Even though Budapest might be more than 600 kilometres from the sea, water is definitely one of the city’s biggest selling points. So much so that even locals still refer to it as a ‘seaside town’. Far be it from us to start bandying around geographically incorrect terms, yet we can confirm that Budapest’s reputation as a wonderful water-infused city is most definitely true. The city’s thermal baths offer some of the best things to do in Budapest – which is why we needed to create this list of the ones you should visit!
Budapest has more thermal baths than any other city in the world – meaning the Hungarian capital is awash with them – Roman baths, Turkish baths, swimming baths, healing baths, and spa baths – so whatever your needs there’s a body of water for everyone! And although bathing has been one of the best things to do in Budapest since Roman times, sadly, no original baths have survived from that era. Despite this, plenty of baths dating from the Turkish occupation in the sixteenth century are still in use.
Some Budapest thermal baths contain just a few thermal pools with possibly a sauna and steam room, while other Budapest thermal spas are gargantuan in comparison and include swimming pools, icy plunge pools and massage rooms. Not only can you wade around, you can also try an array of massage and therapies if you want to pamper yourself and secure a bit of extra attention.
More than 120 hot thermal springs bubble away underground, feeding the baths of Budapest. The waters are laden with any number of minerals including calcium, sulphate, potassium, fluoride and magnesium. These are said to help with circulation and respiratory and muscular problems.
Most of the major Budapest thermal baths were designed along the same lines: A series of indoor pools where the water temperature goes from warm to hot, allowing you to experience incremental temperature changes as you move from one to the other. And when you reach your maximum heat tolerance, you refresh yourself by jumping into an icy and invigorating plunge pool! After which you can start the process all over again.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picking which thermal baths to visit, so we’ve compiled a list of the best ones to guide your decision making:
Rudas is a Turkish-style thermal bath dating back to the 16th century. It boasts an octagonal pool at its centre and a modern rooftop pool which overlooks the city and the Danube. It also has a dedicated physiotherapy section if you’ve got any niggling aches or pains. Veli Bej Baths is one of the oldest and most beautiful of all the Budapest thermal baths, and also has less of a tourist atmosphere. Recently renovated, it offers five thermal pools, Finnish saunas, a Kneipping walk pool and a choice of massage treatments.
Lukacs is a Budapest spa popular with locals for the treatments on offer, whether that’s massage, reflexology, or something else entirely. It’s also very popular with winter visitors for its Saturday night parties with DJs, laser shows and film screenings.
Szechnyi is the largest and also one of the most popular baths in Budapest. And on Saturday night, it becomes party central for Budapest activities. It has 15 thermal pools and three swimming pools, and even a beer bath designed for two people to share – though you’ll need to book this in advance. The baths also have aqua-fitness equipment, whirlpools and jets. And if you prefer life at a more leisurely pace, try out what the locals do and play chess using the floating boards which can be found all around the pool.
Gellert is the most glamorous of all the Budapest baths – an Art Nouveau jewel which has the only wave machine in the city! It has a number of treatment rooms for medical massage, plus a carbonic acid bathtub for treating those with high blood pressure.
A few things to remember when visiting the thermal baths: Always buy your tickets in advance – most are time-specific offering sessions from 30 minutes to two hours. Swimsuits have to be worn in all mixed bathing areas, while swimming caps must be worn in swimming pools. You can hire a swimsuit, but it’s best to bring your own. Towels can be rented, but supplies often run out so bring your own if possible. Some baths have designated times for men and women while others offer mixed bathing. So when planning what to do in Budapest, be sure to read up on your chosen bath.