Buda Bath


Bathing in Budapest

While soaking up the feel-good properties of thermal waters may be a national pastime in Hungary, Budapest’s historic bathhouses are also making a splash as crazy clubbing locales.

On a crisp autumn afternoon in Budapest, throwing on a bathing suit to take the plunge in an open-air pool may sound more like a cruel practical joke than a blissful wellness centre activity. But as you take to the mineral-rich thermal waters – surrounded by clusters of gossiping ladies and well-groomed gents standing in a steamy mist around plastic chessboards pondering their next Big Move – the tension-relieving appeal of this aquatic landmark becomes abundantly clear.

This is the Széchenyi Bath, one of the most emblematic and extravagant hot water havens in Budapest, which sits a top a metro station in the middle of City Park. A sprawling egg-yolk yellow complex built in a palatial neo-Baroque style in 1913, Széchenyi houses a variety of saunas and steam baths, as well as over a dozen pools ranging from glacially cold to blazing hot, including the iconic mistcovered oval outdoor ones.

Cashing in on the mineral springs percolating deep within the Earth’s core, the Ancient Romans were the first to put Hungary’s liquid resources on the maps, followed by the Ottoman Turks around the 16th century. The Turks bestowed an aquatic obsession on the nation’s psyche by building several bathing temples, a few of which are still operating today. One place continuing to ooze Ottoman-period charm is the Király Bath, situated just a few steps from Batthyány Square. The octagonal thermal pool and surrounding corner baths – set to temperatures of between 26 and 40 degrees Celsius – are atmospherically lit by tiny skylights in the ‘moon crescent’ dome. Age-old traditions are also adhered to in the dressing department, with single-sex bathing days being bare-all affairs. More recent co-ed opportunities require proper cover-ups.

Far from being just rejuvenating relics of the past, bathhouses across the city are rolling with the tide of the times by hosting wild aqua parties. This winter, the Turkish style sanctum of the renovated Rudas Baths, for example, gets an electrifying overnight makeover during the Magic Baths party series. Organized by the riotous Cinetrip crew every Saturday evening from November throughout March, these steamy raves are some of the wettest and ildest events in town. In the larger pool area, glowing lasers and cinematic projections stream across domed and colonnaded interiors as hundreds of bikini-clad revellers wriggle like mermaids to electro music spun by the country’s hottest DJs.

Meanwhile, in the chill-out zone, sultry belly-dancers and acrobats entertain more laid-back crowds to Oriental beats. Now that’s taking liquid therapy to a whole new level.