Life in London can be tense. We gird ourselves with overcrowded commutes, contorting into unlikely gaps on the tube. We hunch over technology all day long, sit through stressful meetings and stay at our desks late into the evening, often finishing it off by slumping to scroll through pictures of our mates on holiday. Even if we find time in our days for an hour or two of proper fun, mindful quiet or the endorphin hit of a sweaty exercise class, we still have tired feet, tight muscles and shoulders in need of soothing. Enter the spas and studios in London dedicated to massaging the city back to health. Permit yourself a break, put your slippered feet up and let these amazing treatments work their magic.
RECOMMENDED: The best spas in London
Perfect for quieting meddlesome minds.
Forget everything you think you know about spa treatments. Here, in a quiet corner of the COMO Metropolitan on Park Lane, there are no water features, hot tubs or options to add prosecco to your treatment. Instead, you’re welcomed with an invigorating cup of ginger tea and ushered, in gentle tones, into a sleek and minimalist treatment room. The focus here is on lifelong wellness and taking a pause from your hectic city existence, rather than snuggling in soothing fluffy robes. Though the robes are super soft, FYI. Its signature massage (£110 for 60 mins, £125 for 75) is a lesson in really taking the time to reset. The long, assured strokes, with hands rhythmically moving along the entire length of your body (they recommend you go nude), create a powerful, almost trance-like sensation that will quiet even the most meddlesome of minds. After 90 minutes I felt feeling peaceful, refreshed and genuinely rebalanced. Almost ready to take on the Central line again. Ellie Walker-Arnott
Perfect for chilled vibes with a view.
Set on the tenth floor with floor-to-ceiling views over Hyde Park, it almost seems a shame you’ll be lying face down for your massage at the Four Seasons’ Spa in Mayfair. Everything is attuned to your body, from the pressure to the oil you choose (sweet grape is anti-inflammatory, while coconut has antibacterial properties). Then get ready to relax as the tension is kneaded from your back, arms, legs, feet and hands. Afterwards, you’ll practically float into one of the dimly-lit relaxation pods where you can slip on a pair of headphones, sip a steaming cup of tea and let the calming effects of your treatment really sink in.
Perfect for anyone who’s in need of a little love.
The deep tissue massage at this frighteningly trendy wellness studio starts with a full-body consultation. The whole experience is delicious: you stand before your therapist in a darkened room and tell her all your real (and imaginary) aches and pains, while she examines you, tenderly, so as to tailor the session to your specific needs. It might be the attention that’s so nice. In all seriousness: before my therapist had even touched me she had made me feel truly known. On the table things just get better: slow and satisfyingly firm – deep tissue (£65) is one to go for if you want to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth – every knot is unknit; parts of the body that have gone untouched for decades come back to life (who knew ankles were capable of intense pleasure?). This is the most full of self-love I have ever felt. You will leave transformed. Kitty Drake
Perfect for aromatherapy purists.
This stylish little spa tucked beneath Decléor’s swish shop on Westbourne Grove is ideal for anyone wanting their knots kneaded while being immersed in delicious floral smells. The luxury brand’s only in-store spa in London is a warren of low-lit cosy nooks filled with soft towels and calming sounds. Decleor prides itself on being an aromatherapy specialist and its products are based in essential oils. To reap the benefits of their expertise pop in for an Aromatherapy Body Massage (£65) for one hour. You can ask your masseuse to tailor it to your own needs, or opt for one of their treatment add-ons from £10, which target particular areas. Your nose will certainly thank you for the experience and your back will no doubt surrender to the heated massage beds. Mmm. Alex Sims
Perfect for anyone scared off by fancy spa days.
A shipping container might not sound like a nice place to strip down for a massage from a stranger, but it turns out it’s actually pretty delightful at Masaj. Set across three shipping containers at the Gossamer City Project, with a bright, greenery-draped courtyard at its heart, the aim here is to champion the power of touch as an antidote to city stresses. Its tagline is ‘come as you are’. For me, that meant late and slightly sweaty after rushing out of a meeting and across London to the appointment. Happily, my frazzled arrival at the space, simply decked out with calming tones and fresh interiors, was met with soothing words and a line-up of delightful, and 100 percent natural, oils to sniff. Each massage (£70 for 60 minutes, £90 for 90 minutes) is tailored to the needs of each individual body, so after a chat about my aches, pains, preferences and the weird places I hold tension, we moved to the petite but cleverly designed massage studio, and my therapist began. The only downside was having to leave the cocoon of the container and head back into the real world ‘as I was’: sleepy, dishevelled and covered in that delicious-smelling oil. Ellie Walker-Arnott
Perfect for spa sceptics.
