Six of the best: Budapest bathhouses

SZECHENYI​

More than a century old, this vast, open-air bathhouse has long been a favourite with locals. Comprising 18 pools - three outdoor, 15 indoor - it's one of the largest natural thermal spa pools in Europe and the people-watching alone justifies a visit. Outdoors, old men in Speedos duke it out over a chessboard while others rehearse lines from a play, their script sheets held aloft. Inside the surrounding baroque palace there are saunas, massage rooms, hot and cold pools and even a whirlpool with a powerful current to whip you around like a fairground ride. Entry from $18. See szechenyispabaths.com.

GELLERT

First opened in 1918, this beautiful indoor art nouveau complex trumps all others aesthetically. With high glass atrium ceilings, Grecian-style columns and mosaic tiled floors; it has the feel of a Roman bathhouse, although it's unlikely anyone will be hand-feeding you grapes. Around the main pool, a labyrinth of side annexes (men and women are segregated) contain thermal baths at varying temperatures while massage therapists take the opulence to another level. An outdoor pool offers respite from the steam and smell of eucalyptus. Entry from $18. See gellertspa.com.

LUKACS

Favoured more with locals than tourists, Lukacs is perhaps not as dazzling but is still a popular choice for its unique facilities and famous party nights. On certain weekends the baths become a multicoloured blur of lasers, loud bikinis and louder music as the "Magic Bath Party" kicks off. If that all sounds too hedonistic, head to the baths during regular hours to experience the soothing calcium and magnesium-rich waters, Himalayan Salt Chamber or Weight Bath where you can hang from wall mounted bars to stretch your back. Entry from $13. See lukacsbath.com.

RUDAS

The city's finest example of a Turkish bathhouse and the most historic, Rudas was first constructed in the 16th century under Ottoman rule and has retained much of the feel from this era. Inside the central chamber, a superbly ostentatious 10-metre dome sweeps over a floodlit octagonal pool; it's the kind of setting where gangsters convene to settle a turf war in the movies. Restored in 2012, the facility now houses six thermal baths and a swimming pool, which stay open until 4am on Friday, and Saturday nights should you wish to unwind from an evening of revelry. Entry from $7. See rudasbaths.com.

KIRALY

Though damaged in World War II, Kiraly's extensive renovations were completed in 1950 and it's now another fine example of Budapest's Turkish bathing heritage. Characterised by low lighting - natural rays pour in via holes in the overhead dome - it has something of a medieval feel. There are four thermal pools, steam saunas, medicinal massaging and pedicure services. The entire complex is now fully integrated and when you're done soaking, there's even a dedicated sunbathing terrace out front complete with chaise lounges. Entry from $11. See en.kiralyfurdo.hu.

DAGALY

The best option if you're looking to actually swim rather than just soak, this epic, postwar facility has a total of 10 pools including a 50 metre lap pool. It's a great option for families with kids, too; there are tons of entertaining  facilities including a whirlpool, wave machine, effervescent bed and kidney-shaped play pool. The surrounding park is a sedate, leafy spot while the steam chambers and thermal baths are ideal for just chilling out. Perfect for a day trip. Entry from $10. See en.dagalyfurdo.hu.

The writer travelled at his own expense.

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