Budapest is attracting every year many foreign visitors. They come for various reasons. Some seek the crazy Budapest party scene with popular ruin pubs. Some are attracted by the architecture and history of this pearl on the Danube. And there are some that come for work, conferences and competitions. They are more likely to experience Budapest in a different way, but their routes usually intersect.
Where? In the Budapest baths!
Spa culture in Hungary
Spa culture in Hungary dates back to the Roman times. It was heavily influenced by the Turks, the Art Nouveau, and even the communist era gave a bit of touch to the bathing culture. Hungary’s location in the Carpathian basin is the reason the springs are so hot. Btw there’s over 1,000 hot springs, around 125 of which are in Budapest.
The medicinal water has unique chemical and biological properties, which can positively influence the treatment of locomotive disorders, skin problems, gynaecological diseases, infertility and can help rehabilitate after injuries. Moreover, it is a nice relaxing experience that feels good either after a crazy night out or an exhausting business meeting.
How to get the most out of your trip to spa in Budapest? Which Budapest spa to choose? And, what to do there? Let me guide you through the spa options in Budapest. Including packing your bag for the baths and to what you can expect when going to spa in Budapest.
Choosing the right Budapest spa for you
Before you submerge yourself into the medicinal waters, you need to choose which type of spa you fancy. There are two basic styles: Roman and Turkish. They differ mainly in the arrangement of the pools and in the interior decoration. The Turkish spas feature a central pool accompanied by 4 smaller pools in each corner of the bath room. The decoration is pretty sober. On the contrary, Roman style spa is full of colourful tiles, mosaics, statues and it has a sacred, almost ceremonial feel.
Turkish spas in Budapest
These baths are in Buda, and they feature the hottest pool in Budapest – 42 degrees. The spa has undergone quite some reconstruction in the past decade. There is a wellness part with a popular panoramic pool (check out people’s photos below, the view is unbeatably original). However, in order to enjoy this part, ask for “wellness ticket” at the cash desk. Since this is a Turkish type spa, you have a lot of steam and sauna options. The spa is open to women only on Tuesdays, while men can enter on the rest of the week days. This doesn’t apply for the weekend, when mixed genders are allowed in. Rudas spa also offers special night bathing – from 10 pm until 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Do not expect any wild party there, it is solely about relaxing after a busy work week. If you are coming in the weekend, make sure to arrive early as this spa is extremely popular, and you may end up waiting by the entrance for people to leave before they let you in.
The king’s spa is the cheap option. It is a tiny one but has an amazing atmosphere. The works on it started in 1565. It has a typical Turkish spa looks with the second hottest pool in Budapest – 40 degrees. Also, it is still awaiting reconstruction, so do not expect anything super fancy. However, the central cupola with openings that bring day light in beams to the pool is something you may want to see with your own eyes. They offer a jacuzzi and a tiny outdoor pool, which is located in the courtyard. Wander around the corridors encircling it, you can come across to exhibits from the spa history, too. And anyway, when was the last time you had a chance to visit a “museum” in your swimming suit? There is a beautiful fresco of Turks conquering Budapest by the entrance stairs. The spa also offers various massages and medical treatments. You can also exercise in the gym (in the cabin area). I strongly recommend taking slippers with you when going to this spa.
Veli Bej spa in the Császár hotel
Veli Bej (formerly called Császár Bath) is not a part of the main Budapest spa network. It is attached to a hotel, but is open to general public. It has been completely refurbished, and it offers a lot of sauna options – at no extra cost. This Turkish spa is a bit different, because the central pool is separated from the small corner pools by little walls. I recommend trying these thermal baths if you want to avoid the big crowds. The basic package includes an infrared sauna, too.
Roman style spa
Szechenyi baths in Pest
This spa is an outlier in many aspects. As opposed to all the other spas that I already mentioned, this one is located in Pest, in the green heart of Budapest – in the Városliget park (City park). You can reach it quite easily by the historical metro line M1 from the city centre. It is the most frequented spa in Budapest. It has the most pools, including three huge outdoor pools (one of which is for swimming). If you have ever seen a picture of Budapest spa, it was most probably Szechenyi. It is super crowded and somewhat dirty and expensive. The numbers of people that pass through it every day is enormous. If you decide to go there, check the indoor pools, too. There are also beautiful statues and tile decorations, it is a typical representative of Roman style thermal baths. This spa is also the host of the Sparty every Saturday evening.
Gellert thermal baths
This spa is also a part of a hotel. So if you plan your trip and want to do spa too, I recommend looking into their offers, because hotel guests have access to the spa. Gellert is located in Buda, close to Rudas spa at the foot of the hill with the same name. These thermal baths are the most decorative ones in Budapest. They feature one huge swimming pool and one more central pool and two wings with mosaics and statues. Each wing has a sauna or steam chamber. There is also an outdoor pool with artificial waves, sitting pool and sauna with cold dipping water. The services offered include massages and various equipment rentals. I recommend packing slippers if you are planning to visit this spa.
