5 of the best thermal baths in Budapest

With more than a hundred hot springs, it's no surprise Budapest* is known as the 'City of Spas'. Mineral-rich water feeds thermal baths throughout the Hungarian capital and bathing in the health-giving waters is integral to the culture.

The ornate pillars around Gellert's indoor swimming pool
The ornate pillars around Gellert's indoor swimming pool © Nan Palermo - Flickr CC BY 2.0

With regular, affordable flights from UK airports and even the option to travel by train for those with time on their side, Budapest's thermal baths have never been easier to get to. Here's our pick of the city's best to add to your bathing itinerary.

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Gellert Baths

  • Best for: luxurious, old-style thermal bathing

Founded in 1918, the Gellert Baths are located in the Art Nouveau Gellert Hotel but don't make the mistake most tourists do of trying to enter through the hotel's entrance.

The maze-like bath complex is accessible from the side of the building. You can pay extra to change in a private cabin but there are free cubicles near the lockers, so save yourself the money.

The Art Nouveau interior of Gellert Baths
The Art Nouveau interior of Gellert Baths © Nan Palermo - Flickr CC BY 2.0

You might recognise the stately, pillared interior swimming pool from pictures of the Gellert; it's much photographed and surrounded by an upper-floor gallery where you can relax with a coffee while watching the swimmers below.

Highlights include the outdoor thermal pool, which simmers at around 36°C, and the two indoor thermal pools in an ornate, underground, dome-ceilinged room.

Sweat out toxins in the steam room and sauna before braving the freezing plunge pool. Try to arrive early as the baths are popular in the afternoon, and don't worry about the signs instructing you to be quiet here - no one else does!

Szechenyi Baths

  • Best for: outdoor indulgence

Located in a striking yellow building, the Szechenyi Baths, the largest in Europe and most popular in the city, offer a mix of neo-Baroque architecture and modern facilities.

Inside, the rooms are surprisingly bright with something of a municipal leisure centre feel. With 15 indoor pools and three outdoor, including the cooler pool for lane swimming, there's enough to justify buying a full-day pass.

Soaking in the sunshine at Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Soaking in the sunshine at Szechenyi Thermal Baths © cktravels.com - Shutterstock.com

Beware, though, that many of the pools are small and fill up early in the day; the steam room can be standing room only!

If you want to mix with the regulars, head to the large basement-level sauna, where locals can be found chatting and sweating away before using the invigorating plunge pool.

Vel Bej Baths

  • Best for: mingling with locals

Often overlooked by tourists, the dome-roofed delight that is the Vel Bej Baths costs roughly half what you'll pay elsewhere.

Primarily used by locals for its health benefits, it only opens from 3 pm most days. Join the queue just before opening and there's every chance you'll find yourself alone briefly in one of the most beautiful Ottoman-built pools in Hungary*.

The central pool is a dark and warm wonder where fountains line the walls so you can drink the health-giving water at its source. For high-tech heat, try the infra-red sauna, though it only fits two people so you may have to hang out in the modern Jacuzzi, steam rooms and sauna while you wait.

Tickets to the Vel Bej give you a three-hour window with plenty of time to relax in the café upstairs afterwards.

Top tip: Vel Bej uses a different locker system to other baths in Budapest; hold your wristband to the machine on the wall, which will tell you what number locker has been assigned to you.

Ensana Thermal Baths

  • Best for: a modern spa experience

Located in the most peaceful green space in the city, Margaret Island, Ensana Thermal Baths is shared by two hotels. Guests from both properties enjoy free access, but you can also use the baths as a day visitor.

There's nothing Ottoman or ancient about the set-up here; it's more of a modern spa experience. The waters are just as mineral-rich as elsewhere though, as you can verify by drinking from the elaborate fountain free of charge.

Start with a bathe in the cooler of the two main mineral pools before moving to the hotter one, or braving the freezing foot pool. Alternatively, do some lengths in the swimming pool, filled with the same thermal water. A sauna, steam room and plunge pool complete the set-up.

Rudas Baths

  • Best for: views of the Danube

Rudas Baths has a total of five indoor thermal pools, with one reaching a steaming 42°C. The centrepiece octagonal pool, topped with a dome brightened with tiny coloured-glass skylights, gives the feeling of bathing in history.

Original Ottoman remains at Rudas Baths
Original Ottoman remains at Rudas Baths - photo courtesy of Rudas Fürdo

The Rudas is separated into two areas: the Ottoman-built bath and a modern wellness centre, where most of the pools, including a laned swimming pool, are located.

The highlight here is the rooftop outdoor pool. While small, it offers a panoramic view of the Danube, making it great for watching river traffic flow by. Rudas Baths are built on three different thermal springs, each with its own health claims. You can even drink the water from each (for an extra fee) in the drinking hall.

Top tip buy your tickets carefully online as there are separate options for the individual areas as well as for both combined. Also, note that the Rudas Baths still offer single-sex bathing so check the website to see which days are suitable before you go.

How to make the most of your visit

Whichever baths you opt for, take flip flops and a towel at a minimum. You might also want to take a bathrobe, especially if you're using outdoor pools in winter.

These, as well as caps and goggles, which are required for swimming in laned pools, can usually be hired or bought onsite, but you'll pay a premium for the privilege.

Be sure to check the website of your chosen baths for the latest information close to the date of your visit. As all the baths are old and have complicated filtration systems, it's common for part of a building to be shut down for repairs or maintenance.

Climate in Budapest

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
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The above guide shows the climate in Budapest. Find out more about conditions across the country in our guide to the climate in Hungary.

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JD Murphy

JD Murphy

Posted on Wednesday 3rd April 2024 in: City Europe Spa & wellness

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