Budapest Christmas 2012

If you are planning what to do, what to see at Christmas in Budapest, here is the best resource on Budapest Christmas: Budapest Christmas, a really cool Budapest Christmas Travel Guide.

Budapest Christmas Ideas

Budapest Christmas Ideas

Some of the ideas we like:

Having a Christmas Dinner in Budapest – some of the best restaurants in Budapest are open at Xmas, some are closed: Budapest restaurants at Christmas – opening hours. This page will give you some ideas for places to eat at on Dec 24, Dec 25 and Dec 26. Then everything is back to normal.

Visiting the Budapest Christmas markets – whether in the city centre (Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market, Budapest Basilica Christmas Market), or outside the city centre, like in the lovely enchanting Obuda Christmas Market, or in the less fancy, sort of post-communist Ujpest Xmas Fair. More modern fairs are to be seen at WAMP Xmas and at the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts.

Concerts at Christmas in Budapest: don’t miss the concerts at Xmas in Budapest. Free concerts are all over the city, each evening and at weekends on Vorosmarty Square (folk, choir, coral), choir and organ concerts at the St Stephen Basilica and a whole lot more concerts (fun jazz, funky, swing etc.) at many bars and clubs in Budapest.

Merry Christmas! or, if you are wondering what is Merry Xmas in Hungarian, it goes like this (mouthful, I know):

Bol-dog – cor-arch-ont!
=Boldog karácsonyt!

Not so difficult after all!

Gul Baba Tomb (Gül Baba Türbéje) – Turkish Shrine in Budapest

Gul Baba’s Tomb or Gul Baba’s Shrine (Gül Baba Türbéje) is the tomb of Gül baba built between 1543-1548 after the Turkish armies (the Ottoman Turks to be precise) occupied Buda , the hilly side of present day Budapest.

Gul Baba's Tomb Budapest

Gul Baba’s Tomb Budapest – photo by brumd

They have come to the conclusion that Buda is a good place, the castle is OK, the Matthias Church looks better as a mosque, and Buda is nice to enjoy the thermal springs – the place is abundant with excellent thermal waters for building a chain of Turkish baths along the river Danube. So they did build the Kiraly Turkish Baths, the Rudas Turkish Baths, the Rac Turkish Baths, the Veli Bej Turkish Baths! All of them still functional thermal baths. Unfortunately they also decided to remain for another 150 years, which the local Hungarians could not really appreciate (but now we love the Turkish baths of Budapest!). The shrine holds the original tombs of several Ottoman Sultans including Osman I and his son.

The shrine is on the hilly Buda side of Budapest, and takes a short, 5 min uphill walk to get to. Worth the short detour.

Basic info of Tomb of Gül Baba and Rosegarden (1543-1548)
Address: Mecset u. 14., Budapest, II. ker. 1023 (entrance from Türbe tér 1.)
Phone: 00-36-1-326-0062
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am – 6pm (March 01 – Oct 31), 10 am – 4 pm (Nov 1 – Feb 29)
Prices: 500 HUF, for students 400 HUF, for retired 250 HUF, for children (7-14 years old) 250 HUF

There were three kinds of Turkish monasteries that settled down in Hungary, the earliest of them was the Bectashi order, and Gül Baba was the greatest amongst the bectashi monks. He was supposedly an old man when he arrived in Buda in 1541, and he was the first to say a prayer and hold a speech in the former Christian Our Lady (Nagyboldogasszony) Church in Buda turned into the Suleiman jami. When Gul Baba finished his speech, he passed away and was buried on the Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). His shrine was erected by the third pasha in Buda, Jahjapasazáde Mehmed (1543-48)

Rosehill Budapest

On the way to Gul Baba’s Tomb, Rosehill Budapest – photo Denis Gourdon

The Shrine of Gul Baba was not damaged when the Habsburgs re-captured the area from the Ottoman Turks during the Second Battle of Buda in 1686. However, the shrine was converted into a Roman Catholic chapel by the Jesuits, and renamed St. Joseph’s Chapel.

This piece of estate later was owned the by János Wagner, who not only maintained the site as a property, but also allowed access to Muslim pilgrims coming from the Ottoman Empire – at that time a respectful gesture indeed. At the end of the 19th century, in 1885, the Ottoman government commissioned a Hungarian engineer to restore the shrine of Gula Baba. The historical restoration works were completed by 1914, when the tomb was declared a national monument. The site was restored again in the 1960s suring the socialist regime, who was oftentimes quite unwilling to restore historical buildings (including the Buda Castle, which was totally neglected and ruinous for many decades after WW2).

Gul Baba Shrine is now the property of the Republic of Turkey.

How To Buy Hungarian Train Tickets?

If you wish to travel by train from Budapest to Vienna, Prague or Berlin with a pre-purchased discount railway ticket, you may bump into some unpleasant obstacles when buying or booking a train ticket online from the Hungarian MAV Train Company.

Printing out the online rail tickets in Budapest, Hungary

Printing out the online rail tickets in Budapest, Hungary

On the bright side, at least it is possible. Even though some interface pages are NOT in English. So here is our train ticket screenshot step by step guide how to buy tickets in Hungary on the internet. In the screenshots below we will walk you through the online ticket purchase of a train ticket from Budapest to Vienna.

The Hungarian train company, MAV seems to finally keep up with the recent developments, and is now offering online train ticket purchase in advance for both local and international train routes. The snag is that the online MAV interface of buying a train ticket from Budapest to another travel destination has not been really made for tourists who do not speak Hungarian.

So here is a step by step train ticket based on the buying process and screens on the official website of the Hungarian railway company, MAV. Hopefully, with this little help, you will be able to book your budget and discount train tickets from Budapest without a glitch – and save a few hundred or thousand Hungarian forints for your Budapest holiday.

Before you start buying your train ticket, some buying tips:

  • Be prepared for a cumbersome ticket purchase interface, not really made for tourists at this point, sorry
  • Allow about 20 – 35 minutes for booking your rail ticket in Hungary
  • Have something to drink with you. It may help to get over potential frustration
  • Have your valid card prepared (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Maestro, Electron are all accepted)
  • Please bear with us, sometimes the interface is dumb.

First of all, your browser may find the official online train purchase system of the Hungarian MAV untrustworthy and you may get a warning:

Hungarian Train Company MAV website - online ticket purchase

Hungarian Train Company MAV website – online ticket purchase

You will have to choose ‘proceed anyway’ in order to get through to the ticket buying interface. Sounds a real adventure, we know.

So let’s get on. Visit the official website of MAV, the Hungarian rail company, and in the upper right hand corner, click on the English language version, and give the FROM and TO info:

MAV Hungarian ticket buying for trains

MAV Hungarian ticket buying for trains

In most cases, you will need Keleti Train Station in Budapest.

Then in the right hand boxes, pick your starting date, and choose any of the discounts if it applies to you or your travel partners (children, under 26, students, pensioners, blind, etc.). Discounts can save you a lot of money, so don’t forget to use them well, and bring your ID to prove that you are entitled to the reduced train ticket prices. The ticket inspector will ask you to show your ID if you have a discount train ticket. Note: in general, discounts are for tourists from the EU or for Hungarians only.

