and around Britain. The site looks quite small from the outside, but it is actually vast and a visit can last several hours.

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5. The Antonine Baths

The Antonine Baths ranked among the biggest Roman baths to have ever been constructed and were the largest such complex in North Africa. Much remains to be explored, though only the lower levels have survived. Originally built from 145 to 165 AD, mostly during the reign of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, the Antonine Baths were among the largest baths to be built in the Roman world and were the largest such complex in North Africa. Although it would have once existed of many stories, the remains that can be seen today are mostly from the lower level. Despite lacking its original grandeur, the fascinating ruins are certainly worth exploring and provide a picturesque location, positioned as they are against the backdrop of the ocean.

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6. Baths of Diocletian

The largest Roman baths ever built, the Baths of Diocletian in Rome could hold up to 3,000 people and boasted vast frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium chambers as well as a host of other facilities. Given the sheer size of the Baths of Diocletian, it is no surprise that the structure did not survive intact over the centuries. Various elements survive - some standing as grand ruins while others have been incorporated into other buildings. It can therefore be difficult at times to distinguish between the original building, restored areas and more modern constructions built within the complex. Probably the best place to view the actual structure, and get an idea as to the original scale of the Baths of Diocletian, is the well preserved Aula Ottagona. Also part of the Rome National Museum, it contains many artefacts found during the excavation.

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7. Imperial Baths of Trier

One of the more unexpected entries in our Roman baths list is the Imperial Baths of Trier. Believed to be the biggest Roman bath complex outside Rome, many of the original walls still stand and there’s even the option to explore the ancient underground tunnels. Trier was a Roman city initially established in around 15 BC and called Augusta Treverorum. By the late third century AD, when Diocletian divided the Empire and created the Tetrachy, Trier was such a flourishing and important city that it was known as the “Second Rome”.

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8. Musee de Cluny

What is now a museum was once an ancient baths complex and represents some of the best remains of Roman Paris. Much of the outer structure of these Roman baths survive, known as Thermes de Cluny, and the museum itself provides a guide to the layout of the baths. Outside the museum, one can see the original walls of the cold room or “caldarium” and warm water room (tepidarium), although, at the time of writing, visitors cannot walk around this part of the site. Officially known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages - the museum has an impressive collection, including Roman statues, gothic sculptures, a treasury filled with the works of medieval goldsmiths and an exhibit of funereal objects.

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9. Kourion

Kourion is an impressive archaeological site near Limassol in Cyprus containing mostly Ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins. The baths at Kourion are some of the best remains found at the site and contain a number of interesting mosaics as well as the remains of the hypocaust heating system. Several additional ancient buildings remain, including part of the fourth century AD House of Achilles - thought to have been a reception centre - with its mosaic floors and the third century AD House of the Gladiators, so named because some of its mosaics depict gladiatorial battles.

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10. Conimbriga

One of Portugal’s best Roman sites, the remains at the public baths include their hypocaust heating systems, decorative mosaics and the frigidarium (cold room), caldarium (hot room), the tepidarium (warm room) as well as the remains of the praefurnium (heating or furnace room). The site contains three bath areas, Great Southern Baths, Baths of the Wall, Baths of the Aqueduct. Other things to see at Conimbriga include the remains of houses and public buildings, some quite impressive walls and a small museum of finds.

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Full list of Roman Baths: The Ultimate Guide

Beyond the most famous surviving ancient Roman bathhouses, there’s many similar places to visit, including the Imperial Baths of Trier, those at Hadrian’s Villa and the baths of Carthage to name but a few. 

Often free to use and available to the whole populace, these ancient baths were a crucial aspect of daily life in the Empire. Usually consisting of the caldarium (hot bath), the tepidarium (warm bath) and the frigidarium (cold bath), bathing was seen as a central part of the normal routine for people in Roman times. After the fall of Rome it would be hundreds of years before people took bathing so seriously again!

Nowadays, a number of these amazing Roman baths have survived, some in places which may surprise you. Indeed, a number of these bath complexes are so well preserved that a visit to them will leave you simply astounded. 

Aizanoi

Little remains of the baths at Aizanoi, though two separate bath complexes have been identified here. However, visitors can see some interesting mosaics within these ruins.

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Aventicum

Though boasting quite a large a set of thermal baths, little remains of the original structure of this ancient bath complex. However, the remains of the hypocaust heating system can still be seen and are quite impressive.

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Baelo Claudia

The picturesque Roman site of Baelo Claudia contains a partially preserved bath house of which a reasonable amount of the structure survives. However, visiting this site is worth it for the view alone!

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Bearsden Bath House

Little remains of this rare example of Roman ruins in Scotland – this ancient bath house was a second century complex which would have served one of the forts of The Antonine Wall. Today, the remains are located innocuously in the middle of a modern housing estate.

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Budapest Bath Museum

The Budapest Bath Museum also known as Thermae Maiores contains the remains of the Roman baths complex which served Roman troops in ancient Aquincum.

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Butrint

Butrint is a prehistoric UNESCO World Heritage site in south west Albania which has been occupied by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines.

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Caerleon Roman Fortress

Caerleon is home to the remains of an impressive 1st century fortress baths. Visitors can view the ruins and reconstructions of the baths as well as a detailed model of their original design. The museum also has a great collection of artefacts recovered from the bath drains.

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Carthage

Carthage was once one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world. Today, the ruins of ancient Carthage can be found on the outskirts of modern day Tunis and include the impressive Antonine Baths.

