POSTED: January 6th 2017

JENNIFER WALKER: Warm Up in Budapest's Thermal Baths

The steamy Szechenyi Medicinal Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe © Bigstock
The steamy Szechenyi Medicinal Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe © Bigstock

Gellert Thermal Bath has beautiful Art Nouveau architecture dating back to 1918 © Bigstock
Gellert Thermal Bath has beautiful Art Nouveau architecture dating back to 1918 © Bigstock

© Molnár János Cave
© Molnár János Cave

JENNIFER WALKER in BUDAPEST / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) With over 80 natural springs and 200 caves carved out by thermal water, it's no coincidence that Budapest has earned the title as being the City of Spas. Ever since the Romans settled on the Danube banks and founded the city of Aquincum, there has been a culture of bathing in the city which has evolved over the ages.

Budapest is bidding against Paris and Los Angeles to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, however the inclusion of so many spas gives Budapest a boost for wellness that athletes and visitors can all take advantage of and enjoy.


The oldest bath in the city that's still in use dates back to the Ottomans in the 16th century, but you'll also find exquisite baths from the turn of the 20th century in neo-baroque or art nouveau style, that are works of art in themselves. So pay a visit to Budapest and set aside some time to soak in the city's healing thermal waters.


A City of Thermal Springs


Budapest is home to what is the largest known thermal water cave. The Molnár János Cave (see picture right) runs underneath Rose Hill (Rózsadomb) for around 7km, but it's not the only source of thermal water in Budapest.


The city sits on a faultline where the Earth's crust is thinner than normal, so there are over 80 natural springs that bubble under the city, so each bath comes with its own unique mineral characteristics. In fact, next to the Rudas Baths you'll even find a drinking hall with water coming from three springs under Gellért Hill.


While each bath has similar benefits, such as helping degenerative joint diseases and arthritis, the different mineral properties of each baths mean that the water in the Gellért is especially good for vasoconstriction, the Lukács for spinal deformity and the Rudas's slightly radioactive waters supposedly have youthful and anti-aging properties.


And drinking the water is also good for you, too. You'll find drinking halls next to the Rudas Baths, the Széchenyi, the Lukács and even in the hidden Dandár Baths.


Ottoman Bathing


While Budapest's bathing culture goes back to the Romans, it's the Ottomans who left behind the oldest baths in use in the city today. The oldest of the bunch is the Király Baths, which has kept its antique charm, but for those who prefer a bath that feels a little less ruined the Rudas is the most popular of the old Turkish baths.


With its pinpricks of stained glass in its cupola, this is one of the most beautiful baths, and you can also go swimming or sit in a rooftop jacuzzi with views across the city in its more modern extension. During the week, it's single sex only in the Turkish part, with women's days being on Tuesday, and men's the rest of the week, and weekends are co-ed.


The Grand Budapest Baths


The crowning glory of Budapest's baths are the Széchenyi and the Gellért Baths. The first is a huge complex constructed at the end of the 19th century and expanded in the early 20th century. It's a huge complex, offering a labyrinth of corridors leading to various treatment rooms and pools, but it's most famous for its collonaded outdoor pools, which mark the site for the Sparties, the city's hedonistic spa parties, on Saturday nights in the summer.


Across back in Buda, the Gellért Baths are part of the Gellért Hotel complex, but its baths are also open to non-guests. An art nouveau masterpiece in itself with Zsolnay tiles, stained glass and intricate mosaic work, the Gellért Baths are popular for their fin de siécle grandeur. There is also an outdoor pool complex which is popular in the summer, especially for its wave machine, one of the very first to have been built in the world.


But if you're looking for a more modest bathing experience, the Lukács Baths more favored by locals for the healing properties of the water. You'll even find placards on the walls with thank you dedications from people whose ailments were helped by the water. While the Lukács is not as grand as the Széchenyi and the Gellért, nor does it have the Ottoman charm of the other baths like the Rudas and the Király, the Lukács has a great sauna world and is also free to enter on the Budapest Card. During the winter, they also take on the Sparties (renamed the Magic Baths).


** ​JENNIFER WALKER is an ex-physicist turned freelance writer specializing in art, travel and culture, with a focus on Budapest, Hungary. She's a blogger for herself at Off the Bohemian Track, along with the Huffington Post and Perceptive Travel, and she writes about Budapest culture and gastronomy for The Budapest TimesWe Love Budapest and Budapest Local. She has written and worked for: DK Travel (Penguin books), Lonely PlanetBBC TravelThe GuardianCNN TravelVICE NewsSlateQuartzTripadvisorDraft MagazinePaste MagazineThe Calvert JournalOryx (Qatar Airways' in-flight magazine)OxfordWordsViatorGadlingThe Matador NetworkGOOD MagazineAtlas ObscuraBootsnall, Move Guides, Inside GuidesThe ExpeditionerARTES MagazineKunstpediaThe Culture-ist and Untapped Cities.


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