Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a traditional Hungarian thermal Bath and a Spa?
Think of it this way – you'd go to a spa to kick back and be pampered, and you'd go to a thermal bath to get healed and to relax. Baths are more like health spas, with an emphasis on wellness. They usually have two main pools and several smaller pools, all with different water temperatures. You'll have access to every treatment – there are hot tubs, saunas, steam baths, mudpacks, as well as on-site health care professionals who offer physiotherapy, and a series of balneal therapies and hydrotherapy treatments. Below, you'll find some tips on how to make the most of your bath-visiting-experience.
Your bank account won't have to suffer for you to enjoy Budapest's thermal springs. Prices tend to be fairly low – for instance, the entrance fee to the famous Gellért Baths is only about US $18 and a 15-minute refreshing massage is about the same price. A basic ticket is usually valid for two hours and will gain access to the sauna, steam rooms and pools; additional tickets will buy you a massage, tub (kádfürdő) or mud bath (iszapfürdő). If you stay less than two hours, a small refund is usually given.
After purchasing your ticket(s), an attendant inside the changing room (öltöző) will direct you to your cabin. You'll be given a kötény – a small loincloth for men or an apron for women – which offers a vestige of cover. Once you've donned your modest cover-up, notify your attendant so that they can lock your cabin or locker. You can then decide how to spend your time in the thermal baths – the most popular sequence is: warm pool, steam room, cold plunge, hot plunge, a dip in warm water, repeat. You'll find that tipping, just like the bathing ritual, is very much part of the culture in Hungary, so don't be surprised when your attendant expects a small tip for their services.
Massages offered at thermal baths in Hungary are North American massages without all the fluff – the tables are minimally padded and there are no soft towels – but that doesn't mean the treatments are substandard. Refreshing massages last only about 15-20 minutes, and it's well worth it to pay the extra fee for a 30 or 60-minute treatment. Masseuses at thermal baths understand little English, so your best bet is to point to the body parts that ache in order to get the best results.
Finally, if in doubt at any time, just follow what the locals do. They utilize the baths routinely for their reputed healing powers.
To learn more about the most popular thermal baths in Budapest check out Budapest Baths.