Posted by Thermalhungary - 2019 Dec. 11th
Even if this is your first visit to the Hungarian capital, surely you must have heard about its famous thermal baths. Say, however, you only have three days ahead of you. No need to panic! I have myself visited almost all of the capital’s baths, some of them several times, so allow me to help you make the best of your stay by being your guide. The objective: to let you see the three quintessential baths of the pearl of the Danube, and all in the best possible conditions!
Header picture: © Thermalhungary.net
Since the spas’ ground areas are typically rather small, you cannot allow your moment of relaxation to go to waste because of the afternoons’ strong tourist influx. Budapest is a victim of its own success (with tourism growing rapidly since 2013), and this could thus easily ruin your visit to the baths.
So here you are in Budapest. You arrive on your first day, possibly late morning. If you’re carrying a lot of luggage, you might want to drop off your belongings at your hotel or apartment. And after that, you’re ready to visit your first Hungarian thermal spa!
1st day: The Széchenyi
You will arrive on the scene around noon, already taking advantage of the slowing number of visits due to the mid-day break. Széchenyi is a complex large enough to guarantee the minimum space necessary to enjoy the experience even in the case of heavy footfall. Have you eaten today? Do not waste time looking for a restaurant or a fast food place in town, just rely on the small spa restaurant near the large outdoor pools:
it is spacious, affordable, and its menu offers enough variety for you to enjoy a decent meal time.
The Széchenyi is a monument of the Hungarian capital. It is one of the largest resorts in Europe, a real must stop for any visit to Budapest. Besides being a renowned resort,
it is also and above all a complex of thermal baths built in the most stunning rendition of the Neo-Renaissance style between 1909 and 1913. The water sourced from the second deepest well in Budapest (1246 metres deep) can reach 76°C. There are 15 pools accessible with the standard entrance fee, and also several hammams and saunas.
Outside you will find 3 large pools, one of which is dedicated to swimming, while the others are inviting you to take advantage of your own relaxed and lazy “you time”.
We’re thinking in particular of the two chess games you’ll find there for parties on the water! To top it off, a subway exit is now present, located close to the entrance of the baths! Once in front of one of the two official entrances, you will have to pay attention a bit:
one of them will lead you to the locker rooms directly located at the level where the three external basins are. If this is the one you are taking, do not forget to open your eyes and let your gaze wander, so as not to miss the entire interior of the complex, as well as the large sauna at level -1. Everything is accessible via the large area of the three basins, but the uninformed visitor could unfortunately miss all of it.
After a while, you are now warmed up, relaxed and leaving Széchenyi (1). Since you are in the area, take the opportunity to discover the large Városliget wooded park. Note that this park covers an area that is almost half that of New York’s Central Park and offers various spots for recreation and relaxation like the Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Vajdahunyad Castle with its pond, the Hungarian Museum of Science, Technology and Transport, the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, the Vidámpark leisure park and the Gundel Restaurant. Finally, notice how close you are to the famous Heroes' Square (2).
Now it's time to head to the centre, after having of course dropped off your bathing kit. End your afternoon with a visit to St. Stephen's Basilica and Erzsébet Square, Budapest's largest central square. This is the 5th district. The area is teeming with restaurants, bars, pedestrian shopping streets and pretty spots...needless to say, you will not have time to explore everything!
Not far from there (about 15 minutes’ walk) is the Jewish Quarter. You will find the second largest synagogue in the world, but also its famous ruin bars. One of them,
the internationally acclaimed Szimpla, is known as one of the most beautiful bars in Europe and it entertains an incredibly chaotic decoration, which is an unusual curiosity in itself and quite popular among tourists. However, one should note that if you arrive after 9pm, it will be difficult to find a place to sit. I would advise you to visit it rather early or even in the middle of the afternoon in order to fully enjoy the views while still having some space. As a matter of fact, this article in English presents a list of the best ruin bars in Budapest, all with sublime photos, to help you get an idea of their unique atmosphere.
