I enjoy soaking in thermal baths, especially if it’s directly from hot springs. A healthy two for one deal! Budapest was my home for a few weeks this winter which means the medicinal thermal baths were scheduled into my routine. Budapest’s thermal baths definitely enrich my time in this fine city.
If you are planning to visit a thermal bath in Budapest (and you should), this guide will be essential.
Budapest officially holds the title “City of Spas” since 1934. One of the reasons the Romans first colonized the area immediately to the west of the River Danube is so that they could utilize and enjoy the thermal springs. There are still ruins visible today of the enormous baths that were built during that period. The new baths that were constructed during the Ottoman period served both bathing and medicinal purposes, and some of these are still in use to this day. Budapest gained its reputation as a city of spas in the 1920s, following the realization of the economic potential of the thermal waters in drawing visitors.
Silence heals; keep quiet in the indoor thermal baths. Shower before bathing or going into a sauna. Tie your hair. There are no ‘no photo’ rules in the baths I’ve been. But avoid excessive photo shoots especially inside of the indoor pools. Remember; a lot of these baths are used for health and rejuvenation.
Operating hours and rules
Each bath has different operating hours and rules. Some baths still have a male- and female-only days, so do your research before you go.
What you need: bathing suit, toiletries, towel, an extra beach towel or sarong (for outdoor baths), slippers, swim cap (if you’re planning to go to the swimming pool), reading material (for a longer stay – I saw people reading a magazine in the hot pool)
At the ticket booth, you can choose between two options: a standard ticket comes with a locker or you can add on and get a cabin. A watch-shaped bracelet is your key; don’t lose it. A locker works like a regular swimming pool. You can put your stuff in a locker, change in the changing room, and go into the pool area. The locker area in most of the baths is not divided by gender. For a cabin, you have to get assigned from a machine in the cabin area. You can change and store your stuff here. The cabin is a bit more secure and private. It’s big enough to fit two people and their belongings.
The structure of most of the baths is similar. There are outdoor and indoor thermal pools and swimming areas. The big outdoor ones are usually not as warms as the indoor pools but it’s definitely more atmospheric. Some have outdoor pools with fountains, sprays, and whirlpools. Some require you to wear slippers and that might be a good idea especially in winter. Walking between in and out with your bare feet can be quite brutal! The indoor area gets more serious. Many of these pools are not just for pleasure but also medicinal. You can smell and taste the minerals. There are several temperature pools for your liking. Additionally, there are sauna rooms, steam rooms, and of course, ice cold pools. A swim cap is not required in thermal pools but it’s necessary for the swimming pools.
The most popular and grand of all baths are the Széchenyi Baths. In fact, it’s one of the biggest natural hot spring baths in all of Europe. Built in the modern renaissance style between 1909 and 1913, the medicinal waters are sourced from a depth of 1,246m, the second deepest well in Budapest, its temperature being 76°C. Dipping in the outdoor pool that’s surrounded by the beautiful architecture is a memorable experience, especially on winter days. There is a total of 16 indoor and outdoor baths, steam rooms, and sauna chambers, so take it easy to enjoy them all!
What I liked the most: the atmosphere of the outdoor pool, 38°C thermal (indoor) pool
Chemical characteristics of the water: certified medicinal waters, containing calcium, magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates, chloride, sulfates, alkali, and a significant amount of fluoride.
The waters of the Lukacs Bath are believed to be medically the most effective of any of the spas in Budapest. Maybe that’s why the vibe here is a bit more serious. Visitors seeking remedies for their diseases have come from all parts of the world. The marble plaque on the side of the wall was placed by people who experienced successful recoveries. The indoor thermal pools are heavy in minerals and very soothing. Many visitors fill up their water bottles from the drinking fountain in the thermal pool. These baths existed at the time of the crusades. This was also the favorite bath of the Grand Vizier, Pasha Mustafa during the Ottoman period.
What I liked the most: the Finnish sauna and cold pool (it’s a proper Finnish style), the medicinal thermal pools
Chemical characteristics of the water: certified medicinal waters, containing calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates, chloride, and sulfate alkali and a considerable amount of fluoride ions.
You’ll be transported to the early 1920s the moment you walk into the building. Built in beautiful Art Nouveau style, St. Gellert was founded in 1918. The whole building, including the bath area, was decorated with artistic mosaics, stained glass windows, and sculptures. The spring waters were discovered as early as the 13th century. During the Ottoman period, the baths were built on this site and the healing spa was used. You can feel the history in the indoor thermal pool area. The outdoor pool is very popular during the summer time. In winter, only a Finnish sauna, cold pool, and a thermal pool operate outdoors. Arguably, St. Gellert has the most beautiful indoor swimming pool in the city.
What I liked the most: the interior in the bath area and swimming pool.
Chemical characteristics of the water: certified medicinal waters, containing atrium, calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates, sulphates-chlorides, and fluoride ions.
The central part of the spa was constructed during the Ottoman period in the 16th century, which means the bath is almost 500 years old. The bath is men-only during the week but has mixed nights on the weekends.
Chemical characteristics of the water: certified radioactive medicinal waters containing atrium and calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonate, sulfates containing a considerable amount of fluoride ions.
The construction of this Bath was begun by Arslan, the Pasha of Buda in 1565 and was completed by his successor, Sokoli Mustafa. The Király Thermal Bath had no direct hot water base, nor has it any today. The Turks built the Bath far from the springs to ensure the opportunity for bathing even in the case of an eventual siege, within the walls of the castle. Its water was supplied at that time and is being supplied now, from the surroundings of the current Lukács Bath.
In 1928, the City Council ruled that every district in Budapest should have a public bath in order to provide facilities essential for the personal hygiene. Dander Baths was the first in the process. Until 1978, water was supplied from Szechenyi Baths but since that time the bath welled their own high-quality medicinal waters.
Chemical characteristics of the water: certified medicinal waters, containing atrium and calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates, sulphates-chlorides also containing a considerable amount of fluoride ions.