Discounts for train tickets in Hungary

Discounts for train tickets in Hungary

In the next window, you can set your single or return dates, the current exchange rates (upper right hand corner), the number of passangers, and you will also need to give your date of birth (MAV system wants to find out if you are automatically entitled to a discount, and old enough to buy tickets – it is not a remnant of the old Big Brother days, no worries).

Single or return tickets bought online from Budapest, Hungary

Single or return tickets bought online from Budapest, Hungary

By scrolling down a bit, you can also see what trains are available on your starting date, if they leave from Keleti Train Station (by default) or from Deli Train Station, which is about a 20 minute metro ride from Keleti, so do check the details of your train route. At the time of writing, the system does not recognize ‘Deli Train Station’ only ‘Déli’ with an accent (say: ‘daily’ not ‘deli’). Mind you, you will get some info on which platform your train will leave from, but it may change, so again, better double check and leave some time for rolling your suitcases (Keleti is quite big).

from Budapest Keleti or Deli Train Station to Vienna

from Budapest Keleti or Deli Train Station to Vienna

The estimated time of your journey is in the 5th column, saying DUR (for Duration). Some trains are not direct, which can make your train trip twice as long, but there are many direct train routes, which e.g. regarding the Budapest – Vienna route, can mean that your trip is less than 3 hours. It is great, isn’t it? (The other option would be the slow, noisy and uneventful hydrofoil trip from Budapest, or taking the fast bus from Budapest to Vienna).

Let’s assume, that we are travelling from Budapest to Vienna in August, two of us, date of birth info given for both of us. Then click on the button ‘Tickets and Prices’:

Date of Birth for passengers on Hungarian trains

Date of Birth for passengers on Hungarian trains

Here we get the ticket prices:

Potential routes for Budapest Vienna train trips with prices

Potential routes for Budapest Vienna train trips with prices

The OPEN button is the little orange arrow, by clicking on which you will get extra info about each train ticket:

Detailed train ticket info - Hungarian MAV

Detailed train ticket info – Hungarian MAV

The white seat icon means that it is a train seat ticket, the white arrows indicate if the trip is there or back.
Most importantly, the little yello I for info icon will take you to a Hungarian page, where you may learn with google translate the following info about Sparschiene for instance:

Sparschiene-Fortuna Budapest goes to both Wien and Graz, and there is another Hungarian Sparschiene-Fortuna from the nice little southern Hungarian town called Pecs (Pécs) to Vienna. Then comes a list of the actual trains and engine numbers (the Hungarian MAV and the Austrian OBB) which are part of the Sparschiene offer. You will also learn that the Sparschiene is a discounted ticket for all year (not just for the tourist season), and that you can only buy this train ticket 2 months in advance (for instance on July 1 you can buy it until September 1 but not later) for both 1st class and 2nd class seats.
Sparschiene is not refunded and cannot be replaced with another train ticket. Once you bought it, you are stuck with it. Children discounts do not apply for Sparschiene train tickets. I think these are the most important, non-technical train nerdy items on the info page.

And here comes a decisive point, where should you click to actually buy the train ticket?

Now, currently, what you need to do is to click on the OPEN button on the left side (by the orange arrow) once again.

open button - buying the train ticket but how?

open button – buying the train ticket but how?

Well, this was the OPEN button they were talking about you think with a hindsight…
And there you go:

Buying rail tickets in Hungary online

Buying rail tickets in Hungary online

Now in the right hand column, you can reserve your train seat. The prices indicated include both the standard train tickets and the price of the extra seat reservation (the latter of which is also compulsory to buy):

Hungarian trains - with obligatory seat reservation

Hungarian trains – with obligatory seat reservation

Not all trains in Hungary go with obligatory seat reservation, but international ones definitely do, and most of the better, faster trains too.

Let’s assume that we have picked an outward and an inward return journey date too. Then scroll up to the top of the page and click on the orange button saying ADD TICKET TO THE…
Then you will end up on this nice Hungarian page after all this work:

Register on Hungarian MAV to buy a train ticket

Register on Hungarian MAV to buy a train ticket

Scroll down to get to Regisztracio (Registration) – you will need to register to the Hungarian rail company site to buy a train ticket. And you are on the right track, as according to their instructions, first you need to pick which tickets you need for which dates, and then register… Painful, we know. Sorry about that.

Registration on the Hungarian MAV train website

Registration on the Hungarian MAV train website

So let’s go through the registration process on MAV site. Under the email, you will need to give your password (‘Jelszó’ in Hungarian) you create specifically for the MAV site (min 6 max 16 characters). Then ‘Jelszó ismét’ means Password again, so you will need to retype your chosen password. The coloured bar measures the strength of your password. Fill in the form, then click on the button ‘Regisztráció’ (register):

Registration on Hungarian MAV Train site

Registration on Hungarian MAV Train site

After clicking on the Register button, you will face a long long Hungarian text, the MAV Terms and Conditions. These are pretty general things, but if you need to know the terms and conditions in English, we can send it to you for a modest surcharge (the fee of the Hungarian – English translation).
Otherwise, if you are lazy terms and conditions readers like we are, scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a box you can tick for accepting the terms and conditions. Please note that we accept no liabilities, so it is your responsible decision:

MAV Hungarian Rail Company - Ticket Purchase Terms and Conditions

MAV Hungarian Rail Company – Ticket Purchase Terms and Conditions

Scroll down to see this little box, and tick.

Accepting MAV terms and conditions

Accepting MAV terms and conditions

Then hit the orange ‘Tovább’ button, which means ‘Next’ in Hungarian (literally ‘further’ but as a web button it is used as next)

Then comes the long long Privacy Policy (data protection declaration) issued by MAV, the Hungarian Train company (again, no liabilities on our behalf, but if you are an accurate legal person, we are glad to make an English version for a modest charge). And let’s not forget about the useful free Google translate tool, although with legal docs it may not be the best help, it gives a general idea what the text may be about.

Scroll down to the bottom of the declaration doc, tick the box to accept it, and hit ‘Regisztráció’ (registration)

MAV Hungarian Train - Privacy and data protection

MAV Hungarian Train – Privacy and data protection

Accepting the MAV privacy doc

Accepting the MAV privacy doc

Believe it or not, at this point I needed to have a coffee break… so cumbersome. Never mind, be persistent. :)

Now comes a pop up window: Thanks for registering on MAV Ticket Purchase. Click ‘OK’ Check your spam box if you don’t see MAV’s automatic email in your inbox.

Thanks for registering on MAV Ticket Purchase

Thanks for registering on MAV Ticket Purchase

Go to your email account to activate your registration by clickin on the link in the confirmation email.

Activate your new MAV registration by clicking on the link in your email account

Activate your new MAV registration by clicking on the link in your email account

Now you end up at the beginning but you can start purchasing your tickets. This interface shows KOrábbi vásárlások = History of purchased tickets (literally ‘earlier buys’)

The red warning text is about bank account data. If you want to print out train tickets (currently only available for inland tickets but not for international tickets) you will need to provide some bank data.

Start buying your train ticket

Start buying your train ticket

In the upper right hand corner you will see a count down. So you will have a short approx. 10-15 minute time frame to finalize your train ticket purchase. Make sure you have your credit card ready.