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Chesters Roman Fort

The ruins of Chesters Roman Fort contain the remains of a Roman bathhouse which would have served the garrison on Hadrian’s Wall – a reconstruction can be seen at Segedunum Museum.

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Constantine Baths - Arles

Believed to have been one of three sets of baths serving Roman Arles, the Constantine Baths would have formed part of the imperial palace known as Palais Constantine. Pretty well preserved, much of the outer structure survives and this is definitely worth a visit.

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Cumae Archaeological Park

With a history dating back to the Iron Age, Cumae contains a series of ancient ruins and artefacts among which are the remains of a second century AD public baths complex.

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Cyrene

The ruins of the ancient town of Cyrene include the second century AD Trajan Baths, which though quite large, have not survived particularly well. Keep an eye out for the interesting inscription stones.

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Djemila

The Grand Baths at Djemila are in a reasonable state, though they are certainly not the most impressive site at this former ancient city and don’t rank alongside the more famous Roman baths of the world.

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Glanum

Not ranking among the best baths of the ancient world, a little imagination is necessary to really understand the baths at Glanum, as little survives of the original structure. One highlight though is the stone mask fountain through which water would have flowed.

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Guadalmina Roman Baths

A small roman baths complex in Marbella, Spain, the second or third century AD Guadalmina Roman Baths are nonetheless interesting to explore.

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Hadrian’s Villa

Hadrian’s Villa, or Villa Adriana, is perhaps the best-preserved Roman villa complex in the world. The site covers almost 250 acres and consists of over 30 buildings and a number of other points of interest.

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Haidra

The underground bath complex at Haidra in Tunisia contains a number of chambers and corridors which you can still wander around freely. A little hidden gem.

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Histria

Among the Roman remains at Histria lie the ruins of the public baths, which have only partly survived but are still an interesting example to view.

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Lugo Roman Baths

The Lugo Roman Baths are located within a hotel in the Spanish town of Lugo. Visitors can still see the changing rooms - the apodyterium - and there are several other remains, including arches and a bathing room.

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Lyon Roman Baths

Built in the second or third centuries AD, this relatively obscure Roman baths complex is quite hard to find and contains the partially-restored remains of the baths which served Roman Lugdunum.

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Mirobriga

The baths at Mirobriga are fairly well preserved and form quite a large bath complex. In many places the hypocaust system has been exposed and is interesting to view.

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Nora Archaeological Site

The baths at Nora probably date to the second or third centuries AD but are in a relatively poor state of preservation.

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Ostia Antica

While impressive in their own right – with remains including the caldarium, tepidarium and the frigidarium – the most striking elements of the Baths of Neptune at Ostia are the impressive black-and-white mosaics, particularly the mosaic of Neptune himself.

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Palmyra

Little survives of the once great Baths of Diocletian of Palmyra – a few standing columns hint at what once was. Palmyra was an ancient city which became part of the Roman Empire. Its ruins are located in Syria.

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Perge

Containing one of the more impressive Roman bath complexes to have survived, the baths at Perge still retain much of the outer structure, the underground heating system and the remains of the tepidarium (warm room) and frigidarium (cold bath chamber).

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Roman Bath House Museum

In 1930 in the basement of the Mail Coach Inn in St. Sampson’s Square in York, renovators stumbled across the 1,900 year old remains of a Roman ‘caldarium’, or steam bath.

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Sagalassos

Once the largest building in the city, the Roman Baths at Sagalassos were a mighty affair. One interesting attribute is the remains of the praefurnium (heating room) of the second tepidarium. There’s quite a bit to see at these baths and it’s certainly worth exploring.

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Segedunum Roman Fort

Though not containing the ruins of a bath complex itself, Segedunum fort and museum includes a reconstructed Roman bath house based on the remains found at nearby Chesters Roman Fort, part of Hadrian’s Wall.

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Stobi

This former Roman city in modern Macedonia contains the remains of a small bath complex, known as the Thermae Minores, or ‘Little Baths’.

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The Barbara Baths - Trier

Though not as well preserved as the nearby Imperial Baths, Trier’s Barbara Baths are nonetheless worth exploring with the best part of this site being the chance to wander the subterranean service tunnels.

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Timgad

This sprawling Roman site contains the remains of no less than fourteen bath complexes. While these sites aren’t wonderfully preserved, many contain interesting remains such as the underground heating systems which were used within them.

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Varna Roman Baths

The Roman Baths at Varna in Bulgaria contain some great ancient remains, including partially intact outer walls and covered corridors and tunnels. There are also the various bath house chambers, from the cold water frigidarium to the hot water caldarium and tepidarium as well as the sports hall. They are thought to be one of the largest Roman bath complexes in Europe.

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Velia Archaeological Site

Velia Archaeological Site contains the ruins of the city’s second century AD Roman baths along with the mosaics which decorated this complex.

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Vindolanda

This famous Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall contains the remains of the military bath house which would have been used by Roman soldiers and must have provided some relief to those troops more used to warmer climes. Only the lower half of the structure has survived.

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Welwyn Roman Baths

Little-known outside the local area, the Welwyn Roman Baths are actually found beneath a highway in a specially constructed chamber put in place to protect the remains. The ruins are those of a small baths complex which were originally part of a larger private villa.

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Wroxeter Roman City

The second century AD public baths are among the most remarkable remains of this former Roman settlement.

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Xanten Archaeological Park

The baths at the archaeological park in Xanten are contained within a protective canopy within the museum complex. While not particularly well preserved compared to some other bath complexes, they are nevertheless worth a look.

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Our list of surviving Roman baths is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. So, if you know of other bathhouses and hypocausts from ancient Rome, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by contacting us today.