We travel to experience cultural differences. We want to meet the locals, eat their cuisine, learn the customs and do what the locals do. In Hungary, one of these ‘cultural’ experiences is visiting their baths. They’re not just any normal baths though; they’re ‘wellness centres with mineral, thermal or medicinal waters. Hungary sits on some of the richest geothermal and medicinal waters, anywhere in the world. So basically the country has a lot of springs. There are 1500 thermal springs in Hungary and around half are used for bathing.
In the 1920’s, Budapest gained an international reputation as the “City of Spas.” This bathing culture however, has been here for 2000 years. The Romans settled here, made it their regional capital & enjoyed thermal springs. Some Roman ruins can still be seen in Budapest showing the old Roman city of Aquincum. Some baths constructed during the Turkish period (16th & 17thC) which revived the Spa culture, are still in use to this day.
No matter what time of the year you come to Budapest, you must bring your swimmers (bathing suit / bathers / bikini) or whatever you call them, so you can experience at least one of these baths. You should also come with more of a liberal mindset, especially if you’re from a country that is on the “prudish” side! Here in Europe; nudity is not a big deal. I say bring your swimmers because you don’t have to be half nude – but the locals might be (depending on where you are). Don’t worry too much as men and women are separated in Hungary (as opposed to some wellness centres in Austria, Germany & Switzerland where there are mixed areas). Of the two below you’ll find only Gellert separate (on weekdays) so in those areas, people wander around as they please. Széchenyi is always mixed so no one wanders around nude (except the change rooms).
Indoor or outdoors, water temperatures go up to 100°F/38°C and saunas 212°F/100°C!
I’m only going to mention the two most famous ones in Budapest:
GELLÉRT HOTEL & THERMAL BATHS
Built in 1918, some class this as the most beautiful baths in Budapest. The walls are adorned in mosaic tiles, stained glass windows (including on the ceiling) & marble columns. You can’t take pictures inside where it’s the most beautiful (understandable when they are half naked people walking around on days the sexes are separated). Of the two, this was the more organised one & more beautiful on the inside but it not a very large complex. This makes more sense as you will find it’s linked to the prestigeous Gellert Hotel. I loved the fact that when our massages were over, we had our own change room with a bed to nap! Couples – ask about the newer ‘private’ bath area, it sounds romantic! Please note: the thermal baths are separate for men and women on weekdays but mixed on the weekends.
These are one of the largest bathing complexes in Europe & the first thermal baths in Pest (the flat side of Budapest). The indoor medicinal baths date from 1913 and the outdoor pools, from 1927. While some areas were a bit more run down than the Gellért Baths, these baths were more ‘grand’ with other aspects, especially the outside. The three outdoor pools are open year round and are awesome (you can take pictures out here). If you’ve ever seen men sitting in a pool playing chess in Budapest – this is where it is. The indoor area can be a bit confusing as to where to go (not everyone spoke English), but worth the confusion once you work it out with many spas and saunas to choose from. I loved these baths & the images I walked away with. Note: all areas are always mixed so the only undressed people you will see are in the change rooms.
At both baths you pay entry (equivalent to €15), get a wristband for a locker to put your things into & you can hire towels. There are places to have a cool drink and snack and you can make a day or at least a few hours out of it. The Sźechenyi baths are located on the Pest side in the ‘Amusement’ area of the city. It’s surrounded by parks, a castle, the zoo and it’s extremely busy on weekends especially when the weather is good. The Gellért baths are on the Buda side near Gellért hill.
I enjoyed them both for different reasons so there’s only way I can help you to decide if you only have time for one. If the weather is bad; go to Gellért Baths (nicer on the inside) and if it’s sunny; go to Széchenyi (say-chain-e) because the outdoor pools & yellow buildings are beautiful in the sunshine. They are on 2 different sides of the city, so where you stay might play a factor. Either way – don’t forget to pack your swimmers & enjoy a relaxing day in a Budapest Bath.