2nd day: The Rudas
Although you are on holiday or on leave, there is actually a morning during which it would be sensible to get up early. And that morning is this one. Indeed, the rather limited capacity of Rudas to receive people necessitates this slight sacrifice if you wish to live the experience to the fullest and to keep a fabulous memory of it. I advise you to be there by 8:30 to 9:00am at the latest. Why not arrive even earlier and enjoy lunch on site? Their buffet, located in the lobby, is of decent quality and the rates are reasonable.
This bath is not just a simple hot spring spa, it’s a real thermal museum; every step is a journey through the centuries! There are indeed documents dating back to the 13th century that already attest to the use of the hot spring of Rudas! Then it was under the Ottoman Empire occupation that the visible Turkish bath was built. Finally, it was at the end of the nineteenth century that the Turkish space was extended and modernized with a swimming pool more that is more up to date (which happens to be the hottest in the country at 29°C).
Rudas is the meeting of extremes: you will find the two hottest pools there (the water reaches 42°C) and the hottest steam bath in Budapest. Add to that an extension to the south of the complex that makes this spa— redone in 2014—a very modern space that offers an outdoor pool overlooking the beautiful Danube!
So, crossing this complex is truly equivalent to a trip back in time or a visit to a museum: the contrast between the 3 eras spanning over almost 5 centuries is edifying, surprising, and worth the detour. It would be a shame not to take the full entrance option (which I would recommend), as it gives you access to the entire building for about €5 more than the base price. Be aware however of gender-specific opening days and hours during the week, keeping in mind that the spa is mixed only on Saturdays and Sundays!
When you leave the Rudas, you will be at the foot of the Gellért Hill. Arm yourself with courage and climb its long stairs! Several paths will allow you to reach the other side of the hill. Head to the Szabadság Bridge towards the south (you will not have a hard time seeing it from a distance, and it will allow you to orient yourself). Climbing to the top is not necessary though, especially if you’re running out of time (or energy). But other high viewpoints are equally interesting of course, and when it comes to food, do not buy anything at the top of the Gellért Hill; the prices are outrageous!
On the next map, I recommend you follow the path that runs along the hill in light blue. This path will take you to the Gellért thermal baths (2). Take a break in the Gellért Hall to admire its beauty, but do not dwell on it now: you'll have plenty of time to see more the next day when you’ll go back for a swim.
Starting from the Gellért, cross the Szabadság bridge to get to the Great Market Hall (3), which is huge and will satisfy your desire for walks for a long time! While you're there, take the opportunity to taste some local pastries in one of the many bakeries on the ground floor. However, I strongly advise against trying your first lángos upstairs;
the prices are high, you will queue for a long time with very little space to move,
and worse still, you will have no place to sit and enjoy it quietly. Even the waitresses are a little too stressed and not necessarily friendly... if you want to taste this must-try Hungarian food, I have a much better plan for you for the next day. In any case, do pay ATTENTION to the fact that the Great Market Hall is closed on Sundays!
It is time to drop off your bathing kit before starting your afternoon. Go back to the Buda side, passing this time through the Lánchid Bridge (1) and its 4 lions. Then climb to the beautiful Fishermen's Bastion (2) and the Church of Our Lady of Assumption (aka the Matthias Church) next door:
© ma fab
The most direct path to take (and therefore the easiest) after the Lánchid Bridge is to go through Hunyadi Street, which is indicated on the map. Once up there, you will have easy access to the walled castle district Várnegyed and the courts of Buda Castle (3)!
And if luck and timing are with you, you could even enjoy a great sunset from the bastion. Here is my recommendation of a route to take:
Regarding dinner, do not hesitate to treat yourself to an exceptional setting in a quality restaurant: the Robinson Restaurant, located on the edge of the small artificial lake of Városliget will not disappoint you! I would advise you to reserve your table a few days in advance in order to ensure you secure a place. To get there, nothing simpler, take the tube line 1 to the Heroes' Square, and it’ll be just a few steps away!
