Thermal spas are a big deal in Budapest. There are over 100 natural hot springs below the Hungarian capital, and the thermal waters and their supposed healing powers have been enjoyed since Roman times over 2,000 years ago. Bathing culture was truly established there during the Turkish occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries, so there are several traditional Turkish baths (usually modest) in the city, but visitors will also find opulent spas built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The therapeutic properties of the thermal waters are linked to their high mineral content, which is supposedly good for various illnesses, such as poor circulation, arthritis, skin conditions, degenerative joint diseases, and many others. But even if you aren’t afflicted with any of these ailments, you can’t possibly leave Budapest without joining the locals for a soak in one of the following seven spas. They’re not only super relaxing; they’re also stunningly beautiful.
1. Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Széchenyi, the most popular of Budapest’s spas, was built in 1913. The distinctive yellow, Neo-Baroque palace houses 11 indoor thermal pools of varying temperatures with several saunas and steam rooms. There are also three large heated outdoor pools where most visitors relax. Széchenyi offers many services, like massages, pedicures, and aqua-fitness. There’s even a Beer Spa where you soak in thermal water infused with malt, hops, and yeast — all while drinking an unlimited amount of beer. Széchenyi also has a weekly Sparty — a massive party with DJs, lights, and special effects — every Saturday night of the year.
Széchenyi is open every day from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM. A daily ticket, which includes locker rental, is $19.50 on weekdays and $20.30 on weekends. The spa treatments come at an extra cost and should be booked in advance. You can also rent towels, slippers, and swimming caps. Sparty events run from 10:30 PM to 3:00 AM, and tickets start from $50.50.
2. Gellért Thermal Bath
The Gellért baths, built in 1918, are housed in a beautiful art nouveau building, ornately decorated with statues and mosaics. Navigating the indoor thermal pools, saunas, and steam rooms can be tricky, so consult the map. The glass-roofed central indoor pool surrounded by marble columns is a favorite spot with travelers and Instagrammers, but this pool is specifically for swimming laps, and wearing a swimming cap here is mandatory. Expect to be promptly scolded by the attendant if you get in without one.
Outside there’s a wave pool that only operates in the summer months, a thermal pool, a sauna, and plunge pool, as well as plenty of deck chairs to laze on. The spa at Gellért prides itself on its high-quality massage treatments. You can also enjoy a Hungarian mud treatment, or book a private bath with a glass of Champagne.
Gellért Thermal Bath is open daily from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. A daily ticket with locker rental is $21 on weekdays and $21.70 on weekends. This is Budapest’s most expensive bath, but it is arguably the most luxurious, and it does mean that it’s often less crowded than others during peak times.
3. Lukács Baths
While the size and grandeur of Széchenyi and Gellért draw crowds of tourists, locals prefer to head to quieter and more affordable baths, and Lukács is one the most popular with Budapestians. The hot spring situated here was used way back in the 12th century for bathing and healing the sick, and the first spa hotel on this site was constructed in the 1880s. The entire complex has since been renovated and modernized, and there are now two outdoor swimming pools and a number of indoor thermal baths, as well as an area reserved for sauna.
The water from this spring is said to be particularly curative, and the outer wall of the spa displays plaques from people expressing their gratitude for being healed here. There is a wide range of wellness treatments available, like massages, Hungarian wine or mud treatments, and a carbon dioxide bath. You can also visit the drinking hall here to fill up your water bottle — there are health benefits not only from soaking in the thermal water but also from consuming it. It’s said to be great for stomach and intestinal problems, gallbladder, kidney stones, and lung airway disorders. But be warned — the water contains lots of sulfurous compounds that give it an egg-like taste.
It is open from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM every day, and a daily ticket with locker rental starts at $13.90 on weekdays and $14.60 on weekends. Lukács also offers discounted tickets for students, and guests who come in early and leave before 8:00 AM or arrive after 6:00 PM.
4. Rudas Baths
This Turkish bath was built in the 1550s. It has a traditional central octagonal pool below a dome with small colored-glass skylights that filter in some sunshine, giving the place a mystical atmosphere. If you come during the week, you’ll have a truly authentic experience. Rudas is the only spa in Budapest that still follows the tradition of single-sex bathing days: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays only men are allowed; Tuesdays are for women; and the weekend is co-ed. On single-sex days, a swimsuit isn’t mandatory, and most locals go nude.
The wellness area was renovated in 2014, and its main feature is the rooftop panoramic pool from where you can gaze out over the Danube. Rudas also offers night-bathing hours on Friday and Saturday if you like the idea of a late-night soak under the stars but the antics of Sparty don’t appeal to you.
Rudas is open daily from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, and weekend night bathing times are from 10:00 PM to 4:00 AM on Friday and Saturdays. A daily thermal, swimming pool, and wellness ticket, which includes access to the rooftop pool and terrace, as well as locker rental is $18.50 on weekdays and $23.15 on weekends.
5. Király Baths
Király is a traditional Ottoman-style bath built in the 16th century. It was badly damaged during WWII and renovated in 1950 but still has very traditional architecture. It’s one of the smallest baths in the city, but it offers an authentic experience. Király is the only thermal bath not built directly on a hot spring — the water here comes from the same spring that supplies Lukács. There are three thermal pools and an immersion pool.
Király is very affordable. A daily ticket with locker rental costs $9.25. There’s a range of services available, such as massages and a sauna. The baths are open daily from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM. If you want to do more than soak all day, note that Király has an escape game on site. It’s set in 1936 and titled “Prisoners of Budapest.”
6. Veli Bej Bath
This Turkish spa was built in the 16th century and is said to be the oldest in Budapest. Over the centuries, the bath has changed ownership several times and had a few extensions and renovations. Today, it belongs to and is operated by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God. It offers the traditional central octagonal thermal pool along with a Finnish sauna, infrared sauna, a Kneipp walk pool, and various massages. This bath is small, so the capacity is limited to no more than 80 people — it’s never crowded.
A ticket allows you to stay for a maximum of three hours, which is $8.90 on weekday mornings and evenings and $11 on weekday afternoons and weekends. It is open daily from 6:00 AM to noon and 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM.
7. Palatinus Strand Baths
Palatinus Strand is a large spa and waterpark complex on Margaret Island, a 225-acre island on the Danube river in the middle of Budapest. It was constructed in 1912 and was the first open-air bath in the city. This is the most family-friendly spa as all ages are welcome; thermal water is not recommended to those under 14, so kids aren’t permitted at most of the other thermal baths. Some of the indoor thermal pools are designated for kids, but they’ll be far more excited by the water slides and wave pool outside. The outdoor pools are accessible only during the summer, but the indoor sauna area and wellness section are open all year long.
Admission is $8.90 on weekdays and $10.35 on weekends. Discounted family and children tickets are also available.