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Don't forget to pack your swimmers!

Our guide to the baths of Budapest

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You travel to experience cultural things. When in Hungary one of these “things” is visiting their Baths. They’re not just any normal baths though: they’re “wellness” centres. Hungary sits on one of the richest geothermal and medicinal water, anywhere in the world. So basically the country has a lot of springs – over 1000 of them registered and 1/10 of them in the capital of Budapest. In the 1920s Budapest gained an international reputation as the “City of Spas.” The Romans colonized here and made it the regional capital, to enjoy the thermal springs – some ruins can still be seen. Some baths constructed during the Turkish period (16th & 17thC) are still in use to this day!

No matter what time of the year you come to Budapest, you must bring your swimmers so you can experience at least one of these baths. You should also come with more of a liberal mindset, especially if you’re from a country that is on the “prudish” side! Here in Europe; nudity is not a big deal. I say bring your swimmers because you don’t have to be naked – but the locals might be. Don’t worry though: men and women are separated in Hungary (as opposed to some wellness centres in countries like Austria, Germany & Switzerland). If it concerns you – check before you go anywhere. Also keep in mind that some places are not recommended if you have high blood pressure, heart problems or if you’re pregnant! FYI: Water temperatures go up to 100°F/38°C and saunas 212°F/100°C!

I’m only going to mention the two most famous ones in Budapest:

GELLÉRT HOTEL & THERMAL BATHS

Built in 1918, some class this as the most beautiful baths in Budapest: with its mosaic tiles, stained glass windows & marble columns. You cannot take pictures inside however, where it’s the most beautiful (understandable when they are naked people walking around)! Of the two, this was the more organised one & more beautiful on the inside but it not a very large complex. I loved the fact you had your own change room with a bed to lie in afterwards to nap – much needed if you pay extra for a massage! Couples – ask about the new ‘private’ bath area: it sounds romantic! Please note: the thermal baths are separate for men and women on weekdays but mixed on the weekends.

SZÉCHENYI BATHS

These are one of the largest bathing complexes in Europe & the first thermal baths in Pest! The indoor medicinal baths date from 1913 and the outdoor pools: from 1927. While some areas were a bit more run down than the Gellért Baths, these baths were more “grand” with other aspects, especially the outside. The three outdoor pools are open year round and are awesome (you can take pictures out here). If you’ve ever seen men sitting in a pool playing chess in Budapest – this is where it is. The indoor area was a bit confusing as to where to go (no one spoke English), but worth the confusion once you work it out, with many spas and saunas to choose from. I loved these baths & the photo memories I walked away with. Note: all areas are always mixed so the only undressed people you will see are in the change rooms.

I enjoyed them both for different reasons so there’s only way I can help you to decide if you only have time for one. If the weather is bad – go to Gellért Baths (nicer on the inside) and if it’s sunny – go to Széchenyi because the outside pools & yellow buildings are beautiful in the sunshine. They are on 2 different sides of the city – so where you are staying might play a factor or maybe the naked issue will be the decider. Either way – don’t forget to pack your swimmers & enjoy a relaxing day in a Budapest Bath!

By Contiki Tour Manager Petula Shaw-Dennis

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