Within Europe, Hungary has an almost unrivaled abundance of geothermal water. Some parts of the country are so dense in springs that the reserves almost come to confluences. And in some places, so much hot water bubbles beneath the ground that it’s used just as it is in central heating systems…
The bathing culture in Hungary dates back to Roman times, but it really took off during the Turkish occupation, to the extent that Turkish baths are still very much a noticeable feature of Budapest. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, currently, if you hold a certificate of vaccination or recovery, you’re golden to visit public baths across Hungary.
Budapest is the spa capital of the world
Budapest is the only major city in the world that sits on more than 100 thermal springs and wells, and so it stands to reason that the place is full of public baths. If you’re heading to the capital, you should definitely make time to visit one (or more!) of its famous spas. Here are some of our favorites.
Built in 1913 and having been in continuous operation ever since, this is one of Budapest’s most iconic baths. As such, it’s one of the top spots on the lists of most visitors to Budapest, and it’s conveniently located in the heart of the City Park. But it’s far from being just a tourist trap — it’s also frequently visited by locals. Join them for a game of chess in the warm water, a few sessions in the sauna and a refreshing swim in the outdoor pool, and there you have it — your perfect spa day.
There are also some real gems on the quieter Buda side of the river. The site of Rudas, for instance, has been operating as a public bathhouse since the Middle Ages — it’s the oldest in the country today. Its first major reconstruction was carried out in the 17th century, before it became hugely popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Rudas is open to both men and women on weekends, and it even stays open until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays. During the week, there are designated men’s and women’s days. Be sure to check out the rooftop pool, from which you get a wonderful view over Budapest.
Palatinus Baths on Margaret Island are a perennial favorite of the Budapest locals. Inside, you have your traditional spa facilities and services such as thermal pools, saunas and massage rooms. On top of this, the complex’s outdoor pools boast extra seasonal features, such as a summertime wave machine which emulates the motions of the sea. There’s also an extensive water slide park for your inner child (and of course, your actual kids, if you have them).
Weather-permitting, after your dip, take a stroll through the island’s sycamore trees. You might even come across the Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Stadium, one of the centers of swimming and water polo in Hungary — two sports which are held in particularly high regard.
Back to Buda now, to Gellért — one of the prettiest public baths in town. The building is an outstanding example of Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture, and its heyday began in the 1920s. It was renovated completely in 2007, the aim being to restore the interior to its originally splendid condition.
You get a very special feeling when you dive into any of the pools, which are cladded with old Zsolnay tiles. The indoor pool was originally built as a conservatory, and the outdoor one has a wave machine — which, admittedly, is a more modern frill.
As the geothermal conditions permit, there are public baths in almost every region of Hungary. Here are the exceptional ones.
One of the most popular destinations for foreign spa tourism in Hungary is Lake Hévíz, Europe’s largest geothermal lake, located slightly to the west of Lake Balaton. Hévíz is up to 38 meters deep and the temperature of the water hovers around a very pleasant 38°C.
A floating bathhouse, the first of its kind, became the centerpiece of the lake at the end of the 18th century, and it still operates today. Swim among Indian water lilies, reap the benefits of an organic mud-pack treatment, and allow yourself to relax in complete idyll.
Thermal springs are particularly copious in the east of Hungary. In Hajdúszoboszló, for example, about a two-hour drive from Budapest, practically every hotel has its own natural pool.
Hungarospa Hajdúszoboszló is one of Europe’s largest such complexes, boasting a spa, a swimming pool, a beach, an aquapark and an aquapalace, not to mention various types of accommodation. If you want to try everything, it’s worth staying for a few days.
If a glass of fine wine after a full day of swimming sounds like your perfect means to unwind, you should head straight to the village of Egerszalók in the northeast of the country. Egerszalók is well-known for its wine — it’s the birthplace of Egri Bikavér, or “bull’s blood of Eger”, a famous blended red variety. Despite its intimidating name, it is a divine drop.
You’ll find the Saliris Resort in Egerszalók, the closest spa to the phenomenal spectacle that is Sódomb — “salt hill”. It’s a rippling limestone mound created by mineral-rich, active geothermal water emerging constantly from beneath the ground. It’s white and wondrous — you can’t miss it.
For a particularly unique experience, the area of Miskolctapolca on the outskirts of Miskolc is where you want to be; there’s a fully-operational spa… inside some caves. Of course, the water is still sourced geothermally, so it’s therapeutic, but it’s not quite as rich in minerals as it is in some other places. Essentially, this means you can stay in your secluded cave pool as long as you like, without worrying that your body will absorb too much zinc, calcium or magnesium.
Bükfürdő is in the far west of Hungary, and is home to the second-largest spa in the country, with a total of 34 pools. You won’t get bored here, at least not for a good week or two.
I could go on, as bigger public baths and more extravagant spa experiences pop up year after year across Hungary, but these picks are currently the most commendable. You can get to most places from Budapest by rail or on the road within three hours; all you need to do first is book a ticket to the capital with Kiwi.com. You’ll be off on your spa tour, getting pampered, sampling local wine, and basking in the earth’s elixir, in no time.
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