Szechenyi © iStock/Bammboome
Not just an exotic land of paprika-spiced cuisine, pálinka brandy and beautiful pottery, Hungary is also famous for its medicinal bath culture. Of the country’s 160 thermal spas, Budapest is blessed with some of the best. Historic architecture and state-of-the-art facilities provide an ambience that offers entertainment and relaxation in equal measure. Introduced by the Romans some two millennia ago, and revived by the Ottomans, these spas offer a glimpse of the country’s chequered history as well as a rewarding experience of local culture. These are Budapest’s best thermal spas to try on your next trip.
Seeking out a long soak with a side of antiquity? The elegant Király Bath is the oldest in Budapest. With origins dating back to 1565, it’s a vestige of Ottoman rule and was built inside the city walls in case of siege or attack. While it was damaged in the Second World War, the bath was quickly restored, and today is quite the looker: the octagonal pool beneath a light-punctured dome is the perfect place for a soothing dip.
Challenging Király’s title is Rudas Bath, another 16th-century thermal bath with Turkish origins. But where Király is petite in scale, Rudas is grand: its six thermal pools, swimming pool, and five wellness water holes draw all manner of soakers. If you’re visiting in winter, save time for the rooftop pool, as nothing complements a dip quite like swirling snowflakes.
Veli Bej Bath
This recently refurbished thermal spa is blessed with quieter waters than its ancient Ottoman siblings Király and Rudas. Having re-opened its doors in 2011 after years of neglect, this chic little sanctuary has an appealing contemporary edge. Alongside some of Budapest’s best thermal spa pools, its slick infrared saunas and smart massage showers put it a cut above the rest.
Nowhere else in the city can you play chess and sip a cold beer while immersed chest-deep in toasty thermal waters. Széchenyi Baths’ plethora of indoor and outdoor pools offer varying temperatures (the 29oC bath is the perennial favourite), as well as a steam room and sauna. Visit on Saturday nights for a pool party that pumps out music and lasers into the early hours of the morning.
For one of Budapest’s best ‘local’ thermal spas, Dandár Bath in the 9th District offers a quieter soak with a refreshingly authentic feel. The pools are piping hot – 36oC and 38oC – which make this unassuming centre a rewarding pit-stop in winter. With all the usual spa and sauna facilities alongside its indoor and outdoor pools, the only reason it isn’t busier is because it’s located in a quieter part of town.
Situated within the Aquincum Hotel, the beautiful Aronia Spa is the place to go for true tranquillity. Allow the healing benefits of Margaret Island’s thermal waters wash over you as you sink further into utter bliss. Your muscles will feel relaxed and rejuvenated after just a short while in this idyllic spa.