Choose the option at the bottom of the page
“Tudomásul vettem, nem kérek számlát.” which means that you are not asking for an invoice / receipt for your train ticket, so you are not giving a really detailed bank account info, as you don’t need a fully fledged MAV Ticket account (like a local would do). But you will of course need some bank data (less detailed) to buy your international ticket too.
So tick the box, and hit the orange button ‘Banki fizetés’ (paying via bank)

Don’t forget that you are paying for the train tickets in Hungarian forint (HUF or Ft for short) even if you see the prices in Euro!
You can pay by the following cards (dombornyomott means the numbers on the card are in relief, stand out, are not flat on the card surface):

Visa
MasterCard
American Express
Maestro
Electron

Credit Cards accepted by MAV ticket purchase

Credit Cards accepted by MAV ticket purchase

If you run out of the time frame, no worries, log in, and start your purchase again.

Here I am demonstrating another potential glitch in the train ticket buying system:

if you picked your train route, e.g. for a Budapest Vienna return trip the two trains (outward and return) and click on the button ‘Add ticket to the cart’ you may get a totally blank page. Like this:

MAV blank page during ticket purchase

MAV blank page during ticket purchase

No worries, hit the backpage button, and try again. It may very well be the case that there are no more tickets left for that train relation:

No more train tickets, sorry

No more train tickets, sorry

If you get the red warning message above: no more tickets, sorry (A kiválasztott jegytípus az adott vonatra elfogyott.). It means that you will need to pick another hour or date. Try until you get the right train tickets.

For instance, this Budapest – Wien – Budapest return train ticket in August, Hurraaaay! Or not yet?:

Buying a Hungarian train ticket for international trains

Buying a Hungarian train ticket for international trains

the text “A kiválasztott ajánlat igénybevételi feltételei” simply means the terms and conditions for the given train route and relation. Kosár – Fizetés means ‘Cart – Payment’. Yes, you are in the right place. But where can you actually buy the ticket? Where are the buttons?

If you click on the orange arrow saying ‘részletek’ you will get the detailed info of the tickets, but still no buying (or you can delete the train ticket by Jegyek törlése orange button) Where is your cart now? Good question. I am looking for my cart now. You may be luckier, it is a moody train ticket purchase system. But I won’t give up and you shouldn’t either. :)

I couldn’t find it anywhere, logged in again and started the train ticket purchase again. This time success!!

Booking a ticket in advance for Budapest Vienna online MAV system

Booking a ticket in advance for Budapest Vienna online MAV system

Time is ticking quickly. As above stated, scroll down the page to accept the fact that you don’t want to get an invoice or receipt:

No invoice about booking your rail ticket for Hungary

No invoice about booking your rail ticket for Hungary

Here comes a redirect to the Hungarian Bank called OTP to actually make your booking become true and financially solid:

MAV train ticket booking redirecting to OTP Bank

MAV train ticket booking redirecting to OTP Bank

Then fill in the form:

OTP Bank transfer form for booking train tickets in Hungary

OTP Bank transfer form for booking train tickets in Hungary

And here is a short translation (see both Hungarian and English) for the bank transfer, hopefully, you will make your train ticket booking with success. Please note: we accept no liabilities for your train ticket purchase and we do not buy train tickets for tourists (sorry). I am using bank card and credit card for this form now as synonymous terms.

Bolt (szolgáltató) neve – Name of the service provider MÁV-START
Fizetendő összeg – Amount to be paid 7.670
Devizanem – Currency: HUF
On-line áruház megjegyzése – Additional info by the store (service provider) – MAV-START Zrt. – Nemzetkozi menetjegy – International rail ticket
Terhelendő bankkártya adatai – Data of the bank card to be credited
Kártya típusa – Type of bank card (please choose your valid card data)
Ha OTP SZÉP kártyával, Cafeteria kártyával, stb. kíván fizetni Válassza az ‘Egyéb’ kártyatípust! – irrelevant for you probably, relevant for local Hungarian buyers (If you wish to pay by SZEP card, Cafeteria card, etc. choose the ‘Other’ bank card type)
Kártyát kibocsátó bank neve – Name of the bank issuing the card
Kártyára írt név – Name of the Bank holder
Terhelendő bankkártyaszám – Bank account number to be credited
A kártya számát folyamatosan gépelje be, a fizető felület automatikusan elvégzi a kártyaszám tagolását.
Please print the numbers of the card continuously without spaces. The system will add the spaces automatically.

Amennyiben a kártyaszám beadására kialakított mező hosszabb, mint az Ön kártyájának a száma, a kitöltetlen helyet hagyja üresen.
If the card number box is longer than your actual number, please leave the rest of the boxes empty.

Ha Ön olyan, az OTP Bank által kibocsátott Maestro kártyával kíván fizetni, amelynek száma tíz számjegyű, akkor az első hat számjegyként a következőt kell megadni: 675761. Ezt az Ön bankkártyája 10 számjegyének kell követnie, így tehát összesen 16-jegyű bankkártyaszámot kell megadnia.
(this info refers to Hungarian OTP MasterCards only)

Lejárati dátum (hhéé) / Date of expiration (mmyy)
Érvényesítési kód (CVC2/CVV2) – security code on the back of your card (the 3 digits)
A kártya hátoldalán, az aláíráscsíkon szereplő szám utolsó három számjegye. Amennyiben az Ön bankkártyáján ilyen adat nem szerepel, kérjük, hagyja a mezőt üresen!
Please give your 3 digit security code, if your card does not have any, leave the box empty
Felhívjuk figyelmét, hogy amennyiben az adatbevitel és a Fizetés indítása nem történik meg 5 percen belül, a vásárlás elutasításra kerül!
If you don’t make your purchase within 5 minutes, your purchase will be annulled / rejected.

Printing out your Hungarian train ticket bought via internet

Printing out your Hungarian train ticket bought via internet

Ideally when the paying is done, you should receive a buying code consisting of 10 digits. These ten digits will be used to print out your ticket in Budapest. Go to any of the major Budapest train stations and locate the blue ticket printing machines (saying INTERNETES). These machines are about an average woman’s height with a touch screen. Use your 10 digits to get your train ticket printed out. Here is a small demo made by the Hungarian rail company: video of using train ticket machines.

We can be self ironic and say that it would not be a Hungarian video if it was straightforward. The video is mostly about using the tiring MAV interface for buying an electronic train ticket online with a Nokia mobile phone. The last 5 seconds then suddenly change to a woman printing her online ticket at the official printing terminal (‘the blue MAV ticket machine’.

You can use Keleti Train Station, Deli Train Station, Nyugati Train Station to print out your international rail ticket (plus 3 minor out of the city train stations, you will be unlikely to use). The city of Budapest is pretty spread out, so the 3 major train stations are about 15-20 min ride from each other. You may envision to arrive in Budapest by flight, get a Budapest airport transfer, and expect to hop on your train heading elsewhere from the ‘Budapest Train Station‘. This is not the case.

How can I buy a train ticket in Hungary on the internet?

How can I buy a train ticket in Hungary on the internet?

All three train stations are heavily used. Although Nyugati Train Station is connected with Budapest Airport, which means an easy and cheap Budapest airport transfer, your train will likely leave from Keleti Train Station (most trains from Budapest to Vienna and Budapest to Prague leave from Keleti Train Station).

If you have a lot of luggage and big suitcases with you, taking Budapest public transport is not recommended. You can use a reliable Budapest taxi company or the shuttle service or some of the upcoming and competitively priced private companies for your smooth airport transfer.

