During our 3 days in Budapest, we wanted to spend quality time at one of Budapest’s famous thermal spas. Because its is located at the intersection of a geological fault and the Danube River, thermal springs and thermal spas abound, making Budapest one of the top thermal spa destinations of Europe.
Because Budapest is located at the intersection of a geological fault and the Danube River, thermal springs and thermal spas abound
The water has a massive amount of dissolved minerals (calcium, magnesium, sodium, and more) said to help with various conditions and diseases (arthritis, psoriasis, and more). We knew we wanted to relax and rejuvenate!!
The Romans first recognized the geothermal potential of the area, creating multiple baths in the Roman province now known as Hungary – ruins of 23 ancient Roman baths have been excavated to date. After the Magyar tribe confederation conquered the Carpathian basin (the area of present-day Hungary), they created more formal baths
Sadly, during the plague years of the middle ages, most baths closed because people thought water spread plague. After the Ottoman Empire took over, they re-established thermal bathing culture. In fact, some of the loveliest bathhouses built then are still in use!
Thermal bathing is an integral part of Budapest culture. Locals buy passes to one or more of the complexes and frequently soak in one of the pools, or use the sauna and cold dipping pool, all the while visiting and chatting with each other. Young, old, large, small…all are comfortable and welcome in the baths.
Szechenyi’s 21 pools and baths offer relaxation and therapeutic benefits
We chose to visit Szechenyi Thermal Baths, in City Park near Heroes Square, the Millennium Monument, and the Budapest Zoo. Szechenyi was originally built in 1913, using a deep thermal well in City Park, then enlarged and revamped over the years. The first thermal bath spa in Pest, it is also one of the largest in Europe, with 13 thermal pools ranging from 18 – 40 degrees C, 5 swimming pools (18-38 degrees C), and three medical pools – for a total of 21 different bodies of water, many inside the beautiful stately building, and several outside.
My companion and I chose to upgrade our regular spa access ticket with a “Relax Healing Package”, giving us access to the Palmahaz (Palm House). We had our own private dressing cabin (part of regular access, actually), a robe and towel, unlimited herbal tea and fresh fruit, and a chill and serene place to relax between and after soaks. Last-minute we added the Beer Spa access — soaking in a hot tub with hops, yeast, and other beer ingredients said to be great for the skin — for a 45 minute session. And yes, a beer tap and glasses came in that package.
We arrived for our morning booking via a leisurely drive down Andrassy Boulevard in the bright and warming sunshine. Once we checked in, we were given RFID wristbands (similar to Walt Disney World’s magic bands) to lock and unlock our dressing cabins, then a quick tour of the facilities before being taken to the Palmahaz, where we received our robe and towel. Then we headed back downstairs to the changing cabins and dressed for swimming!!
The dressing cabins are beautiful themselves
It’s very much like a shop’s dressing rooms, but with a bench, shelving, hooks, and an electronic lock, so your belongings can stay in the cabin while you chill in the baths and saunas. We headed back upstairs to the Palmahaz for a quick snack of fruit and herbal tea, and basked in the sun on the decking outside, before heading down to explore the complex. It is bewilderingly byzantine, with corridors and paths all around, but every pool is clearly labeled with temperature – helpful if you can’t stand the heat (or the cold!). To keep things clean, everyone is required to shower before entering any of the pools.
The outside pools are always warm, even in winter
In the spring, with the sun shining brightly, the waterfalls looking like a diamond spray, and it was pure bliss. My travel companion enjoyed the outdoor pool while I explored the sauna, cold dipping pool, and more tucked away under the main stairs to the exterior. Then we went back inside and spent some serious time trying the different pools and areas before heading upstairs to the new, independently operated Beer Spa.
Try the Beer Spa to soak in with mineral waters plus malt, hops, and yeast
This small but enchanting area offers around 6 2-person wooden tubs, freshly cleaned and filled with 36 degree C bubbling mineral water, with the addition of malt, hops, and yeast, which are high in emollients and B vitamins, so fabulous for your skin. During your 45 minute soak, you can treat yourself to Czech beer from the shared tap, as well as Hungarian appetizers that the staff bring to share. The beer spa sells its bath mixture, as well as creams and other treats.
After the soak, we headed back to Palmahaz for one last relaxing time with some fruit and tea, then dressed and reluctantly returned our RFID bands. The thermal baths are definitely a treat for body and soul. The architecture and decor are uplifting and soothing, as are the pools and companionship of all the folks chilling out.
The Skinny: Szechenyi Thermal Baths, H-1146 Budapest, XIV. kerület Állatkerti körút 9-11, Ph: (+36-1) 363-3210.
- Hours: Daily 6am – 10pm, Pump Hall 9am – 5pm
- Pricing: Ticket with cabin rental, 5700HUF, with locker rental, 5200 Hungarian Forint (HUF); PalmaHaz Packages start at 15990 Hungarian Forint (HUF) (includes robe, towel, fruit, tea, space).
- Massage and other services available upon booking. Medical services available with prescription.
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