Budapest: Széchenyi Baths Vs. Rudas Baths

Posted November 11, 2019 by in Lifestyle
bath house in budapest

I love to see and experience new things, and my dream has always been to travel the world. Thanks to this blog, that has become a reality for me. I spent 2.5 months in Sweden with one of my very good friends, and due to visa laws (womp), I can only stay in the European Union for a total of 90-days at a time. My original plan was to stay in Sweden for the duration of those 90-days, with the intention of exploring the other Scandinavian countries nearby on weekends, but change of plans!

I decided to spend my last two weeks in Europe traveling to cities I have never been to, and Budapest was my first destination. I have wanted to go to Hungary for a very long time, especially since Budapest is known for its thermal baths. New York is known for being the city that never sleeps; Paris is known for being the city of light; and Budapest is known for being the city of spas. The reason for this is due to its location; the Danube River, which separates the city, flows on a fault line. This has created over 100 thermal springs. The Romans were very interested in these thermal springs, which is why they decided to settle in present-day Budapest in 100 AD. The Romans started the spa culture here in Budapest, but the Turks fine-tuned it. Both the Romans and the Turks believed that the dissolved minerals in the thermal springs had medicinal properties to promote relaxation and to relieve pain in the joints and muscles. Is that true? Who knows.

Most of the baths you see in Budapest today were constructed by the Turks from 1541–1686. Yup…that old. According to Wikipedia, Budapest gained its reputation as a city of spas in the 1920s, following the first realization of the economic potential of the thermal waters in drawing in visitors.

Now there are numerous spas/baths in Budapest, but there the most popular are: Széchenyi Baths, Rudas Baths, Lukács Baths, Gellért Baths, and Király Baths. I would have liked to have gone to all five, but I was only able to go to two; Széchenyi Baths and Rudas Baths.

If you’re about to head to Budapest and all of the spa options are overwhelming, check out my review for both spas below, as well as what to bring with you to the spa:

review of baths and spas in budapest

What to Bring

This goes for all of the spas in Budapest, not just the two I visited:

  • Swimsuit
  • 2 Towels (one for you to use while at the spa, and another to keep in your locker or cabin for your shower before you leave. The towel you use while at the spa will get soaking wet and will be utterly useless when you need to actually get dry on your way out.)
  • Flip-flops (they are required when walking around the spa.)
  • Body Wash
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Hair Detangler (I love the one from It’s a 10.)
  • Deodorant
  • Body Lotion
  • Face Lotion
  • Hairbrush
  • Hair Ties
  • Water Bottle (There are fountains everywhere, and you’ll need to drink a lot due to all of the saunas and steam rooms.)
  • Swim Cap (Only if you want to swim in the lap pool.)

Széchenyi Baths

The Széchenyi Spa is the largest bath house in all of Europe, and it’s the only bath house on the Pest side. Budapest is split into two parts (separated by the river). One side is called Buda, the other Pest. The Széchenyi Baths are also the most well-known and the most popular with tourists (just ahead of the Géllert Baths). I decided to go to this one first due to its popularity, size, and grandeur. If you have ever seen a photo of a Hungarian Bath House, it was most likely this one. The outside of this Hungarian spa literally looks like a palace fit for royalty.

Booking: I decided to book the full day-pass with a cabin along with a 45-minute thermal massage. The price was €80. I ordered online and paid using my PayPal account. You can’t book a specific time for your massage, you just need to put in your desired time. They will then send you an email with your time. I received my email at 9am the morning of my booking. I requested 2pm, and I was given the time of 4:30pm…more on that later.

Note: You can choose between a cabin or a locker. I recommend you book a cabin at this specific spa for privacy reasons. If you choose only a locker, you will have to change in a small bathroom or in a shower stall (that is soaking wet, not fun when you are leaving and you want to be dry). 

