Budapest, The Gellért Baths

Gellert Spa Swimming Pool

In 1934 Budapest was awarded the supreme title of ‘Spa City’  and three years later, the first International Balneological Congress was organised and the headquarters of the International Balneological Association was established at the Gellért Thermal Baths in Budapest.

The Congress explained this decision with the following statement:

“…no city can put forward a stronger claim to this than Budapest.  Endowed by nature with a wonderful generosity of excellent thermal waters and unrivalled natural beauty; additionally, its high medical professionalism, the excellent equipment of its healing institutions, the high level of scientific research, makes Budapest the optimum choice for international affairs of balneology to be handled from here…”

One of the main attractions of the Hotel was that attached are the famous Gellért baths, which although originally built as part of the hotel are now owned and run by the local council but with free admission to hotel guests.  In the TV travel series ‘New Europe’, Michael Palin used the baths and made it all seem a bit confusing and a lot of trouble but I can confirm that there was no truth in that at all, the instructions were clear and all of his theatrical pacing of corridors looking for the lift was all contrived for effect.

The entrance to the baths used to be via an old-fashioned cage elevator with doors that slammed closed with a penitentiary like rattle and metallic thud and there was an old lady attendant who provided an admission card to the baths on the way down, it was still like this on our first visit in 2007  but that has all been modernised now, which is a shame, and entrance is directly through the hotel and into a modern reception area.

This was very straight forward but then, I have to say, it did get confusing with corridors and stairways that eventually led to a locker room and then more corridors and stairways that led to the swimming pool.

Thermal-Pool-Gellert-Spa-Bath

After changing we used the thermal baths that were a very incrementally agreeable 36˚ and 38˚ centigrade and housed in a room of  soaring marble pillars, colourful mosaic floors and pools of crystal blue water with alleged magical healing powers.  There was an anorexic looking man with a pale pallor jogging limply around the room and I wondered for a moment or two if I was going to feel thirty years younger just like all those old timers did in the film Cocoon.

I did feel good afterwards but not that good, I have to say!  The eucalyptus steam room was totally relaxing but the plunge pool knocked the breath from me and necessitated a hasty return to 38˚.  I am not sure that this is the correct way to progress through the experience I confess. Next door was the swimming pool with cream mosaic floor and sky blue tiled walls and a high glazed ceiling proving soft natural light.  Budapest is famous for its thermal baths and these were busy with local people relaxing in the water after a day at work and we enjoyed the experience with them after five hours of walking up and down those hills around the city.

I have to say that I am not a great one for swimming pools and spas I have to admit and I am definitely not one for treatments.  Kim and Margaret went for a punishing massage, Sue and Christine stayed a while longer to swim, Mike went to the railway station to do some sightseeing and I went back to the room for a beer.

I am a great one for bars however and when Mike returned and invited me to the cheap pub around the corner I didn’t take a lot of convincing so wandered around for a couple of pre dinner drinks.

gellert baths

For our final night we were returning to the Greek restaurant.  I had to concede that the Taverna Dionysos was a splendid place with a good menu and excellent food.  I would have liked to say that we found an ethnic Hungarian restaurant that was its equal but sadly I can’t so for a second time in three nights we sat down to a traditional Greek meal.

After our meal it was still quite early so instead of  going directly back to the hotel we walked along a busy main road and looked for somewhere for a final Budapest drink.  It was turning colder with a north wind sweeping down from the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia and blowing sharply down the river as though someone had left the back door open.  We weren’t dressed for this so we quickened our pace and was grateful of the warmth of  a modern bar full of young people  where we had that final drink before returning to the Hotel Gellért.  It was a real shame that this was our final night!

The following morning we made our purchases at the indoor market, had a last slice of cake at the hotel and then made our way back to the airport on the metro and the shuttle bus.

I have to confess that Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as well as any other I have visited.

hotel Gellert Budapest

29 responses to “Budapest, The Gellért Baths

  1. You realise that you cause the little imp of envy to raise its head when I read your travel stories, don’t you??

    It must have been so darn interesting when they had the old rattling elevator to take you to the action, in the past.

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  2. Nice post, Andrew. It seems one needs a spa after all the corridors and stairways 🙂

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  3. We popped in to the Gellert baths to have a look round whilst staying in Budapest in April. It was a bit surreal seeing swimming pools in the setting of grand Hapsburg style buildings and not being a great swimming pool person myself we left after a few minutes! We both loved Budapest though – I last went to Prague in 2006 so maybe I need to go back at some point to compare again! Interesting post and best wishes for 2015!

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  4. That’s great! Sweat out all the toxins and then go for a beer:) How is the beer in Budapest? Any local brands worth a try?

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  5. Not a great one for swimming pools but a great one for bars. You crack me up Andrew. 🙂
    If you were to say you actually came out 10 years younger I was booking a plane ticket.

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  6. I am with you on the beer- I had a massage once and didn’t really feel any different afterwards. Beer, however, always fulfills its promise of enjoyment.

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  7. I was considering to go to Budapest in 2015, but now I feel I have to plan it in the winter to enjoy the spa 🙂

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  8. Pingback: On This Day – Budapest, The Gellért Baths | Have Bag, Will Travel

  9. It is good to see you had your priorities right, Andrew

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  10. I would def also skip the plunge pool. I just saw something else on Budapest- it is now firmly on my Top 5 list. One of these days.

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  11. If you ever watch Drew Pritchard in “Salvage Hunters” he did a superb programme on antique buying in Budapest and the surrounding area,

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  12. We popped in to the foyer to look at the splendid surroundings, but as neither of us is particularly interested in pools or spas either we didn’t sample its delights. Probably a bit remiss to stay in Budapest a week and not go to any of the baths! I agree it’s a wonderful city.

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  13. Hi Andrew. Like you, we love Budapest. We did the Szechenyi spa last time, the outdoor bits in the dark and the cold, which was…errr…nice. I’d previously done Gellert baths on a corporate jolly, which involved drinking beer AND bathing in a spa at the same time. Terrible things, corporate jollies. I don’t miss them in the slightest. Honest.

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  14. Was on my destination list pre-Covid. Thanks for the useful info, once traveling is back.

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