Budapest The Spa City
09 February, 2016
Budapest is said to be one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe, and with good reason. The rise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867 and the subsequent union between the cities of Buda and Pest turned the newfound metropolis into one of the continent’s leading magnets. Aside from its grand avenues, luxury palaces and bridges over the Danube, its appeal lies in its 118 springs spouting 70 million litres of water a day, at temperatures that vary from 20°C to 78°C.
The Spa City
Budapest has more thermal and medicinal water wells than any other world capital, earning it the title of “Spa City” in 1934. However, the properties of those waters have been known since ancient times. The Romans built thermal complexes during the period they settled there, as did the Ottoman Turks. Vestiges such as the Turkish baths have been preserved until today and are still operating at full steam.
However, the real boom in spa resorts took place in the early-20th century, coinciding with an upsurge in the city’s development and the foresight behind the decision to harness these waters for treating all kinds of diseases.
Planning Your Visit
Nowadays thousands of Budapesters and tourists from all over Hungary and the rest of the world come to delight in the city’s waters. There are obviously more spa guests in summer, but any time of the year is suitable for having a dip.
Each spa has its house rules, but most of them hire towels, have lockers for storing your clothes, and provide swimming caps. Check out the website of each establishment when planning your visit. While most resorts are mixed, some have different days or times of the day for men and women.
Here are the five thermal baths you simply cannot fail to visit:
Remember that famous Danone advertisement from the early nineties, in which some hard-bodied models were swimming in a dream pool? Well, the pool in question happens to be the main one in the historic Gellert spa baths. Built in 1918, it is one of the city’s most elegant. It boasts 9 therapeutic pools, including a thermal bath, a bubble pool, a paddling pool and even a wave pool, flanked by statues and adorned with mosaics and stained glass windows.
It is also one of the more expensive baths. Admission varies from 3,800 to 4,200 forints (€13.20 to €14.60), but you simply can’t leave the city without visiting it.
Inaugurated in 1913, it is one of the largest thermal bath complexes in Europe and the most popular one in Budapest among tourists. This does not, however, detract one bit from its charm. Bathing in one of the large outdoor thermal pools at Széchenyi is a wonderful experience. And, as it is the only spa in the Pest side of the river, you can sightsee this area before heading to the baths.
The admission fee depends on the services you hire, varying from 2,900 to 3,750 Hungarian forints (€10.10 to €13.05).
Built by the Ottoman Turks in 1550, the Rudas Baths feature an octagonal pool covered by a dome, transporting one to A Thousand and One Nights. This spa is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for men only, and on Tuesdays for women (wearing a swimming costume is not required). Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are mixed. One option is to visit the spa baths on Friday or Saturday evening and extend your stay into the night at the Romkert, open from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. It is an open-air disco where you will be dancing at the foot of Mt Gellért.
Together with Rudas, the Király are the most famous Turkish thermal baths. Opened in 1565, they resemble the Rudas Baths, although on a smaller scale, so you are advised to book ahead and take your own towels with you. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are set aside for men and indeed this spa has become one of the major gathering places for gays. Király is also among the more economical baths in Budapest: 1,300 HUF (€4.50).
Specialising in digestive disorders, the Lukács are famous for having been a meeting place for intellectuals in the 1950s and for being one of most popular resorts among tourists. With its seven pools set in a beautiful park, this is one of the best spots for coming into touch with Budapest society.
Now all that’s left is to pack your swimsuit and get ready for a dip. Check out our flights here.
Text by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
09 February, 2016