The joy of Budapest’s thermal baths

Budapest is famously known for its many thermal springs and rich culture of baths and spas reaching back to the Turkish occupation and even further to the days of the Roman empire. While sharing a similar concept, each of them has a unique flair, which makes it worth to visit. You probably won’t have time to experience every one, but if you’re visiting Budapest, make sure you don’t leave without taking some down-time in at least one of them.

The Art noveau beauty

First opened in 1918 the Gellert bath features beautiful Art Noveau style architecture and is for sure one of the most beautiful spas in Budapest and probably not just there. Take the metro (line 4 to Szent Gellért tér) or the famous 49 tram (plenty of other busses and trams also stop right in front of it) or simply walk across Liberty Bridge from the Pest side of the city.

The bath is popular among tourists and locals alike and can get quite crowded during the weekends. If you can, visit during the week. Finding your way through the maze-like interior of the Gellert can be a challenge at first, but it’s definitely worth taking a relaxing day to discover all of the pools, saunas and steam chambers. Like most other baths you’ll find various massage options; unlike any other Budapest spa, the Gellert also features an outside wave pool.

The tourist’s favourite

Even if you’ve never been to Budapest, you will probably recognize the yellow buildings of Szecheny bath, one of Europe’s largest spa complexes. Built in 1913 and extended ever since, it serves as the cover of many Budapest travel guides, mostly showing people sitting in the water at one of the chess boards. In recent years the Szechenyi also developed into a popular (tourist) party location. Being the most famous bath in Budapest (together with the Gellert) also makes it a crowded tourist place at times. Especially on the weekends, English seems to be the official language. It’s almost a must visit in Budapest, but if you’re looking for a more relaxed and “local” bathing experience, make sure you also go somewhere else.

The turkish experience (a.k.a. the author’s favorite)

One such place is the Rudas bath, whose core is a medieval bath built during the Turkish occupation of Budapest in the 16th century. While it has been renovated and extended (for example with a large wellness bath including a rooftop pool and a restaurant), the core around the octagonal center pool stayed pretty much intact. This gives the Rudas a unique atmosphere unmatched by any other spas on this list. The water is rich in sulfate, which gives it a distinctive taste and smell, but don’t worry: you’ll get used to it quickly. If you’re looking for a refreshing and rejuvenating Turkish bath experience, you can do it like this:

  1. Relax in the large pool in the center of the thermal bath
  2. Take a sip from the drinking fountain
  3. Go to one of the steam chambers
  4. Go to the cold water pool (16 degrees)
  5. Go to the hot water pool (42 degrees)
  6. Relax in one of the other pools (28, 30, 33 degrees)
  7. Go to step 2 and repeat

I recommend five rounds. After that, rest for up to half an hour and finish your experience with a drink. I recommend fruit juice. Seriously, you don’t want a beer after that, unless you’re ready to catch some sleep right away.

Be careful with the change from the steam to the cold and especially from the cold to the hot pool. While this is very good for blood circulation, it can also cause circulatory problems, if you’re not used to it. Use common sense and take breaks (or stop), if you’re not feeling well! Also bring some water and don’t forget to drink.

The massage heaven

The oldest of the Turkish baths in Budapest is the Veli Bej. It’s been recently renovated and offers a great spa and swimming experience including a Kneipp foot massage pool. The setup of the Turkish bath is similar to the Rudas, with a big central pool surrounded by four smaller ones.

The bath is connected to a medical facility and offers probably the best massages of all baths on this list. It might not match the flair (and water quality) of the Rudas, but it offers a more intimate atmosphere and isn’t as crowded as the more famous ones (the number of visitors in the bath at any time is limited to 80). It’s an insiders’ tip definitely worth to visit.

Coming up (the local’s choices)

  • Kiraly bath
  • Lukacs bath
  • Dandar bath
  • Dagaly bath