A soak in a thermal bath might just be the quintessential Budapest experience: slipping out of your civvies, hoiking up those swimmers and – ahhhhhhhhhh! – marinating your weary, work-wrought bones in one of the city’s great mineral springs.
Following an unprecedented four-month closure to all of the city’s pools due to COVID-19, Budapest’s thermal baths are now reopen and back in business. Don’t get your towel in a twist deciding where to go, we’ve tried the lot—from the city’s 16th-century Turkish baths to Széchenyi Baths' "Sparty" nights (spa-party, geddit?!!)—and can now reveal all.
Here's the naked truth about Budapest’s thermal baths: Everything you wanted to know (but were too self-conscious to ask).
History (and a pinch of geography)
Budapest lies on a geological fault line, where the Buda Hills collide with the Great Plain. This topographical fender-bender causes more than 100 thermal springs to jet skyward, releasing some 40,000m3 of warm, mineral-rich water each day.
The Eravisci tribe first chanced upon the springs calling the area Ak-ink (Abundant Water). But it wasn’t until the Romans marched in and built the regional capital of Aquincum here that the power of the waters was fully harnessed.
As the 3rd century approached, some 30,000 Romans lived in what is today’s Óbuda district. Hidden near Flórián tér park, beneath an overpass and the elevated Budapest Metro, are the ruins of their massive Thermae Maiores (Great Bath), which had hot and cold water, underfloor heating, the lot.
Following the Turkish conquest of Hungary in 1526, more Hamman-style baths (called ilidzas) appeared, including three still in use today: Rudas Baths, Király Baths Experience and Veli Bej Baths. Many of the city’s other spas—such as Széchenyi Baths and Gellért Baths—were built in the early 20th century.
What to know before you visit
Some of the baths look a little rough around the edges, but they are clean and the water is regularly inspected. COVID-19 precautions mean many now have enhanced cleaning routines too. Most baths have decent restaurants or a cafeteria, and it's possible to spend a whole day there. Opening times vary depending on the day of the week, and many baths now open at night on the weekends.
Many of the baths offer a full range of treatments including massages, so always specify at the entrance what services you need. Admission charges will vary accordingly. Book ahead for any treatments you require. If you’d like to taste the peculiar flavor of the mineral-rich water – whose healing powers locals swear by – you can do so at the pretty drinking hall of the Lukács Bath.
Before plunging into the warm waters, always take a shower, and if you have long hair, you should tie it back. Be sure to keep the noise down inside the pools. Signs specify the temperature of each pool, and sometimes advise on how much time to spend inside. Avoid soaking for too long in the hot water as you may become light-headed.
Rudas Baths is the only spa that runs single-sex sessions (Mon, Wed-Thu & Fri til 12.45 men-only; Tue women-only). On these days, you can wear the apron-like garment provided instead of swimwear. Nudity is not permitted in the public areas at any of the thermal baths.
Children must be 14 years or older to use the baths. For family-friendly swimming, try one of the city’s lidos instead. Pregnant women should not bathe in the thermal waters.
What to bring
Take swimwear, a towel and a pair of flip-flops with you – the floor can get very slippery. Although most thermal baths rent or sell these accessories, it is best to bring your own if you can. Swimming caps must be worn by those swimming in the lap pools.
Upon entering, you get a watch-shaped electronic bracelet that serves as a key to a locker or cabin where you can leave your belongings. Staff will be around to assist you if needed.
Pack soap, shampoo and any other personal cleaning products that you’d typically use post-swim. Guests no longer need to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to gain entry to any baths.
Inside Budapest's baths
The layout of most of Budapest’s baths is similar: a series of indoor thermal pools where temperatures range from warm to hot, steam rooms, saunas, ice-cold plunge pools and rooms for massage. Some have outdoor pools with fountains, sprays and whirlpools, and pools for swimming laps.