Getting There: It was very easy to get to this spa using public transportation. I only needed to take one bus and it dropped me only a five minute walk away. Getting into the right section of Széchenyi Baths? Now that’s another story. The place is huge!

The first entrance I walked into, I was told to “take a right and go into the next entrance.” I followed the directions and was told the same exact thing: “turn right and go into the other entrance”

I finally found the correct entrance after circling the whole entire place.

Note: The correct entrance is on the side of the circus. If you don’t see a circus entrance directly across the street, you’re not walking into the correct entrance. 

Checking-In: The check-in was pretty easy, they give you a waterproof wristband however I did have an issue with my massage booking. Due to overbooking, they had to move my 4:30pm appointment to 6:30pm. I arrived at the spa at 3pm, so that was frustrating.

I didn’t like that they didn’t share the number of my cabin with me. I had to find someone to help me figure it out when I got to where all of the cabins and lockers were. The place is huge, so I wish they had someone always available for questions. They do have stands where people are supposed to be to help you, but I found them empty most of the time. It took me about five minutes to find someone to help me find my cabin number to change.

Note: Overall, it took me about 40 minutes to walk from the bus stop, find the correct entrance, check-in, find my cabin, and then change. Definitely factor that in if you have a massage or other service booked. 

First Impression: The bathrooms, cabins, lockers…all very outdated. The food/drink area, also very outdated and nothing looked appealing. The main outdoor pool, very pretty! Unfortunately there was harsh fluorescent lighting everywhere which I didn’t like. A spa should never have fluorescent lighting in my opinion, it gave the place a high school locker room vibe instead of a spa vibe.

Massage: I really didn’t enjoy my massage, I felt like someone was just rubbing lotion on me for 45. I was also freezing the whole time. You’re wet from the spa and you have your swimsuit on. The room should be heated more, or the massage table should be heated. I definitely don’t recommend it. Waste of money! I even said he could go firmer, but he just didn’t. I paid for the deep-tissue version, too. He spoke English, so I don’t think it was a language barrier.

I highly recommend you just do a full-pass without a massage. I went on a weekday, and it would have only cost me about $24 if I just did a full day-pass with a cabin without the massage. Instead, it was about $88 USD. Seriously though, pass on paying extra for a massage. I’m trying to save you money here!

Value: If I only went to the spa (instead of getting a massage), the price would have been totally fine at only €21 (about $24 USD). However spending the additional €60 for the (terrible) 45 minute thermal massage made the value not beneficial for me.

Note: The Széchenyi Baths are the most expensive in Budapest. 

Overall Opinion: The building is very pretty, and it’s definitely a unique experience, especially due to the size and architecture outside. However I was very underwhelmed at the end of the day. After the big outdoor heated pool, you walk into the building to experience a variety of immersion pools at different temperatures as well as different saunas, both dry and steam. If you looked up at the ceiling, very pretty, but it kind of looked like a huge high school locker room inside or a fancy gym from the 80’s (there’s also terrible fluorescent lighting). Due to the popularity of this specific spa, there are a ton of tourists, not a problem. However it was very annoying when you were in the dry sauna or steam room and you had people walking in-and-out constantly…letting out the heat and steam. The saunas here are also pretty tiny, which doesn’t help.

I was impressed with the size, but that’s about it. It’s like a maze in there! However there were little to no maps, so you just needed to walk around. There was also very little signage, not even in Hungarian.

If you do want to go to the Széchenyi Baths and you like to party, I recommend you go to one of the spa parties. Every Saturday, Széchenyi Baths has what they call a Sparty. I was in Budapest during the week, so I was unable to go. I think experiencing this specific bath for a night party might have changed my opinion for the better.

Should You Go?

The Széchenyi Baths are touristy, but this specific spa is the largest in Europe, so it’s definitely a unique experience. However I don’t think it’s an authentic Hungarian experience. If you do go, I recommend you go during the week; it was busy, but not overly crowded. I have a feeling it would be a bit too overwhelming on a weekend, especially during the summer (I went early November). If you can only go on a weekend, maybe give the Sparty a try. I also have a feeling that the Széchenyi Baths would be dreamy during the winter due to the hot outdoor bath.