Then comes the time for a walk to aid digestion. And what better way for it than to head to the Vajdahunyad Castle and the Jaki Chapel? And what does it matter if you have seen them during the day? In the solitude of the night, these buildings are draped in capes, both mystical and soothing. The perfect ending to a day that was just as splendid!
3rd day: The Gellért
Because the Parliament tour in English takes place at 3:30pm, head to discover the Gellért well before, between 9:30am and 12:00. This is also a relatively quiet slot, so you can enjoy the baths with confidence. In contrast,it’s a different story after 3:00pm:
I do not recommend visiting during this period, as people really start crowding in and the level of cleanliness deteriorates...
The Gellért spa hotel is undoubtedly the most majestic as well as the most impressive from an architectural point of view. The lobby alone already justifies the desire to enter and stay there. Opened in 1918, the Gellért spa hotel is now over 100 years old!
It is regularly renovated and offers state-of-the-art filtration equipment. You can find almost every possible medical service imaginable there, and it boasts a complex spa care department. During the summer season, there’s even an outdoor wave pool.
The interior of the Gellért is spacious, having the largest high-temperature (40°C) bath in the capital. This is actually the bath that appears in the films “Evita” with Madonna and “I Spy” with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. Is it really necessary to point out that the swimming pool in the middle of the building is perhaps the most beautiful one in the world, surrounded by its carved columns? It is however imperative to remind you that wearing a bathing cap is mandatory, otherwise access to it will be prohibited.
Multiple saunas and steam rooms await you, but do not miss the outdoor pool, the one that’s off-centre and elevated to a higher level. With its sauna and cold-water tub at 16-18°C it is the only outdoor pool open all year. Also note that the Gellért is also the only establishment to offer a bath and a private sauna, which can be rented for 2 hours with champagne and fruit included.
Once the Gellért visit is over, head back to your accommodation, drop off your bathing kit and allow yourself a break if you wish. If you have not eaten much in a while, do not give in to hunger just yet because you will soon be able to feast on a really good lángos,
and at a reasonable rate at that.
Your tour of the Parliament in English is at 3:30pm. Turn up about 20 minutes in advance. The entrance for visits is located below ground level via an access on the side of the building. To optimize your time and to start the visit directly without queuing at the counters, book your ticket a few weeks ahead of time and print it for the visit:http://parlamentobudapest.com/fr/index.php
The second link is the original link. It offers cheaper rates but navigating through the site seems to be less smooth:https://latogatokozpont.parlament.hu/en/ticket-prices
Once your visit is over, head back to the Margit bridge (2), and if you’re coming directly from the Parliament (1), all you have to do is follow the Danube northbound. Cross the Margit bridge and escape halfway to the island Margit-sziget gateway to enjoy a relaxing walk. Do not be afraid of getting too far away on the island as buses 26 and 226 run regularly along it and will take you back to both Buda and Pest. Try to find the small restaurant (3) right in front of the Palatinus water park and spa to taste the famous long-awaited lángos! They also offer the sweet dessert version of this traditional street food specialty.
A small detail, or should I say, a small impromptu stopover that’s not included in this program: try to get to the West Train Station (Nyugati Pályaudvar). Created at the end of the 19th century by the Eiffel company, to whom we owe Paris’s dear Eiffel Tower,
it has a unique architecture, a sumptuous facade, and a very retro style interior (the ticket office seems to have remained frozen in time for a hundred years). All this amounts to a unique design which, hopefully, will not be lost to a modern renovation.
And this marks the end of our three-day program and discovery guide.
There are certainly many other fantastic places to visit in Budapest, places that I have not mentioned in this program, but three days are unfortunately not enough to see everything!
Creation of content :
Translation from french to english :
Harry Szovik and Rebecca Rowe