Useful Budapest Info

Budapest Cards: Budapest coupons, free tickets to attractions, 5% discount on online orders – the Budapest tourist card includes a travel pass and dozens of good Budapest deals.

Budapest Events Guide: upcoming events in Budapest, festivals, fairs, exhibitions, concerts, etc.

Dos and Don’ts Budapest: some warnings, some tips on what to do

Top 10 Things to Do in Budapest: some of the top things to do, must see places in the city of Budapest (which has lots of hidden gems too).

Please read the comments, or hit the control F search on your laptop to see if you find more relevant info in the comments. We are trying to update the info as best as we can.

Trains from Budapest to Vienna: How To Travel Cheap by Train?

Traveling by train from Budapest to Vienna is simple, cheap and comfortable. Now you can even save by buying your train ticket online in advance. Here are some frequently asked questions with the answers:

Railjet - economy class seats of Budapest - Vienna train travels

Railjet – economy class seats of Budapest – Vienna train travels

How much does it cost to travel from Budapest to Vienna by train?

Single train tickets

The single train ticket from Budapest to Wien is approx. 3600 HUF/ 13 Euros / 20 USD (single ticket). This is currently the cheapest Budapest – Vienna train ticket. This ticket is called SparSchiene‘ ticket (say shpar-shee-ne). An interesting thing is that the Budapest – Vienna train ticket is slightly cheaper to buy in Budapest than in Vienna (e.g. single is 13 Euros in Budapest vs. 19 Euros in Vienna).

Return train tickets

A return train ticket for Budapest – Wien – Budapest is

  • 9300 HUF/ 33 Euros / 45 USD (return ticket). It’s the price of a full adult ticket. This ticket is called TripTicket Austria (Kirandulojegy in Hungarian), which for this price (33 Euros) contains the rail trip from Budapest to Vienna, in Vienna you can use the public transport free of charge for two days, then you can travel back to Budapest. (Note: the train ticket does not contain free public transport in Budapest only in Vienna)
  • 7,100 HUF/ 25 Euros / 33 USD (return ticket, also called TripTicket Austria): the other return ticket from Budapest to Vienna and back to Budapest does not contain the local public transport in Wien, Austria, only the return train trip between the two cities: Budapest-Vienna-Budapest. This option is ideal for a 1 day quick trip to Vienna (in Hungarian ‘Becs’ Bécs)
Nyugati Train Station Budapest

Nyugati Train Station Budapest (photo: Damian Entwistle)

Kids between 6-14 years of age travel at approx. half price, but there is no price discount on the Sparschiene tickets (single train tickets at the cheapest price).

Return Ticket Deals from Budapest

Special deal about the return train ticket: if you buy the more expensive TripTicket Austria return ticket for the route Budapest – Vienna-Budapest, your two-way ticket is valid for 4 days. Plus on the first two (only 2!) days of your trip to Vienna, you can freely use the public transport in Vienna, i.e. trams (streetcars), metros, buses free (incl. VOR 100 zone local buses, S-Bahns, ÖBB regional trains and Wiener Lokalbahnen trains too.), so the ticket acts like a Vienna travel pass combined with the return railway tickets.

What if Discount Tickets are Sold Out?

Budapest Train Departures

Budapest Train Departures (photo: Robin Brown)

Mind you, if the very favorable ‘SparSchiene’ and ‘TripTicket Austria’ tickets are sold out (they are limited and only sold online, so usually they easily sell out weeks before a trip), you can still buy regular train tickets at the railway stations in Budapest a one-way train ticket from Budapest to Vienna is about 6700 HUF/ 24 euros / 36 USD (no public transport pass included), or a standard return ticket for Budapest-Wien-Budapest. So if you cannot book online in advance, or you do not want to book in advance, there are still tickets available, but at a slightly higher price.

The trains have never been so full that no train tickets were available for a given day (there are more trains from Budapest to Vienna on a day, and you will surely get a ticket for one of them! Although Christmas time is special, as many Hungarians love to visit both the Budapest Christmas markets and the Vienna Christmas market!) See further deals and useful travel tips below.

Is it cheaper if I buy the train ticket online?

YES, it is! We do not want to seem overtly joyful as the interface of the Hungarian Rail company’s online train ticket purchase system is still awfully lame and useless (sorry, that’s the truth, even though we love MAV). BUT we have made a detailed guide to How to Buy Hungarian Train Tickets Online?

Let’s just say that the current online purchase system of train tickets is not really prepared for buying railway passes / tickets in English. Although the interface starts off in English, at a point it turns into fully Hungarian. So hopefully our guide will be of help to travel from Budapest to Vienna.

NOTE!

In the Hungarian MAV internet train system:

  • you can buy tickets from Budapest to Vienna
  • you can buy tickets from Vienna to Budapest, if it is a return trip, i.e. Budapest – Vienna – Budapest
  • you cannot buy tickets from Vienna Budapest as a single trip (only in Wien can you buy it)
  • you cannot buy return tickets from Vienna, i.e. Vienna – Budapest – Vienna (only in Wien can you buy it)

In the Austrian OBB internet train system:

  • you can buy tickets from Vienna to Budapest
  • you can buy tickets from Budapest to Vienna, if it is a return trip, i.e. Vienna – Budapest – Vienna
  • you cannot buy tickets from Budapest to Vienna as a single trip (only in Budapest can you buy it)
  • you cannot buy return tickets from Budapest, i.e. Budapest – Vienna – Budapest (only in Budapest can you buy it)

Bear in mind that – supposing you travel from Budapest to Vienna – you cannot buy your ticket via OeBB as they only deal with train trips originating in Austria and not in Hungary (i.e. from Vienna to Budapest and not from Budapest to Vienna). However, you always have the option to buy a return train ticket (currently about 25 euros), and use it as a one-way ticket, which in some cases may be cheaper than a normal one-way ticket. You could ensure your cheap train seat by

  • buying your Budapest – Vienna train ticket online (allow half an hour) OR
  • by going to any of the major train stations in Budapest:  Nyugati Train Station (the nicest!), Deli Train Station or, where most of the Budapest – Vienna trips depart from, Keleti train station a few days before the planned trip (especially in summer time / high season). Don’t forget to take Hungarian forints with you. Younger train ticket agents are more likely to speak English.
Budapest - Vienna railjet trains at Keleti Pu Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary

Budapest – Vienna railjet trains at Keleti Pu Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary

Are there Further Train Deals?


Special discount is for kids between the age 6 and 14 (approx. -50%). Additional goodies: the TripTicket Austria ticket includes a two-day free public transportation pass in Vienna: during the first 2 days in Vienna, you can freely travel by trams (streetcars), metros, buses, and the following vehicles in the VOR 100 zone: local buses, S-Bahns, ÖBB regional trains and Wiener Lokalbahnen trains too. If you are visiting Budapest with kids, and you cannot buy the cheaper train tickets online, don’t worry, you will surely be able to buy some at the cashier: please allow at least one hour before train departure (to locate the cashiers, stand in queues, buy tickets, go to your platform)

Where do trains from Budapest to Vienna leave from?

Budapest-Vienna trains leave mostly from Keleti Train Station (in Hungarian Keleti Palyaudvar), abbreviated as Keleti pu. railway station (say: keh-let-tee pah-yah-ood-vahr). Some trains leave from Deli train station.

