Last summer, during my stay in Budapest, I discovered a key local institution: The baths of Budapest. Beneficial hot springs channeled into pools of different temperatures, the thermal baths appeal to locals and tourists alike … and there is plenty of choices to enjoy!
I decided to cook the Baths of Budapest Guide, with a lot of useful information to know about how the baths work, what to bring on the spot, the peculiarities to know … and of course which bath to choose!
The Baths of Budapest, an ancient history
There are many hot springs in Hungary, used both to relax and in a medical setting with spa treatments and thalassotherapy. Early in history, the therapeutic virtues of thermal water were exploited.
As Budapest is a very touristic city, the baths have acquired this mixed status as a place of well-being and tourist spot.
There are baths from different eras and different styles. Among the oldest, if not the oldest baths in the city, there are Lukács (first appearance around the 12th century); then come Turkish baths, with several centuries of existence (1550 for Rudas, 1565 for Kiraly). While other baths in Budapest are more recent, such as the Szechenyi Baths (1913) or the Gellert Spa (1912) built-in an Art Nouveau style…
Going to visit the thermal baths during a stay in Budapest, is like diving in history and discovering a pretty architecture and to spend a good time in friendly places while looking after your well-being.
What to bring in the Baths of Budapest?
If you want to visit one of the wonderful Budapest baths, you probably have many questions about what to bring and how it works in general. I will first tell you about these very practical aspects before presenting to you the main baths of Budapest that can be worth visiting during your stay in Hungary.
The bathing suit
In the past, you could come naked in the baths of Budapest but today, this is no longer the case in the majority of baths and you must wear a swimsuit.
The rules are fairly standard in this area: bikini or one-piece swimsuit for women, underpants, boxers or swim shorts for men. The bathing cap is sometimes mandatory in some parts of the baths. So think of sliding a hat in your suitcase!
We’ll discuss this one later, but some baths in Budapest offer single-sex days where people can be naked in the baths … but in reality, you’ll need a little apron to cover the intimate parts.
Note that the massages in the baths of the city also require swimsuits.
What else do you need to bring to Budapest’s baths?
I advise you to bring flip-flops or bath sandals. Not only for the feeling of hygiene that it provides when you move between the locker rooms and basins, but also not to slip.
If you can, bring a towel because otherwise, you’ll need to rent one on-site (with payment of a deposit … and often stand in line!). I advise a more practical investment, get a towel that will serve you in all your travels: it’s a fouta.
It looks like a bath towel but in a softer and more absorbent fabric and above all, it takes a lot less space in the bag! The fouta can serve you in this kind of baths, but also as a picnic tablecloth, as a pareo, and as a shawl to cover your shoulders in outdoor pools…
As in any self-respecting pool bag, it is advisable to take cash to pay for the entrance, buy something to nibble or drink, and to pay the bonds if you rent towels onsite for example.
Also plan for soap, shampoo, and hairbrush if needed, as well as a plastic bag to put your wet swimsuit after swimming.
Otherwise, add in your bag some season-adapted items:
- In summer: take sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats to protect you in all the baths that have an outdoor party.
- In winter: what can you do to go from indoor baths to outdoor baths if you want to experience the unique experience of bathing under the mist of hot water when it is very cold outside!
Finally, if you booked a treatment or a massage in the baths, bring the printed confirmation of your reservation.
Attention to valuables
Every year, there are many tourists who get fooled and robbed in the baths of Budapest, often for lack of caution. The pickpockets are perfectly honed in this kind of place. So ideally, leave all your valuables in the hotel or in a locker (triple-check to close it before leaving)!
If you come in a group, you can also arrange for one to keep guard while others enjoy the bath and vice versa. Smartphones, like jewelry, disappear very quickly if people are not attentive!
Practical questions about Budapest Baths
Can we come with children?
In general, it is not advisable to visit the baths of Budapest with children under 14 years, minimum age recommended to enjoy the thermal water without risk.
The baths’ heat, the sulfur smell present sometimes, maybe unpleasant or unsuitable for the youngest … and the thermal baths are places of relaxation where children will not have the right to jump in the water or play water games. So when visiting the baths with children, pick more classic pools or spaces designed for them like the outdoor Palatinus baths.
What is this weird smell?
If you look at reviews of the baths in Budapest, you will sometimes find people complaining about odd smells and that frankly, it does not look very clean!
