In case you haven’t been paying attention to my Instagram of late, Hungarians are famous for their bath culture. There are baths all around the country dating back thousands of years. Some of the most beautiful baths in the entire world can be found in Budapest. Our favourite is the Gellert Bath located inside the Gellert Hotel in the 11th District of Budapest.
A Brief History
The Romans were the first to take advantage of the thermal springs that were naturally occurring on the surface of the land. Romans built both public and private baths – they had approximately 15 baths in the vicinity of Budapest alone. However, the Hungarian bath culture really started flourishing during the Turkish era. The Turkish introduced Hungarians to to the concept of “wellness” treatments. Massages and the use of different creams and oils were an essential part of Turkish baths. You will continue to find these kinds of treatments available at the baths today.
The Gellert Baths
This gorgeous bath complex was built between 1912 and 1918 in the Art Nouveau style. It was damaged during World War II, but then rebuilt, and finally remodelled again in 2008. Since its opening, it has only ever been closed for one day when a pipe burst. The complex includes thermal pools, saunas, steam rooms, plunge pools, an open-air swimming and wave, and an indoor swimming pool. Masseuse and spa services are also available. That brings me to my first recommendation…
Getting a Massage at the Gellert
Since I have bunions on both of my feet, I often get a sore lower back and legs from having to adjust my gait. So when I visit the baths, I often get a massage. The massage “menu” varies in style and price, but I always get the 45 minute Thermal Massage for 12,000 forints ($43 USD). No pretty perfumes or birds chirping, this massage means business.
However, if you have a woman masseuse, prepare yourself to strip down entirely right in front of them before your climb onto the bed. I’m not particularly prudish, so this didn’t bother me, but it was a bit surprising. On other occasions, when I have had a male masseuse, you keep your bathing suit (mostly) on and they work around it. Either way, the massages are fantastic and an essential part of having the best day.
Get There Early
I can’t recommend this highly enough. While the outdoor area is quite large, it’s pretty much impossible to find a spot past 11:00 during the summer. Furthermore, if you want loungers with an umbrella, you definitely need to be there before 10:00 on a weekend. The lounger chairs here are extremely comfortable and make relaxing easy. There is no drink service at your chair, but there are two bars accessible from the pool deck – and you can even bring your own.
Bring your own Food and Drinks
So this may be slightly controversial, but I do thinks it helps to have the perfect day – and its thrifty too. While the Gellert has two snack bars and a restaurant, the food is just okay. It’s certainly not bad, but compared to the prices, its not really one of our favourite places to eat. Therefore, we have taken to bringing our own little sandwiches, grapes, a couple cans of beer and whatever else we need to get through the day. We still usually end up buying coffee (which is delicious there) and additional beverages when needed. Note: This is quite common with the locals, its not like sneaking food into a movie theatre. No need to feel weird.
Sit near the Musicians
Now I assume this only happens on the weekends, but do yourself a favour and find a lounger closer to the indoor area. The Hungarian Folklore band that plays from noon until 3pm is AMAZING. These five talented musicians play jazz standards, show-tunes, classical and Hungarian favourites. I honestly can’t believe you don’t have to pay extra to hear them play. If you are a music lover, this is only another good reason to spend a day at the baths.
Enjoy the Wave Pool – with Caution
The outdoor wave pool is open from April to October. This pool can be incredibly fun, but also a little dangerous if you don’t take care. At the top of every hour, slightly bizarrely, the song “America” from West Side Story plays across the loudspeakers to let visitors know the waves are about to start. Once in the pool, a lifeguard manually bangs a cow bell that tells you to get prepared.
At first, the small tsunamis seem a little anticlimactic, but within minutes, you are being tossed around in high seas. In fact, if you are quite close to the sides, you risk being taken completely under or slammed into the poolsides. My own mother once had to rescue my father from this exact situation. So for those that want less life-risking fun, stick to the middle in shallower depths.
The Best Day
If you follow my advice, you can’t help but have tremendous fun. You will be relaxed, well-nourished, cultured, sun-kissed and water-logged. All this for only 6200 forint per person ($22 USD) – and that even includes a private changing cabin. Of course, if you go on a weekday or stay for a shorter period of time, you can get even lower pricing. Either way, the Gellert Baths are not to be missed.
You’ll find us there every second weekend all summer long….
To read more about what else we do in Budapest this summer, read this.