The GellÃƒÂ©rt Baths, associated with the GellÃƒÂ©rt Hotel, are the most famous and tourist-friendly baths (or spa, in the most traditional sense of the word) in Budapest. They’re located on the Buda side of the river, and are easily reached by hopping on the #19 tram, which runs north-south along the west side of the river. Look for the first stop including the term ‘GellÃƒÂ©rt’. It’s about the fifth stop along, and occurs just as the tram turns away from the river.
You enter the baths around the corner to the right from the main entrance to the hotel. The baths’ lobby is vaulted, and enormous.
I’ve only been the one time, but things can be a bit confusing. Here’s my step-by-step description on how to negotiate the bath process:
- As with all things, beat your fellow tourists by going early. We arrived by 8:45am and pretty much only saw locals until about 10:00am.
- If you speak English or German, you’re presented with two enormous price lists for the pool and baths. These are daunting and confusing as hell. The admission price to the baths and the pool are the same, and you can use both once you’re inside. The only difference is the entrance you choose. I recommend going with the pool.
- You can rent swimsuits, bathrobes and towels. You pay for these at the ticket booth along with your admission. They also take a steep deposit on these items. If you’re just going to the baths and pool, you don’t need a bathrobe–everybody just pads around in their swimsuits.
- Pay the ticket lady. Most people will just want a pool admission plus anything you might need to rent. She’ll give you a scannable card for admission, and a series of paper receipts for any items you’re renting.
- Give the scannable card to the attendant minding the turnstile. He’ll scan it for you and direct you to the pool.
- Follow attendants’ directions through some labyrinthine passageways to the changing area. Both genders go together.
- When you arrive at the changing area, give the attendant your rental receipts. She’ll give you the items you rented, and direct you to a tiny cabin where your group can change. She speaks a wonderful creole of languages: “Numero fÃƒÂ¼nf!” “Finito?” “Voici your key.”
- Get changed in the cabin.
- The attendant keeps your cabin key, but gives you a token with your cabin number on it. Tie this securely to your swimsuit. The cabin door locks automatically behind you.
- Proceed to the gorgeous, glass ceilinged swimming area. All of the rooms are extraordinary examples of Art Noveau decor. Don’t forget to look up.
- The pool area has two pools: a regular temperature lap pool and a warmer wading pool. If you’re so inclined, go for a swim.
- If you arrive early in the day (I believe the baths open at 6:00am), you’ll see that they’re populated almost exclusively by senior citizens. They meander around with varying degrees of spryness, and orbit the lap pool like slow-motion fun fair cars.
- The entrance to the baths is at the far end of the pool room, to the right. In the baths area, there are two wading pools, one slightly warmer than the other. It’s very pleasant to linger in one or the other, stretch out aching muscles, and dream early 20th century daydreams.
- There are showers here, should you want one.
- Past the showers, there are the two remaining basic aquatic services. First, visit the steamroom, which is the hottest, wettest, most suffocating room in the country. I declined to enter, fearing that ten seconds later the white-clad attendants would be hauling my pasty, unconscious Canadian body back onto the pool deck.
- Marvel at how the old ladies just frickin’ hang out in the steamroom.
- Outside the steamroom there’s a plunge pool set to a nard-shattering eight degrees Celsius. If you can handle the steam, risk cardiac arrest and wade into this pool.
- Dawdle amongst the sundry pools and baths for as long as you like.
- Once you’re finished, locate the cabin attendant to open your cabin.
- Return your rented items to the cabin attendant. She’ll give you your receipts back. Tip the attendant a couple hundred forints.
- Wind your way back to the main lobby. Give the scannable card to the attendant at the turnstile. If you’ve been there less than three hours, you get a small refund. He scans your card, you walk through the turnstile, and gather your refund from a small machine on the wall to your right.
- Return to the ticket window with your receipts to claim your refund. Regardless of how you paid, you get your refund back in cash. Hence, the baths are a handy way to get cash back off your Visa card without the associated fee.
- You’re done! Strong work! If you’re feeling spry, there’s a nice walk up the hill across the street. Don’t miss the cave church on the way up.