If you arrive at Budapest airport, and take the train to Nyugati train station , here is how you can get from Nyugati to Keleti train station. Learn more about Budapest airport transfer here. If you want to buy a Budapest card, you can get it online here (5% discount on online buying). Budapest cards (24h, 48h, 72h), are in fact quite cool: check out the 2013 list of Budapest card benefits. The cards include the local transport in Budapest, free guided tours, free tickets to museums, and many more discounts (even a free ticket to a Budapest bath). You can also buy simple Budapest travel passes, without further tourism deals (just for travel).

You can easily get to Keleti Railway Station by taking the metro (M2 red metro line) and getting off directly at Keleti pu. station (approx. 10-15 min from the city center, Deák tér station). You can also take the bus number 7, whose route goes from the Buda side to the Pest side and touches upon Gellert Spa Bath, Elisabeth Bridge, Vaci utca shopping street, Astoria square, Blaha square and then Keleti Train Station.

Where on earth is Keleti Pu. Railway station?


OK, here’s the Budapest Tourist Map to help you (see the train sign in the middle? You can also click on any of the icons to get more info, or follow the blue link ‘View Larger Map’ under the map to get a larger picture of Budapest).


View Budapest Tourist Map in a larger map

How long does the train trip take from Hungary to Austria?

Traveling time is about 3-4 hours (similarly to the Budapest Vienna bus ride). Check the exact duration here.

Are there any passport checks, delays or other inconveniences when the train crosses the border of Austria and Hungary?

Not any more! Hungary joined the Schengen area December 21, 2007. No more borders to keep buses up for passport check. (likewise, rail passengers enjoy the same smooth crossing between the two countries). But if you are a tourist from outside the EU, you will need to check if you need a visa to Hungary, and a visa to Austria.

How many trains leave for Vienna a day? What about the train schedule?

Trains leave almost every two hours! So trains are very frequent between these two beautiful cities. For instance, on a weekday you could leave Budapest for Viena at approx. 6am, 7am, 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm. Excellent connections, right? The Budapest-Vienna train schedule may change, so always check the fresh data, please:

Where can I buy train tickets in Budapest?

Train tickets can be bought at any railway stations in Budapest: e.g. Nyugati Pu (on the Pest side – accessible easily by blue metro line), Deli pu (on the Buda side – accessible easily by red metro line) or at Keleti pu (on the Pest side – accessible easily by red metro line). All 3 major railway stations are quite close to the city center, and are the names of given metro stops, so you can’t miss them.
Online purchase: unfortunately, on the Hungarian railway ticket system, you need to speak Hungarian to go through the purches process, so let’s skip this option for a while. Here is the Austrian railway ticket system online train ticket system, or you can call the Austrian call center if you have any questions: 00-43-05-1717.

Are the Budapest – Vienna trains comfortable?

Sure they are. If you need something more comfy, you need to buy a more expensive train ticket for the first class (the prices above refer to second class regualr seats)

Keleti Train Station, Budapest - photo by Matt Francis

Keleti Train Station, Budapest – photo by Matt Francis

Any quick programs at Keleti railway station?


If you are stuck at Keleti train station (which is a beautiful historical building), and you have a couple of hours to kill, for example you want to eat something in the neighborhood, there are some budget options or mid range options in the vicinity of Keleti train station:

  • McDonalds with a McCafe 2 min walk from the entrance of the train station
  • Montenegroi Gurman Balkan Bar, 12 min walk, open day and night, 24/7 food bar
  • Sissi Food Bar (Sissi Ételbár), 8 min walk, Mon – Fri: 7:30 am-4:00 pm
  • sausages, chicken legs, etc. at the counter of a traditional Hungarian butcher, 80 Rakoczi Way Budapest District VII, about 7 min walk
  • you can see from the entrance of the train station the Golden Park Hotel or diagonally the Best Western Hotel Hungaria, which are two hotels right on the Baross square (5 min walk from the railway station) – you can have an elegant cup of coffee or lunch there.

Budapest Attractions by Keleti Train Station:

In general, the city center is only 15-20 min by metro (red metro line) so you can check out some of the attractions of Budapest (also on the map).

Buses or Trains from Budapest to Vienna?
The vast majority of users on forums (me added) will say: TRAINS are better to travel from Hungary to Austria. But if you wish to learn more about bus travel from Budapest to Vienna, follow the link.

What to do in Budapest?

Here are some ideas what to do in Budapest, Budapest attractions and upcoming events (festivals, concerts, exhibitions, free programmes, etc.) in Budapest Events Calendar – note: the calendar is a bit slow to download but worth having a look at.

Last updated: June, 2013

Renovated Gellert Baths, Budapest

One of the most popular Budapest baths is Gellert Baths in Danubius Hotel Gellert, the renovation of which has been partially finished this April, according to index.hu, Hungarian news portal.

Reconstructed male thermal baths in the 1917 secessionist Gellert Baths photo by Istvan Huszti at index

1917 Art Nouveau Gellert Baths Budapest

The reconstructions works (1.5 billion HUF) are challenging as the art deco style of the baths built in 1917 need to be preserved.

During the renovation period, the separate male and female thermal bath units were functioning in a co-ed style, but in a couple of weeks, you will not need to wear swimming costumes, the old apron system will come back.

Gellert Baths is coed on weekends (all pools), but during the weekdays, from Monday to Sunday, the thermal pools are men only and women only, while the standard pools with cool waters are open for all.

If it sounds confusing, it is. Gellert Baths is a huge palace of baths, so if in doubt, just ask your question in the comments.

After the second world war, there was not enough money to reconstruct more expensive art deco elements, so several details were simply replaced by cheaper socialist style solutions. The 2007-2008 baths reconstructions have brought back the glory of the 1917 Art Nouveau Gellert Baths. Enjoy!

By the way, Hotel Gellert is one of the top Budapest spa hotels, not the most exclusive or luxurious, but it will do for those who choose good value for money.

Photo by Istvan Huszti from Index.hu (http://index.hu/gal/?dir=0804/kult/gellert/)

Mokka Cafe and Restaurant in Budapest City Center

Mokka Cafe and Restaurant is one of the restaurants in Budapest recommended by Michelin guide. Its style is trendy-elegant ‘ethno-eclectic’ combining African-Mediterranean colors and elements. But it’s also ethno-eclectic in its cuisine in a sense that the restaurant is striving to create its own Mokka versions of international and Hungarian dishes with a modern flair. Sommelier helps you to pick wines. Pricey.

Mokka Cafe and Restaurant in Budapest downtown

Address: Sas utca 4., Budapest 1051
Phone: 00-36-1-328-0081
Opening hours: (lunch and dinner) Mon-Sun 12:00-24:00
Getting here:

  • metro (all lines) Deák tér station
  • tram/streetcar: number 2,

See the location of Mokka Cafe and Restaurant on the Budapest Tourist Map (check the knife and fork map icon in the middle, and click on the icons to learn more about the neighboring places of interest or click on the View Larger Map blue link under the map). Notice that Mokka Cafe and Restaurant is very close to the Parliament, the Basilica and Roosevelt square with the Chain Bridge & the Gresham Palace or Hotel Sofitel.


