A May 2001 trip
to Budapest by Matt Keedy
Quote: This is the final segment of my cruise diary from Amsterdam to Budapest along the Great Rivers of Europe -- the Rhine, Mosel, and Danube. See other Great Waterways of Europe entries.
Hotel | "The Gellert Hotel"
The Gellert Baths are world famous and are reminiscent of a bygone era. They look like an exotic set out of an old Esther Williams movie. Inside there are men's and women's thermal pools, saunas and steam rooms. Each pool has different temperatures. There is a huge common pool in the middle for swimming, and in the summer there is a fantastic pool complex behind the hotel with loads of water activities. For hotel guests, admission is free and there is a private elevator that goes from each floor down to the baths. What could be more wonderful than slipping into your bathrobe (provided) and going down in one of those old cage elevators with an operator and being deposited in a world famous spa?
The hotel itself is like an old dowager, a little worn on the edges but unsurpassed in style and service. I love dining on the outdoor terrace in warmer weather, looking over the Danube and watching the world go by. The restaurant in the hotel is also quite nice. For ladies, the beauty salon is one of the best in the city.
I highly recommend the Gellert for old world charm and excellent spa activities. I must also commend them for their assistance when I had a fall and they found a doctor and pharmacist for me.
Make the most of your stay in Budapest and stay here!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 13, 2003
GELLERT TER 1
My favorite baths in Budapest are the Gellert, the Rudas, and the Kiraly. Of these, the Rudas and the Racs are the most authentic, but the Gellert (XI. Kellenhegyi u. 4) is definitely the most glamorous and has the most tourists and foreigners. It was built as part of the old-world Gellert Hotel on the banks of the Danube in a glorious Art Nouveau style. The blue-tiled pools have fountains of lions spurting water out of their mouths, and mosaics abound. There are separate men's and women's thermal baths that also include steam rooms and saunas--and then there is a communal indoor pool with Juliet balconies. If you're staying in the hotel, there is a private elevator from which you can enter the baths in a soft robe provided by the Gellert. In warmer months, the hotel has an amazing complex of outdoor pools--unusual for being in the middle of the city--which even has areas for nude bathing.
The Kiraly (King) Baths (II. Fo utca 84) is across the river from Parliament. It was built in the 16th century by the Turkish pasha of Buda and has a stone cupola that rises above the octagonal pool.
Whereas the Gellert is the most pretentious (and expensive) of the baths, my favorite for being authentic and original is the Rudas Baths (I. Donrentei ter 9). Unfortunately, these are only open to men. The inside of these baths is quite dramatic, with a high domed roof with tiny colored holes pinpoked in it. These pinholes allow splinters of colored light into the dark steamy octagon pool, which is surrounded by classically proportioned arches and columns of stone. The waters here have been used for over 1,000 years. A couple of hours here is the equivalent of only a couple dollars--to see the architecture is worth the price of admission alone.
With all baths, when you enter you will buy a ticket for the portazs (porter)--a woman behind a glass window wearing a white smock. There will be a menu of services available (pedicures, manicures, Swedish massage, water massage, etc.). Let her know if you just want general admission or if you would like to add any services. You pay her in advance and then she will give you tickets for services bought. If the baths are full (sometimes in the late afternoons or weekends), you will need to wait in the waiting area for the number on your ticket to appear (just like the license bureau!); otherwise, proceed into the appropriate locker room (ferfi = men; noi = women). Inside, you will meet another attendant who will take your ticket(s), hand you a postage stamp of a loincloth that leaves all discretion behind, and point you in the direction of a changing closet. Each changing room has a lock on it where you put your clothes-you will keep one key and then yet a third attendant will also lock the room. He will then chalk the time you came in, and from that point you have 2 hours to relish in the baths. When you return, this attendant will follow you back to your locker and you will both unlock it. At this point, you can dress or stay and relax for a while. When leaving, it is customary to leave a small tip ($1) to the locker-room attendants. The first one you meet by the door will take your wet towels (in Hungary, they are more like toga sheets). I write this all only because it can be very intimidating the first time if you don't know what to do!
I highly recommend experiencing the baths. The Gellert is more expensive than the others, but by western standards they are all very inexpensive. The Gellert is $5 to $10 depending on services chosen, whereas the Kiraly and the Rudas are only a couple dollars for admission. Can't beat that!