The Romans first took advantage of the city’s thermal waters almost two millennia ago. Now the choice of bathhouse is legion, whether you want to lie back and admire the architecture or get in a few laps.

Best for treatments
Housed in a sprawling 19th century complex, Lukács Baths has eight pools, both indoor and outdoor – water temperatures range from 22°C to 36°C. There’s also a drinking cure hall and treatments on offer include a ‘medical healing massage’, mud pack treatment and foot massage (II Frankel Leó út 25–29; 6am–8pm; from £6.40).

A gigantic 1913 building in City Park houses Széchenyi Baths. The water is the hottest in the city, reaching the surface at a scalding 76°C, and is high in calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate – good for joint pain, arthritis, blood circulation and disorders of the nervous system. There are a dozen thermal baths, salted tub-bath treatments and a great variety of massages (XIV Állatkerti körút 11; 6am–10pm; from £9).

Among the most modern, but least atmospheric, of all the baths, Danubius Health Spa Margitsziget thermal spa is on leafy Margaret Island. There’s a salt cave with rock salt from the Dead Sea for relaxing in, and a huge array of massages such as Thai, dry brush, hot stone and an intriguing ‘wine cream massage’. A daily ticket includes entry to the swimming pools, sauna and steam room and use of the fitness machines (6.30am–9.30pm; from £14).

Best historic
Soaking in the thermal waters of Gellért’s Art Nouveau baths has been likened to bathing in a cathedral. The indoor swimming pools are the most beautiful in Budapest, with the main pool having a glass dome, Art Nouveau mosaics, stained-glass windows and many statues. There are eight baths to choose from (XI Kelenhegyi út 2–4; 6am–8pm; from £12).

The four pools of Király, with water temperatures of between 26°C and 40°C, are genuine Turkish baths erected in 1565. The Turks built the complex away from the city’s springs to ensure they could still use it if there was a siege – to this day it gets its water from Lukács Bath. Typical Turkish elements include a wonderful skylit octagonal dome roof and octagonal pool (II Fo utca 84; 9am–8pm; from £7).

Built in 1566, the recently renovated Rudas baths are the most Turkish of all in Budapest, with an octagonal pool and domed cupola with coloured glass and massive columns. It can get lively on mixed weekend nights, when bathing costumes are necessary. The complex includes thermal baths, steam baths, tub baths and night baths (Dobrentei tér 9; 6am–6pm Mon–Wed, 6am–8pm Thu–Sun; from £4.30).

Best for fitness and swimming
Dagály, a huge centre north of Újlipótváros has 10 pools, including two thermal ones, a whirlpool with neck showers, geysers, as well as a 50m lap pool. The surrounding park offers plenty of grass and shade – and there are also beach volleyball and football pitches (XIII Népfürdo utca 36; 6am–8pm; from £5.50).

The largest series of pools in the capital, Palatinus Beach on Margaret Island has a dozen pools (three with thermal waters) and one extra-large swimming pool, wave machines and water slides. There are also ping-pong tables, pool tables, trampolines, a football pitch, beach volleyball pitch, and fast food, such as hot dogs, available (9am–7pm Apr–Aug; from £5).

Named after its architect and Hungary’s first Olympic champ, the Alfréd Hajós on Margaret Island is where swimming gets serious. Its two indoor and three outdoor pools make up the National Sports Pool, where the Olympic swimming and water-polo teams train, and you can get some laps in (00 36 1 340 4946; 6am–6pm outdoors May–Sep, indoors Oct–Apr; from £3.80).

BA, easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Whizz Air fly to Budapest from London Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted, and Manchester (from £98 from London Stansted; The airport is 10 miles east of the city: you can get bus 200E into the city, but the Airport Shuttle Minibusz will take you straight to your hotel if you book in advance (from £14 return), or taxis are plentiful (approx £17). Budapest is easy to get around with its cheap and efficient public transport: a 24- hour travelcard is £4.80.

Where to stay
Bródy House, the erstwhile residence of the prime minister when parliament sat next door at No 8 in southern Pest, has been refurbished but not altered substantially. Its guestrooms are dedicated to local artists and are filled with modern art (VIII Bródy Sándor utca 10; from £60).

The Gerlóczy Rooms de Lux has a number of original 1890s décor, including a winding wrought-iron staircase and domed stained-glass skylight. The 15 attractive rooms feature showers or clawfoot baths (V Gerlóczy utca 1; from £92).

The Zara Continental Hotel has 272 beautifully furnished rooms, a wellness centre and a huge atrium lobby retaining the original 19th-century look of the building (VII Dohány utca 42–44; suite from £150).

The article 'Mini guide to Budapest's spas' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.