The Bathhouses of Budapest
To and from the far corners of the globe Budapest is known as the city of Spas. Nature has bequeathed these grounds with thermal medicinal goodness. Ever since the Roman’s were here – and probably well before that – the people have soaked.
But what, exactly, is so god damn special about listlessly slipping the day away in hot water?
So special in fact, that one of the main reasons that I moved here was to have easy access to the city’s springs. Listen, I probably take things a bit further than your average bather. For me a bathhouse experience borders on that of the religious. I have been known to visit the baths up to 5 times in a given week and am Facebook friends with half of the staff members at Kiraly. There’s nothing in the world that fixes me like a cycle through the sauna, cold plunge, steam room and finally submersion in the sulfur-laden, mineralic elixir of these spectacular waters.
But this article is not about me – it is about you! And helping you figure out which bathhouse is your ideal match.
Király is for those who love history and don’t need the glitz and glam of the more decadent bathhouses on this list. Király is your go-to, every day of the week, chill out and relax bath. It’s the second cheapest in the city at 2,600 HUF for a locker, and it has everything you could ever need in a compact, easy to navigate package. Sure, you don’t have some of the ostentatious bells and whistles of the grander baths in Budapest. Yet there is something downright mystical about the atmosphere of Kiraly.
This bathhouse was originally constructed in the 16th century after all and remains essentially unchanged to the present day. Of course modern amenities have been added, but the essential construction of the squat, rectangular stone building topped with its signature series of cupola domes is of the original design.
The dominant feature in Király is the octagonal main pool which clocks in at a scintillating 36 degrees Celsius. You walk into the subterranean facility and are instantly confronted by gently rippling waters. As you submerge yourself and stare up at an enormous scooped out watermelon rind, lovely light floods down through small circular portholes. It is ethereal, enchanting and surreal.
There is also a delightful little courtyard in the center of the facility with an enormous bucket to soak in. Just like the rest of the Király bathhouse, the waters are actually transported via larchwood pipes from the nearby Lukacas bath! Király has a double-chambered sauna as well and one of the best steam rooms in the whole city. There is also a cold pool, a hot pool (40 degrees Celsius) and a lukewarm pool that is perfect for meditation. Cycling through all of these options is so, so easy since everything is in such close proximity.
Come to Király if you are bathing purist and don’t mind leaving without the photo opportunity. It’s not the place to come if you are with a big group, but it makes for the perfect zone of relaxation if you are by yourself or in the company of a lover/friend.
Széchenyi is the grandaddy of all the bathhouses in Budapest and is the place to be if you want to be left in awe by sheer size and grandiosity. On the downside this spot is filled to the brim with tourists and that can certainly take away from relaxation. Plus it is one of the most expensive in the city at 5,800 HUF.
But don’t let anyone tell you that this is anything other than a great bath house. Its an attraction and if that is something you want out of your experience who can really blame you? It feels like you are in a theme park at times – particularly in the outdoor section which is comprised of two enormous thermal pools decked out with spectacular statuary and ringed all the way around by the signature yellow facade.
The indoor section has much more to offer than anywhere else on this list with a labyrinthine collection of thermal pools, saunas, steam rooms and areas that defy description. It took me until my 8th trip to Széchenyi before I even realized that there were two enormous Finnish Saunas below the indoor sections.
Széchenyi is an ideal spot to go with a group – particularly if you are with friends on the raucous side. At some of the other bathhouses on this list you will get dirty looks if you talk too loud or behave out of turn. At Széchenyi pretty much any behaviour can go unnoticed. That is both the advantage and disadvantage of this particular shrine to bathing.
It’s a spectacular bath house but not one that is meant for those who want peace and quiet. Particularly on a Saturday night when they have the weekly Sparty. I would never say that I recommend going to one of these hedonistic raves – but if you do happen to fork over the high admission fee then good luck to you-you’ll be partying in a damn bath house!
Dandár is the place to go if you want to experience a truly local vibe. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than Magyar being spoken while soaking in the tubs here. Part of the reason is that it is the cheapest in the whole city at a measly 2,500 HUF for use of the indoor and outdoor section. You can also go super budget with a 2,000 ticket for the indoor area only, but why anyone would ever do that I don’t know.