The spa at Lush’s vast Oxford Street store provides some much-needed respite from the crowds going wild for bath bombs on the floors above it. Tween-friendly price tags are left at the door of the country cottage-style oasis, but the fun factor is not. Treatments here come with a side serving of theatrics. The 70-minute ‘The Good Hour’ massage (£110) for example is delivered to the sounds of reworked sea shanties from the ’50s and ’60s and a masseuse will work your body like old ropes on a ship. But in a good way, using a trigger point technique to work out knots and plenty of pressure if you’re a sailor whose back has seen better days. The waves of steam that appear from under the table will rock the boat if you’re a massage purist, but if you’re looking for entertainment while you unwind, they’re a stroke of genius. Stephanie Hartman
Perfect for really, really tense Londoners.
Just behind Sloane square, this Chelsea townhouse features treatments inspired by South East Asia. The expansive, dark-wood reception area has a slight boarding school feel to it, but that quickly evaporates when you head down to the petite spa, where zen vibes abound. There are seven luxurious massage therapies to choose from, with the added use of a pool and steam room if you want to make a day of it. We had the 90-minute Malay Massage (£180), which focuses on toning and stretching, and is a great tension release. Added benefits: the treatment finishes with a soothing coconut oil face massage, and a cup of tea with sugared winter melon, shipped all the way from Malaysia. Tasty stuff. Ju Shardlow
Perfect for a quick fix.
Instant gratification your jam? W Hotel’s Away Spa is for the stressed Londoner who wants to quickly slot some wellness into their packed schedule. It’s light, bright and colourful with short appointment times if you’ve got somewhere important to be afterwards. Its Colour Therapy Massage (from £55), available in 30 or 60-minute time slots, is designed to give your depleted body and mind what it craves. At the start of the treatment, you’re asked to select the colour which speaks to you the most. Each shade is associated with an emotion and an intense scented oil, which will be used during your massage, leaving you feeling replenished, calm and ready to tackle your next challenge. Ellie Walker-Arnott
Perfect for a temporary escape from the city.
Cowshed has the urban retreat thing down: the reception feels like an English farmhouse kitchen, with cakes, juices, teas and wine to be consumed before or after your treatment at a big ol’ family-style table. Clarendon Cross is the original London spinoff of the Babington House spa, which is literally in a converted cow shed – and even from the pavement outside it smells like, well, the opposite of a cowshed, with delicious Cowshed products wafting out the door. A ‘Moody’ massage in low-lit, calm-inducing basement treatment rooms, is based on how you’re feeling on the day. Grumpy, knackered, lazy, moody, wild... horny? Pick an oil from these six moods (grumpy and knackered are fresh and citrussy, FYI, while horny has a floral and sultry scent). The Moody massage starts at £65 for 45 minutes. Clare Vooght
Perfect for stressed-out professionals.
This serene spot is just a few minutes’ walk from busy Oxford Street. The treatment rooms are luxe with absolutely no expense spared in the pursuit of serious chill. Expect dressing gowns, slippers and heated, adjustable beds to get you comfortable from the get-go. The Garden of England Rose Restore massage (£95 for 60 minutes) is a super hydrating all-body treatment. You’ll feel the effects for hours afterwards, and not just because the oil smells so divine you’ll be turning noses wherever you go. It also has a private pamper room available to rent, so you can go with friends for prosecco, canapés, pedicures and manicures all at once. It’s perfect for local shoppers seeking an hour’s peace from the hustle and bustle. Rosie Akenhead
Perfect for anyone craving more balance.
While there are quite a few places to get a massage in London, there are far fewer places to experience an ayurveda massage. The Hindu system of medicine – most commonly practised today in India, Sri Lanka and parts of South East Asia – is more than 3,000 years old and is rooted in the idea of balance between mind, body and spirit. At this small but ever-so professional spa in Kensal Rise you can try synchronised abhyanga (an oil massage), shiroabhyanga, also known as Indian head massage, and shirodhara, where hot oil is poured on to your forehead for extreme relaxation (apparently it’s popular with stressed-out execs). I opt for the abhyanga: a classic full body massage (£75 for 60 minutes). It’s excellent. Anu, who does my treatment, immediately finds the tense points in my shoulders (no doubt from all that Netflix-watching in bed). This isn’t a massage that involves aggressively pummelling out knots; rather, it focuses on easing you into a deep chilled-out state through a firm, flowing movement from head to toe. Who’d have thought you could have so much tension in the palms of your hands? This is a fantastic independent salon, and thoroughly worthy of a visit – whether you’re a stressed-out exec or not. Gail Tolley
Perfect for a total transformation.
