Budapest sits on a complex network of almost 125 thermal springs, and this thermal-water reserve is one of the largest in the world, especially for a capital city. Budapest is therefore rich in world-class healing baths and ‘taking the waters’ has been a part of everyday life.
There can be few places in the world where water is as lavishly celebrated.
The healing powers of the hot springs were first discovered in 100 AD, when Romans settled at Aquincum, which is now part of Budapest. Then it was the Turks, who occupied Hungary during the 16th century, who built the baths and developed the spa culture. The water contains calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, alkalis, chloride, sulfate and fluoride. Some of the health problems a thermal bath can provide relief for a number of degenerative diseases of the joints, circulatory problems, post-traumatic treatments and respiratory issues.
There are a 11 public baths to visit in Budapest, depending on what your preferences are. The layout of most of Budapest’s baths is similar: a series of indoor thermal pools, where temperatures range from warm to hot, with steam rooms, saunas, ice-cold plunge pool and rooms for massage. Some have outdoor pools with fountains, sprays and whirlpools. Being thermal, some are open year-round. Opening times and who is welcome when depend on the day of the week and the time, with many baths now opening late at night during the weekend.
Some of the baths have male and female only days, but these are in the minority, so a bathing suit is highly recommended. Walking around the baths can be cold and slippery, including outside, it is an idea to consider taking along a pair of plastic sandals or flip-flops. Some of the pools in the baths require a swimming cap to go in, but again this is not for all of them. Towels are not provided but can be hired for a fee, although the absorbance of these towels are questionable! It is probably a good idea to bring your own. All baths and pools have cabins and/or lockers. A locker is somewhere safe to lock away your possessions and a cabin is a lockable changing room. In most of the baths nowadays you are given an electronic bracelet which directs you to and then opens the locker or cabin door rather than a key, which is handy to prevent losing it.
Four of the most commonly known baths are the Széchenyi Baths, St. Gellért Thermal Baths, St. Lukács Thermal Baths and the Rudas Thermal Baths.
The Szechenyi Baths were the first thermal baths in the city of Pest, when it was built in a neo-Baroque and neo-renaissance style before 1913. The baths became so popular that they were expanded and now boasts 2 large outdoor pools and 15 indoor pools.
The Art Nouveau Gellért Baths, now open to both men and women at all times, have the most beautiful indoor swimming pools in the city and small thermal pools at different temperatures containing water from Gellért hill’s mineral hot springs. Gellert Spa is famous for its lovely warm spring water pools, its architecture and its landscape.
St Lukacs Baths is more modest that the two previous mentioned baths, but has its own strengths and specialties, like the many Gratitute Tablets or stone plaques on its walls saying thank you for the healing power of the geothermal waters, or the Himalayan Salt Room for curing respiratory problems, or the Weight Bath used for stretching the back, treating spinal injuries.
The Rudas Baths were established during the time of the Turkish occupation of Hungary and is where history meets modern design and innovation. While its main thermal pool and octagonal room dates back to 1550, on the roof is a modern bath overlooking the Danube River. To complement its historical background, the Rudas Baths holds onto the traditions of separate male and female days at the main thermal pool on the weekdays, and only allows coed bathing on the weekends. From 1936 to 2005, only men were to use the bath, and women have only been allowed in since 2005 when the reconstruction work was completed.
Visiting the Thermal Baths in Budapest is a must. Budapest is not called the ‘City of Spas’ for nothing.