View Larger Map

photo from diningout

St Gellert Statue and Waterfall in Budapest (Szent Gellért szobor)

St Gerhard Statue (Szent Gellért szobor) shows St Gerhard, an Italian missionary and Benedictine abbot, later Hungarian bishop, who converted many a Hungarians to Christianity in the 11th century, and privately tutored the son of the first Hungarian king, St Emeric. However, after 8 years of education and conscientious preparation for the monarch’s role, Emeric (Prince Imre) was killed – by a boar while hunting.

Pagans did not like the efficiency of St Gerhard, so they put him in a spiked barrel and hurled it down Gellért Hill in 1046 (the hill, Gellérthegy, also bears his name). Historians point out that Hungary’s conversion to Christianity, which meant giving up the nomadic pagan life style in 896, was crucial to make Hungary a state and remain a constant player in the political field of the Carpathian-basin and Europe.

Tips:
It’s a nice walk up to the statue of the martyr and the waterfall: cool shadows, green in the gray, nice spot to have some tranquil moments, when it’s not busy.
It’s also ideal for taking photos of the Pest side of Budapest with the Parliament, the Gresham Palace, etc.
Take something to quench your thirst.
Mosquito repellent is not a bad idea in summer time.

The bronze statue of Szent Gellért made in 1904 by Gyula Jankovits was originally planned to be 3 meters/ 9.8 ft high, but to make it stand out more of the hill its size was increased to 7 meters/ 23 ft. The main figure is the bishop raising a cross towards the sky, and there’s a pagan soldier as a complementary figure, the latter is not really easy to take it out in this photo, I know. The waterfall is oftentimes interpreted as the symbol of Hungary’s baptism. St Gerhard statue is one of the ten statues presented by Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Budapest (it alone cost 100,000 crowns in 1904 – yes, at that time the currency was not forints but crowns).

The statue is overlooking the sleek modern bridge, Erzsébet Híd, and is very close to some of the spa baths in Budapest (the statue is in the middle of the map indicated with a yellow balloon icon – click the View larger map blue link under the map to enlarge, double click to zoom in, etc.):


View Larger Map

Budapest en Español: the Spanish Guide to Budapest – Part 1 & 2

Here’s Javier Martin from Planeta Infinito, desculpe, Planeta Finito presenting Budapest in Spanish. It’s really funny and informative. For those who want to practice their Spanish before coming to Hungary – even though it sounds a bit confused, the program is highly recommended. (I hope the videos won’t be taken down)

As Wikipedia writes:

Planeta Finito es un programa televisivo de viajes en el que un personaje famoso recorre un destino turístico del mundo para mostrar su historia y peculiaridades. Su formato se basa en el conocido programa de viajes Lonely Planet, donde los presentadores iban a diferentes partes del planeta. Está producido por Globomedia y se emite los sábados sobre las 19:00 horas en LaSexta.

And the videos in several parts

Part 1: Planeta Finito: Budapest (public transport, Buda Castle, Labyrinth)

Part 2: Planeta Finito: Budapest (Fishermen’s Bastion, Matthias Church, Cafe Ruszwurm, Restaurant Gundel, Children’s Railway, St Gellért Statue, Gellért Spa Bath, Four Seasons Gresham Palace)

Turkish Baths in Budapest: Kiraly, Rac, Rudas Furdo

Turkish Baths in Budapest are inviting you to soak in the steaming water, relax and marvel at the mysteriously lit domes with half closed eyes. Just recall that engulfing feeling when you dissolve in your home tub after a tiring day.

Now multiply it with the strange radiation of medieval centuries and a sense of freedom holidays give you (plus the bigger bath and extras, of course). If you like relaxing in water, Budapest, the City of Spas is a must have on your travel list. Just remember, Turkish baths in Hungary are quite different from Turkish baths in Turkey: no people with buckets of water and bubble baths sitting on marble slabs, no harsh rubbing massages. Instead, the focus is on the water, and smoother massages.

Currently the only Turkish bath in Budapest that is also part of a spa hotel is Rac Bath, which still has not opened its gates, although the bath complex and the luxury hotel is ready to be used, completely finished, but losing millions each month due to legal issues. Until they sort out the legal mess, here is a list of Budapest spa hotels.

Turkish Baths in Budapest Kiraly Rudas Rac Csaszar Furdo

Most tourists will know the non-Turkish Szechenyi Baths and Gellert Baths, the two most popular & family-friendly spa baths in Budapest. In Szechenyi bath you don’t need to check if the bath is for men or for women only. But if you want to make your spa experience culturally spicy, and architecturally unique, try one of the few Turkish baths in Budapest, which were built in the 16th-17th century – and are still functioning.

Budapest Turkish Baths

In Budapest, you will find the following Turkish baths:

  • Rudas Furdo/ Rudas Bath built in 1550. Turkish name: Jesil direkli iligesi
  • Kiraly Furdo/ Kiraly Baths) built in 1565. Turkish name: Horoz kapi iligesi
  • Rác Furdo/ Rac Bath built in the 16th century on the previously flourishing bath used by Hungarian kings (King Matthias accessed the bath from his palace through a direct corridor). It is to re-open in about 2009 (coming complete with a luxurious hotel & a deep garage, plus expanded with an elevator to the Citadel). Turkish name: Debagghane/ Kücük iligesi
  • Csaszar Furdo/ Emperor Spa Bath, now known as Veli Bej Bath after its Turkish equivalent built in the 16th century. It’s the odd one out as the bath is closed for the general public (is owned by the Order of Hospitallers). The spa bath is originally from the Roman times. It was one of the most lavishly built baths, directly connected with corridors to the monastery of dervishes. Turkish name: Veli bej iliges

Not all existing baths were used by the Ottoman Turks as Turkish baths: most notably, Lukács Spa Bath was used “to produce gunpowder and for grinding wheat.” Although Lukács bath was founded in the 12th century by the Knights of St. John.

See Budapest Spa Baths (including the Turkish baths) in the Budapest Tourist Map (blue wave sign):


View Larger Map

But let’s have a look at the history of Turkish baths in Budapest, Hungary.

Why are there Turkish Baths in Hungary at all?

No, not out of free will or economic consideration, nor out of fad like in Victorian England. The truth is that Hungary did not want to have Turkish baths at all – especially not in the 16th century, when the ‘Muslim Turkish meant a great threat to the Christian Europe’. But as the Hungarian armies led by King Louis II were defeated by the Turks led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in a very decisive battle at Mohács in 1526, the Ottoman Turkish took over (the remainder of) Hungary. (I mean remainder as the previous Hungarian Kingdom was divided into 3 big chunks, one for the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, one for Sultan Suleiman and one for the autonomous princes of Transylvania).

During the 150 years of Ottoman Turkish rule (from 1526 to 1699), more and more Turkish people (janissary, dervish, pasha, etc.) settled down in Hungary, so more and more Turkish baths were needed as part of the everyday social and religious life. Some of the Turkish baths were built on former baths built by the Romans (mixing the steam-based Turkish with the water-based Roman style), while others were made from scratch. The Turks have built at least 40 spa baths (or hamam) on the medicinal water springs they have found in Hungary. In his Seyahatname (Book of Travels), Evliya Çelebi Turkish traveler mentions 70 baths of 42 places, but as far as we know today, his work is to taken with a pinch of salt.

