Budapest Activities


You (and your kids) will never be bored in Budapest. Whether it be relaxing in one of the city’s famous thermal baths or hitting the shops, there is something for everyone here.

Budapest’s Thermal baths

One of the very special things about Budapest is the prevalence of thermal springs right in the centre of the city. There are 118 springs and boreholes altogether, supplying the city’s spas and baths with 15.4 million gallons of water daily ranging in temperature from 70 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (21-78°C).
One of the reasons the Romans first colonized the area immediately to the west of the River Danube and established their regional capital at Aquincum (now part of Óbuda, in northern Budapest) is so that they could utilize and enjoy the thermal springs. There are still ruins visible today of the enormous baths that were built during that period. The new baths that were constructed during the Turkish period (1541-1686) served both bathing and medicinal purposes, and some of these are happily still in use to this day. Budapest really gained its reputation as a city of spas in the 1920’s, following the first realization of the economic potential of the thermal waters in drawing in visitors. Indeed in 1934 Budapest was officially ranked as a “City of Spas.” Today, the baths are mostly frequented by the older generation, as, with the exception of the “Magic Bath” water discos, young people tend to prefer the lidos which are open in the summer.
Király Thermal Baths
II. Fő u. 84.
Construction of the Király Baths started in 1565, and most of the present-day building dates from the Turkish period, including most notably the fine cupola-topped pool. In 1796 they were bought, renovated and extended by a family called König. König is the German word meaning “king,” and it is the Hungarian word Király with the same meaning that the Baths are known by today. Altogether there are four pools, the medicinal water for which is pumped in from the nearby Lukács Baths.
Water temperatures: 79, 90, 99, 104 °F (26, 32, 36, 40ºC). Water surface area: 86, 108, 732, 42 sq. ft.
Water mineral content: thermal water containing nitrates, calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates and sulphate-chlorides, as well as fluoride ions in significant quantities.
Opening times: Men only: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 9.0 a.m. – 8 p.m. Women only: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 7.0 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Rudas Medicinal Baths
I. Döbrentei tér 9.
The Rudas Baths are not only superbly centrally placed – in the narrow strip of land between Gellért Hill and the River Danube – they are also an outstanding example of architecture dating from the Turkish period. The central feature is an octagonal pool over which light is thrown from a 30-foot diameter cupola, supported by eight pillars.
Water temperatures: 61-108°F (16-42°C). Pools: swimming pool and six further medicinal pools. Water mineral content: slightly radioactive thermal water containing nitrates, sulphates and calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates, as well as fluoride ions in significant quantities.
Opening times: Weekdays 6.0 a.m. – 8.0 p.m. Weekends 6.0 a.m. – 1.0 p.m. From 1936 up until 2005 the oldest, Turkish baths were open to men only. Since December 2005, in order to comply with a sex discrimination ruling, they have also been open to female bathers on certain days of the week.
Water temperatures in the medicinal baths: 61, 82, 86, 91, 99, 108 °F (16, 28, 30, 33, 36, 42 °C). Water surface area: 54, 97, 97, 97, 1,039, 97 sq. ft.
Water temperature in the swimming pool: 84°F (29 °C). Water surface area: 2,992 sq. ft. Water mineral content: slightly radioactive thermal water containing nitrates, sulphates and calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates, as well as fluoride ions in significant quantities.
Gellért Baths
XI. Kelenhegyi út 4.
The Gellért Baths and Hotel were built in 1918, although there had once been Turkish baths on the site, and in the Middle Ages a hospital. In 1927 the Baths were extended to include the wave pool, and the effervescent bath was added in 1934. With its immaculately preserved Art Nouveau interior, including colourful mosaics, marble columns, stained glass windows and statues, this is without doubt the most beautiful bathing complex in Budapest.
The Gellért Baths were an immediate international success, and were even the scene of an early political scandal. In 1931 a visiting black doctor, Dr. Ramon Costello (who happened to be Cuban), was refused to the Baths on the grounds there were some white American visitors there, and, since there was still racial segregation in America, they objected to his presence. Costello took the matter to the City Council, and they found in his favour.
Water temperatures: 79-100°F (26-38°C). Pools: open air wave pool, thermal pool and children’s pool, indoor swimming-effervescent pool and nine medicinal pools.
Water mineral content: thermal water containing nitrates, calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates and sulphate-chlorides, as well as fluoride ions in significant quantities.
Opening times: Weekdays 6.0 a.m. – 7.0 p.m. Weekends 6.0 a.m. – 5.0 p.m.
Lukács Medicinal Baths
II. Frankel Leó u. 25-29.
The Lukács Baths are also in Buda and are also Turkish in origin, although they were only revived at the end of the nineteenth century. This was also when the spa and treatment centre were founded. Happily, there is still something of an atmosphere of fin-de-siècle about the place, and all around the inner courtyard there are marble tablets recalling the thanks of patrons who were cured there. Since the 1950’s it has been regarded as a centre for intellectuals and artists.
Water temperatures: 72-104°F (22-40°C). Pools: two outdoor swimming pools, fun pool, five indoor thermal pools.
Water mineral content: thermal water containing nitrates, calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates and sulphate-chlorides, as well as fluoride ions in significant quantities.
Opening times: Weekdays 6.0 a.m. – 7.0 p.m. Weekends 6.0 a.m. – 5.0 p.m.
Széchenyi Baths
XIV. Állatkerti körút 11.
The Széchenyi Baths are one of the largest bathing complexes in all Europe, and the only “old” medicinal baths to be found in the Pest side of the city. The indoor medicinal baths date from 1913 and the outdoor pools from 1927. There is an atmosphere of grandeur about the whole place with the bright, largest pools resembling aspects associated with Roman baths, the smaller bath tubs reminding one of the bathing culture of the Greeks, and the saunas and diving pools borrowed from traditions emanating in northern Europe. The three outdoor pools (one of which is a fun pool) are open all year, including winter. Indoors there are over ten separate pools, and a whole host of medical treatments is also available.
The thermal water is drawn from both natural springs and a 3,000-foot deep artesian well drilled in the 1870’s (the temperature of the water coming from this well is 165°F (74°C)). If you have seen winter pictures of men playing chess in an outdoor pool while the steam rises around them, then this is where they were taken.
Water temperatures: 68-100°F (20-38°C). Pools: outdoor swimming pool, fun pool and thermal pool, twelve indoor thermal pools. Water mineral content: thermal water containing nitrates, calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonates and sulphate-chlorides, as well as fluoride ions and metaboric acid in significant quantities.
Opening times: Daily 6.0 a.m. – 10.0 p.m.

