The Dos and Don'ts of Budapest's Thermal Baths
And yes, "Don't pee in the pool" tops the list.
Before arriving in Budapest for the first time, I had spent the previous two weeks backpacking through Eastern Europe. Friends raved which thermal baths were the best in the city, but since Budapest holds the title of "Bathing City" sitting over 100 thermal springs, narrowing down the best ones isn't an easy feat. Just as in any foreign country, navigating the dos and don'ts of spa culture can also be tricky, like which bath to visit and when, since some only cater to women on certain days. But for a first-timer, I had an even more important question: What do I wear?
What I found out was that it varies from nothing (re: nude) to a bikini or Speedo, depending on the bath or day. I started my tour of Budapest's thermal baths at the largest in the city, the Széchenyi Baths, dating back over 100 years. Set on the Pest side, the 18-bath complex has 15 indoor pools and three outside, and unlike some of the other baths, it's unisex every day. This means no nudity, but yes to Speedos (at the minimum). Most of the baths rent swimwear, towels and swim caps, but I'd suggest bringing your own (who really wants to share something like swimwear?). While baths like the picturesque Gellért Baths require a swim cap at indoor pools, Széchenyi only does in the sports pool, so you can plunge in piece sans headwear. Going barefoot around the pools is also generally accepted, but it's not a bad idea to sport a pair of flip flops indoors, especially after your soak since the water hardens the soles of your feet.
If you happen to book a single-sex day at one of the spas like the Ottoman Era Turkish bath Rudas (open Tuesdays for women-only; Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for men; and weekends for both), get ready for locals soaking in the nude or in a barely there cover-up called a kötény.
For locals, thermal baths still serve a medicinal purpose with water offering healing remedies for aches and pains like arthritis and jet massages, while carbon-dioxide baths and mud treatments are available on a prescription-only basis. For those of us looking for a cure that comes in spa form, the baths offer just the remedy with saunas, steam chambers and massages — and the massages will definitely cure any jetlag aches from your trip.
So where to start? At larger baths like Széchenyi, the environment is more social, so bring a friend and start the soaking process: shower, warm pool, cold plunge, steam, ice cold plunge, repeat. After a hot bath, steam or sauna, let your body cool down and rest before moving on to the next bath, and don't spend more than 20 minutes soaking at a time.
If you are making the rounds in a bath like Gellért, the air is still social but slightly more toned down, especially at the indoor pools. In the more local Veli Bej, the largest and oldest of the Turkish baths in Budapest, you'll find that the octagon-shaped pool and its four smaller thermal baths are much calmer and focus more on soaking than chatting. This is where you can sit back, enjoy the healing effects of the water, and find a few minutes to completely zen out.
A three-hour session and locker rental at Veli Bej is around $10 or HUF 2,800, while a daily ticket with a locker at Széchenyi starts at $16 or HUF 4,500.
This story originally appeared on mimichatter.com