In fact, the “odd smells” in some baths are Sulfur Burps and are often the same as a rotten egg smell. It can be annoying for some people but it is a direct consequence of the thermal nature of the water.
Are photos allowed in the baths?
As a good self-respecting blogger, that’s one of the questions I asked myself before visiting the baths in Budapest!
The rules vary according to the baths: at the Szechenyi baths, most people take pictures without any problem (in one condition, of course, to respect as much as possible the intimacy of others who did not necessarily ask to be on social networks in swimsuits!) … but in other baths like Rudas, there are signs that explicitly ask Do not to take pictures and if you disobey, you do it at your own risk!
If you want to obtain a formal authorization to take photos inside the baths, it is better to contact and request authorization from the marketing department.
Can we visit the baths without bathing?
Some baths offer guided tours that are very short (often 15 minutes). It’s the case :
- At Gellert spa, with guided tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11 am and 3 pm. No booking required.
- At Szechenyi thermal baths, from Monday to Sunday at 10 am, 12.30 pm, and 3 pm.
When I went to Budapest in the middle of the summer, the Szechenyi baths were literally crowded … and it did not really tempt me to pay for an entrance to find myself in a compact crowd without really enjoying the baths.
At the reception, I was clearly discouraged to make this tour, where nobody knew if there’s a guided tour or not… and I was finally told that it was better to go to one of the baths entrances near the subway: there are large windows through which you can see all the outer parts of the baths and.
According to the lady at the reception: « you will not see much more in a guided tour »
(You probably understand when seeing the picture why it does not feel like paying to enjoy it !)
How is the arrival at the baths?
The operation is quite similar in most baths. You go to the entrance and you choose the ticket unless you have already booked online.
In some baths, for example, there is a part more focused on hydrotherapy and another focused on “pools and jacuzzi” (this is the case in Rudas baths). You can sometimes book for the day or half-day, choose between a locker and a cabin …
The lockers look like those usually found in pools: they are small (120x30x65cm) and simply allow you to leave your things while swimming.
The cabins allow you both to change in a private space and to leave your belongings there. It costs a little more but it is a very practical solution!
Once you purchase the ticket, you’ll get a bracelet that you must not lose because it is usually very expensive to replace.
This bracelet will allow you to unlock and lock your locker (and cabin door). Use your bracelet as a badge to retrieve a cabin number, an employee is usually present to point you to the correct number.
In the cabin I had, there was a small bench to put your things and a mirror. The cabin was very functional and you’ll need the bracelet to lock the door while leaving.
We return the bracelet at the exit and that’s all you need to know about the baths process!
Now the fundamental question of which baths of Budapest to choose? I will introduce you to the main ones, their facilities, and their “personality”.
1. The Széchenyi Baths in Budapest
What facilities in the Széchenyi baths?
The Széchenyi baths are mixed and offer:
- 15 indoor thermal baths, with pools of variable temperature.
- 3 outdoor pools.
- 10 saunas/steam rooms.
The spa also offers a range of …
- Massages: the cheapest is the 20 minutes Aromatherapy massage (back, neck, shoulders). You can also opt for a relaxing 45 or 60-minute Swedish massage with aromatic oil of your choice (rosemary, orange, elderberry…). Or choose the Royal Thermal Massage, 45 or 60 minutes, a little more energetic.
There is an extensive massage menu, common to most spas in Budapest. I advise you to check it online even if I will give you more information in this article.
- Palm House – A private area, which requires paying additional price compared to the classic ticket and provides access to a “VIP” area, cozier, decorated with exotic plants and palm trees.
- Care: the Széchenyi baths also offer a pedicure, a fish pedicure…
Note that the massages are reserved for baths guests, there are combined massage + bath access tickets. It is advisable to arrive one hour before the requested massage time, to have time to enter and to put in swimsuit quietly before the time of the massage.
The baths also have a cafeteria that sells soft drinks, snacks, beer, wine, and cocktails for over 18s.
Who are the Széchenyi baths for?
The Széchenyi baths really have a very pretty architecture, making it a “must visit” of Budapest. Their large outdoor pools are very popular, whether in summer to enjoy the outdoors or in winter to experience the “steam bath” in freezing temperatures.
So it’s a fairly public place, often at prices slightly lower than other baths … and has the disadvantage of its advantage: it is quickly crowded, crowded, crowded! It is better to arrive on-site before 10 am if you really want to enjoy it.
