It’s no secret, I love relaxing at a great spa. So, when I visited Budapest, Hungary, home to dozens of modern and traditional spas and Turkish baths, I knew I had to visit one. My pick – Gellért Spa and Baths.
I was curious to see how the Hungarian bath experience differed from spas in Belgium. So, early one morning, my friend Jenn and I, set out to spend a day soaking our cares away.
To reach the Gellért Baths, we decided to walk across one of Budapest’s seven bridges, the Liberty Bridge, taking us to Buda from Pest. The Gellért Hotel and Spa complex sits at the base of the bridge beneath Gellért Hill.
Despite sharing the building with the Hotel Gellért, the Gellért Baths run independently run and are reached through a side entrance, beside Gellért Hill.
Walking into the vast Art Nouveau entrance hall, we were momentarily silenced. The beautiful arched ceiling is crowned with stained glass and the room is decorated with palm trees and statuary. If this hallway was any indication, we were in for quite an experience.
Our second moment of awestruck silence came when we looked at the spa’s price-list. It wasn’t the prices causing our muteness, but the sheer number of options: hours of entry, cabins, lockers, treatments… it was all a bit overwhelming. Luckily the woman behind the glass ticket window was friendly and helpful and even advised us that the changing cabin was plenty big enough for two, saving us a few thousand HUF.
We then made our way underground to the vast changing rooms, where we rented towels and found our cabin. The front desk clerk was correct. There was plenty of room to safely store all of our belongings inside. After a quick change into our swimsuits, it was time to hit the pools.
Our first stop, was Gellért Spa’s most famous pool – the effervescent bath. This indoor pool is 26⁰C and, as the name would suggest, is slightly mineral-y and bubbly. Bathers are required to wear caps in this pool, which we purchased for about a euro. (Top tip, take a shower cap from your hotel for free.)
If 26⁰ isn’t hot enough for you, there is a smaller ‘sitting pool’ heated to 36⁰C.
The water for the Gellért baths comes from a variety of springs bubbling out of Gellért Hill. These natural hot springs are rich in magnesium, calcium, sulphate-chloride, hydrogen-carbonate, fluoride ions, and sodium. Rumour has it, the water here helps cure arthritis and circulatory problems, as well as spine, muscle and joint deterioration. All we know is our skin felt nice and we were incredibly relaxed after a day in the healing waters.
Because it was a hot and sunny day in Budapest, we didn’t want to spend all of our time soaking indoors. We headed outside to enjoy the sun and check out the three outdoor pools.
The largest and most dramatic of Gellért’s pools is the 500m2 wave pool. This pool makes waves every half hour signaled, inexplicably, by blaring the opening bars to ‘America’ from West Side Story, over the PA system.
Above the wave pool is a smaller 36⁰ pool and a shallow children’s pool. There is also a small sauna with a plunge pool for cooling off.
Surrounding all of these pools are terraces with lounge chairs for sunbathing. There is also a restaurant and take-away counter, which were seriously over-worked and under-staffed when we visited. Our ‘quick bite to eat’ took over two hours.
We happened to visit on Sunday, not realising this was ‘family day.’ Through the rest of the week, in addition to the pools mentioned above, there are separate areas for men and women. These separate sections contain small pools, saunas and treatment areas.
So how did it compare to Belgian spas? All in all, I didn’t find it very different. The Art Nouveau architecture was lovely, the facilities were up to date and everything seemed fairly well organised. However, the Gellért Spa is geared towards tourists and not as traditionally Hungarian as some of the other bath complexes in the city.
I guess I’ll just have to return to Budapest to conduct more research…
Do you have a favourite spa in Europe? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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