Besides beautiful architecture, a rich history and a hearty meal, Hungary’s capital boasts something that not many other European cities can – a booming bathing culture. Budapest is home to many baths that harness underground thermal springs with medicinal properties. Use of these thermal waters dates back to Roman times, though the bathing complexes built by the Romans are little more than ruins now.
Instead, locals and tourists alike flock to several Turkish baths that were constructed in the 16th century during the Ottoman occupation of the city, and various other baths that were built later on. Although many of the baths are predominately frequented by locals, they’re also easily accessible to tourists – day passes usually include a locker and use of all facilities, and many baths have coed pools where bathings suits are mandatory. Just choose your favourite and suit up. Don’t forget your towel!
The Szechenyi Baths is one the city’s most popular with tourists, the largest medicinal bath in Europe and one of the largest public baths on the continent. The complex of pools first opened in 1881 and began using medicinal waters in 1913, before the baths’ northern wing with an impressive neo-baroque interior was built in 1927. Of the 18 pools in the complex, 15 are spring fed with waters rich in calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium, sulfate, fluoride and metabolic acid. Fifteen of the baths are inside and these thermal pools and steam baths range in temperature from 21C to 43C – the outdoor pools, where you’re likely to see local men playing chest while submerged in the water, range from 29C to 41C. Entry for the day is about $15 and includes a locker and access to all facilities.
This is one of the oldest Turkish baths in Budapest, also built in the 16th century, but references to healing waters in this location go back to Roman times. Csaszar has the typical Turkish octagonal pool and domed roof and this one’s surrounded by four smaller thermal pools with different temperatures. There’s also a modern swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, steam baths and saunas and a special tub for hydrotherapies. The fact that this bath is not well known amongst tourists yet makes it a good one to visit, as does the small exhibit of archaeological finds from the site.
Hotel Gellert’s famous baths were built between 1912 and 1918 in Art Nouveau style, and are some of the most beautiful in Budapest. The 13 pools here with mosaic floors and walls are partially coed – clothing is optional in same sex areas except for on Sundays when all pools are mixed-gender – and are fed from mineral hot springs from Gellert Hill. Hop between the outdoor wave pool, normal pool, sauna and cold plunge, before exploring the indoor baths and saunas. If you want to take a swim in the main indoor pool in the impressive hall, remember your swim cap – it’s mandatory and the elderly Hungarian women swimming take it upon themselves to enforce the rule strictly. Gellert’s baths are popular with both locals and tourists and although signs can be confusing, other bathers can tell you where to go.
This traditional Turkish bath was built in the 16th century during the Turkish occupation in Hungary, and its domed roof and and dimly lit octagonal pool are both examples of Turkish elements. The Kiraly baths are supplied with mineral water from the Lukacs baths to fill its four thermal pools. There are also dry and steam saunas and massages available. These baths are always coed, and bathing suits are mandatory at all times.
Another example of Turkish influence in Budapest, the Rudas baths were originally constructed in the 1560s during the Ottoman occupation, and the swimming pool was built later in 1896. On single sex days these baths are clothing optional, but weekends are coed. There are six dimly lit thermal pools ranging in temperature from 16C to 42C and dry and steam saunas as well. The Rudas baths stay open until 4am on Fridays and Saturdays for night time bathing.
The Lukacs baths are a favourite amongst the locals, but this shouldn’t deter tourists from taking a dip. Since opening in 1894 these baths have been popular amongst writers and artists and to this day continue to draw a creative crowd. In the courtyard, look for marble tablets placed in the ground by those who were cured by Lukacs’ waters, dating back as far as 1898. Of the eight pools here five are thermal. Uniquely, there’s a drinking fountain supplying water that has healing effects for the stomach, gallbladder and kidney stones. This drinking water is supplied around the world. Lukacs hosts Magic Bath parties with DJs, cocktails and laser lights on Saturday nights aimed at a younger crowd.
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