The Széchenyi baths also organize big parties, popular with young people on holiday in Budapest! These are pool parties that usually start after 22:30, with DJ, it is reserved for guests over 18 years old.
Therapeutically, the water of these baths is beneficial for joints, arthritis problems, and orthopedic problems.
How to get to Széchenyi?
The nearest metro station, a few minutes’ walks from the entrance to the baths, is Széchenyi fürdő on metro line 1. The area also allows you to visit other must-see places in Budapest, such as Vajdahunyad Castle and Hősök Tere Square.
You can consult the current prices of the Széchenyi thermal baths as well as all the ticket formulas available on the website. And all opening hours of the Széchenyi baths are also available on this page.
2. The Gellért Spa in Budapest
What facilities at Gellert Spa?
There are 12 pools available at the Gellert baths in Budapest:
- An effervescent basin at 27° C of 246 m².
- An effervescent basin at 36° C of 60 m².
- 2 outdoor pools, including a wave pool at 26° C and a classic pool at 36° C.
- 8 classic thermal pools from 21° C to 40° C.
Many massages and treatments are also available solo or duo.
- Short massages, 20 minutes: Aromatherapy massage, thermal massage, head massage, foot massage, etc.
- Long massages, 45 minutes or 60 minutes: gentle massage “Harmonie” with oil, energizing massage “Royal Thermal”.
- The Hungarian Herbal Treatment, a massage with oils followed by a special heated pillow filled with plants that are placed on the body for 15 minutes to absorb the beneficial properties of the cure.
- Mud wraps, preceded by an oil massage.
- A “Wine Therapy”, a massage based on grapes.
- Thai massages targeting the entire body or a specific area.
As in other spas, it is advisable to book upstream and access the baths one hour before the massage. It can be canceled if you don’t show for 30 minutes.
Who is the Gellért Spa for?
The Gellert Spa is very popular for its Art Nouveau architecture. It has celebrated 100 years since its opening in 2018. It is also a popular bath for couples, especially because it allows them to privatize for 3h a thermal pool with a fruit basket and sparkling wine. Many massages are also offered for couples.
Gellért is often considered one of the most beautiful baths in Budapest. It is also more focused on well-being than Szechenyi, with more choices on the massage side.
As for therapeutic indications, Gellert’s thermal water is recommended for joint diseases (herniated disc, arthritis, etc.) as well as for the blood circulation and for respiratory diseases.
How to get to Gellért Spa?
The Gellert Spa is located on the Danube banks, near Szent Gellért tér station (metro line 4). It is close to the Citadel of Budapest, the park which offers a splendid view of the city, perfect for nice walks after the baths.
3. The Lukacs Baths in Budapest
What equipment in the Lukacs baths?
These terms are fully mixed and consist of many different spaces, with many wheelchair accessible pools and therapeutic pools.
- Thermal side, there are 4 pools of thermal water heated to 24° C, 32° C, 36° C and 40° C, a sauna and a steam room among other relaxation areas.
- Poolside, there are two basins heated respectively to 22° C and 26° C.
- Wellness area, there is a swimming pool mixing thermal water and classic water, heated to 33° C, several saunas, a Kneipp bath (to stimulate blood circulation), a room full of Himalayas salt to take advantage of its beneficial virtues on breathing, a pool to perform underwater exercises …
There are almost the same massages offers as the Gellert baths, including aromatherapy massages (20, 35 or 45 minutes), head and foot massages, Mud Wraps and Wine Treatment grape-based.
Who are the Lukacs baths for?
Tourism has developed quite recently in the Lukacz baths, which were still inhabited by locals only a few years ago. In fact, for a few years, the purchase of a “Budapest Card”, tourist cards that entitle you to discounts, included free admission to the Lukacs.
Beyond this opportunity to discover the baths of Budapest for free, Lukacs remains a good way to experience the hydrotherapy in all its dimensions and not only through thermal water pools!
In addition, for couples, there is the possibility to privatize the thermal water pool, including if you want one or two Aromatherapy massages of 20 minutes.
The thermal waters would have benefits in rheumatology and for breathing.
How to get to Lukacs?
4. Rudas Baths in Budapest
What facilities in Rudas baths?
