What more could you wish for? The sun’s shining, it’s going to be another perfect Budapest day, you’ve got your towel wrapped under your arm, your sunglasses on and you’ve packed your cossie. Your destination? One of the city’s classic lidos for a day’s waterside lazing and pool fun. But wait… there is more. Each of Budapest’s revered bathing hangouts has a special attraction that gives you that little extra, a wave pool, a slide park, a panoramic sauna. Here we pick out our favourite features for you and your family to maximise your summer fun.
Gellért wave pool
The first of its kind in the world, the wave pool at the legendary Gellért Hotel has been entertaining bathers now for 90 years, from Budapest’s Silver Age to today. As an archive film shows, bright young things in fashionable bathing caps and sensible, full-length costumes bobbed and shrieked in the water, enjoying the sheer novelty of the whole thing. Unlike the seaplanes that used to take off from outside the Gellért to whisk passengers to Balaton, the wave pool has stood the test of time. Open from May to September, this outdoor attraction centrepieces an extensive alfresco lounging zone, with sunbathing terraces.
Lukács rooftop sunbathing
The Lukács – curative, staid and frequented by over-60s? Not a bit of it. Yes, these Buda baths near Margaret Bridge were established in the 12th century by the Knights of the Order of St John and even today have a somewhat monastic feel, the entrance featuring plaques from grateful patients cured of their ailments in times long past… but here you can bring your shades and a good book, and spend the day catching rays on the roof, occasionally dandering down for a dip. There’s a bar, too, and in the heat of the day you can cool off by the Himalaya saltwall.
Palatinus slide park
Palatinus means fun. Set amid the verdant recreational grounds of Margaret Island, it’s a ten-minute stroll from the Alfréd Hajós baths, where serious swimmers go, leaving this family-friendly aqua park to pleasure-seekers. Overhauled in 2017 and now open year-round, it features a popular five-chute slide area, close to the wave pool that operates every hour. Kids happily spend hours sliding down and queuing to climb back up, while grown-ups can make use of the sauna, thermal pool and rooftop terrace with a cocktail bar.
Paskál panoramic sauna
Way up in Zugló, the lesser-known Paskál was completely overhauled in 2016 to feature a 30-person panoramic sauna in a contemporary, glass-walled construction overlooking the complex of leisure pools and water bar outside. Beyond, the leafy residential surroundings District XIV, close to City Park, come into view as you relax your muscles and laze the day away.
Rudas panoramic jacuzzi
The Ottomans may not have approved, but the panoramic jacuzzi and sundeck on the roof of the historic Rudas near Elizabeth Bridge on the Buda side was the showcase attraction to be added as part of the major overhaul of this landmark spa in 2014. The other new development was admission arrangements: no longer a male domain, the Rudas is single-sex during the week (ladies on Tuesdays) and open through the night at weekends, co-ed until 4am on Fridays and Saturdays. This is when the panoramic jacuzzi comes into its own, with Elizabeth Bridge and the twinkling lights of Pest in full view.
Arguably the most popular single attraction of all the baths, spas and lidos in Budapest, the whirlpool at the Széchenyi has swimmers zooming round it all day long, all year round in fact. Set up in one of the three outdoor pools in the complex, the whirlpool runs every ten minutes or so, propelling people round at top speed, many hanging on for dear life, while casual conversation goes on in the centre circle. Once the jets are switched off, the jacuzzi bubbles fire up in different corners of the same pool.