Budapest is the spa centre of Europe, as the city sits on a patchwork of hot springs that spout mineral-rich healing waters into numerous thermal baths, many dating back centuries. The selection of spas is so varied that certainly everyone finds something to their liking, be it plunging into the past at an authentic Turkish bath, a bit of fun amid whirlpools, healing a hangover or a muscle-melting massage. The warm waters are said to be capable of curing just about anything, and soaking in a thermal pool is a real Budapest experience. Whichever haven of health you choose is completely up to you – here is a little guide to the best.
Last updated: 19 December 2019
In our Ultimate Budapest series, we list the best of Budapest, its bars and spas, its boutiques and cafés, its sights and restaurants. Regularly updated, always on the ball, this is your go-to guide for everything that’s great about this great city.
Everything you need to know
The thermal baths in Budapest are no secret, it's one of the main draws to the city! Daytime hours for the various bathhouses in Budapest vary, so it's important to check the websites before going, as there's nothing more disappointing than showing up, towel in hand, to a locked door. The ornate Széchenyi Baths host popular after-hours sparties on Saturdays – if you're staying in Budapest over Christmas 2019, there's a special winter one on 30 December, between 10.30pm and 3am.
Some spas still hold single-sex days, although mixed days are much more common. Again, check ahead of time. On male- or female-only days, or in same-sex sections, men are usually given drawstring loincloths and women apron-like garments to wear, but most people tend to put on a swimsuit. On mixed days, a bathing suit is a must! There are many services available at each spa, so always specify what you're interested in when you get to the ticket office. Upon entering, you receive a watch-shaped electronic bracelet which serves as a key for your locker or cabin, where you can store your belongings. Some may have an allocated number, but generally you just take a free one. If you're a couple, it's nice if slightly pricier to get a kabin (a cabin, an intimate changing cubicle) rather than a szekrény (locker). The outdoor pools at the Széchenyi also offer smaller lockers by the outdoor pools, in case bathers want to bring their wallets or phones outside. Attendants are always around should you need any help.
Lap pools require a swimming cap, and we advise you take a pair of flip-flops as the floor can be slippery. Bathing accessories are available to rent or purchase at most baths, but it is best to bring your own. Although some are a little rough around the edges, Budapest baths are clean and the water is regularly inspected. The baths feature pools of all temperatures, and don't be afraid to dip into the cold pools from time to time. It's all part of the fun, and it's supposed to be great for your health! You should keep the noise down while inside the pools, as it can get quite echoy inside, tie up your hair and take a shower before plunging in. Do not spend too much time in the hot pools to avoid becoming light-headed, and bear in mind that bathing in these waters is not advisable for pregnant women. Most baths have a cafeteria or a restaurant, and therefore are ideal for a whole-day stay.
After these tips you’re all set to go, so check the details about the best baths of Budapest below, choose your favourite and soak away to your heart’s content in the balmy healing waters.
A masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture, the Gellért Baths are one of the most stunning historic spas in the Hungarian capital, slightly reminiscent of a cathedral. Captivating colours – mainly blue and turquoise – intermingle inside, and the walls are adorned with wonderful stained-glass windows, colourful mosaics, Zsolnay porcelain tiles and elegant sculptures, making bathing in these blue healing waters feel like a royal ritual. Besides numerous thermal pools that range in temperature from 26°C to 40°C and an indoor swimming pool, in summer bathers can also enjoy the outside wave pool.
Medical massages, a sauna and steam cabin can also melt your muscles. Those seeking something unique can submerge in an intoxicating crimson concoction of curative grape-based substances like red wine, pomace and grapeseed oil – reducing ageing by hydrating and regenerating the skin – while also enjoying the internal healing powers of wine with a fine bottle of red thrown in.
A spa operated at the site of today’s Gellért in the 13th century, later named the Aga Bath during the Ottoman occupation of Hungary. Later it was called Virgins’ Bath (Szüzek-fürdője), after a story of a monk who lived in one of the caves of Gellért Hill and provided advice – of a particular sexual nature – to young women. Then came the nickname Muddy Bath (Sárosfürdő), due to the mineral mud settling at the bottom of the pools. In 1894, a tender was offered for plans of a more upscale combination of spa and hotel here, but the financial constraints of World War I meant that the construction of the Gellért Hotel and Baths took nearly ten years to complete. Finally, in 1918, the hotel and baths opened as one establishment (today they operate separately) and the Gellért Hotel has been standing strong, embraced by elegant grandeur, ever since.
