Since the Bronze Age people have been bathing in Budapest’s natural thermal waters, believing them to cure lots of ailments, from skin conditions to stress. Whatever the medicinal properties might be of a mineral spring, few can deny the simple pleasure of a good, hot bath – and Budapest has these in abundance.
In fact, the so-called _City of Spas has _more than one hundred springs bubbling beneath it and the bath houses are a hub of Hungarian everyday life. Business meetings, chess matches, romantic dates and family parties all take place in these pools, making a dip a tradition rather than an indulgence. Here’s our pick of the best places to get soaking:
A great choice if you only have time for one and are happy to tarry with the tourists. The Gellert has a beautiful tiled main pool for swimming (caps required) as well as indoor and outdoor thermal pools. The Art Nouveau steam baths are lovely, though this is one of the baths best visited in summer when the large open-air wave pool is open and the shaded terraces offer a relaxing spot in the heart of the city. There are also English-speaking staff and a range of additional treatments, such as Thai massage and private bathing..
This vast Neo-baroque bath in the heart of the city’s main park is ideal on sunny days, when the three outdoor pools really come into their own. Swimming caps are compulsory in the main swimming pool, where serious swimmers plough up and down. For a more sedentary soak, we recommend you stick to the whirlpool and the hot pool, where people play chess (bring your own set if you want to join in). Always mixed sex, this is an ideal choice for couples; use the rear entrance (from Állatkerti körút) for easier access to the private cabins. There are pool parties here on Saturday nights in summer too.
This is one of Budapest’s oldest baths, as well as one of its smallest. Built by the Turks in the 16th century, it retains much of its Turkish architecture including the traditional octagonal roof. It’s a beautiful place to relax, in four thermal pools said to help arthritis and joint problems, plus a steam bath and sauna. Once popular with the gay community, today it appeals more to couples with its daily mixed bathing. There are also treatments such as underwater jet massage and pedicures.
Right on very edge of the Danube, Rudas has the best view from any Budapest bath – the circular whirlpool on the roof’s new Wellness section overlooks the river and Pest beyond. This is one of the city’s original Turkish baths, built in the 16th century, and when the sun breaks through the holes in the dome above the indoor octagonal pool there is nowhere lovelier for a soak. Mixed days here are Saturdays and Sundays, during the week it’s women only on Tuesdays, the rest of the days are men only. The Wellness area is mixed every day though and there’s mixed night bathing on Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm-4am too.
5. Veli Bej
Top pick of the Turkish-style baths is this complex at the Csaszar Hotel. It dates from the 16th century but the features are thoroughly modern, from the glass ceilings right down to the infra-sauna, which is heated by infrared light. Under the Turkish dome you’ll find the traditional octagonal pool, dimly lit for relaxation, with four smaller pools surrounding it with water of varying temperatures. Veli Bej is mixed sex at all times, but note that the numbers are limited so on weekends you may find it full.
Want something more local? Few tourists make it to Lukacs, and you won’t find grand architectural flourishes here. What you will find are five thermal pools, said to cure all sorts of joint and spinal problems. Look out for the marble tables proclaiming the gratitude of those cured here and don’t miss a chance to drink the therapeutic waters. The pools are arranged in two courtyards and there is also a steam room and sauna, plus a hospital offering water-based medical treatments.
A few tips:
Buy your entry ticket at the booth (penztar) on arrival. You’ll be given a plastic wristwatch-style key to get you through the turnstiles and into the baths. If you want to change in private you’ll need to stump up extra for a cabin, which is then yours for the duration of your time in the baths and gives you somewhere safe to keep your things too. Plus you can share with whoever you’re visiting with. Some baths have single-sex days, when there will be separate areas for men and women, so check in advance if this will be an issue. As well as your swimwear, bring flip flops and your own towel, and a swimming cap if you have one (they’re obligatory in some pools, though can always be hired or bought).
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