Of all the new places I visited in the past year, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a city I enjoyed more than Budapest. There are a large number of things I look for in an ideal city and Budapest checks many off that list. Tasty food? Definitely. Good amount of English speakers? For sure. Beautiful architecture? Easy. Close to water? The Danube is Europe's second largest river. And possibly best of all, most things here are very inexpensive. My AirBnB was located a block from the #3 bar in the world and recently renovated with a king and queen bed yet only cost $30/night. If I wanted to go the hostel route, top rated establishments went for less than $10/night. As amazing as all those details are, what really catapulted this city to the top of my list can be attributed to a specific historical feature of the city.
Budapest's public baths easily rank among the top three establishments I've visited in my travels thus far. In a country full of natural hot springs, the capital known as the City of Spas still has 6 main public, thermal baths dating back centuries.
The two public bath houses that I visited, Gellért Baths and Király Baths, allowed me to experience two completely different ends of the spectrum in terms of luxury. The Gellért Baths are connected to the Gellért Hotel and left me feeling like no expense was spared. Built in 1918, the ten baths, located both indoor and outdoor, are the epitome of 20th century opulence. The intricate mosaics, detailed columns, and overall Art Nouveau style had me forgetting what century I was in. On the other end of the spectrum was Király, a no-frills bath house that dates back to the 16th century. While Gellért took me back to the age of The Great Gatsby, Király took me back to the age of Robin Hood. No electronics allowed outside of the locker room only added to this atmosphere. As weird as it may sound, I slightly preferred Király to Gellért. While Gellért was spread across a large compound, nearly all of Király's bath's were humbly housed under a single roof. This made it easy to hop around the pools of varied temperatures. Furthermore, because this was a bare-bones bath, tourists didn't flock here, leaving noise pollution to a minimum.
Of course Europe's most prized cities, such as Rome, Paris, and Amsterdam, are must-visits for first time travelers to the continent. However, for the more adventurous travelers, I guarantee Budapest will not disappoint you, *cough* London *cough*.