PASTIME / Thermal Baths in Budapest

Budapest is sometimes referred to as the “City of Baths,” which makes sense given the nearly 125 thermal springs located beneath its streets.1Many of the spas that have emerged over these sources are decades or even centuries old, making the baths a can’t-miss stop on any trip to Budapest.

STEP 1 : Decide where to “take the waters”

Budapest boasts a number of historic thermal baths, each of which varies in size, architectural style and amenities. There is no “best” option here; where you go will depend on who you are and what you’re looking for. Among your options:

  • Széchenyi – The largest (and perhaps most popular) of the historic spas, this spa is located within a grand, baroque building and boasts 15 thermal baths and three swimming pools, some of which are outdoors and include chess sets on the perimeter.
  • Gellért – Housed in an elegant art nouveau building, these baths feature mosaic-walled pools and columned swimming areas.
  • Rudas – These Turkish-style baths are housed in a structure built in the 16th century, making them one of the oldest baths in the city.
  • Király – A smaller Turkish-style option that is also one of the oldest baths in the city (dating back to the Ottoman period), with a traditional octagonal roof.
  • Lukács – While not as architecturally imposing as Széchenyi or Gellért, these baths are more popular among locals as the waters are famed for their medicinal properties.

STEP 2 : Choose the right time (and follow etiquette)

Make sure to check timings in advance, as some of the baths are men or women-only on certain days and times. Most of the baths are mixed on the weekends or in the evenings; in mixed pools, bathing suits are usually required, while in mixed saunas a bathing suit or towel may be required depending on the location. You may wish to bring flip flops, a swimming cap (often required in the swimming pools) and/or a couple towels with you (one to take with you as you circulate throughout the pools, and one to dry off with when you’re done), as these are not always provided though usually available to rent. Most of the baths have changing areas, locker facilities and waterproof key bracelets.

STEP 3 : Sit back and relax, but also mix it up

The temperature of each pool may vary, with the exact degree usually posted clearly nearby. Usually, the thermal pools are somewhere between 36-38℃ (102-106℉). You may wish to start with these, followed by some time in the steam rooms or saunas, followed by a refreshing plunge in the cold pool or a few laps in a swimming area to reset before beginning the cycle again (and again, and again).

Photo: Gellért Spa, Budapest, Hungary / May 2015

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