I spent my Easter Sunday in Budapest, indulging in these ancient rituals. Instead of churches, I sat in bathhouses, engaged in another form of religion. For five days, my to-do list read simply: Soak. Just sit and let winter’s sludge slide off you, like melting snow slinking off a sun-drenched roof. It worked, I think. I felt a little cleaner, lighter, and warmer having sat with people from all over the world, searching for healing.
The Baths I Visited
The largest bathhouse in Europe is a spa-goers paradise. Built in 1913, Széchenyi is an expansive complex of neo-Baroque design consisting of 12 thermal baths, steam chambers, and an outdoor swimming pool surrounded by a fortress of primrose yellow buildings. Grecian statues double as fountains and gladly dump water for aptly-placed neck massages. With so many choices, you’ll be tempted to try every single bath and you should, as they all have something slightly different to offer. After a long flight or train journey, there is perhaps no better introduction to Budapest, than a dip in the steamy outdoor pools of Széchenyi.
Gellért is the most opulent, best known, and most expensive bath in Budapest. This bathhouse is just shy of 100 years old and still retains a beautiful, Art Nouveau-style façade that is reminiscent of its glory days. Gellért Bath has indoor thermal pools, swimming pools, an outdoor pool, saunas, a range of medicinal treatments, and even a dentist’s office. Go here to feel like royalty and to soak with class. Located on the Buda side of Budapest, Gellért is just across the street from Gellért Hill Cave, a chapel housed in a network of caves, and the Citadella, an old, Hapsburg fortress which offers stunning views of the city.
Built during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century, Rudas is the oldest of Budapest’s bathhouses and has been preserved in the traditional Turkish style. Rudas is smaller, steamier, and more intimate than the other two baths I’ve mentioned. All of the five thermal baths are located in one geometrically-minded room: 4 in each corner and the biggest in the center. For the optimal experience, visit Rudas around sunset and don’t forget to look up while soaking in the center bath. You’ll find the ceiling is a patchwork of small, jewel-like windows, and at sunset the light streams through them perfectly, creating an almost holy, kaleidoscopic vision.
The outside of Széchenyi.