After being given swipe cards and number tags, we paired off and guessed where the dressing rooms were. On the way up the stairs, there’s a cloakroom where you can rent a robe for 1000 ft (oh, and a deposit of 10,000 ft!) You only need the swipe card when entering or leaving the bathing complex, while the number tag will gain you a locker. (You may only get one of these if you pay as a group.) Don’t forget your locker number as it doesn’t correspond to the number tag, as far as I could surmise.
The main bathing area at the Gellért is beautiful, but the large pool was quite cool – outdoor summertime temperature. As none of us had trudged here through the falling snow to swim laps in a chilly swimming pool, we took a pass on it.
Most people congregated in the smaller 30 degree (celsius) pool to the rear. This is the only warm pool in the Gellért which is mixed gender. It’s a bit dark, and crowded with couples and families who want to bathe together. When I realized this, I understood why the most beautifully appointed thermal bath in Budapest is given such mixed reviews. You do have a range of different pools, saunas and services available but only if you want to go a gender-segregated area. So after about an hour of lolling socially in the warm pool, we went our separate ways to investigate.
The bathing area for men is just as strikingly beautiful, if not more so, than the main room. Two large baths flank the room, both are warmer than the 30 degree co-ed pool. There is also a steam room, a sauna bath with three chambers of varying temperatures, massage rooms, and a small polar bear tub.Clothing here is optional and most men choose to wear the little white aprons that are provided. The aprons are popular but a little absurd: they really don’t cover much at all! After you’ve returned to the dressing room and have gotten dressed, a tip of about 200 forint for the attendant is good practice, depending on how helpful you think they were. So let’s be completely honest here. The Gellért is for tourists and huppies. (Do you really have to ask?) At an admission price that compares to the cover charge at a velvet roped club in Los Angeles, few Hungarians could go here very often. So if you want to take a real authentic Hungarian thermal bath with a bunch of Japanese, German and British tourists, go for it at the Gellért. It is great to try it out once though, and preferably with members of your own gender. It’s definitely a beautiful place and singular experience, if not the place for your regular Budapest bathing ritual.
This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on sfinbudapest.com. Read more from SF here.