Who doesn’t love fountains of healing water? When I visited Budapest with my friend from college this summer, the city was hot as hell and all we wanted to do was soak our scorching bodies in pampering thermal baths. Budapest isn’t called “City of Spas” for nothing. The story dates back to Romans who first colonized the area and wanted to utilize natural thermal springs for wellness. According to historians, there are still ruins visible where you can see out-of-this-world bath houses established during this time.
Many newer baths were built during the Turkish period (1541–1686) where relaxed bathing and medicinal healing reasons attracted both the young and the old. In 1920’s, the city recognized that baths were gaining rising popularity with the public, money could be made from tourists. In 1930’s, Budapest was formally labeled as “City of Spas” – such a reputation firmly remains today, captivating locals and travelers from abroad.
I’ve tried many of them and narrowed down the best for you. Some are more intimate than others, some are rowdier, some are locals’ favorites. Just remember one thing, you’ve got to leave your swimsuit on, absolutely on co-ed days. Swimsuits become optional during women-only or men-only days. Each spa’s website will indicate very clearly what days are catered for which gender.
Hot Tip: 34 degree pools have never felt so good, even if you’ll find yourself chilling in a pool with grandmas, 34 is the magic number! Be prepared to stand in long lines at the entrance if you head there in the afternoon. Highly recommend going towards early evenings, so you might get a cheaper rate and encounter a less rowdy crowd.
1. Gellért Thermal Bath – Most Popular
Mosaics, stained glass and Art Nouveau! Gellért is not only aesthetically gorgeous, it’s fame began way back since the 13th century! Originally built in 1918, the Gellért Baths and Hotel once contained Turkish baths and a hospital during the Middle Ages. Located in city center, the large bath house (with both indoor and outdoor pools) has the easiest access to the history of the city. Although the most expensive, Gellért is also the most popular.
Photo: Wendy Hung
2. Széchenyi Bath – Life of the Party
It’s one of the biggest bath houses not in Budapest, but in Europe! Built in early 20th century in Neo-Baroque designs, Széchenyi quickly became one of the most popular especially among Hungarians. Nowadays, it is one of the main thermal spas travelers like to visit as well. It houses multiple indoor and outdoor pools, thermal and wellness rooms, spa treatment and fitness centers are scattered throughout the complex. The huge outdoor pool is open during winter time, where water is nicely warm. On weekend nights, Széchenyi hosts pretty crazy parties from June through September. Check here for details!
Photo: Wendy Hung
3. Lukács Bath – Best Spot to Hang with Locals
Loved Lukács Bath, where we discovered most locals gathered. This place has got quite a sordid story to tell: the first spa hotel was built in the 1880s, then a drinking cure hall was added in 1930’s, and a daytime hospital was built in 1970’s. Today, both indoor and outdoor pools have been reconstructed and every corner is facilitated with modernity and convenience. We recommend you take the time to venture every hall to discover thermal baths through steamy doors. During wintertime, Lukács also hosts happening spa parties! Check here for details!
4. Rudas Bath – Most Unique
Rudas bath was first established in the 16th century during Turkish occupation. After many makeovers, Rudas still provides drinking hall that provides water cures from three springs: Hungária, Attila and Juventus. Favorite part: the main section of the spa has an octagonal pool, covered by a 10 meter diameter dome. During opening hours, the facility also acts as an outpatient hospital. Please note: this spa is mostly for men except for Tuesdays for women. It’s completely worth an afternoon to sit under the magnificent dome.
5. Veli Bej Bath – Most Turkish Thermal
Let’s take it back all the way to the Ottoman period, that’s when Veli Bej Bath was created. The most healing part about this spa is the calcium carbonate water, which is ideal for guests who are recovering from surgeries. The space has got everything, from steam rooms and saunas to jacuzzis and family cabins. Veli Bej is a hidden classic on the Buda side, if you find yourself hunting for some serious traditional spa experiences, Veli Bej is absolutely worth the trip!