Did you know that Budapest is known as the “City of Baths?” The Hungarian capital city of Budapest sits on top of over 100 different thermal springs that feed all the local bath houses. Budapest is home to a few of the remaining traditional Turkish baths dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The bath culture of Budapest is strong. On everyday of the week you’ll find tourists and locals flocking to one of the many popular bath houses within the city for a few hours of relaxing in the healing thermal mineral water.
Budapest became the “City of Baths” in 1934, but its bath culture runs centuries deep. The first people ever to take advantage of Budapest’s baths were the Romans during the height of the Roman Empire during the first century BC and fifth century AD. Much of the Roman baths are gone, but you can see some of Roman bath complexes in Aquincum, Obuda.
The Turks were the first to monopolize on the thermal springs and build the first bath houses in Hungary. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the bath houses were the center of the Turkish Muslim culture who used them for social gatherings and ritual cleansing. The original Turkish domes can be seen today at the Rudas and Kiraly Baths.
During the “technology boom” of the 18th century, the old Turkish baths expanded due to modern drilling technology and the boom of medical sciences claiming the healing powers of the mineral baths. Today Hungary is home to 160 thermal baths around the country. So make sure you visit one while you’re there.
The Most Popular Historic Baths of Budapest
Sitting elegantly at the edge of City Park in its elegant yet slightly over the top design is the largest medicinal bathhouse in Europe. The first thermal bath in Pest opened on the site of the current day Szechenyi Baths in 1881. The bathhouse became so popular that it quickly expanded with most of the current day architecture and baths completed by 1927. Today you’ll find 18 pools with 15 of them being fed by thermal springs underground. Not only are the pools at Szechenyi awesome, the architecture of the bathhouse is beautiful. Szechenyi Bath is the most popular Budapest bath of locals and tourists alike. You’ll find a good mix of old and young enjoying a few hours soaking in the 3 large outdoor pools or the smaller thermal pools and saunas inside. You an extra cost you can even book a massage.
Szechenyi Baths is open daily from 6am to 7pm (pools are open to 10pm) and are co-ed. Since the bathhouse is co-ed you’ll need to wear your swimsuit. Szechenyi Baths is located just outside of downtown Budapest, but is easy to get to via the M1 line (metro stop: Szechenyi furdo station). A simple day pass with a locker costs about HUF 4,100 (~ $15USD) during the week and HUF 4,300 (~$16USD) for the weekend. Additionally Szechenyi offers a popular Saturday night party series called Szecska during the summer months.
Gellert BathsGellert Baths is one of the most photographed bathhouses in Budapest as the Art Nouveau architecture is stunning. The Turks used the thermal waters of the area as early as the 16th century, but Gellert Baths was not built until 1918. The floors and walls are tiled in mosaic tiles while the windows are colorful stained glass. The bathhouse is separate from the Gellert Hotel next door with its entrance on Kelenhegyi ut street.
As of 2013, Gellert is fully co-ed. The pools vary in temperature and massages and spa packages are available for extra fees. Gellert Baths is open daily from 6am to 8pm. Gallert Baths costs slightly more than Szechenyi starting at HUF 4,900 (~ $18) during the week and HUF 5,100 (~$19) on the weekend. To get to Gellert you’ll have to take a streetcar (either the 19, 47 or 49) to Gellert ter station.
Rudas Baths is one of the oldest traditional Turkish bath houses in Budapest. The original bathhouse was built by the Turks in the 1560s and was expanded over the years as the bath culture of Budapest grew in popularity of the years. The swimming pool was built in 1896. Today Rudas Baths contains the elements of a traditional Turkish bathhouse with its dome roof and octagonal pool. For centuries Rudas was men only, but today it is open to both genders on the weekend. Tuesday is women’s day and the rest of the weekdays are men only. Swimsuits are optional on the single-sex days and most locals will go nude. Don’t be shy!
Rudas Baths contains 6 thermal pools of varying temperatures and a large swimming pool. The bathhouse is open daily from 6am to 8pm with night bathing on Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm to 4am. A weekday pass to Rudas Baths is HUF 3,000 (~$11USD) and HUF 3,300 (~$12USD) during the weekends. The Friday and Saturday night bath costs a little more at HUF 3,700 (~$13USD). Rudas Baths can be reached by taking streetcar 18 or 19 to Dobrentei ter.
How to Use a Thermal Bath in Budapest
The waters of Budapest’s many thermal springs are known to have healing powers. The hot springs are rich in calcium, magnesium, hydrogen-carbon, sulfate, and sodium. You’ll smell the hot springs before you even get near them. The thermal waters are recommended to alleviate the symptoms of degenerative illness of the joints, chronic and semi-acute arthritis, and calcium deficiency of the bones.
Using a bathhouse can be very confusing for first timers. Certainly you can do your own thing and try out any or all the pools in your own order and pace. All the bath houses have various thermal pools at various temperatures ranging from 70ºF to 106ºF. The pools will be slightly warmer during the winter months than during the hot summers. Start your day in the normal outdoor pools preparing your body for the higher temperature pools. The water temperature of the outdoor pools are about 90ºF. After about 20 minutes of relaxing and enjoying the wonderful people watching experience, head indoors to enjoy the other pools. Once inside check out one of the steam rooms or saunas for a few minutes then dip into one of the cold pools to cool off. Then proceed to the warm pools. You can repeat this pattern for as long as you want. Each pool will have a sign with the temperature and showers are always nearby to cool off.
Remember to stay hydrated throughout your time at the thermal baths. All the bath houses will have a snack bar or restaurant in-house to grab some water and food. Remember to bring your own towel or rent one. Leave all your valuables in your locker or cabin as there will be lots of people milling around. A day at the bath houses in Budapest is a great way to get a glimpse of local culture and is some of the best people watching in all of Europe (in my opinion!).
So next time you’re in Hungary, don’t forget to check out the bath culture of Budapest!