18 Jan Budapest: Széchenyi Thermal Baths
Budapest loves its thermal baths. A leftover tradition from the Turkish occupation, the baths have become a big part of social life for the city and are popular with tourists and locals alike. Locals come to socialize, talk politics over a soggy game of chess, and meet women. Tourists come to appreciate the beautiful architecture, enjoy the relaxing baths, and see the locals don Speedos or teeny bikinis while going from pool to pool.
One of the largest spa baths in all of Europe – and the largest medicinal bath on the continent – Széchenyi Thermal Baths do not disappoint. Two thermal springs supply the water for the 15 indoor and three outdoor baths located here.
More than just your regular bath water, this water supposedly treats illnesses and joint inflammations with its natural mixture of sulfate, magnesium, calcium, bicarbonate, fluoric and metaboric acids. Because of my “rigorous” desk job and the perils of traveling, I really wanted to give these baths and their healing powers a shot.
But, I’m not going to lie; it took a lot of bargaining for me to get DJ to this Budapest landmark.
Located in City Park, very near Heroes’ Park, the Bath’s exterior has a dignified Hapsburg elegance about it. Even if you don’t have the time to go inside, take a moment to walk by and snap a few photos. You’ll be amazed at its size and grandeur.
The Bath’s exterior has a dignified Hapsburg elegance about it. Even if you don’t have the time to go inside, take a moment to walk by and snap a few photos.
On a brisk 15°F night, we bundled up in our thermals, sweaters, and giant down coats, jumped in our rental car, and headed out to the Baths.
There are three entrances:
- The grand front entrance for the indoor thermal baths.
- The side entrance for the steam rooms.
- The back entrance (across from the zoo) for the outdoor baths.
The back is probably your best bet. You can access the whole facility from any entrance, but the lockers and changing cabins are right inside the back entrance.
The ticket options are vast and therefore fairly confusing. If you’re with a traveling companion, get two day passes and a changing cabin. You’ll save money over purchasing two lockers and have a private dressing area. You’ll get a wrist band that looks sort of like a Fit Bit. Scan this to gain entry to the locker area and then find a box on the wall, hold up your wrist, and get your changing room number. This was pretty confusing for us because no staff was around to tell us what to do or where our changing room was, but we just hung to the side and watched what other people did, then followed suit.
I’d heard and read of the infamous Speedo wearing, pot-belly having men running around the Baths but figured it an exaggeration more than actual reality. But I can admit when I am wrong. And this is one of those times. These guys are like tanned, hairy marshmallows soaked in alcohol. And it’s amazing. They sit around the locker rooms chatting, drinking, enjoying each other’s company, playing chess, and maybe staring at a woman or two. But you don’t feel uncomfortable, or at least I didn’t.
These guys are like tanned, hairy marshmallows soaked in alcohol. And it’s amazing. They sit around the locker rooms chatting, drinking, enjoying their company, and maybe staring at a woman or two.
Once DJ and I changed into our robes we ran, in frantic calmness, to the outside baths area. I was really wishing at this moment that I’d brought shoes or flip flops to somewhat shield my feet, not from bacteria, but from sticking, tongue-to-metal-pole style, to the wet stone.
When we got the water, I hesitated. I really thought entering the water would sting, the way that a hot shower stings after a long day skiing. But we just glided into the water which was a lot cooler than I thought it would be. It felt wonderful, don’t get me wrong, I was just prepared for pain.
It’s almost mystical walking through the pool, thick steam circling all around you. Depending on the wind, you might not see people until they are right near you; you can really feel as though you are truly secluded.
There are jets of water around the perimeter at foot and back level and they are easy to locate due to the crowds of people around them. There is also a hot waterfall which, at 5’2”, I was a little too short to enjoy, but DJ said felt great on his tired shoulders.
When we got bored, we steeled our nerves, threw on our robes, and power walked over to the other pool (on the left side if you come in from the back entrance). This one felt a little cooler and has a “lazy river” at the center. But, lazy it was not. You’ll get sucked into this area even if you’re just swimming by and around and around you’ll go, bumping into people from all over the world.
After a couple of hours bouncing from pool to pool, we headed back to our changing room and headed back out into the cold. We were sad to leave, but we couldn’t wait to explore more of Budapest and visit one of their famous Ruin Bars!
Head back here next week; I’ll write about the one we visited!
- Don’t forget to pack your own swimsuit, towel, and flip flops. You can rent bathing suits there but if you thought renting shoes at the bowling alley was bad, well, this takes it to a whole new level. Ask your hotel for extra towels in your room, just don’t forget to bring them back from the Baths. Bonus: Bring that robe hanging in your hotel room during the winter.
- If you’re with a traveling companion, rent a cabin instead of a locker to save money.
- Bring a plastic bag to put your wet swimsuit and towel in after you leave the Baths.
- Budget at least two hours to get the full benefit.
- Walk around and explore all the pools and spas.