These Budapest baths have been reconstructed during the communist era. It is a place to meet the locals. It costs half the price of what Gellert or Szechenyi do. There’s a good number of indoor spa pools, two outdoor swimming pools and one recreational pool with jet beds and other streams. If you come at night, you will be amazed by the LED strips that colour the water. There is a few saunas and steam chambers, but also a separate sauna world for which you need to get an extra ticket. This spa is adjacent to Veli Bej and to a therapeutic hospital. You can see in the park all the name plates thanking the spa staff for excellent treatment. This spa is my all time favourite.
Buying your ticket
Cabin or Locker
The tickets can get pricey, however if you study the price list carefully, you would discover that there are various options that can make it cheaper. Firstly, you can choose between a cabin (kabin) and a locker (szekrény). Cabin is a stand alone fully lockable room where you can change your clothes and store them while you are in the spa. Lockers are usually just small storage boxes where you put your belongings. They can be common for both men and women or separated by gender.
Discounts and other tips
Always check if you can apply some sort of discount – be it student, retired discount or Budapest card. If you come for some shorter period of time (afternoon, morning or evening tickets), then different (read lower) prices may apply.
If you want to get a massage, I suggest to buy it together with your entrance ticket. As price lists and offers vary between all the spas, I recommend thoroughly reading it and planning your trip accordingly. This way, you may spare a dollar or two and you can spend it in the spa for some snacks. Because believe me, you will get hungry from all the water.
What to pack
Swimming suit is a must. Unless you go to Rudas during the week. However, if you don’t have one, you can rent it. I never used this service, so I cannot tell you how it works. Buying a swimming suit is not a huge investment, so you might do that as well. The same applies to towels – bring yours or get one at the spa.
I recommend taking flip-flops or slippers. You will be walking bare foot, so if you are not a fan of this, having a pair of slippers is an excellent idea. Same applies to bathing robe. It can be quite cold to transfer between the various parts of the spa, so having a bath robe can prevent you from getting sick.
If you intend to swim, you would need to have a swimming cap (applies to Lukács, Gellért, Rudas and Széchenyi thermal baths). If you are going to enjoy just the medicinal baths, then you don’t need to have one. However, women are obliged to tie up their hair – so do not forget a hair band. Believe me, there is not anything more annoying than to have hair get stuck on your fingers while you are dipping in the bath.
I also recommend you to take an empty water bottle. Why? Many spas offer a tap with medicinal water. So you might want to have a try. Also, it is recommended to drink water while you change in between the hot pools and/or sauna. Drinking regime is important.
When you are done with the spa visit, you can have a shower. I recommend having a cream on you, because the water makes your skin dry. Also take a shower gel and shampoo, the spa doesn’t provide them.
First-timers guide to visiting Budapest baths
If you go to Budapest baths, I assume you want to get the most out of it. This little guide will hopefully help you. I am no expert, but this is what I do when I go to a spa in Budapest.
After buying your ticket, you go to find the lockers or cabins. You change to a swimsuit. Your next steps should lead to the showers, where you should rinse yourself with water. The aim is to remove all the chemicals off your body, such as deodorants, make up or creams. Then you can start enjoying the spa.
I usually start with having a little swim (for that you need a swimming cap and I like to have goggles, too). After that, I go to have a dip in the medicinal baths. Do not just jump in the first pool that you see, but have a walk around the bathing area to watch for a little label saying (usually just in Hungarian) – vízhőfok and idő.
Vízhőfok is the indication of the water temperature, and idő means the recommended time you should be staying in the pool. The time is indicated in minutes (perc). Start in the coldest pool and stay for the recommended time. Watch around for a clock, usually there is one which you can see from any pool. After the time passes by, change to a warmer pool. Stay again for the recommended time and then transfer to the next warmer pool.
Depending on the size of the spa, you will get a chance to change at least 3 to 4 times. The recommended bathing time decreases with the increasing water temperature. The hottest pool (42 degrees) is in Rudas spa. The recommended bathing time is only 5 minutes.
When you exit the hottest pool, you might want to dip in the cold pool (usually between 14-20 degrees), but taking a cold shower would do too. I usually go to the sauna or steam chamber for a few minutes. Then, I rehydrate by drinking plenty of water. I make one more circle through the medicinal pools starting at the coldest. I always prefer to stretch while in the pools or do some water gymnastics.
Dos and dont’s at the Budapest baths
Spa in Budapest is open to public. It is also very popular with the tourists. So, it is advised to adjust your behaviour accordingly. If you are unsure, check how people around you behave. There are a few things that you should avoid at all costs:
- running in the spa (it is very slippery, and the corridors are often crowded),
- not closing properly the sauna or steam chamber door (do not even open the door if you are unsure whether you want to enter, be fast to not let a lot of heat out),
- letting your hair loose (although you wanted to feel like a little mermaid, this behavior will not turn you into Ariel),
- not checking pictograms (their language is universal, they are omnipresent, little picture helpers),
- being loud (silence heals, btw the echo is really working in circular rooms, more than you would think).
A bonus: interior decorations in Gellert spa Budapest
For all details lovers, Gellert spa has some intriguing details. See for yourself.
Thank you for reading all the way down to here. If you like this guide to Budapest baths, make sure to share it with your friends. If you are looking for other practical Budapest tips, make sure to check this Budapest guide. Do you know somebody coming for a eurotrip to Budapest? Tell them about my guide, so they know what to expect when going to Budapest thermal baths.
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