Fun fact: Did you know that Budapest sits on top of the world’s largest thermal cave system? These caves were created by gushing hot spring that now create the city’s famous bath houses.
Therefore, it would be a complete shame to visit this beautiful city without, literally, plunging in, as the locals do!
When I started researching our trip to Budapest, I instantly began to research the thermal baths. Like the Finnish sauna I have grown to love, it is a much loved cultural tradition- but it does come with its own etiquette.
As I searched I found that there were well established tourist baths, strictly local baths, and a few that were somewhere in the middle. Depending on the advertised crowd, the rules of etiquette seemed to vary greatly between the facilities; most now require swimming costumes and are co-ed all day; some have hours/days for men or women; some require swim caps; some baths are only for medicinal uses; some have a more reserved atmosphere while some even throw wild summer parties.
And then there is the architecture, itself, to consider. Each of the bath houses are housed in a unique and beautiful building. There are even some that date back to the Ottoman occupation and reflect Turkish style architecture.
Here is a general run-down of the well known houses:
100 year old Baroque bath house facility.
18 Thermal pools varying in temperature, including 2 outdoor soaking pools and 1 outdoor lap pool.
Co-ed all day, all week. Children welcome, provided they are toilet trained.
On the weekends in the summer starting at 1030pm, Szechenyi hosts with “Sparties” -Spa Parties- sure to be full of laser shows, thumping music and bathing beauties.
Nearly 100 year old Art Nouveau facility.
13 pools, including an outdoor wave pool in the summer.
Recently made co-ed all days of the week.
Perhaps the most modest architectural facility; Formerly a spa and wellness hotel and then a water hospital.
Co-es, all day, all week.
A popular tourist destination as entry is included in the “Budapest Card”
Also a popular venue for summer “Sparties”
16th century core; traditional Turkish style bath.
6 baths and a swimming pool.
Mixed on weekends, Men on M, W, Th, F, Women on Tu.
Open from 10pm-4am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Oldest bath house in Budapest, housed in a medieval Turkish pool.
1 central bath under the main dome and 3 accompanying baths.
Recently made co-ed, 7 days a week.
I wanted to go to a bath that was tourist-friendly, but not tourist-centered. That way we could get the “real” experience without being too worried about stepping on toes or breaking unspoken rules.
Initially we intended to go to the Gellert or Rudas baths on the Buda side of the city. However, when it came time to go at the end of a long day with a storm approaching, Gellert was a long walk and the Szechenyi baths were accessible by the metro (a sight in itself!).
I do wish that we had made a more deliberate effort to see one of the ancient Turkish baths, as they are extremely unique to Budapest. Perhaps we will have to go on our next trip!
Also- I sort of have a thing about public bathing and I get pretty grossed out quickly, so one bath house was pushing it. That said, they are kept very clean!
After purchasing an entry ticket at the front door (as well as a towel and either a locker or a cabin changing room) you can change into your swim attire, store your valuables, and then venture out into the swimming area.
The Szechenyi baths, being one of the largest baths, was excellent for an evening of entertainment. We were able to start outside in the pools and enjoy the sprawling Baroque building around us and the even more entertaining variety of people coming and going. There is even a highly entertaining whirpool in the center of one pool that keeps people of all ages gleefully swirling for ages.
In search of warmer waters, we tentatively ventured inside the facility and immediately dunked into the first pool at hand- both because we figured we would just do as the Hungarians did, and it was cold and windy in the ten steps between the outdoor pool and the door.
As we continued to venture through the beautiful facility, testing each not-full pool as we went. They ranged between 34-38 degrees Celsius and -as is to be expected- smelled like stinky mineral water. Our favorite, however, was the eucalyptus scented steam room.
Eventually, thoroughly smelling and feeling like boiled eggs, we decided to call it quits and make for home. On the way out we explored the facility a bit more and found their massage facilities, the immaculate room for their extremely affordable beautician services, and an outdoor balcony that would be ideal for refreshments and lounging on warm summer days.
Despite my general dislike for public bathing and the fact that this excursion fell under the “If we have time” category of our trip, I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed our time there. Our entire trip in Budapest was fantastic with many highlights, but I would certainly count this as one of the highest.
If we ever return to Budapest- which I hope we will- I will ensure that we make it to one of the ancient Turkish style baths.
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