The Rudas Baths are separated into two areas and you can buy a global ticket or a ticket that covers only one of the areas:
- The thermal zone with a very beautiful traditional octagonal swimming pool heated at 36° C, several small thermal water basins (a cold basin with 16° C, basins around 28-30-33 and 42° C), as well as saunas and steam rooms, a massage room and a spacial “restroom”.
- The “pool and well-being” area has a swimming pool of 278m² at 29° C, a rooftop pool, saunas and hammams, a restaurant, and other pools …
We find again the same offer of massages as Gellért or Lukacs.
Who are the Rudas baths for?
The Rudas baths in Budapest have a special feature: they are the only baths that offer single-sex days. It’s better to know before you go to avoid disappointments!
The “Pool” part is mixed, the Rudas baths are fully mixed on weekends but the thermal baths part is reserved for men on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and for women on Tuesdays. These days, nudity is accepted and visitors are given a small “apron” that hides their private parts and can be used to sit in the sauna.
Those are medieval baths so all the thermal part breathes authenticity. It is also a very quiet place compared to other baths in Budapest, there are many more locals and a lot fewer tourists.
There are also nocturnes on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 pm to 4 am. Unlike the big club nights organized at the Széchenyi thermal baths, it is simply a matter of swimming outside the normal opening hours.
How to get to Rudas?
The Rudas Baths are not far from the Gellért baths, they are also very close to the Citadel Park, near the Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd). They can easily be reached on foot by crossing the bridge from tram line 2 (Március station 15. tér).
5. Kiraly baths
What facilities in the Kiraly baths?
Kiraly baths are mixed, very old and human-sized, since there is only a large traditional Turkish pool at 36° C, three small pools (26-32-40 ° C) and a Jacuzzi.
The place is “in its own juice”, you can not book online so it is often left out by tourists, who prefer a more modern experience.
The massages offer is quite limited (aromatherapy of 20, 35 or 45 minutes).
Who are the Kiraly baths for?
Like the Rudas thermal baths, the Kiraly thermal baths are among the most unspoiled places… and the oldest baths in Budapest! They offer a real journey in time…
They are totally closed to children under 14 years old.
It is rather a place for people who want to totally think outside the box.
How to get to Kiraly?
The baths are located almost opposite the Parliament of Budapest, on the other side. The nearest tram station is Bem József tér (lines 19 and 41). Otherwise, get off at Margit híd, Budai hídfő H (trams 4 and 6) and walk 5 minutes on foot.
6. The Palatinus baths
I wanted to talk about these baths… because they are a little different from others! It is actually an outdoor water park on Margaret Island. It has been renovated to also offer 4 indoor swimming pools that can be used all year round, facilities for the disabled and a swimming pool for children (heated to 32-34° C).
I think you will understand by reading the article that children are not especially welcome (or are outright “banned”) in the baths of Budapest because the thermal water and the temperatures are not necessarily adapted for kids… Palatinus baths are therefore an excellent fallback for those traveling with as a family!
What equipment in the Palatinus baths?
The 4 indoor pools of these baths are shallow (maximum 140 cm deep): one contains thermal water heated to 36° C, the children’s pool is 32-34° C, there is also a swimming plunge pool with hot thermal water (42° C, only 4m²) and a dip pool with cold thermal water (14-16° C, 2.9 m²).
Outside, it becomes more interesting and very nice in summer: there are among others a wave pool, hot pools for children, a real swimming pool, water slides, etc.
There is also a fairly complete massages offer, such as the Gellért baths for example.
How to get to Palatinus?
There are of course other baths in Budapest but these are probably some of the best known and those that we can consider visiting as a tourist. So I hope my guide will help you make a choice!
For my part, I found it very relaxing even if it takes a little time to get used to the very special smell of sulfur.
I also laughed a lot because when I was at the Rudas baths, I suddenly heard someone utter a loud cry: at the exit of the saunas, there are buckets hanging in the air. You can pump ice water in it … then pull on the handle of the bucket to tip it over your head. Notice to masos ^^
An American tourist was ecstatic about the concept, she could not stop laughing, falling completely into childhood for the principle of pouring a bucket of water on the head! A good memory was full of spontaneity 🙂
We also saw people drinking thermal water (fountains are present in most baths). For my part, I did not try because the composition is still quite “special” and I did not know enough properties of minerals to take the adventure.
Anyway, be curious… and go for this experience as it’s an integral part of Budapest!