Building Turkish Baths was an excellent financial investment for the Turkish aristocracy as there was a steadily growing market demand for hygienic Turkish baths in the 1550’s. In addition, building a bath was a good deed that increased the believer’s chances to get a good final judgment. Over time, not only Turkish but many other (Christian and Jewish) residents frequented these baths. Hungarian historians don’t fail to point out that Hungary benefited from the Turkish occupation through taking over its widespread bathing culture, and in fact learning everyday hygienics, which was not very well observed in Europe in the middle ages. But it’s equally important to point out that it was not the Ottoman Turks who brought baths as a novelty in the conquered Hungarian kingdom: the first findings of baths go back to the Celtics, then to the Roman Emperor Claudius (relief saying “aquae calidae superiores et inferiores” i.e. “better and worse warm waters”), then to the 12th century, etc.

According to Katalin Kéri Dr., “men, women and children filled the baths of the Islamic empire in those centuries when in the medieval Europe little care was paid to personal hygiene.” Ritual bathing, at least once a week, also meant that the world made by Allah is taken care of, including your own body, beauty and health. Beauty and health reflected the creator’s perfection. And as everything is related, the Ottoman Turkish placed special emphasis on the individual responsibility for preserving one’s own health. The number of baths was an indicator of the richness of a city. But these numbers were many times exaggerated (e.g. Baghdad in the 9-10th century was said to have had between 60,000 and 200,000 Turkish baths…).

The most entrepreneurial Turkish bath-builder was the Bosnian Sokollu Mehmet Pasha who alone had 16 Turkish baths built in Hungary. The beautiful baths in Buda bear the Turkish architectural features: the central dome studded with small eyelet windows, niches with fountains, etc. After the Turkish rule of 150 years, most steam baths (e.g. in Siklós, Pécs, Szeged, Tata, etc.) were turned into churches, schools, saltpeter-makers, and so on. In contrast, several thermal baths remained functional as baths for many many years.

Fast forward to the 21st century: four of the Turkish baths were well preserved, and in the last couple of years considerable investments have been made to reconstruct and even expand them.

Turkish travelogues as sources

Besides architectural features, historical Ottoman administrative documents, and Christian travelogues (e.g. the Tzech Vratislav Vencel or Auer Ferdinand from Bratislava) researchers have used several old travelogues written by Turkish travelers: e.g.

Menázir’l-aválim made by Âşık Mehmet bin Háfiz Ömer er-rúmí (?-1598),
Tergüme-i Coğrafya-ı Kebîr made by Ebu Bekir bin Behram ed-Dimiscinec (?-1690/1691)
manuscript of Süleymâniye Kütüphânesi
Seyahatname (Book of Travels) made by Evliya Çelebi
The biography of Sokollu Mustafa made by anonymous author in 1591 in Buda

Sources: (in Hungarian) Terebess: The history of Turkish baths in Hungary

Gellért Spa Bath in Budapest: Merry Healing in Art Deco Environment

Gellert Bath in Budapest/ Gellért Fürdő (say: Gal-ay-rt Fur-dur ) is one of the most frequented spa baths in Budapest by locals and tourists alike. Gellert Spa Bath is located in Hotel Gellert (Danubius Hotel Gellert), but the thermal spa bath is open for the general public (there is a separate entrance for non-hotel guests). Both the hotel and the spa bath are in a fascinating Art Nouveau – Art Deco building (including Hungarian folk art motifs, phenomenal colorful lead glasses and painted eosin mosaics).

The quality of the thermal water is superb (already in use in the 15th century!). In addition, Gellert Furdo has 13 baths including a wave bath and a children’s pool, so it is not only recreational but it’s fun. Needless to say, there are pampering massages, treatments, drinking cures, etc. Gellert Spa Bath – as part of Hotel Gellert Budapest was built in 1918. There are 13 baths 20-38 °C (68-100 degrees Fahrenheit).

See the Frequently Asked Questions about Gellert Bath and the Video at the bottom!

Gellert Spa Bath Budapest Hungary Gellert Furdo montage

The thermal water is recommended for:
damaged joints (e.g. worn hip and knee joints), degenerative diseases, arthritis, Ankylosing spondylitis or Bechterew’s disease, low back pain or lumbago, after accidents as a post therapy.
Address: Kelenhegyi út 4, Budapest, H-1118, check its location on the Budapest Tourist map (blue waves indicate major spa baths)
Location: Gellert Spa Bath is on the Buda side, almost at the foot of Liberty Bridge Budapest (Szabadsághíd), next to Gellert Hill, which is a great green area with the Statue of Liberty and a superb panoramic view of the Pest side of Budapest with the Parliament, Chain Bridge, Basilica, Gresham Palace, etc.
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 6am to 8pm
Phone: 00-36-1-466-6166
Getting there: Trams/ Streetcars: 18,19, 47, 49, Buses: 7 (green normal, not the red express!), 86
Prices: general admission with cabin HUF 5,300. There are all kinds of massages available, which can be booked online in advance for your convenience.

More  in depth info about Budapest Baths


View Larger Map

Miscellaneous: Saint Gellert (also known as St Gerard) was a Hungarian bishop who came from Italy to spread Christianity and educate the son of the first Hungarian king, St Stephen in the 11th century. Pagans threw him off the Gellert Hill. Unfortunately, Gellert Furdo is slightly worn down and will need some reconstruction to get back its truly five-star beauty.

Gellert Furdo FAQ

Are the baths inside or outside?
Baths are both outside and inside.
Is Gellert Spa Bath closed in winter?
No, it is open all year, on weekdays from 6am to 7pm, and at weekends from 6am to 5pm (except for some public holidays).
When is it the best time to go to Gellért Fürdő?
Well, that’s a good question. Although Gellert Furdo has 13 baths, weekends tend to be crowded, so it is worth going there a bit earlier.
Do you need anything else than yourself, a swim gear and money?
A towel, flip-flops or rubber shoes (for general hygienic and preventive reasons too), and water-resistant purse for the buffet or for massages & treatments will come in handy (although you can hire some of them for a nominal price). If you want to swim laps in the pool, besides using the thermal baths, you will need a swim cap too.
Can you book massages in advance?
No, unfortunately, massages cannot be pre-arranged. Gellert Spa Bath is operated on a first come first served basis.
Is Gellert Furdo good for children?
Yes, Gellért Spa Bath is a family-friendly place. For instance, there is an outside bath whose thermal water starts to wave periodically: its gradient depth ranges from 0.4m/1.30 feet to 2.75m/ 9 feet) . Then there’s a separate children’s spa bath (30 degrees Celsius/ 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 0.4 m/ 1.31 feet deep). Nevertheless, the spa bath is still a calm thermal bath and not a water amusement park (no big and complex slides, spring boards, etc.).
Shall I go to Gellért or Széchenyi Spa Bath?
Ideally, you should try both baths to discover which suits better your tastes. Both are located in a beautiful building (Szechenyi is neo-baroque, Gellert is fabulous art-deco). Both have world-renowned healing properties and good massages. Gellert Spa Bath might be a bit more touristy as it’s located in Hotel Gellert, while Szechenyi Furdo is an individual spa bath (note: contracted with several Budapest hotels). In addition, Szechenyi Spa Bath is slightly less expensive than Gellert Spa Bath (e.g. admission with cabin: 2,800 HUF vs. 3,100 HUF). Gellert might be a better choice for families with kids though, but several travelers suggest Szechenyi for children. Good question. Let me know what you found out: add your comments, please.