If you can only go to one spa on your Budapest trip, this specific spa is the one to go to due to its iconic popularity and size however I think they are due for an update for their locker/cabin area.

review of Széchenyi Baths in budapest

Rudas Baths

While the Rudas Baths are nowhere near the size of Széchenyi Baths, this spa is even more opulent if you’re in the original part of the building (and not the addition). Széchenyi was built in 1913, while Rudas was built in the 16th century during the Ottoman Empire; so the architecture is Turkish and old. It was build in 1550! The area around the spa is also very beautiful.

I didn’t expect to go to this spa, but it ended up pouring the day I intended to do sightseeing. That’s a great thing about Budapest, if it’s raining, you can just go to one of the city’s famous spas instead of staying at your hostel or hotel moping around.

Booking: I actually didn’t pre-book like I did with the Széchenyi Baths since it was a last minute decision. I went on a Tuesday at about 3:30 (Tuesday is the only day women can go…more on that later). I just walked in and bought my ticket. I ended up doing a locker (not a cabin) with full access to all of the areas for 5 200 Ft (about $17 USD). Despite my terrible massage experience at Széchenyi, I did decide to book one at Rudas. Instead of a thermal deep tissue massage, I booked a 35-minute water massage for 5 500 Ft, about $18 USD. There was no problem with me not pre-booking in advance.

Note: This spa has three sections; the thermal section, the wellness section, and the swimming pool. If you’re female and you want to enjoy the thermal section (with the thermal water and the original architecture from the 16th century), you can only do so on Tuesdays (when it is women-only) and on the weekends starting Friday night at 10pm (when it’s unisex). It’s unfortunately men-only Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. However this is the only gender separated bath in Budapest. If you are female and you do go on a day when it’s men only, you can still enjoy the wellness section with the rooftop pool, just not the thermal section (which would be a big mistake to miss). 

Getting There: It was very easy to get there from my hostel location on the other side of the river via public transportation. The public transportation system in Budapest is so easy to use and from my experience, everything was on time. I just used Google Maps on my phone.

If you don’t want to take public transportation, you can download the Bolt app for a cab. It’s similar to Uber and Lyft.

Checking-In: So much easier than at Széchenyi as there was only one entrance. The woman who checked me in was extremely friendly and helpful. Once I booked everything and paid, she gave me my waterproof wristband so I could enter the facilities and use a locker.

First Impression: Wow, wow, wow! So much better than Széchenyi. All of the changing facilities and lockers were brand new and the location of everything was self-explanatory. There were also changing rooms (which Széchenyi didn’t have, that’s why I booked a cabin instead of a locker).

Unlike the cabins at Széchenyi, the lockers weren’t pre-assigned, so all I had to do was pick an empty locker and activate it by using my wristband.

Once I changed and put my stuff in a locker, I went to the help desk to ask where to go. Rudas is very large as well. The guy was extremely friendly and welcoming, and shocker, actually helpful. I felt like I spent most of my time looking for someone to help me at the other bath. Since there were many sections, here is my take on each:

Thermal Area – This area was stunning and so worth the visit. There are a variety of immersion pools at various temperatures; from ice cold to extremely hot. The lighting was also pretty dim, so it had this peacefulness that Széchenyi did not have.

Wellness Area – This was the modern spa section. It was luxe and spotless and I loved the colorful yellow shower tiles. The saunas were large and so was the steam room. Very luxurious. The wellness area also includes immersion pools.

There’s also a rooftop hot tub with a stunning view of Budapest, and the restaurant can be found in the wellness section.

Swimming Area – I didn’t go to a spa to swim, but it looked nice. If you do use a swimming pool in a Hungarian spa, all you can do is laps; it’s not for leisure.

