The next time I flew to Budapest I knew that I would be in Hungary for a longer duration and was waiting to discover the places I had not been to. We always drive to Budapest over the weekends. The drive is good as we take the M7 Motorway which is a toll road. In Hungary, you need a vignette to drive on all the motorways. If you are driving to Budapest, expect some traffic in the city. If you are searching for free parking spaces, try Arena Plaza which is a mall offering free parking spaces all 7 days a week. I always park here. It was so cold now, so different from my first visit.
Budapest in Winter:
Budapest looked so different now in winter. Winter of 2016-17 was the most severe winter I have ever faced. The temp. were Max. -10 deg Celsius and Min of -20 deg Celsius. These temperatures nearly froze the mighty Danube. There were floating ice sheets on the Danube and it looked beautiful. Budapest covered in snow is beautiful.
The Christmas markets of course add to the charm. The biggest market is in the Vorosmarty square with so many stalls of handicrafts, street food, candies, and of course the hot mulled wine. Of course the wine is nothing like the famous German Glüh wine nor are the markets as charming as the German Christmas markets. However, it is a nice place to get typical Hungarian products like the Hungarian porcelain, the different types of Magyar (Hungarian) paprika, lavender products from Tihany (a beautiful place in Balaton where they grow lavender) etc.
I was walking on the Chain Bridge towards the Buda side admiring the beautiful evening hues and the icy Danube. I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. I was waiting to get to the hot thermal bath! Oh yes! Budapest has a culture of thermal baths which they adopted from the Ottoman Turks. The city has many thermal baths out of which I have visited three of them.
I was not very familiar with the concept of thermal baths and wellness centers. So, for those of you who are first-timers like I was, here’s some basics. All the Thermal baths in Budapest have outdoor thermal pools (some with wave pools), then there are thermal indoor pools and a separate sauna area. There are swimming pools as well. There are private rooms/spaces for massages. You can buy combined tickets which allow access to all the areas. You always have to book massages separately everywhere. The tickets range from 15-25 EUR. You have to wear your swim wear in all the sections.
- Szechenyi Thermal Baths – This is one of the most famous and the most visited by tourists and locals alike. It is located in the city park and close to Heroes Square. I think Szechenyi has the best outdoor thermal pools. They have one swimming pool and 2 thermal pools (32 and 36 deg. Celsius) and it is a great, relaxing experience. It can get crowded in the summer but as long as you have your partner, the crowds don’t matter ;). I realized the thermal baths and sauna are a great activity for couples and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
- Rudas baths – These are Turkish baths located on the Buda side of the city. I have been to these baths twice and this is my favourite bath in Budapest. Rudas baths were recently renovated and they have 2 sections. One is the new, modern thermal baths, sauna area which is located on the first floor. But what makes Rudas my favourite is the old part of the baths on the ground floor. There is a huge octagonal bath in the center surrounded by smaller thermal pools around it. I love this place. It is exactly how I had imagined a thermal bath would be like. The octagonal bath area is not open all the days for both men and women. So check the website and make sure you go at the right time. Another highlight and unique experience you can have here is a panorama thermal pool with a view of the city. Don’t miss this. We went end of Feb. and it wasn’t very cold and we enjoyed the night view of the city.
- St. Gellert’s baths – I had so much expectations from this bath and sadly I was thoroughly disappointed after visiting them. The swimming pool is really nice and big. After a nice swim we went to the indoor thermal pool areas. It was freezing to go to the outside pools. The indoor pools are good but not great. I expected a lot of pools like Rudas but there weren’t many. The sauna area was also not so big and was just okay. The changing rooms and locker room areas were so dimly lit. I felt everything was really old and really needed some renovation.
- Lukacs baths – This is another bath on the Buda side but I haven’t visited this one.
SPARTY – This concept of Party in a Spa is a unique experience in Budapest. Sparty is organized every Saturday in Szechenyi baths in the summer. In the winter, Sparties are held in Lukacs baths. I have not been to a Sparty because of the mixed reviews I have got about them. I have heard many negative reviews that the crowd is very unruly and that the thermal pools get very dirty (get the hint 😉 ?) after a while and so on. Plus if I want to go to a sparty I want to go to Szechenyi, so I am waiting for summer. Sparties are not cheap as well. They are mainly aimed at tourists so the price for one person is around 50 EUR. Plus you have to pay for drinks which are very expensive as well.
There is so much to do in Budapest, and the city is beautiful in every season. I loved it in the summer and it’s so charming in the winter. I am sure everyone will find something to do here, whether you are foodie, just want to relax, a museum geek or even want an adventure (check my blog on cave tour, day trip from Budapest). I hope you have got a good idea what to do or what not to do the next time you are in Budapest.