If you live in Hungary, you are immersed in a thermal wellness culture unlike any other. There are ample wellsprings of heated mineral waters that source many water parks known as “thermal baths” with a great variety of pools, spas, and saunas for all of your wellness needs. The composition of the thermal waters is known to help aching joints and muscles, and be generally “good for what ails you.” This is evident by the people of all ages – perhaps most noteworthy, the elderly – who go to just sit in the water. That’s right, thermal “bathing” amounts to just sitting and soaking, letting the healing mineral water composition do its work! Here are the thermals in Hungary worth a visit.
Close to Papa
Our sweet little town might not have a lot of attractions, but this thermal pool facility is tip top! We love our Várkertfürdő! (Fürdő means “bath” in Hungarian.) In the summer there is SO much to do – the outside pools stretch way out into an Olympic size pool with high dives and water sports as well as a series of slides for all ages, a mini lazy river, and various thermal pools. This is in addition to the indoor complex that has regular swimming pools plus a beautiful (currently being renovated) thermal mineral pool section. For just $5.75 for adults and $3.75 for children for Pápa residents, you can enjoy the thermals for the whole afternoon. What a bargain! The girls had an all-day, week-long swim camp this summer, and it was only $70/pp for the entire week! We feel so lucky to have this great facility. There are a few options for eating (especially in the summer), and if you are in need of physical therapy, there is an entire wellness section just for that! (See my blog here about physical therapy in Hungary.) This is definitely one of the best perks of living here!
Sarvar, about 40 minutes west of Pápa, is an amazing area for thermals. The Wellnessfürdő (we call Sarvar Fürdő) is a massive indoor-outdoor waterpark with mostly thermal pools. There are over 14 slides when opened to capacity during the summer, including a wave pool, a really fun obstacle course area, a pirate ship and two kiddie pool areas, plus the usual series of thermal mineral baths, some for adults only. In addition, there is also a spa with services and “sauna world,” where you can go for a fee and enjoy various saunas, steam baths and aromatherapies. This is probably our favorite place to go, and is around $50 for the entire family for the whole day. This is about on par for prices compared to the fancy Budapest thermals, but in our opinion, is WAY better. In the states this would be well over $100 for a family of five to go!
There are plenty of eateries and even nearby lodging for people to take advantage of a thermal-centric vacation. This place wins major points for being the most fun in all seasons, with tons of space and something for all ages to enjoy.
Just down the road from the Sarvar Wellnessfürdő is Sarvar’s Spirit Hotel, a lux, all-inclusive thermal experience that is definitely worth doing once. This place ‘aint cheap, but you get what you pay for. The food is excellent, lodging is nice, and the thermal facilities are top notch. In order to go for the day to these baths, it’s a whopping $50 per person – so the all inclusive price (with buffet dinner and breakfast) makes it well worthwhile. A welcoming lobby is flanked by a beautiful bar with fun drinks, lounges (with live music on the weekends) and a restaurant. Around the other side is the entrance to the thermal baths and an enormous wellness area, where (for extra) you can book any number of body treatments or therapies, many of which you can’t find anywhere else near Pápa. Examples include:
- MASSAGE: aromatic oil, lymphdrainage, foot reflex, medical, sports, ayurveda, thai, etc.
- TREATMENTS: Thalassotherapy (many types), packs, wraps, scrubs, masks, heat, baths, sculpting, detoxifying, oil, etc.
- WELLNESS: Sensolite, cryosauna, oxygen baths, floating, caracalla, celluloderm, vacustyler, flabelos, speed fitness, sports programs, colon hydrotherapy, etc.
- SAUNAS: Finnish, Infrasauna, steam, biosanarium, aroma, frigidarium, laconium, “Rose,” “Stollen,” etc.
- BEAUTY: Various facials, skin diagnostics, injections, electro and laser treatments, hair salon and mani/pedi offerings (just lacquer, no gel – but a great pedi, polish is separate!).
- HEALTH: Physician assessments using various technologies for overall health include recommendations for nutrition, exercise, and medical treatment or “medicinal” cures.
If specialty treatments aren’t your thing, you can still enjoy their beautiful thermal pools at various temperatures and that serve a variety of purposes. From indoor to outdoor, to a complete sauna section, this place has it all! Although children are allowed here, I don’t recommend this as a family destination. Instead, check it out for a special romantic occasion – it’s worth the splurge!
Lake Heviz is the largest thermal lake in the world that is available for swimming, and it is popular for this reason. The one time we were able to go it was quite cold outside, but the massive bathing building hovering on a platform over the lake provided all the protection we needed. I was surprised the water wasn’t all that hot in certain areas of the lake (inside the building, even), but near the source, in one section, most people were gathering to dip in the hottest section. The inside building is partitioned into four major swimming quadrants, each different distances from the source and therefore varying temperatures. It is imperative to have something to float with here, as this is a lake and you can’t touch the bottom, so you’ll be swimming the whole time! For this reason, I don’t find Heviz to be especially family friendly. This isn’t a place for kids to jump in and play – instead, they’ll need to be content with just floating around. I can see the novelty, as it is all fresh water and the healing minerals are highly touted in this region as part of a wellness routine.