For it is in the outdoor section of Dandár (pictured above) that truly shines. The two kidney bean shaped pools are wonderful places to sip a beer and while the day away while chilling in thermal mirth. You can buy your lager at the small ‘büfé’ indoors and they even let you bring your own alcohol if you are so inclined.
There are a couple of saunas here and a steam room as well. While the indoor section is not as complex as some of the other baths in town – it has everything you need with two large thermal pools and a cold plunge to chill down your body temperature. Take note that it is only in these indoor pools where you will be soaking in the ‘thermal’ water, with its signature mineralic composition and accompanying smell. The outdoor pools are hot, but not as pure. Some people don’t like the sulfur odour but I would literally use it as cologne if I had the choice. Perhaps I do? Will look into that and report back!
If you want to be extra professional about things you can even sample some of the waters by taking a traditional drinking cure outside of the entrance to the locker room. Again, the taste is not for everyone – but I can literally feel myself getting healthier as I sip down a bottle of the good stuff.
Gellért is an Instagrammer’s wet dream. The place is coated from head to toe in that ever so idiosyncratic, turn-of-the-century design principle known as art nouveau. This bathhouse is equal parts elegant and gaudy. I’d never put it down as my favourite bath – but it is certainly the most unique and I’d also never suggest that you’ll be disappointed with a visit here.
However, you must keep in mind that it is the most expensive bathhouse in the city at 6,200 HUF and you would be hard pressed to find any locals here. But the photo opportunities are limitless and the waters are as genuinely orgasm inducing as anywhere else on this list.
You’ll feel glamorous at Gellért – I can promise you that much – and location wise it is probably the best of any of the baths; just in the shadow of the indomitable citadel. A trip here is best done at the tail end of a spectacular walk up to the peak of the aptly named Gellért hill.
If you want to sous vide yourself in hot water while looking out over the Danube then head to Rudas. That’s the number one thing this place has going for it – although to be honest with you its not even my favourite part of the bath.
But Rudas is an awesome place. It is also on the expensive side (5,500 HUF for a combined ticket) and there is often a line on the weekends. Which is slightly unfortunate as the weekends are really the only time worth going. And that is because the Turkish section – a beautiful, reconstructed Ottoman era, dome-covered bathing room – is only Co-Ed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Wellness section – which the Danube jacuzzi is a part of – is Co-Ed every day of the week. But I wouldn’t recommend heading here unless you are able to get the full Turkish experience.
Of course you are free to check out the single-sex days during the week – but do note that your experience will be really a bit too authentic on those days. Nothing else is required of bathers on the single sex days besides a strange looking loincloth and many chose to go completely nude. Maybe it’s just me but something about it gives me the heebie jeebies!!
Rudas is a great bathing option and is a terrific place to take a date for the Danube view alone. Plus on the weekends you have the option to check out a night session as they keep the bath open until 4 AM! And what a way to start a night out that would be.
Lukács, Lukács, Lukács. Where do we begin??! Oh, this is perhaps my favourite of all the baths in town and is the place to go if you want the perfect mix of size, variety, atmosphere and a local vibe to boot.
It is not as grand as Széchenyi, as elegant as Gellért, as ancient as Király, as cheap as Dandár, nor do you get any awe-inspiring views of the Danube like at Rudas. Lukács simply is what it is and what it is wonderful!
At Lukács you have plenty of areas to explore and they are essentially divided into two main sections: indoor and outdoor. The indoor section feels like the Turkish style baths at Rudas and Kiraly, but it lacks the signature Cupola dome. Nonetheless, the waters here are ideal and the steam room (currently under renovation!) is my favourite in the whole city.
The outdoor section of Lukács (pictured above) is like a mini version of Széchenyi. It is much more compact and lacks a bit of the wow factor – but on a sunny day, it must be one of the best places on the entire European continent to chill out. This bath is also much cheaper than its more famous cousin (3,900 HUF) and is never too crowded with tourists.
In my opinion, Lukács is the perfect spot to go if you are with a group of friends and want to try out something authentically local. Plus the walk to the entrance is one of the most idyllic areas in the entire city with its beautiful white