Hungary may be a landlocked country, but its capital city Budapest certainly has no shortage of water. In fact, it has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world. Budapest’s 118 springs provide over 70 million litres of thermal water a day and each of the city’s bath houses are a unique experience.
There are few things as relaxing as soaking your cares away in a thermal bath and Budapest’s warm waters make this city an ideal destination year round.
Széchenyi Baths – go during winter
Set within Budapest’s leafy City Park is Széchenyi Baths, by far the city’s most impressive spa complex. Built in 1913, Széchenyi offers impressive neo-Renaissance architecture plus 12 thermal pools, some indoors, others outdoors, with temperatures ranging from 26 to 38°C. Oddly, winter at Széchenyi can be the best time of the year for outdoor swimming. Ordinarily, the outdoor pools are too hot to enjoy during the height of summer, when the city can reach temperatures of 30°C and above. However in winter, mist and falling snow make the outdoor pools truly special. You’ll need to make a swift dash barefoot through the ice and snow, but once you plunge into the warm waters all is forgiven. The microclimate created by the steam means that you can relax there all day long.
Of course, if you don’t feel like braving the elements, there are plenty of indoor pools of all shapes, sizes and temperatures as well as saunas, which can get scorching hot.
Location: XIV., Állatkerti út 11.
Tel: +36 1 363 3210
Opening Hours: 6am – 7pm (October – April 6am – 5pm)
Gellért Baths – go for the architecture, best in summer
Built between 1912 and 1918, the Gellért Baths are part of a sumptuous hotel complex on the banks of the Danube River and at times they feel akin to swimming inside a cathedral.
Gellért claims to be the most photographed spa in Budapest and this is hardly surprising. Gellért makes a wonderful first impression – the impressive lobby offers fine Art Nouveau architecture, beautiful mosaic floors, stone statues and high, glass ceilings.
Some parts of Gellért Baths are divided by gender. Of the 13 pools, 3 thermal pools are located in a women-only area and another 3 are in a men-only area. There are also saunas and plunge pools. The large warm water swimming pool is mixed. On Sundays, all sections are open to everyone, so bring a swimsuit.
An outdoor wave pool is open during the summer months. Built in 1927, it claims to be the first wave pool ever constructed in the world.
Time really does seem to bend in this place, particularly in the thermal pool areas, where there are no windows and the eternal trickle of warm, soothing water almost lulls you to sleep. Give yourself a full day here, if time allows.
Location: XI. Kelenhegyi út 4-6.
Tel: +36 1 466 6166
Opening Hours: 6am – 8pm
Rudas Baths – go for the atmosphere
Just down the road from Gellért Baths are Rudas Baths which don’t look like much from the outside, but inside they are truly spectacular.
Dating back to the 16th century, the Rudas Baths feature an octagonal pool beneath a 10 metre wide dome supported by eight pillars. The pool is dimly lit, with occasional beams of sunlight piercing through the dark, steamy space. Sections of coloured glass in the domed ceiling add to the atmosphere and play tricks with the light as the sun moves across the sky.
The octagonal pool is open to men only on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while Tuesdays are women only. The baths are mixed on the weekends, so you’ll need a bathing suit on these days.
All bath houses offer great therapeutic massages at a fraction of what you’d expect to pay elsewhere in a European capital city.
Location: Döbrentei tér 9
Tel: +36 1 356 1322
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from 6am – 6pm and Saturday from 6am – 1pm