But considering the effort it takes to stay afloat and the distance to get out to the main building, this place felt overrated. It is simply not as accessible as other thermals and is probably over priced for what you actually get at the facility. There are no eateries, so buying a $20/pp daily ticket isn’t really necessary (go for a 3 hour ticket; that is plenty). It may be fun to go check out Lake Heviz, but in my opinion the town is more lovely and fun than the thermal lake!
Széchenyi Thermals, Budapest
Oh, Budapest. This is one of your crowning jewels! The Széchenyi Thermals is the largest thermal bath complex in Europe, with 18 pools to choose from, the real draw are the three massive main outdoor pools that are surrounded by a giant complex of iconic, yellow, Baroque-style buildings. It is here where the famous adult pool parties take place, but during a regular day, the old men of Budapest come to challenge each other to a steamy game of water chess.
All in all, this place is a must-see. But, given its vastness and internal mazery (it took us several tries to even find the one entrance to the outdoor thermal area) it isn’t the most practical for regular use. Still, compared to the other Budapest thermal spas, it is reasonably priced (around $10/visit). That includes the use of saunas, steam rooms, and various temperature plunges as well as all of the thermal baths. We had fun here, but perhaps more to see the splendor with our own eyes than for the actual thermal bath experience. If you want to go to a beautiful thermal in Budapest that is both accessible, comprehensive, up-to-date with water therapies and beautiful, I recommend the next one…
Rudas Baths, Budapest
It is hard to do justice to Rudas Thermal Spas in photos. This place is a terrific combination of old-world Turkish baths (dating back to the 1500’s, during the Ottoman empire), located in the ground floors and original to the facility, as well as beautiful, brand new, state-of-the-art wellness spa areas on the upper levels. The saunas are in a separate area of the building (upstairs) with showers, a salt room, ice bath, Finnish, dry, and aroma saunas. Rudas is known for the original Turkish bath of course, but also for the rooftop hot tub and an iconic blue tile drinking well that pours forth the supposed healing mineral waters the city is famous for. My favorite area is a new wellness section that features a hot and cold dunking pool and a variety of water massagers. Derek said he would go just for the sauna selection! As amazing as it is to sit in the echoey Turkish bath in the basement – like you’ve traveled through time – but I also found it a bit stale and unwelcoming. The large main pool is open to everyone every day, but beware of gendered rules. Women’s hours are Tuesdays, men’s hours are the rest of the week, and unisex hours are on the weekend. The view from the rooftop hot tub is extra special! Prices are a bit higher here, around $20/person for use of all zones.
Gellert Thermal Baths, Budapest
Gellert thermal baths are the last of the big 3 in Budapest we have yet to visit. Located on the Buda side of the Danube River, Gellert is famous for the intricate mosaic art-nouveau style inside the facility. Open for over 100 years, this thermal has a large wave pool outside as well as 12 thermal pools for bathing. (Bathing, of course, is the original term for dipping and soaking in thermal mineral water – part of a well rounded healthy lifestyle in Eastern Europe!) At $12-$15 per person, Gellert baths are a reasonable option. They are attached to the Gellert Hotel facility but it is not required to stay at the hotel in order to use the thermals. (Photos below are from google images.)
Palatinus Strand Baths, Margarit Island, Budapest
Margarit Island is awesome! It is worth the walk across the bridge to get here (no vehicles allowed on the island!), and the thermal pools are great, too. We had lots of fun running around from pool to pool, trying all the water slides, and the enormous wave pool! This place may not be as sprawling as Sarvar or as reasonably priced as Pápa, but it is a terrific facility for families and really fun for a change of pace. It is a bit of a hassle to get here (you’ll be hauling all of your swimming bags with you on the walk) but once here, it is possible to spend an entire day bopping between pools, grabbing a bite at one of several eateries, and letting the kids go nuts. We were lucky to be guided here with our friends who live in Budapest, otherwise we may not have made it! I’m glad we had a chance to visit as it really is one of the more fun water parks in Hungary. But if it is between Palatinus Strand Baths and something a bit closer, larger, and cheaper, we’d go with the latter. Still, if you are in the area and looking for something fun to do on a warm summer day, definitely go! Unlike the other water parks, Palatinus doesn’t have any indoor pool areas. This facility is open year-round, although the water slides and wave pool are closed during the winter.
Szeged Furdo: Sunshine Aquapolis
This thermal bath complex came as a wonderful surprise to us. We visited Szeged (3 hours from Pápa) briefly in the summer and stayed right next to this water park. Of course we couldn’t resist – the slides looked awesome and the huge towering indoor facility looked amazing! Unfortunately we visited during the pandemic, so none of the indoor pools and slides were open to the public. Instead we spent the afternoon outside, and it was still tons of fun! There are two main pool areas with nice, warm thermal waters that kept us happy for several hours. We would’ve loved to experience the indoor facility though! It sure looks awesome. Add this to the list if you’re on the southern border of Hungary, especially with the family! (It is on the more expensive side for Hungary, but it is worth it with prices comparable to Sarvar Wellnessfurdo.)
(All photos below from google images and Sunshine Aquapolis website)
Lost City Waterpark at Gustavsvik, Örebro, Sweden
This was by far our favorite thermal water park of all we visited in Europe, and it was entirely inside! We were blown away by the beautifully themed “lost city” jungle they had created that kept all the kids entertained and very active all day long. Most creative pools, slides, waterfall lazy river, and overall themed amazingness. We would go back in a heartbeat if we could!