However, each spa has its own characteristics – there are Saturday night "sparties" at Széchenyi, a wine tub at Gellért, a drinking hall at Lukács and a rooftop hot tub at Rudas. Soaking outdoors in the warm waters while snow freezes your hair is the most magical experience, but the thermal baths are open year-round and are wonderful no matter the season.
Minerals in water
Many of the spas will boast about the healing properties of their waters. While most baths feed from a different spring, many contain similar minerals, such as calcium, hydrogen-carbonate, magnesium, sodium, sulfate-chloride and metaboric acid.
Some studies have shown that these can be beneficial to ailments like arthritis, slipped discs, some circulatory disorders, neuralgia (nerve pain), osteoarthritis (stiff joints), respiratory illnesses and the narrowing of blood vessels. However, always consult your doctor before heading to the thermal waters as a treatment.
The best baths to visit
1. Gellért Baths
Best for couples
With stained-glass windows and colorful porcelain tiles adorning the walls, Gellért Baths is a masterpiece of art nouveau architecture. It’s one of the most stunning historic spas in the Hungarian capital, making bathing feel like a royal ritual. There are also a number of small thermal baths that can be privately booked, making it great for couples.
Baths Five thermal pools (36°C–40°C); indoor swimming pool (36°C); outdoor wave pool (26°C); two outdoor thermal sitting pools (36°C); two plunge pools (19°C).
Open at night? No. Closes 8pm.
2. Rudas Baths
With its wonderful 10m diameter dome, held aloft by eight pillars, Rudas has been in operation since the Turkish conquest of Hungary in the 16th century. Its biggest attraction is a rooftop hot tub providing a pretty view of the Pest skyline. Rudas is the only bath that still holds same-sex days on weekdays (Mon, Wed-Thu & Fri til 12.45 men-only; Tue women-only).
Baths Five thermal pools (36-42°C); one cold pool (16°C); and one swimming pool (29°C). There are a further two seated thermal pools (32°C and 36°C) in the Wellness area alongside three water springs you can drink from and a rooftop hot tub (36°C).
Open at night? Yes, 10pm-3am Sat. Open til 8pm Sun-Fri.
3. Széchenyi Baths
Best in winter
Széchenyi is the largest spa complex in Europe, and probably Budapest’s most popular baths. The outdoor section is stunning – a daffodil-yellow wraparound of neo-renaissance architecture – but it gets quite busy. Iconic "sparties" with DJs and a bar, take place here on most Saturday nights. In the colder months (late Dec-Feb), little beats relaxing in the warmth of the Széchenyi Baths as snow flutters all around you.
Baths 11 indoor thermal pools (28°C-40°C); one indoor cooling pool (20°C); one indoor immersion pool (18°C); three outdoor pools; one outdoor swimming pool (26°C); one outdoor activity pool (30°C-34°C); and one thermal outdoor pool (38°C).
Open at night? Closes 7pm. Ticketed "Sparty" events take place most Saturdays between 9pm-1:30am.
4. Lukács Baths
Lukács is a real medical mecca proven by the marble memorial plaques installed in the bath’s park, giving thanks in various languages to the institution and its medical staff for healing. It’s also enormous, and houses a drinking hall offering the same water that supplies the baths – coming from a newer well.
Baths Two swimming pools (22°C and 26°C); one thermal pool (32°C); one thermal bath (40°C); and one underwater traction bath (36°C)
Open at night? No.
5. Király Baths Experience
A touch tumbledown, light beams into this historic spa through skylights in its traditional Ottoman dome. Király Baths have been in use here since the 16th century. As well as a steam room and sauna, there’s a private hot tub for up to four people available to rent.
Baths Four indoor pools (26- 40 ℃) and a jacuzzi.
Open at night? No. Closes at 9pm.
6. Veli Bej Baths
This venerable Turkish bath is something old and something new combined. Built in the 16th century, Veli Bej was the most beautiful bath of its time, and the original walls and pipes are on display today in the modern building. It's never really that busy here, and since it's accessible from a hospital, many come here to heal. No outdoor pools.
Baths Five indoor thermal pools (39°C)
Open at night? No. Closes at 9pm.