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Bathing in Budapest – A Trip to Gellert Thermal Baths and Swimming Pool

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Budapest sits on a fault line. As a result, it is blessed with an abundance of natural hot springs, over 100 of them! That is why Budapest is known as the “City of Spas”. Throughout the city, residents and tourists alike are soaking in these healthful pools. There are so many to choose from but on our Interrail adventure, we wanted to see one of the most iconic. Join us for a trip to the Gellert Thermal Baths and Swimming Pool.

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Gellert Thermal Baths and Swimming Pool

There has been a spring here, emerging from Gellert Hill for centuries. It was first documented way back in the 1200s. The healing properties were recognised straight away and analysis of the water shows that it contains plenty of lovely minerals such as:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Hydrocarbonate
  • Alkalis
  • Chloride
  • Sulfate
  • Fluoride

Honestly, I am pretty sure that calcium & magnesium are what make water hard and not great for your skin and hair but who cares when it is hot and London tap water is the worst anyway so my follicles are used to it.

Arriving at Gellert Bath

We hopped on a tram down from the door of the castle hill. It took around ten minutes and we spotted the entrance from the tram. The baths are attached to the Gellert Hotel (closed for refurbishment during our visit) but it has its own entrance. It is magnificent, so very grand! The Gellert Baths was opened in 1918 and it s quintessential Hungarian Art Nouveau. Passing through the wooden revolving doors, we emerged into a dark lobby with mosaics on the floor. Wooden counters and A few steps beyond the ticket counters was a huge dome with more gorgeous mosaics. We had to tear ourselves away to enter the changing area. The entrance, main pool and wooden changing rooms were all damaged in World War II but an extensive refurbishment in 2008 brought them back to their best.

Changing Rooms

We were lucky enough to be treated to the finest of the changing rooms. There are several levels of changing area from simple plastic doors and lockers all the way up to these stunning art nouveau halls. There are two, both with barrelled ceilings and a balcony around the edge We had a large curtained changing room each with a bed, wardrobe and mirror in. The attendant came to lock our belongings away, ready for our soggy return. This all felt so delightfully vintage.

The Main Swimming Pool

We head straight into the gorgeous main pool. The columns surrounding the pool are all unique, no two alike. You could pop a floor in and the space would double up beautifully as a ballroom. We marvelled at the pool but as we didn’t have swimming caps, we couldn’t go in. Above the water, the iconic roof is retractable so in summer, it is open to the sky. This lap pool is designed for exercise at a lukewarm 27°C and with a length long enough to get a decent sweat on. This area can be very busy at times, particularly popular amongst the older generation. They have aqua aerobics in here sometimes but it was al very quiet during our Sunday morning visit.

Let’s Go Outside

We scurried through the main pool to see the outside space. The weather was unusually cool for May (our whole Interrail trip was plagued by bad weather). However, the sun was properly out and almost making itself known through the spring morning air.

We made a beeline straight for the steam rising in the distance and found where the majority of people were. The heated outdoor pool was very busy so I didn’t really take any photos but it was a plain rectangle pool so you’re not missing much. After a short time in here, we thought it best to have a look around the rest of the outdoor area, and then head inside where it was still nice and empty. Plus, for the first time in a couple of weeks, the sun was out and shining and we were not wearing any suntan cream.

The main pool outside had a really low water level. It was a good, long ladder to get down to it. Mr Fluskey thought he might hop in for a couple of laps but as soon as his foot hit the unheated surface he shot back up the ladder like a ferret. Turns out, the water level is so far below the edge because in summer it is a wave pool that goes every hour. Around the pool was a curious blend of foliage covered follies and statues. This was contrasted with the white tiled showers which screamed early 1910s seaside. It was a slice of Art Deco surrounded with neo-classical flourishes. It was a very pleasing juxtaposition.

We made our way through the maze of changing rooms, up and down tiled stairs, giggling to ourselves. It was early in the day so the whole place was still quite empty, and we sort of felt like naughty school kids running around where we shouldn’t be. Honestly, we were lost for a good five minutes.

The Thermal Baths

The prettiest part of the baths (in my humble opinion) is the Thermal Bath area (the one awash with blue paint). One of them is 36-40°C, the other is 35-38°C.

Our feet were a bit chilly from running around in the changing rooms, trying to find our way back to the thermal pools. When we found them, we made a fatal mistake wading in as quickly as possible. I descended into the first pool I reached without paying any attention to the temperature. It was gloriously warm and just right to soak in for 30 minutes. Sadly, as our bodies had adjusted to the temperature popping into the pool opposite was not as nice. Where we had accidentally picked the warmer of the two pools, the other felt like a tepid bath that needed a shot of hot water from the tap.

Beyond the thermal pools was the spa area. There was a steam room, sauna, relaxation room (which was a bit cold for my liking) and the cold plunge pool which was definitely to cold for my liking. I thought that we should be brave and dunk in but it was quite busy and I didn’t want to disturb the rest of the patrons with my squealing.

The Sitting Pool

At the end of the main pool was a smaller semicircular sitting pool. Here, swimming caps are not required so we plopped in for one last moment of relaxation, watching people under the small fountains and listening in on Hungarian gossip that we couldn’t understand. Time marched on quickly and we had to get going. We wanted to see the Budapest Statue Park before leaving on the train that afternoon.

There Were More Baths!?

So, I thought I’d seen the thermal baths. Mr Fluskey insisted that there was another section of thermal baths but I was adamant. Well, I had to eat my words when we checked the map of the complex and there were, in fact, more pools! Considering the baths used to be divided by gender (right up until 2013), it makes perfect sense. I’m not sure why my logic entirely failed me. We went around but didn’t take any pictures. They were a lot less ornate and they were packed with people so I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos there. Imagine a similar set-up to the blue pools but with a green barrel roof.

Final Thoughts on the Gellert Thermal Baths and Swimming Pool

What an absolute treat to have so many of these wonderful hot spring spas on your doorstep. We have had the pleasure of visiting both the Gellert Baths and the Szechenyi Bath and they both have such distinct personalities. The less ornate but more local vibe of Gellert really appealed to us. It seems like we would hop over to Buda for a Sunday soak often if we lived in Budapest. Even if you are just visiting, Gellert Thermal Baths and Swimming Pool is an excellent choice to relax those backpacker shoulders or work-weary backs.

Rosie xx

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