Known as the City of Baths, Budapest is a city rich in thermal springs with healing qualities. So, of course, no trip to Budapest would be complete without a visit to the Budapest Famous Baths. But which of Budapest’s historical bath houses are the best to visit? We take a look at the Széchenyi Baths and the Gellért Baths in this battle of the Budapest famous baths:
The grandiose Széchenyi Baths looks like a Baroque Palace from the outside. Opened originally as a temporary establishment in 1881, it was the first thermal bath on the Pest side.
As the Széchenyi Baths’ popularity increased, it expanded first with the addition of medicinal baths in 1913 and then the north wing following in 1927. Today, the Budapest famous bath house is one of the largest in Europe and has 18 pools, 15 of which are spring fed.
Our favorite of the pools are the 3 large outdoor pools, which are open year round. The long middle pool is a swimming pool and swim caps are required. On either end of the swimming pool are the pools where we like to spend the majority of our time. The pool on the far left is is a warm pool with water temperature 30°C/90°F (34°C/98°F in winter); it has a type of massaging lazy river and a large Jacuzzi in the center.
My absolute favorite pool is located on the far right of the swimming pool and is a sitting bath. The steaming 38°C/106°F waters are perfect for a relaxing soak and the waterfall perfectly pounds down for a shoulder and back massage. Chess boards are located on either sides of the stairs entering the sitting bath and no matter the time of the year, Hungarian men are always in a steamy race for checkmate.
Inside beneath the Neo-Baroque domes are the 15 other indoor pools varying in temperature along with a variety of saunas and steam rooms. Each pool, sauna, and steam room is marked with a sign indicating their temperature, some as hot as 70°C/170°F. It doesn’t take more than 10 minutes in the saunas to send me happily plunging into the cold pools to cool down.
A variety of massages and treatments can be booked, though relaxing in the baths and saunas eases our cares away all on their own.
As the Széchenyi Baths have gained popularity over the years, we recommend booking fast track entry in advance to avoid waiting in line.
The Széchenyi Baths swimming pool and the thermal pools are open from 6am – 10pm daily. The steam area closes at 7pm and most therapeutic treatments are only available weekdays.
Gellért Thermal Baths
Standing majestically on the Gellért Hill and overlooking the Danube, the Gellért Baths (part of Budapest’s famous Hotel Gellért) are said to be the most beautiful in Budapest. It was easy to see why as soon as we stepped through the side-street entrance, which itself makes you feel like you’re entering an exclusive world. Decorated in an Art-Nouveau style with intricate mosaic floors and tile work throughout by the famous Zsolnay Factory and beautiful stained glass, the Gellért Baths wow down to every detail.
For us, the wow-factor ended with the visual details. On our visit, the Gellért Baths were still only partially co-ed, though we did go on a Sunday, which is family day when the entire facility becomes co-ed. (Note that as of January 1, 2013 all of Gellért Baths became fully co-ed.)
There are 13 pools in total and indoor warm pools, where the temperature is 36°C/102°F or 38°C/106°F degrees. The central pool is a Roman-style swimming pool (swim caps are mandatory just as at the Széchenyi Baths) and is surrounded by sun loungers on two levels under a glass atrium. Unfortunately, the outdoor pools are closed in winter, unlike the Széchenyi Baths.
It’s not that we didn’t enjoy a relaxing soak and saunas and steam rooms, but there is just something special about soaking outside as the hot, healing waters create a mist as they mix with the cold Budapest air. That experience was lacking for us at the Gellért Baths.
The Gellért Thermal Baths are still a popular bath house in Budapest, and if you go we recommend booking the fast track entry in advance.
The Gellért Baths are open from 6am until 8pm daily. Most therapeutic treatments are only available weekdays.
Both the Széchenyi Baths and the Gellért Baths offer similar experiences. Both have naturally spring feed thermal pools rich in magnesium, calcium, sulphate-chloride, hydrogen-carbonate, fluoride ions, and sodium that are said to cure a number of ailments.
Both also have a variety of treatment options that can be booked. But the year-round outdoor pools at the Széchenyi Baths make it the clear choice for us.
What to Bring and What to Wear at a Budapest Bath House
No matter which Budapest bath you choose, there’s a few things that are always good to bring with you.
A swimsuit is required at the baths. Really, most swimwear is perfectly fine. Bikinis, one-piece, swim trunks and speedos are all suitable swimwear to wear to a Budapest bath house. Swimwear is considered decent so long as it covers your bits.
Flip flops are required to be worn in some bath houses, such as Szechenyi. Bring your own or you may have to purchase some on site.
We also recommend bringing your own towel. While towel rental is available at both the Széchenyi Baths and the Gellért Baths for a fee, the towel is a type of sheet. We didn’t find it very absorbent.
Thank you to Hungary Tourism for hosting us at the Gellért Baths. As always, all opinions are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you shop on Amazon or book on Viator through our affiliate partner sites, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.