You don’t have to pay 4,400 forints (about $20) to enjoy Budapest’s famous waters. In City Park, near Heroes’ Square, there is a spring available to the public. Dubbed “Pensioner’s Pub” by the locals, you are welcome to bottle the mineral waters yourself for free here—but you do need to provide your own container.
A history of Hungary’s rejuvenating spas
By Juraj Varady, Operations Manager, European River Cruises
Few nations can boast of geo-thermal resources to rival Hungary’s: Every day, more than ten million gallons of naturally warm, mineral-rich water pour forth from the springs of Budapest alone. These waters have formed the basis of a spa tradition that stretches back more than 2,000 years.
The Romans first took advantage of the waters’ curative and relaxing effect in the first century AD, and ruins of their ancient baths have been found in the Obuda section of Budapest. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Hungary was occupied by the Ottoman Turks, who established Turkish bath houses along the banks of the Danube River in Budapest—where the river water’s interaction with a geographic fault results in an especially high concentration of thermal springs. Several of the facilities founded during the Ottoman occupation are still open and in use to this day.
While numerous amenities are available at most Hungarian baths—including foot and body massages, aromatherapy treatments, pedicures, and more—the prime activity is to simply enjoy the waters in outdoor and indoor pools, steam rooms, and saunas. The water emerges from the springs at temperatures ranging from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to nearly 170 degrees, depending on the spring. Chemically, notable deposits of calcium are present in Budapest’s thermal waters, along with traces of magnesium bicarbonate, sulphatechloride, fluoride ion, and sodium.
One of the most popular of Budapest’s baths is the Gellert Spa, which is located next to the Gellert Hotel. From where your ship is docked, you can get to the Gellert on foot or via inexpensive taxi ride—consult your Program Director for more information. While the springs here have been in use since the 13th century, the current spa was built in 1918, and features impressive Art Nouveau architecture and intricate tile work. There, you can enjoy the use of many indoor and outdoor baths, invigorating steam rooms, and the sauna—along with a private locked stall (called a “cabin”) for changing.
In addition to a soothing soak, whichever spa you choose to visit will provide a memorable cultural experience. The locals and fellow visitors are congenial and welcoming, and bathing suits and flip-flops are required. You’ll find that observing the families, couples, and friends who gather regularly to recharge amidst the thermal waters is nearly as engaging the waters themselves.