The Gellért Baths are co-ed all week and accessible for disabled visitors. Admission starts at 5,900 HUF.
Open: Daily 6am-8pm Website
Although a little rough around the edges, the Király Baths retain a peculiar medieval atmosphere that makes them a peaceful destination to find tranquillity. The walls here guard centuries of history. The four pools full of hot spring water are genuine Turkish baths erected in 1570; the largest – kept at 36° – has a skylit central dome, while the three smaller ones range in temperature between 26° and 40°. Király is the only bathhouse listed here without its own hot water source, as it was built far from the hot springs as a backup by the Turks during Hungary’s Ottoman rule, ensuring that safe bathing would still be possible within the walls of Buda Castle even under siege. Water has been supplied ever since from the current Lukács Baths through a pipe system 1.5 kilometres long, later replaced, and a piece of original piping is on display in the Király lobby.
Those who wish to unwind amid a truly peaceful setting can submerge in a private tub for four people, found in a secluded area. Filled with healing hot spring water containing magnesium, calcium and fluoride ions used for the treatment of joint pains, vertebrae problems and neuralgia, this thermal tub and adjacent sauna can be booked in two-hour slots, ideal for families and friends. The Király Baths are complete with various saunas and steam rooms, and the inner garden awaits visitors with a cosy sunbathing area and a hot tub.
The Király Baths were originally erected by the Ottoman Pasha around 1570, and after Buda returned to Hungarian rule in 1699, the bath was acquired by the König family, hence the name, Király (Király=König). The family renovated and expanded the baths with a Classicist wing, combining old and modern styles. Király suffered severe damage during World War II, and the last major renovation came in 1950.
The Király Baths are co-ed all week and welcome everyone over 14. Admission starts at 2,900 HUF, with discounts for students and seniors.
Open: Daily 9am-9pm Website
One of the longest-standing spas in Budapest, the Lukács Baths are a true haven of health located in a lovely 19th-century building. This spa is simply enormous, providing a complete spectrum of facilities and services to health-seeking bathers. An outdoor hot pool features a mini-river and underwater massage, another is used for medical workouts and weight baths, while two cooler ones are for swimming. Amenities also include numerous massage services, an outdoor fitness park, a sauna world with various kinds of cabins, a steam room and a cosy chamber lined with Himalayan salt, perfect for respiratory problems. Private bath facilities are also available at the Lukács. The thermal waters here and around the complex, supplied by a 30-metre-deep spring in the János Molnár Cave, are said to be of the highest quality among all the city’s baths.
The Lukács Baths also feature a glass-covered drinking hall lined with marble columns near the entrance of the bath house, where visitors can taste the healing warm water. There is an old fountain in the middle of the room, but as it is no longer functional, an attendant serves you from a sink. This water comes from the same source as the baths but from a newer well, and is rich in calcium, magnesium, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate, chloride as well as sodium and fluoride ions. The recommended daily dose ranges between 300ml and half a litre, and is said to help prevent long-term health problems. This healing water can be purchased by a glass or filled into your own canister, and costs next to nothing.
The Lukács Baths were established by the Knights of the Order of Saint John, who settled in the area in the 12th century with the aim of curing the sick. The Orders of Rhodes and Malta later established their own monasteries here with the same healing purpose, while the Lukács was transformed into a Turkish bath during the Ottoman occupation. In 1884, Fülöp Palotay purchased the building and a series of renovations began, turning this spa into a massive healing complex. Afterwards, this medical mecca became universally popular, proven by the numerous marble memorial plaques installed in the bath’s park, giving thanks to the institution and its medical staff in various languages.
Lukács Baths are co-ed all week. On Mondays, the sauna world opens at 2pm, while the Drinking Hall is open Monday-Friday between 10am and 6pm. Admission starts at 4,300 HUF with discounts on evening tickets.
Open: Daily 6am-10pm Website
Standing as a historic landmark in an idyllic location, this traditional spa is the perfect example of how to intermingle contemporary design elements with centuries-old bathhouse features. A cavalcade of colours, Zsolnay porcelain and modern patterns please the eye inside, and after thorough renovation and expansion, this spa now has much more in store for soakers than healing thermal waters. The traditional Turkish bath lies beneath a beautiful dome decorated with small circles of colourful stained glass that let in rainbow-coloured beams of light at high noon every day.