You might associate a massage with snooze-inducing relaxation. But don’t make that mistake with the Inner Strength Resilience Massage (£195) at ESPA. Though the treatment was inspired by the ‘Painted Lady Butterfly’, this is not a gentle flutter on the skin. Fueled by aromas of tea tree and eucalyptus-infused oils, the resilience is about waking up the body and senses. Once you’re wrapped up like a freshly made snack, the therapist begins to work your arms with gentle yoga stretches, moving into deep tissue massage to work out the knots that are locking up your muscles. This is the vaudeville of spa experiences: you never know what’s up next. Foot reflexology, gentle sinus stimulation and a long scalp massage are all thrown into the mix. It’s expensive, and very ‘wellness’-orientated (the therapist seems very concerned about sugar intake), but it delivers. By the end, you feel lighter, wide awake and weirdly erratic. Not unlike – yep, you guessed it – a butterfly. Katie McCabe
Perfect for alleviating serious tension.
Amid the Broadway Market hubbub of hipsters, foodies and comedown moodies, Holistic Health is a sudden sanctuary. After the usual cursory form-filling I met my therapist, Alan, who gave me a cup of water, led me to a bijou treatment room and inquired about my ailments. I bring your average desk-crabbed tensions to the table: knots in my shoulders and along my spine, nuggets that cluster like dried peas in an inner tube. Add to these an annoyingly chronic elbow injury, and I was able to give Alan something to work with. I have sometimes been an unsatisfied customer when it comes to massages, left with the sense that the treatment, like a kind of glorified stroking, has skated over the issue. In this case, an hour-long combination of acupressure, deep tissue and sports massage (which involves manipulating the limbs) not only addressed the stress, but genuinely helped my press-up elbow. There may be more luxurious or transcendental options around, but functional and effective was what I was after. I left as loose as a goose, and ready to recommend the Holistic Massage (£65) to the denizens of Hackney. Caroline McGinn
Perfect for taking some much-needed time out.
Reclining by a low-lit pool in a mosaiced room, you wouldn’t guess you were beneath the packed pavements of King’s Cross. The flash of car lights at the very top of the high window and the gentle rattle of train carriages are the only giveaway. Treatments here take place in intimate rooms with soft lighting and even softer beds. The spa’s signature all-body Aromatherapy Massage (from £105) is a soothing, slow-paced and heavily scented experience that will no doubt result in softened shoulders and a calmed mental state. The real treat, though, is being buried away in this secret space, so close to the stress of commuters on the tube and travellers waiting for delayed trains. Ellie Walker-Arnott
Perfect for hippie-style healing.
Harnessing all the hippie vibes is Triyoga’s Camden space – upon entry, you’re hit with a haze of incense and a no-shoes rule. But get into it, man, this former Victorian piano factory is as chilled as the Dalai Lama (whose quotes are on the wall, natch). One of six studios, the Camden Triyoga site offers yoga, pilates, chakra and energy-balancing workshops, reflexology and all kinds of massage – from aromatherapy to Thai, to pregnancy and hot stone. The most fascinating, though, is the powerful 4-handed lomi lomi massage, a Hawaiian technique using long, synchronised strokes along the body, originally performed by ancient healers before big events (weddings, battles and the like), sometimes with up to eight people massaging one person at a time. Here it’s just two massage therapists, Dora and Daniel but, hey, that’s still twice the relaxation power of a standard massage. Clare Vooght
Perfect for getting involved.
Ten Health & Fitness might be better known for powerful reformer Pilates classes that’ll leave your muscles quivering, but it’s also the place to go for a full body massage. It’s worth noting, though, that if you’re looking for dim lights, panpipe music and a blissful nap, this is not the massage for you. Ten Health & Fitness’s sports massage (from £57) is a rigorous and deep massage that you know you will be feeling the benefits of long after the session. Expect bright fluorescent lights and low R&B music, as well as some participation on your behalf. You won’t be laying back and relaxing, but trust me, its worth it. My glutes have never felt such a sweet release. Naomi Waring
Perfect for a proper luxe treat.
Located close to Holborn tube, in the frankly enormous Rosewood Hotel, is possibly one of London’s most tranquil bolt-holes. The Rosewood’s Sense Spa is a plushly decorated hub for treatments, laid out in dark tiling, low lighting and a splendid copper relaxation room at the centre of it all. The spa’s signature massage is called Comme Une Terre Fertile. It’s 90 minutes of joyful deep tissue massage that runs from top to toe. On our visit, we found the masseur to be extremely professional and eager to help: talking through pressure levels and when they started to get ouchie. It was a learning experience too – we learned how small tweaks to daily life could relieve tension around the shoulders. Products used were top-notch, and a sauna and steam room were both on hand for post-massage enjoyment too. Lush surroundings, top-class treatments… the Sense Spa is a gem, basically. Oli Keens