Do you know of the best Spa Hotels in Budapest?

We think that Hotel Gellert is really great, but may seem a bit outdated, if you want something high-end, upscale, and are willing to splurge. Here is a good list of the best Budapest spa hotels, and if you ask us, we recommend Corinthia Hotel Budapest.
How do you get from Keleti railway station to Gellért Spa Bath?
The easiest and quickest way is to take the red line Metro at Keleti pu. until Astoria. At Astoria, get off and take the green number 7 bus, which will take you over the Elisabeth Bridge to the Buda side. About 3 stops. See the Gellert Hill and the nice Hotel? There you are!

Watch Gellert Spa Bath Budapest on this video made with Michael Palin (comedian, writer, Monty Python member, as well as maker and presenter of several BBC travel documentaries). Hey, one of my favorite comedians!

Hungary the Land of Spas and Budapest the City of Spas

Visiting Budapest can not be complete without visiting one of the Budapest baths. There are thermal baths, open air spa baths, lidos and pools in big green parks all over the city. How come?

Gellert Bath

Gellert Bath – Joe Mabel Photography

Why is Budapest the City of Spas?

Hungary is full of wonderful spas, thermal waters, and both Budapest and the countryside (e.g. Zalakaros, Hévíz) can boast about superb thermal baths (at truly affordable prices). Little wonder that in 1937 Budapest officially became the City of Spas at the first World Federation of Hydrotherapy and Climatotherapy, for short FEMTEC conference held in Budapest with the participation of 37 countries.

Even the first president of the World Federation of Hydrotherapy was a Hungarian man (József Ferenc) Unfortunately, during the communist era, spa baths were very hard to be accessed for western travelers daring through the iron curtain. But since 1989, Hungary has been open to everybody who wishes to relax in its thermal baths, and huge investments are being made into the versatile utilization of geothermal energies.

As the old Roman proverb says:

“Balnea, vina, Venus corrumpunt corpora sana,
Corpora sana dabunt balnea, vina, Venus.”

“Baths, wine and love spoils healthy bodies;
but baths, wine and love make up healthy bodies.”

(this ancient Roman proverb was well-known in the Turkish ruled Hungarian city of Eger in the in the Middle Ages, according to chronicles)

Last time, I have written about Szechenyi Furdo, Budapest, probably the most frequented by tourists due to its charm, location, architecture, treatments, etc. This time I will give a short overview of Hungarian spa baths.

How many spa baths are there in Hungary?

Currently there are about 140 registered thermal baths in Hungary, out of which about 10 spa baths are located in Budapest (Csepel Bath and Lido, Dagaly Bath and Lido, Dandar Bath and Lido, Gellert Baths, Kiraly Baths, Lukacs Baths, Paskal Lido and Baths, Palatinus LidoRac Bath, Rudas Bath, Szechenyi Baths, Ujpest Bath) – some are using the same thermal springs. However, according to estimates (sources differ widely), there are about 1300 thermal springs in Hungary (620 wells) – many of which are not simply mineral waters containing magnesium or calcium, etc., but they are proven medicinal waters with various healing properties.

You can see some of the spa baths in Budapest in this nice video:

Why are there so many spa baths in Hungary?

First the Romans, then the Turks have discovered that the area where Hungary is now located is abundant with warm or hot healing waters – some are muddier, others are cleaner, some are good for your legs, arms and joints, others for your lungs, kidney, stomach, etc. Spa waters were recognized by their heat and smell, and soldiers, dervishes, pashas, etc. liked this special luxury – not just for religious but for medical reasons too. But why are there so many of these healing waters? The answer is geothermal energy, i.e. the energy given by the heat of the Earth. This heat preserved in the inner parts of the planet, under the crust, gets to the surface more easily in Hungary as the crust under the country has become thinner over the thousands of years. So much thinner that the average geothermal heat coming from beneath is twice of the European average. Hungary has several geothermal reservoirs, hot springs, more readily available, well before geothermal drilling became a practice. You can find thermal waters under 80% of the Hungarian territory. No wonder, 2008 has been announced as the Year of Waters by the Hungarian Tourism Co.

What are Hungarian spa waters good for?

Of course, over the last 1000-1500 years in the Carpathian basin, people who inhabited these regions have got to know what these waters are best used for to preserve your health. Treating locomotor diseases, stomach complaints are the most typical, but some of the water springs are recommended for gynaecological problems, skin diseases, etc. As thermal waters are not black or white magic, you may wish to check with your doctor if spa baths are recommended for you or not (usually they are not suggested for chronic high-blood pressure, anaemia, during pregnancy, right after heart attacks, etc.).

Remains of the old Spa Culture

Excavations have revealed Celtic and Roman ruins of bath houses, mosaics, remains of frescoes, which show that the Romans used the available spa water resources for heating and bathing alike. Aquincum (literally: Water-city) a military city also inhabited by wine-growers, tradesmen, etc. had bath houses, palaces, amphitheatres, aqueducts, sewers, and it is the most well-known aquacultural memento of the Roman times in Hungary. Originally it served as a border city to protect the outermost territories of the Roman empire. See its location on this reconstructed map (red letter in the upper right part):

Aquincum map in the Roman times now located in Budapest Óbuda

Here’s a photo of the mosaics of the Roman bath (made by khoogheem)

Aquincum Budapest Museum the Roman bath house mosaics

Turkish occupation, Turkish Baths

During the Ottoman Turkish occupation (from 1526 to 1699), the Turks have built at least 40 spa baths (or hamam) on the medicinal water springs they have found in Hungary. It was an excellent financial investment – not just today but already in the 16th century. Turkish architectural features (impressive dome, small windows, niches with fountains, etc.) were well preserved, and in the last couple of years considerable investments have been made to reconstruct the beautiful and mysteriously lit Turkish baths. Alas, only a handful of them are operational these days. In Budapest, you will find Rudas Gyógyfürdő (Rudas Spa Bath from the 1550s), Rác Gyógyfürdő (Rác Spa Bath – formerly known in King Matthias time as the Royal Spa – under construction!), Király Fürdő (Király Spa Bath – built in 1565), as well as the historical Császár Fürdő (Csaszar Spa Bath). In the countryside, you can visit the Turkish Bath in Eger (built in 1610-17), or the Turkish Bath (now only functioning as a Bath Museum) in Pécs.

This is a photo of Rudas Fürdő (Rudas Turkish Bath)

Rudas Fürdő Turkish Spa Bath in Budapest

and a picture of Király Fürdő (Király Turkish Bath)

Király Fürdő Turkish Spa Bath in Budapest

Searching For Oil, Finding Water

In the course of the 18-19th century, there were several attempts made to find oil in Hungary, the liquid gold to make profits everyone was hoping for, which often resulted in finding good quality thermal medicinal waters. Hungarians enjoyed them tremendously, but it took many decades to recognize that the thermal baths and geo thermal energies are the golden mines of Hungary. Not only in Budapest, but all over the country of Hungary new spa and medicinal baths were built, e.g. in Zalakaros, Hajdúszoboszló, Sárvár, Hévíz. Needless to say, the most visited thermal bath houses are in Budapest, so if you take a visit in the Hungarian capital, do not miss the “Baths Budapest” item on the itinerary.