Budapest Parks

Budapest’s favourite park is without a doubt the Margaret Island, named after Princess Margaret, who lived in a convent here in the thirteenth century (the ruins of which can still be seen). The former water tower is a UNESCO protected monument and is now an unusual exhibition space. The open-air theatre is a popular venue for performances of opera and ballet in the summer months. What with the musical fountain and the centuries-old trees, a walk around Margaret Island is a pleasure at any time of the year. There are no cars are allowed, but bicycles can be hired and the number 26 bus runs the entire length. There is a swimming pool, lido, two hotels and a number of eateries.
Gellért Hill is another very popular place, largely because of its fantastic views over the city. The big statue near the base of the hill is of Bishop Saint Gellért, martyred on this spot in the eleventh century, and the buildings comprising the Citadel on the top mark the putting down by the Habsburgs of the War of Independence in 1848. There is a small chapel built into the south face of the hill. Resembling the one at Lourdes it dates originally from 1926, but after being forcibly closed for many years it was reopened in 1989.
The largest green space in Pest is the City Park, and at weekends it is visited by large numbers of families looking either to relax or to enjoy some of its many attractions. The Museums of Fine Arts, the Palace of Arts, the Millenary Monument and Vajdahunyad Castle were all constructed as part of Hungary’s millennial celebrations in 1896, but here visitors will also find the Zoo, the Fun Fair, the Circus, the Széchenyi Baths, the Transport Museum, and – much favoured by young people – the Petőfi Hall. In summer there is pleasant rowing on the small lake; in winter ice skating. It is lovely to walk or bicycle under the shade of the mature trees.
Népliget (People’s Park), to the south-east of the city centre, became a public park in 1860. Covering nearly 300 acres it a pleasant mix of trees, flowers and grass, with some of the inner paths lined with statues. It is also the location of the Planetarium, under whose 75-foot-wide dome are projected wonderful astronomic shows as well as laser shows to the accompaniment of both pop and classical music. A small part of Népliget is named Centenarium Park, to commemorate the centenary of the unification of Buda, Pest and Óbuda in 1873.
The Buda Hills are to the north-west of the capital. These gentle hills, ranging in height from 1,300 to 1,600 feet, are popular places for nature-lovers and walkers. There are designated paths through the forests that are suitable for both walking and cycling. There are some interesting ways of getting here. The Cogwheel Railway runs from Városmajor to Széchenyi Hill; with the exception of the engine driver, the Children’s Railway, from Széchenyi Hill to Hűvösvölgy, is run entirely by children. Look out for the steam-hauled special services. The Chair Lift is a fun way of getting up to János Hill, from where there are superb views over the whole of Budapest.
At Sas Hill there is a 74-acre nature reserve (entrance, with a guide only, at XI. Tájék u. 26); it is an unparalleled oasis of tranquillity in a capital city of two million inhabitants. There are examples of flora from the Dolomites, from the Mediterranean and the steppes of Russia. There are rare animals too – including ladybird spiders, which, distinguished by their black-spotted red abdomen, like to rest on the rocks basking in the sun; also the snake-eyed skink, which, like its name suggests, resembles a snake, although it has legs and is in fact a lizard.

