Budapest 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 Roman empire's days. While sharing a similar concept, each of them has a unique flair, making it worth a visit. You probably won't have time to experience every single one of them, but if you visit 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 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. Visit during the week if you can. Finding your way through the maze-like interior of the Gellert can be a challenge at first, but it's worth taking a relaxing day to discover all of the pools, saunas and steam rooms. 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'll 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 relaxing in the water while playing a casual game on of the pool's 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. 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 favourite)
One such place is the Rudas bath, whose core is a medieval bath built during Budapest's Turkish occupation in the 16th century. While it's been renovated and extended (for example with an extensive wellness bath including a rooftop pool and a restaurant), the core around the octagonal centre pool has stayed intact. This gives the Rudas a unique atmosphere unmatched by the other spas on this list. The water is rich in sulfate, which gives it a distinctive taste and smell. Don't worry: you'll get accustomed to it quickly. If you're looking for a refreshing and rejuvenating Turkish bath experience, you can do it like this:
- Relax in the large pool in the centre of the thermal bath
- Take a sip from the drinking fountain
- Go to one of the steam chambers
- Go to the cold water pool (16 degrees)
- Go to the hot water pool (42 degrees)
- Relax in one of the other pools (28, 30, 33 degrees)
- Go to step 2 and repeat
I recommend five rounds. After that, rest for 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 are ready to catch some sleep right away.
The benefits of hot and cold baths on the circulatory system are well established. However, be careful changing from the steam bath to the cold and especially from the cold to the hot pool. It can be tough on the body if you're not used to it. Use common sense and take breaks (or stop), if you're not feeling well! Also, bring water and don't forget to drink.
The best massages
The oldest of the Turkish baths in Budapest is the Veli Bej. It has recently been renovated and offers a lavish spa and swimming experience, including a Kneipp foot massage pool. The Turkish bath setup 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 the best massages of the baths on this list (my opinion). It might not match the Rudas’ flair (and water quality), 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 worth to visit.
Coming up (the local's choices)
- Kiraly bath
- Lukacs bath
- Dandar bath
- Dagaly bath