Food and Bar Area – There are various locations throughout to grab a bite to eat; everything looked good and the Rudas Bistro was chic and it didn’t have a dress code. All food and bar areas were modern and nice, while the food areas for Széchenyi seemed gross and outdated.

turkish dome rudas baths budapest

Massage: I enjoyed my water massage at Rudas Baths way more than my thermal massage at Széchenyi Baths (that one was just an expensive joke tbh). I had never experienced a water massage before, so it was quite the experience. They massage you with a soapy foam while you lay on a stone table. Every few minutes they douse you in very hot water. For the price (about $18 USD), it was so worth it.

Value: So worth it! My Rudas Bath experience was about half the price of my Széchenyi Bath experience and I enjoyed my time so much more. Rudas was a total of $40 USD, and that included the entrance to all sections, a towel rental, and a 35-minute water massage.

For comparison, the other bath cost me $88 USD (without a towel rental.)

Overall Opinion: I really enjoyed my time at the Rudas Baths. Infinitely more than Széchenyi. There was no harsh lighting in the thermal section, and while the wellness section was bright, the tone was warm (as it should be). The thermal bath section was also gorgeous. So much more beautiful than the other bath, although that is due to the architecture difference; Széchenyi was built in 1913, and Rudas was built in 1550. What makes Széchenyi pretty is the exterior, not the spa itself. It’s the other way around for Rudas. The outside is meh, but the inside is stunning.

I enjoyed the thermal section for about 45 minutes, then went over to the wellness section to try those pools, check out the rooftop, and go in the saunas before my water massage back in the thermal section. After my massage, I went into the immersion pools again just to decompress, and then I went to the rooftop pool. So fun! You’re also able to order at the bar and enjoy your drink in the tub. The view was also gorgeous.

I finished my time there by going into the steam sauna, followed by the aroma sauna, and then the salt sauna. I ended up leaving relaxed and happy! I felt like this bath in Budapest was a more authentic Hungarian Spa experience over Széchenyi.

Note: Since I went on a women-only day, the thermal section was pretty much swimsuit optional. Tourists wore swimsuits, but the locals didn’t. Just wanted to give you a heads up! 

Should You Go? Yes! 100 times yes! I went alone, so I didn’t have to worry about leaving a male friend behind on my thermal section experience. If you’re doing a girl’s trip to Budapest, I highly recommend you make Rudas Baths a destination for you and your group on a Tuesday.

If there are men in your travel group, definitely go to this bath on a weekend when it’s unisex. However it may be crowded. Like Széchenyi, Rudas also has a Sparty; it’s open until 4am on Friday night and Saturday night. Rudas becomes unisex for all sections at 10pm on Friday.

Turkish bath in Budapest Hungary

I really hope you enjoyed my comparison of two popular Hungarian Baths in Budapest. Even though I enjoyed Rudas baths more, I’m happy I was able to go to both. The next time I go to Budapest, I want to experience both Lukács Baths and Király Baths as they seem to be more popular with the locals.

Below are some final tips:  

  • Put your hair in a braid to avoid painful knots
  • Bring extra hair ties
  • Drink a ton of water before, during, and after your Hungarian Spa experience.
  • Don’t get a massage at Széchenyi
  • Avoid going to all of the baths in Budapest on weekends due to crowding (unless you go to a Sparty).
  • Take your time! Plan on spending 3+ hours at the spa.
  • Bring two towels! Believe me on this one.
  • Don’t rush, there are a lot of stairs and hallways to walk through. Just take your time; no need to fall.
  • Go with friends! I went by myself (so the self-care was nice), but I did get lonely. Both spas also made me very aware that I didn’t have a boyfriend 😂.
  • End your time at the spa with a hot bowl of goulash either at the Rudas Bistro or at a Hungarian Diner near your hostel or hotel. I personally loved the goulash at Rákóczi Étterem.

Have you ever been to Budapest? Let us know in the comments below!