A guide to Budapest’s thermal baths
Budapest sits on a patchwork of thermal springs, and mineral-rich thermal water just spouts from the ground. ‘Taking the waters’ has been a part of everyday life here for centuries, and the spas are must-see sights in the city. Which bath you choose is a matter of taste and what exactly you’re looking for – be it fun in the whirlpools, a muscle-melting massage or a hangover cure. Here are the essential tips to keep in mind when planning a visit to Budapest’s baths, and our selection of the best of them.
A look inside Budapest's baths
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 away outdoor 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.
Know before you go
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.
Most baths offer a full range of treatments including massages, so always specify at the entrance what services you need. Admission charges will vary accordingly.
Rudas Baths is the only spa that runs single-sex sessions. On these days, you may wear the apron-like garment provided instead of swimwear. Nudity is not permitted in the public areas at any of the thermal baths.
Some of the baths look a little rough around the edges, but they are clean and the water is regularly inspected. 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.
Taking the plunge
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, and bear in mind that bathing is not advisable for pregnant women. If you’d like to taste the peculiar flavour of the mineral-rich water – whose healing powers locals swear by – you can do so at the pretty drinking hall of the Lukács Bath.
How to choose a bath
Which bath you decide to visit is really a matter of personal preference, but you should certainly consider the following:
Gellért Baths With stained-glass windows and colourful porcelain tiles adorning the walls, Gellért Baths is a masterpiece of art nouveau architecture. It’s certainly one of the most stunning historic spas in the Hungarian capital, making bathing feel like a royal ritual.
Széchenyi Baths Széchenyi is the largest spa complex in Europe, and probably Budapest’s most popular baths. The outdoor section is stunning, but it gets quite busy. Iconic "sparties" take place here on some Saturday nights.
Rudas Baths 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.
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 – rich in calcium, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate, chloride as well as sodium and fluoride ions.
Király Baths Experience real historic vibes at this spa that houses genuine Turkish baths erected in the 16th century. A private hot tub for four people in a secluded area can be rented here.
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.
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This article by Steve Fallon was first published in May 2015, and last updated by Kata Fári in December 2019.