The capital of Hungary is The City of Spas. The Budapest thermal baths have been loved by locals and visitors for over two thousand years. During our recent trip to Budapest, we connected with locals and took a dip into the city’s hot springs.
The hot springs along the Danube River in the city of Budapest have been known since at least 100 AD, when Romans settled the city of Aquincum (now part of the city). The Roman settlement had warm water public baths. In the 16th Century, the hot springs in the region were developed into a spa culture during the Turkish occupation of Hungary. The Turks built large bath complexes and the supporting infrastructure to sustain them.
Today, Budapest is The City of Spas. There are over 120 hot springs in Budapest feeding over a dozen public bath complexes, plus other private baths in hotel spas. There are more thermal baths in Budapest than in any other city in the world. Each of Budapest’s thermal baths has its own style. The thermal baths at Kiraly, Rudas and Lukacs are all Turkish in aesthetic and feature octagonal pools and lofty dome ceilings. The Gellert Baths have a strong Art Nouveau style that can be seen in many public buildings in Budapest. And the largest spa complex in Europe, the Szechenyi Baths, brings together Greek, Roman and even Scandinavian architectural elements. Each of the bath complexes has its own style, so visitors should go to more than one!
We loved our visit to the Gellert Spa and its warm pools. While Gellert has some outdoor pools in the summer, it’s recently renovated indoor pools are a must for visitors to Budapest. This also makes Gellert a great place to visit in inclement weather. The day we visited it was pouring rain and this was a chance to soak in the hot spring waters. We were going to get either way, so we might as well enjoy it! Gellert also has the most expensive admission charge of the baths in Budapest, so it caters to a slightly older, more relaxed crowd with fewer children and people looking for a party atmosphere.
The Szechenyi thermal bath is arguably the most famous image of Budapest. Every book, brochure and magazine article about visiting Budapest is sure to include an image of the bright yellow Szechenyi baths and it’s outdoor pools (usually with a picture of old men playing chess while having a soak). The image is absolutely iconic. But Szechenyi is much more than a photo, it is an amazing experience in the European bath tradition. We spent hours wandering from pool to pool searching for the right ambiance and experience. Each pool feels different. Youngsters gather in some, while others cater to older visitors who may have mobility challenges. We easily could have spent the whole day visiting, but only had an afternoon.
We are lovers of hot springs and seek them out on our travels. Some of our favorites have been the Kupele Sklene Teplice in Slovakia, Saturnia in Italy and the Antique Pool in Pamukkale, Turkey. But the Budapest thermal baths are some of the nicest we’ve ever visited and we will definitely be back!
Tips for Visiting the Budapest Thermal Baths
Here are our top 5 tips for visiting the Budapest thermal baths and hot springs:
Rent a private cabin: Most of the thermal baths in Budapest give you the option of renting a locker (included in the normal price) or renting a private cabin for an additional cost. We believe that renting a private cabin is worth it. If you are at all modest, you’ll appreciate having a private place to change clothes. However, even if you have no modesty concerns, the private cabins are worth the cost because they have a lot more space. The lockers are quite small and if you have a backpack or beach bag with you, there is a chance it won’t fit into the locker.
Bring your own towel: While the thermal baths in Budapest will certainly rent you a towel for a price, but you’ll save money and time by bringing your own. The lines to rent towels can be quite long at peak times. Plus, the rental towels all look alike and someone may take yours.
Bring your flip flops or water shoes: Walking around the spa complex, you’ll be walking through pools of standing water – along with everyone else. The spas are incredibly clean and hygienic. However anyone who has ever gotten athlete’s foot will recognize the risk. Just bring your own flip flops and you won’t have a problem. But, be sure to walk carefully, the floors can be very slippery! We use sturdy water shoes (in both mens and womens).
Bring a water bottle: Soaking in the hot springs for a period of time can be dehydrating. Water, beverages and snacks can be available at all the thermal baths in Budapest, but they may not be convenient.
Don’t forget your waterproof camera: If you’re visiting the Budapest thermal baths on your vacation, you’ll probably want to take pictures of the experience. So bring that waterproof camera! We took our GoPro, which is better at videos than photos. But I’ve been looking at the Nikon Coolpix, which is good at both.
Budapest Baths Visiting Information
Detailed information on the top Budapest thermal baths is below. The baths in Budapest are overseen by a kind of public corporation called BGYH, which produces a magnificent 24-page brochure called Budapest The City of Spas (available for free at any of the thermal baths and in most major hotels). The BGYH website is also helpful for planning and the city recently unveiled a smartphone app called the Budapest Spa Pocket Guide.
St. Gellert Thermal Baths and Swimming Pools: Kelenhegyi út 4, 1118 Budapest. Accessible by trams 18, 19, 41, 47 and 49, which let off right in front of the complex. Hours are 06:00-20:00. Gellert features 8 indoor thermal baths, 2 indoor swimming pools and 2 outdoor pools. A day ticket with cabin is HUF 5,300 (slightly more on weekends and holidays; 20% discount with the Budapest Card). Website: www.gellertfurdo.hu
Széchenyi Spa and Swimming Pools: Állatkerti körút 11, 1146 Budapest. Accessible by the 72 trolley or the yellow line metro (this is the M1 Millennium Underground). Hours are 06:00-19:00 for the thermal baths and 06:00-22:00 for the outdoor swimming pools. Szechenyi has 13 indoor thermal baths, 1 outdoor thermal pool, 2 outdoor swimming pools, 2 outdoor immersion pools, plus 3 other indoor pools in the clinic/hospital attached to the complex. A day ticket with cabin is HUF 5,000 (20% discount with the Budapest Card). Website: www.szechenyifurdo.hu
Rudas Thermal Baths and Swimming Pool: Döbrentei tér 9, 1113 Budapest. Accessible by trams 18, 19 and 41, along with the 5, 86 and 178 bus lines. Rudas is also a short walk from Gellert. Hours are: 06:00-20:00. There is also co-ed night bathing from 22:00-04:00 on Friday and Saturday nights. Note: the spa is only co-ed on Friday and Saturday. Rudas is an all indoor spa complex and features 6 thermal pools and one swimming pool. A day ticket with cab is HUF 3,800 (20% discount with the Budapest Card). Website: www.rudasfurdo.hu
St. Lukács Thermal Baths and Swimming Pools: Frankel Leó út 25-29, 1026 Budapest. Accessible by trams 4 and 6, as well as buses 9, 26, 86, 160 and 260. Hours are 06:00-21:00. St. Lukacs has 4 indoor thermal pools, 2 outdoor swimming pools and 4 therapy pools for medical treatments and physical therapy. A day ticket with cabin is HUF 3,500 (Lukacs is FREE with the Budapest Card). Website: lukacsfurdo.hu
Király Thermal Baths: Fő u. 84, 1027 Budapest. Hours are 09:00-21:00. Kiraly has 4 indoor pools. A day ticket is HUF 2,600 (20% discount with the Budapest Card). Website: www.kiralyfurdo.hu
There are other thermal spas in Budapest; however, they are a little more remote for the usual visitor. Full details can be found on the BGYH website.
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