Hungarians love to bath! There are 1000 natural spring water sources in the country! With 123 thermal springs beneath it, the Hungarian capital had to be nicknamed the City of Spas! Budapest thermal baths are world renowned – Szechenyi Baths alone are visited by over a million bathers a year! Other famous Budapest spa baths include Gellert Baths, Kiraly Baths and Lukacs Bath, but I have arrived in the Pearl of the Danube to discover one of the most traditional examples of Turkish era relaxation – Rudas Baths!
Set on the bank of the Danube, Buda side, at the foot of the Gellert Hill, just next to the Erzsebet Bridge, Rudas Baths were built in 16th century, during the Ottoman rule. The healing center with the baths was actually there from the 13th century, when the Knights of St John built the hospital. The renovation project was monitored by Pasha Mehmed Sokolovic, who has ordered the use of the best materials and tiles imported from Turkey! Relaxing and healing qualities of 21 underground springs laid the foundation for the long history of Terme Rudas Budapest.
Unlike the other Budapest bathhouses that are open to both men and women on all days, Rudas Baths during the week cater to one gender only, like in the old days! Tuesdays are reserved for the ladies, other work days for gentlemen. This means bathing suits are required only during the weekends. On a same-sex day, you literally don’t have to bring anything!
Daily thermal ticket costs 3.300 Forints (10 Euros). At the entrance, you will receive a plastic bracelet with a magnetic chip. Use it to pass through the turnstile gate! The staff inside does not speak much English, so just take the white piece of cloth they are offering to you, and approach the wall-mounted machine which will scan your bracelet and inform you about the number of your cabin. Find the booth and undress! Use the wristlet to lock the cabin again.
The revealing apron
It might seem awkward at first, because the apron you got is covering only the front part of your crotch. But that is the traditional way! Sure, you might jump into your swimming trunks, and I have seen exceptionally shy visitors doing just that (or taking two aprons to form the full circle skirt!), but honestly, you would only look like an idiot.
Ignoring the local customs draws attention and raises the level of embarrassment and awkwardness, not the other way around. So just go with the flow, feel free and relax! If Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to survive it when they were filming “Red Heat” here, so can you!
Swimming under the rainbow
First, you will arrive at the shower area. Make sure to shower before entering the baths! That is the fundamental rule of hygiene. The soap provided might not be of the best quality, so if you prefer something else, bring with you whatever suits you better!
The main thermal area room is dominated by the magnificent octagonal pool. Covered by a hemispheric 10-meter diameter dome supported by eight pillars, the pool is a place of the play of light. The tiny windows in cupola filter the light beams and wash the pool in different colors of the rainbow! With the echo of the space, the voices of visitors produce a reverberating sound that inspires one’s meditation.
The temperature of the water in the main pool is 36 degrees Celsius. It is surrounded by four smaller pools, where temperature ranges from 28 to 42 degrees. Some of them are perfect for plunging in after the visit to the sauna. There are three consecutive Finnish saunas connected to each other with gradient temperature, and one steam room.
The idea of the loincloth is that you turn it around in the sauna, so you don’t sit on the chair with your bare bottom. The consequence of this idea is that your front is now exposed
Nudity and gay cruising
When you exit the pool, your loin cloth will, naturally, get wet, and this means your anatomy will be more visible than you have possibly planned. But if you want to enter the saunas, you should really leave your inhibitions in the pool! The idea of the loincloth is that you turn it around in the sauna, so you don’t sit on the chairs with your bare bottom. The consequence of this idea is that your front is now exposed to the views of the other visitors. So is theirs. Get over it!
Even if some visitors might be interested in something more than bathing, this is not a gay establishment! Everyone is welcome, and friendly, so follow the usual respect manners, and you will enjoy the atmosphere of this special place!
The healing touch of Rudas Baths’ masseurs
The next area is dedicated to various types of massage. I have tried Rudas Baths’ signature water massage with soap foam, which is rather affordable (4.400 Forints or 14 Euros for 30 minutes), but also quite enjoyable. Even if the establishment has younger masseurs, I was treated by the expert hands of Mr. Laci, who has decades of experience which indeed transfer.
Before exiting the thermal baths area, there is another plunge pool, for the bravest ones; with 16 degrees Celsius, this was the only one I didn’t dare to try.
Towels are available at the exit, and you can stay in the resting zone until you gather back your strength. Taking a nap is welcome!
If you have bought the combined ticket that includes the swimming pool and wellness area, for 1500 Forints extra (5 Euros more), your exploration of Rudas Baths has just begun. The Ottoman-era wing was enlarged in the 19th century and, in this classicist wing, one can enjoy swimming in the 20-meter-long pool. This is a shared space between men and women every day, so you will need a bathing suit for this part of the building!
There are five more pools here, including the panorama pool at the rooftop, which provides excellent views of Danube. The wellness area is another labyrinth consisting of Finnish sauna, aroma sauna, steam cabin, hot-air cabin, salt cabin… When I say labyrinth, I really mean it. Even if, in my first passing through, I easily found the restaurant sandwiched between the wellness facilities, I had hard times to find it later, when I actually got hungry.
Rudas Baths could benefit from some better sign navigation, but if you manage to reach the restaurant which serves Turkish-Hungarian fusion cuisine, you will not be sorry!
I have tried the local specialty – goulash soup with freshly baked bread! With the price of 950 Forints (3 Euros), and a free beer included (!), this was such a steal! So I just had to try the cheesecake as well, which was delicious and refreshing for 1.150 Forints (3,6 Euros)!
Drink even better
Hungarians believe that Hungaria, Attila and Juventus springs provide health, so the visitors are welcome to drink the water at the designated areas. After bathing, your skin will be scented with rotten egg smell, but that’s a small sacrifice for health benefits!
Interested in the water content? Spa website says that this is a “radio-active hot spring water with calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonate also containing sodium and sulfate and with a significant content of fluoride ions”. It might not tell you a lot, but supposedly it has therapeutic effect on degenerative joint diseases, chronic and sub-acute arthritis, discus hernia and neuralgia!
From radio-active water to psychedelic music
Rudas Baths might be just a small window into the past. The history of bathing as a socializing ritual that also brings health benefits to its practitioners reaches back to the Roman times in this area. Turks certainly brought the additional value to the culture of soaking in thermal water, and while it was exclusively reserved for men for centuries, since 2006 women can use the baths on set days.
Weekends are shared, and at some places include even night bath experiences, which at Szechenyi Baths grow into sparty. The combination of spa and party comes with psychedelic music and laser shows!
The hippos in the neighboring Budapest Zoo are also enjoying the geothermal waters from the Szechenyi spring. Some experts interpret that the thermal waters are the reason why the hippo couple got a baby, which generally doesn’t happen in captivity.
Day by day, Budapest’s bath story is continuously evolving. We always knew that the water means life. But here, where miraculous streams flow under our feet, we become aware that water does not mean just any life. It is an essential element of – the good life. The secret is to embrace it and use all its benefits!
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