Budapest and thermal spas belong together like egg white and yolk. No other European city has so many thermal spas: 120 wells and natural springs are bubbling here, delivering 70 million litres of healing water each day. This liquid treasure provides water for around 40 spas in the city. Rudas Thermal Bath is unusual in that insomniacs will find it open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm to 4am.
The Romans built the first thermal spas in Budapest. They already knew 2,000 years ago that hot water with mineral content is medicinal. When the Turks invaded Hungary in the 16th century they brought their bath culture with them, importing the oriental tradition into the Hungarian way of living.
The Turkish bath, also called Hamam, comes from the Arabian language and means “warm”. The Turks built one thermal bath after another under Gellért Hill. The Rudas Thermal Bath dates back to these times and has remained in its original condition for almost 450 years. As such it is one of the oldest and most beautiful baths in Budapest.
Social meeting point for friends
The entrance is at the foot of Gellért Hill, near Elisabeth Bridge. The night entrance fee is HUF 4,400. The visitor gets an electronic bracelet and is shown to the changing rooms, which also serve as lockers. Changing in the small cabin might make you feel claustrophobic, but the floor heating is nice and the electronic bracelet that works as a key luckily does not come from the 16th century. It’s really practical to open and close the cabin quickly.
The main pool is the heart of Rudas with an area of almost 100 square metres filled with 36 Celsius degrees water and surmounted by a mighty dome, which is the only source of light in the daytime. The hot spring water packed with calcium, magnesium, hydrogen-carbonate, sodium and sulphates heals the joints and bones but it also discolours jewellery, so best to leave this in the locker.
If you expect to sit alone at night-time in the healing water you will be disappointed. The baths are currently not really visited for relieving symptoms; they serve much more as a social meeting point for friends and acquaintances. While in other European cities you might meet up for a coffee, in Budapest you go bathing together.
Not only young people come here, who disappear in the water vapour smooching (it works a bit like a partition), but pensioners and tourists as well. There is no one playing chess, it’s probably too dark for that. You can relax on the stairs, on the edge of the pool, the middle of the simmering cauldron is free and everyone is enjoying their own steam.
Traditionally only men were allowed to enter. The Rudas used to be a known meeting point for politicians and journalists. After the bath reopened in 2006 following comprehensive renovation, women protested so loudly that the city leadership finally agreed to their demands. Finally ladies are allowed to relax in Rudas and on Ladies’ Day they can even do it naked. Children under 14 years may not enter.
Architecture of the Middle Ages, modern times
The large pool in the middle of the natural stone building is complemented by five other pools with water up to 42 Celsius degrees. Nobody comes here to swim; the pools serve purely healing purposes and full relaxation. To restore your heart and circulation to normal you need to take a break after 20 minutes.
In the adjoining sauna area you can freshen up with a bucket of ice-cold water. You can find drinking water wells over the whole complex.
When the visitor walks between the healing bath, the wellness area and the sauna, he will be accompanied by goosebumps. There is no danger of slipping thanks to the natural stone flooring. On some of the walls are photos of people who have been recorded by the security camera, and a note, “Who knows these people?” This prompts a quick glance to the dressing room – everything is still there.
If you would like to swim a few lengths, or cannot take healing water, you had better stick to your everyday chlorine, since the spa does not offer that much in the way of sports.
The thermal spa was remodelled in 1566 in the reign of Sokollu Mustafa Pascha but not much has changed since. Yes, the visitor feels as if taken back to the times of Turkish occupation while seething in the hot water and looking at the eight marble columns supporting the dome. A pleasant cold misty rain falls from the ceiling and cools down heated faces.
Helmuth von Moltke, a military advisor in the Ottoman Empire, wrote in 1835: “And you can say that you have never bathed if you have never bathed in a Turkish Bath before.”
Every two weeks there is an occasion in Rudas that is not so old-fashioned. When the water is changed, the visitors defy the historic atmosphere. Hard liquor flows instead and a Wellness Party is held until early morning.
Rudas Thermal Bath
Döbrentei tér 9, District I
Tel.: (+36-1) 356-1010