Budapest has a long history of thermal spas, which has earned it the nickname “the city of baths.” The Romans were the first to recognize the potential the area — which is situated on top of 125 thermal springs — had for extensive bathhouses. They named the city Aquincum, and it grew and flourished in the 1st century AD. When the Roman empire fell, so did Budapest. It wasn’t until the Ottoman Turks occupied the city in the 16th century AD that Budapest was once again a mighty metropolis. The Turks, with their love of thermal spas, continued the work that the Romans had started of populating the city with baths. When the Ottoman empire fell, locals continued the bathing traditions, and many of Budapest’s most popular modern spas are built on the foundations of Ottoman bathhouses.
Each bathhouse in Budapest has its own unique history and architecture. Below, we take a closer look at a few of Budapest’s best baths.
One of the largest medicinal bathhouses in Europe, Szechenyi Bathhouse was built in the Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance styles by Gyozo Czigler. Its striking yellow façade, intricate carvings, and expansive 15 thermal baths and three swimming pools provide visitors with a full-day experience. Centrally located in City Park, it takes two thermal wells to supply enough water for the massive Szechenyi Baths. With interior rooms that feel more Roman-period than modern, relaxing in these thermal pools is a highly memorable experience.
One of the smallest and oldest bathhouses in Budapest, Kiraly is the only thermal spa situated within the walls of an ancient Turkish castle. With a striking octagonal dome roof, worn brickwork, and a dimly lit interior, Kiraly feels more like Ottoman-era Turkey than modern-day Budapest. Beams of light stream through small holes in the ceiling and the pools were built in octagonal shapes to mirror the dome. The Kirkaly Baths were originally built to provide a bathhouse for locals to use when the Turkish castle was under siege. Lacking its own thermal springs, it borrows water from the nearby Lukacs Baths.
Located within the Gellert Hotel, this thermal spa is a stunning example of Art Nouveau style. With its intricate tile work, masterfully laid-out mosaics, beautifully carved columns, and sweeping balconies, the Gellert Baths call visitors to linger. Built in 1918, records show that Gellert’s tributary hot springs were used as far back as the 12th century, when they were visited by the knights of St. John. The early Ottoman rulers continued to use these geothermal waters in the 16th century, which is when the bathhouse was built.
Veli Bej Baths
Another of Budapest’s thermal spas dating back to the Turkish period, the Veli Bej Baths still use the original clay pipes for pumping water. Originally dating back to the 16th century (when the Ottomans built a plethora of bathhouses in Budapest), the building at Veli Bej is modern, featuring an infrared sauna, glass ceiling, and freshly painted walls. The bathing pools are in the traditional octagonal Turkish style.
Legend has it that the Lukacs spas can cure any ailment. A favourite spot among locals, these baths date back to 1894. The courtyard of the Lukacs Baths is filled with marble tablets (some dating back to 1898) expressing the miracles and gratitude of the people cured by these geothermal waters.
A few tips for enjoying Budapest’s bathhouses:
Confirm on the bathhouses’ website when the pools are mixed gender, men-only, and female-only.
Bring a bathing suit, but note whether pools are clothing optional (this would only happen on male- or female-only days).
Consider wearing flip flops or water shoes, as the floors can get slippery.
Note whether or not there are charges for towel rentals.
Check to see if pools require bathing caps.
G Adventures runs a number of tours to Hungary that visit Budapest and beyond. Whether you're interested in exploring the country's vibrant cities, rejuvenating thermal baths, or exploring its rich history, we have an itinerary to suit your travel style. Check out our offerings in Hungary here.