A swimming pool, several other heated tubs of varying temperatures up to 42°, and a sauna and steam cabin await inside, but the star attraction is the rooftop panorama pool, where paddlers can admire the entire Pest skyline. The Rudas Baths also have a drinking hall, where visitors can taste or take home some of the mineral-rich liquid.
During the reign of Hungary’s King Béla IV, the Knights Templar built a hospital and a bathhouse in the area. These facilities were later renovated and used as a bath by Sokoli Mustafa, Pasha of Buda, between 1566 and 1572, during the Turkish conquest of Hungary. The Rudas Baths have been in operation here ever since, supplied by the healing thermal waters of no fewer than 21 medicinal springs found below ground. In 2017, the Rudas was fully renovated and expanded with a modern treatment area and restaurant.
The Rudas still holds single-sex days; on Tuesdays it’s ladies-only, while on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only men are welcome. Weekends are mixed. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Rudas is open through the night between 10pm and 4am. Admission starts at 3,700 HUF with discounts for students and seniors.
Open: Daily 6am-10pm (sauna & massage from 8am).
Special night opening: Fri-Sat 10pm-4am Website
Housed in a stunning Neo-Baroque building, the Széchenyi Baths are probably the most popular in Budapest, and the largest spa complex in Europe. The contrast of the bright yellow walls of this fairy-tale building and the vivid blue waters provides a captivating scene, made complete with joyous paddlers, peaceful swimmers and old chaps playing chess in the outdoor pools. However, out of the baths listed here, the Széchenyi leaves aside tranquil relaxation for communal fun, curious crowds flooding inside and out to admire and enjoy a historic Hungarian landmark. Thanks to its large windows, the indoor section of the Széchenyi is brighter than most thermal baths, and houses 11 thermal pools, as well as steam rooms and showers. Below the two staircases leading inside, a huge sauna with a relaxation area and plunge pools await. Two of the outdoor pools are 32-34°C, while the one at 26°C can be used with a swim cap for doing laps. Three pools are only available to guests with a medical referral.
Visitors to the Széchenyi can indulge in so many special services that listing them would take too long. However, for a strangely special experience, you can try soaking in a blend of mineral-rich thermal water and the natural extracts used to brew beer (malts, hops, brewer’s yeast and barley) at the Széchenyi’s Beer Spa. This unique combination stimulates the metabolism, helps remove harmful substances from the body, and eases fatigue, stress and hangovers. On top of that, guests can pour and enjoy an unlimited amount of Czech beer on tap within reach of the tub. Does it get any better?
The Széchenyi Baths were built between 1909 and 1913 in Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance styles by Győző Czigler. The water supply came from an artesian well drilled by eminent Hungarian mining engineer Vilmos Zsigmondy – whose bust is found outside the Széchenyi today – in the City Park. The well was drilled 970 metres deep so that water would be constantly bursting out from high pressure. However, after expansion, this well could no longer supply the larger volume of water needed, so a new one had to be drilled. Today the original well is found beneath Hungarian chieftain Árpád on Heroes’ Square.
The Széchenyi Baths are co-ed all week. Admission starts at 5,200 HUF.
Open: Daily: 6am-10pm Website
Veli Bej Baths
Hidden on the Buda side since Ottoman times, this venerable Turkish bath is a lesser-known recreational spot for those who like to avoid rowdy crowds. The traditional octagonal Turkish pool topped with a dome is the centrepiece of the baths, surrounded by four small plunge pools of differing temperatures. In addition, a sauna with fresh ice, an infrared sauna, a steam room, leisure showers, a jacuzzi, a small swimming pool and a Kneipp-basin await visitors inside. Veli Bej has no outdoor pools. The interior is a mixture of old and new as the building created in the Turkish era was renovated, art historians and archaeologists also taking part in the recent reconstruction. The original walls and water pipes discovered were preserved and put on display to provide an intriguing sight today.
Veli Bej was built in the 16th century during the Turkish occupation and was one of the most beautiful baths of its time. The original stone building survived the sorrows of ensuing centuries and the Classicist-style edifice in use today was erected on top during the 19th century, designed by architect József Hild. The baths are operated by the Order of Hospitallers and accessed from a hospital, many coming here to be healed. Crowded at weekends, the Veli Bej thins out early in the week, ideal for relaxed bathing.
The Veli Bej is co-ed all week. Admission starts at 2,800 HUF, allowing you to stay for up to three hours.
Open: Daily 6am-noon, 3pm-9pm