Budapest is well known for its thermal baths and ‘taking the waters’ is part of everyday life for the locals. There are a number of baths to choose from and the one you pick will depend on what you’re looking for – rest and relaxation, a little fun or a cure for a heavy night out.
Each bath offers a memorable experience in a sumptuous environment that is relaxing, refreshing and rejuvenating. Spend time alone or with your partner, get to know the locals, pamper yourself and above all, enjoy this experience that is uniquely Budapest.
What to expect
Each bath has different opening times and rules on who may visit, so check the websites and tourist guides before you go. Most will open every day, with extended hours during the weekend.
Male-only and female-only days used to be common, but these are rare now – although some baths also have male-only or female-only sections. All sessions at the Széchenyi Baths, located in City Park, are mixed – perfect for spending some quality time with your partner. The outdoor thermal pools are a wonderful romantic experience – as the sun sets, you can relax together and enjoy the peace and tranquillity as you look up at the stars.
Where a bath is running a men-only or woman-only day, or in the same-sex sections of the bath, men will be given a drawstring loincloth and women will be given an apron-like garment – although a lot of people will just wear a bathing suit instead. Bathing suits are required on mixed-sex days and can be hired if needed.
Some of the pools also require that you wear a bathing cap – even if you are male. You can either bring your own or purchase a disposal plastic one which may be free or a low cost. You can also rent a towel if you need one although you’ll be given a sheet when you go into the rest areas.
Most baths are laid out in a similar fashion on the inside. There is usually a larger, cooler pool where people are actually swimming – together with smaller, hotter pools for relaxing and unwinding. You’ll find a number of indoor thermal pools with varying temperatures that range from warm to hot. You’ll also find saunas, steam rooms, a plunge pool, massage rooms and areas to sunbathe. Some of the baths have outdoor pools which may feature whirlpools, sprays and fountains. Given the water temperatures, they can be open year round.
Some baths (for example, the Király) don’t look as attractive as others – but be assured that they are very clean and the water is changed constantly. A pair of flip flops or plastic sandals is recommend in any case, as the floors can be slippy.
Baths typically offer a range of both medical treatments and pampering. A massage will cost around 5000Ft for 20 to 30 minutes, while a pedicure will cost around 3500Ft. A more unusual treatment, the red wine bath, will set you back 8900Ft .
Where to go
Some of the most popular baths include:
Király Baths – currently open 9am until 9pm all week. There are four pools which are very authentic but in need of a little renovation. These are open to both women and men on all days, but children under 14 are not permitted. The style here is Ottoman-era and the vibe is traditional and Turkish.
Gellért Baths – these were built in 1918 and are open to women and men all the time. The style here is Art Nouveau and the indoor ‘cathedral-esque’ swimming pool is absolutely stunning. In addition to the thermal baths, you can take a carbonic acid tub-bath, recommended for those with high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis and rheumatic pain; or experience mud packing which is thought to detoxify, boost the immune system and increase circulation.
Lukács Baths – although monastery baths were built on the site in the 12th century, the baths you see today have changed over the years. Fülöp Palotay purchased the bath from the Treasury in 1884 and built a spa hotel with hydrotherapy department, while transforming the swimming pool. Complex thermal bath facilities were established in 1979, and in 1999, the outdoor pools were renovated.
Rudas Baths – one of the most famous Ottoman-era baths, the Rudas baths were built in 1550 and reconstructed in 1556. These have since been renovated and offer an octagonal pool, four small corner pools and the iconic Turkish dome. Tuesdays are currently women-only, while Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are men-only. Weekends are mixed sessions and on Friday and Saturday you can bathe at night from 10pm until 4am.
Széchenyi Baths – another bath built in the early 20th Century boasting a lavish and impressive interior, with 15 thermal baths and 3 pools. Expect to get hot herev– the water can reach 100F. Watch out for the bath parties held over the weekend during the summer season - which can run from 10pm until 3am.
Császár Baths (Veli Bej) – built in 1570, Veli Bej is one of the oldest baths in the City. The complex was renovated in 2011/12 and features 5 thermal pools which use the original clay pipes to pump through the water. A mix of old and new style.
Need to know
The procedure for undressing and getting into the baths depends on which bath you go to. Many of the baths now have an electronic bracelet which will give you access to a locker or cabin. Some of the older baths - Gellért for example – require that you find an empty locker or cabin, get changed and ask the attendant to lock it for you. You’ll then be given a tag that you can tie to your costume or apron. You’ll need to remember your locker number as it won’t be the same as the one written on the tag, to prevent theft if you lose it.