To thermal bath, or not to thermal bath: that is the question!
Public bathing has always been a bit of a quandary, especially when it comes to etiquette. As this culture is found in foreign climes, you might ask yourself: Are there special public bathing rules that everyone in these communities live by? Will I have to get naked in front of others? Are there changing rooms and if so, are they separate for each gender? Are there lockers to keep my belongings safe? Then there is the hassle of having to get a bikini wax in the colder months.
You may have read about the famous thermal baths of Budapest in many a city break guide or travel column and still be none the wiser about the whole process. So, to give you a helping hand on how to navigate your way through the Budapest thermal bath world, here are some tips for you.
Quick history check
There are more thermal and therapeutic baths in Budapest than any other capital city on earth. To say you have a few options to choose from would be an understatement. With this culture dating back nearly two millennia, they have this whole bathing lark down to a tee. The waters here are rich in minerals and are said to have medicinal properties. Therefore, bathing and drinking from these warm pools are believed to relieve many a condition.
The Széchenyi thermal bath and pools are the largest in Europe and very popular. The water from these baths comes from over a kilometer underground. When the water reaches the eighteen outdoor baths and pools, what you will find is optimum water temperature that never goes below 26 degrees Celsius (Hands up if you wish that you had one of these in your back garden, relaxing with a cuppa in one hand and a custard cream in the other. That would be Bliss!). As a first thermal bath experience, this is the perfect place to start.
If you want to go a bit fancy, then the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Gellért Baths, tick all the boxes. It’s like taking a dip inside a grand cathedral. The stunning tiles and stained-glass windows all over the place, are easy on the eye and provide a wonderful relaxing atmosphere. It may not be as big as the Széchenyi baths but makes up for it in aesthetics.
There are too many baths to mention them all. If you don’t fancy mixed swimming then the Rudas Baths have women Only on Tuesdays, which is fab.
What to take to a thermal bath
We all know what the main answer to this is. Swimsuit! Bringing your own swimsuit is smart but not a must. This isn’t because you can bathe in the nude, but due to the fact that most of the larger and more prominent baths give you the option to rent or buy a swimsuit, should you have forgotten to pack one. The same applies to towels, however its best advised to bring your own along with you. The pools here are not chlorinated, so any fears about ruining your favourite swimsuit can be put aside. Other essentials include: Entrance fee money, flip flops, a shower cap for all you serious swimmers (but not necessary), a robe or something to use as a cover up is a great extra to have as it can get cold in the winter getting from the changing room to the pools. Remember to only bring essentials though, as you have to bear in mind locker space.
Will I have to bare all?
No. You will not have to get naked. However, you will have to pay that bit extra for your modesty. At regular ticket prices you receive a locker in a single sex changing room. If you pay that bit extra (around £2) you can get a cabin. We are all different, some people don’t mind and some people prefer privacy, so it’s great to have options. The good news is that swimsuits are mandatory in the baths, so you won’t have to worry about seeing bits and bobs all over the place. But be aware, you may see a speedo or two.
Some more top tips
Finding your bearing’s around the baths can be a bit confusing, however the friendly locals are more than happy to steer you in the right direction.
A great time to visit the baths is in the morning. This is when it’s a bit more peaceful and less crowded. You will most likely have your pick of the lockers at this time. However, the parties at night are a lot of fun.
Finally: just enjoy yourself and do not fret about the etiquette. The baths are amazing!