Shopping in Budapest

Nowadays Budapest is once again becoming known to visitors as much for being a mecca for shoppers – a reputation which last held true a century ago – as for being a country that for half of that century had been held in the ruthless grip of Communism. Whilst from the 1950’s onwards there was never any shortage of basic foods, generations of locals and visitors alike were denied the finer things in life. Nowadays there are two trends discernable amongst retailers in Budapest: “big is beautiful” and “small is beautiful.” Which is to say that there are now a host of huge shopping malls which have revolutionized people’s approach to shopping. The biggest, and from an architectural point of view perhaps the most interesting, is the West End City Centre (www.westend.hu), situated between Nyugati tér and Lehel tér in Pest. But perhaps surprisingly, the number of smaller outlets offering “luxury” goods and services has also mushroomed. There are now, for example, places where one can buy antique style building materials, where one can have pictures framed, or buy fine cheeses, pipes and tobacco, books from the time of Newton, bakelite records, Wagner manuscripts and antique clocks. Two elements of the Budapest shopping experience that really should not be missed out on are a visit to one of the market halls and a trip out to the Ecseri Flea Market. But then there is also much to be discovered by taking a walk down Falk Miksa utca. This Pest street, like certain areas in Paris and Rome, has become a centre for antique shops.

Market Halls

Central Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok) (V. Vámház körút 1-3.) In olden times this most famous of market halls was connected to the River Danube by a tunnel so that goods could be directly offloaded from barges and taken inside to the stalls for sale. Upstairs is a stunning – although sometimes pricey – range of folk art inspired goods.
Hold utca Market (V. Hold utca 13.) Like a jewel in the centre of Pest, quite close to the Parliament.
Rákóczi tér Market (VIII. Rákóczi tér 7-9.) More representative of everyday Budapest, rarely frequented by tourists.
Hunyadi tér Market (VI. Hunyadi tér) Dating from 1897, this is the only one that has not been renovated since the political changes in 1990. There is a good delicatessen.
Klauzál tér Market (VII. Klauzál tér) In the centre of the old Jewish Quarter.
Batthyány tér Market (I. Batthyány tér 5.) This, the only one in Buda, was lovingly restored in 2003. Upstairs are shops, a nice café and a fantastic view over one of the city’s finest squares and across the River Danube towards the Parliament.

Other Interesting Market and Shops

Ecseri Flea Market
1194 Nagykőrösi út 156.
Budapest Flea Market,
(outside the Petőfi Hall)
1146 Zichy Mihály út 14.
Pintér
V. Falk Miksa utca 10.
Nagyházi Gallery
V. Budapest, Balaton utca 8., corner of Falk Miksa utca.
Múzeum körút
(Centre for antiquarian booksellers)
V. Múzeum körút, from Astoria to Kálvin tér.

What to bring back from Hungary

(apart from memories)
Tokaji Wine: It is a fact that only white grapes tend to be grown in the Tokaj region of northeastern Hungary. What might be less known is that this encompasses several different types of grape, leading to the production of a variety of fine but distinct white wines, ranging from dry to sweet. The most famous sweet wine from the region is the Tokaji “Aszú” dessert wine. The various qualities of it are graded from 3 to 6 puttonyos; the higher the grading the more expensive the price. The whole Tokaj area has seen a great deal of new investment in recent years, much of it by companies from France.
Unicum: This is a bitters sold in a distinctive round black bottle. Its origins are over two centuries old, and it is best drunk cold. Available in a range of sizes. (www.unicum.hu)
Red paprika, in a cloth sachet: Although paprika itself is of American origin, the grinding of it is a particularly Hungarian invention. It is an absolutely essential ingredient in traditional Hungarian cooking.
Modern print of a 1930’s photograph: Several of the world’s historically most renowned photographers came from Hungary. But whilst they were making their names abroad, their lesser known contemporaries stayed behind. Now, beautiful prints of their photographs are available at very reasonable prices from the Mai Manó Ház bookshop (VI. Nagymező utca 20., www.maimano.hu,.)