Water is on everyone’s mind as Budapest hosts 17th FINA World Championships, one of the world’s biggest events for aquatic sports. Still, Budapest has a long association with water. It has held the title “City of Spas” since the year 1934, as it has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world.
Budapest’s thermal waters were enjoyed by the Romans as early as the 2nd century. During the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century, bath culture really started flourishing.
That could be the reason why, in modern times, Hungarian athletes have excelled in waterpolo and swimming events.
Take this tour of Budapest’s spectacular thermal baths, spas, and pools, presented as never before, from a bird’s eye view.
The world-famous Gellért Thermal Bath and Hotel has long offered an unforgettable spectacle for foreign guests. Not only is the Secessionist hotel, opened in 1918, a thrilling site, its indoor spas are like bathing in an art museum. See Ryan Gosling’s recent photo shoot or Gucci’s commercial. Other attractions include outdoor pools with a wave bath and sparkling water, a breathtaking skylight, and separate areas for men and women.
The Rudas Bath was built in the 16th century, but has been modernized and expanded in recent years with this futuristic rooftop jacuzzi and its stunning view of the Danube River and the cityscape. The traditional Turkish sauna is men-only and women-only on weekdays, but mixed on the weekends. A few nights every year, it hosts all night parties with electronic music and far-out light effects.
The Paskál Thermal Bath, located in the 14th district, is the youngest of Budapest’s baths. Mostly frequented by locals and their families, it offers a unique slice of Hungarian life. Check out the modern geometric pools and the aquabar, where you can order a drink and even sit on bar stools in the water!
One of the largest and oldest spa complexes in Europe, Széchenyi Thermal Bath is located in the City Park in a gorgeous Neo-Baroque palace. The vast outdoor pool with its currents and bubbling water are perfect on a hot summer day, but there are also heated pools and saunas inside, as well as places for nude sunbathing, well-hidden on the roof.
Like Rudás, the Király Bath features some of the most authentic Turkish-style architecture. The main pool is topped by this stunning cupola, studded with little apertures, creating simple yet dazzling light effects. Now it is just for mixed bathing after a scandal surrounding its men-only days.
The area of the Lukács Baths was known for its cures as early as the 12th century, when knights of the order of Saint John healed the sick here. Now a sprawling complex, the spa continues this tradition with the country’s rheumatology and physiotherapy institute (ORFI) just across the street. In this picture, we find an intriguing example of an irregular pool boxed in by the surrounding building.
Located in the south of the city, Dandár Baths is worth a visit if you are headed to the Millennial Cultural Center with the Palace of the Arts and National Theatre, or if you plan to visit the Zwack Unicum factory and taste the country’s unique herbal liquor. Because of its relatively low prices, Dandár is popular with locals, so there may be a crowd.
Tucked away to the north, near Árpád Bridge, the Dagály Bath is popular with locals who want a tranquil dip in quiet surroundings. Here are a couple of its geometric pools, including the mushroom-head pool best appreciated from above.
Palatinus was Budapest’s first site for outdoor bathing, opened in 1919. It is beautifully situated on Margaret Island in the center of the city, and its immense proportions are truly monumental. Try to arrive early, because on hot summer days, it is often overrun.
Like the other locations in Óbuda, Pünkösdfürdői Beach boasts a variety of services in a peaceful, more natural setting just outside the city. Besides swimming, there is the colorful children’s pool and the leisure pool for those who want to indulge.
Located in a vast park also north of town, Csillaghegyi Beach offers a unique opportunity to hike and swim all day. Commune with nature as you stroll from the swimming pool to the heated leisure pool.
The waters of the Római Beach were already enjoyed by Romans in the 2nd century. Newly renovated in 2000, its has a playful spirit of fun that is easy to recognize, especially from high in the air. The colorful setting, “ameba” pool, and giant water slide make it great hit for families with children.
Not to miss out on the fun, hotels themselves have incorporated water complexes. A good example of this is Holiday Beach with its variety of facilities.
…and some EXTRAS
If that is not enough, before you jump into a riverboat, you can enjoy a swim onboard a cruiser. Or if you don’t feel up to exploring the city, chill out in the water until your family or tavelling companions return.
These river cruisers are equipped with onboard pools where guests can soak while traveling on the Danube.
Patrick Mark Mullowney – playwright and translator from Peoria, Illinois, living in Budapest for 15 years.
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