- 7 Jun 2023 7:58 AM
In summer, many double up as lidos, enabling you to spend the whole day by and in the water, alongside sunbathing terraces and outdoor bars.
First a few tips before you take the plunge:
* When you buy your ticket, you will be given a plastic watch so you can beep through the gate. Find an empty locker, change, and then with the face of the watch you can safely close the locker door.
* Valuables can be left in safety deposit boxes provided at each spa. Payment for refreshments is usually by card only.
* Lane pools usually require a swimming cap. Gear can be hired out or bought on the spot. For spas and saunas, you should wear swimming gear, with flip-flops.
* If you’re using a sauna or steam room, do remember to open and close the door quickly, so as to keep the heat in.
* Nudity is a no-no in saunas – this isn’t Germany – but there may be a naturist area for sunbathing at some spas.
1. Széchenyi Baths
Located in the City Park, the Széchenyi, Szecska to Hungarians, is Budapest’s largest, most popular and most expensive spa complex.
One of the few not to have been originally founded by the Ottomans half a millennium ago, the Széchenyi dates back to a century or so ago, its ornate buildings fashioned in Neo-Baroque style.
Three large pools comprise the outdoor area, one filled with thermal water, one divided by lanes for swimming and another with a whirlpool.
Overlooking them is a large terrace bar/restaurant, with kiosks either side – many come here for the day – surrounded by sunbathing areas. This is also where you may see old Hungarians playing chess in the water, an iconic Budapest scene.
A variety of warm and cold pools, and saunas of differing temperatures, beckons you to the ornate main building, and you can order all kinds of massage treatments, too. The Széchenyi is also where SPARTY pool parties take place on Saturday nights.
2. Gellért Baths
MTI photo: Balázs Mohai
Budapest’s most famous spa is still in operation, although the equally celebrated hotel attached to it is currently undergoing complete renovation. With its sublime Art Nouveau décor, the Gellért echoes the fin de siècle when it was designed, although World War I prevented its opening until 1918.
Its heyday came during the Silver Age between the wars, when the world’s first wave pool opened here and visitors doing the Grand Tour could take the seaplane to nearby destinations from immediately outside the hotel.
Today, the Gellért still exudes class, its elegant columns and Zsolnay tiling making it a grandiose Budapest landmark. Until as recently as 2013, the main two indoor pools were single-sex, now the complex is co-ed. If you’re going to indulge in a massage, this may be the best place to arrange one.
3. Rudas Baths
Very much reflecting its Ottoman heritage despite a contemporary makeover in the early 2000s, the Rudas is another essential Budapest experience.
First opened by the Turks in 1550, this Danube-facing spa still comprises several features put in place nearly half a millennium ago, such as the octagonal pool with original stone walls and Ottoman dome.
The Rudas is unique in other respects. During the week apart from ladies’ day on Tuesdays, it’s open to men only. At weekends, both sexes can not only soak together but take in the view from the panoramic roof jacuzzi for the special night bathing until 3am.
Currently, this pool is closed for maintenance until mid-June. Massages and pedicures are also offered.
4. Lukács Baths
Entering this venerable spa from the tram stop named after it, you spy a display of plaques from satisfied customers over the decades, praising the healthy effects of the waters here.
The Lukács comprises outdoor pools divided by the changing rooms, one with a whirlpool, the other two for lane swimming (bring a cap).
On a back wall, a montage of portraits of great Hungarian personalities features quotes from each, again acknowledging the benefits of regular visits.
With this in mind, it’s cheaper than other spas, particularly if you take advantage of discount prices after 5pm – and the complex stays open until 8pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Inside the main building you’ll find thermal pools and saunas, as well as Sauna World, due to reopen shortly after renovation. Above is given over to rooftop sunbathing, with an outdoor gym set up one floor below.
This may be the place to try drinking thermal water – a drinking hall was set up here in 1937 and regulars swear by it. Mud therapy is another speciality.
5. Veli Bej Bath
Close to the Lukács but under different stewardship, the Veli Bej has a history longer than many baths but was only revived a decade or so ago.
Again, its Ottoman heritage is clearly visible from the main octagonal pool and central cupola. Much smaller than other spas, the Veli Bej is general more intimate and without the tourist hoards you’ll find at the Széchenyi. This means it’s ideal if you’re on your own – you can find your own space in the thermal water or excellent steam sauna and not be bothered.
Visits are limited to three hours each, currently between 3pm-9pm daily, as well as 6am-noon at weekends.
+1. Ensana Thermal Spa on Margaret Island
Now under the Ensana brand, this spa complex is integral to the surrounding hotel on Margaret Island, a green recreation zone easily accessible from Margaret Bridge.
Open to guests and non-guests alike, the facility bills itself as a resort, the idea being that you spend the day sampling its many pools, thermal baths and saunas, aroma chambers and salt caves, perhaps booking a session of aqua aerobics or yoga.
And this being traffic-free Margaret Island, birdsong should greet you as you exit, rather than the roar of cards or clatter of trams.
For information on addresses, prices and opening times of each of the above see SpasBudapest.com.
Words by Peterjon Cresswell for XpatLoop.com
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website liberoguide.com