On my visit to Budapest, the concierge at the Marriott Budapest said “If there’s one thing you need to do in Budapest, it is visit the Széchenyi Thermal Spa Baths”, which reinforced what a bunch of travel blogger friends of mine also recommended on the top ‘things to do’ in Budapest were. Budapest is the City of Spas and the Budapest thermal baths have been loved by locals and visitors for over two thousand years. szechenyi bath blog
Szechenyi Baths is not only the biggest thermal spa baths in Budapest but is also the largest European medicinal baths indeed a huge bath complex with 18 various pools, sauna rooms, massage therapies, fitness centre, a beautiful reception room, etc. The hot springs along the Danube River in the city of Budapest have been known since at least 100 AD, when Romans settled the city of Aquincum (now part of the city). The Roman settlement had warm water public baths. In the 16th Century, the hot springs in the region were developed into a spa culture during the Turkish occupation of Hungary. The Turks built large bath complexes and the supporting infrastructure to sustain them. There are over 120 hot springs in Budapest feeding over a dozen public bath complexes, plus other private baths in hotel spas. There are more thermal baths in Budapest than in any other city in the world. Each of Budapest’s thermal baths has its own style. It would take more than a week to properly visit all the spas in Budapest.
I’m typically quite hesitant about tourist trap things like this … but it was never built as a tourist trap, but rather as a communal thing … so I was off to it. I had high expectations for this place especially as any search for top Budapest attractions always mentions the Széchenyi Baths. The baths were originally built in 1913 and subsequently renovated and transformed over the years. It’s essentially like a big public pool complete with changing rooms, showers, and lockers. szechenyi bath blog
How it works so you feel comfortable while heading in for the first time: szechenyi bath blog
I didn’t see the huge lines that people had told me about – maybe because it was a weekday evening. There were two main windows to pay and after paying at the front desk, they will give you what appears to be a watch to put around your wrist. As you proceed to the changing rooms, the attendant will activate your “watch” at the turn styles, essentially, this is your electronic key for a secure locker to store your belongings. Do not take this off or lose it. You will also receive a mesh bag attached to a hanger to store your clothes inside the locker. Once you proceed through the turn styles there will be several doors that lead to small two-way changing rooms. To lock these doors simultaneously, simply grab the handles at the front of the bench and flip it forward.
Also … one needs to remember that these civil service positions are paid minimum wage, so don’t expect them to be unduly welcoming. Most do not speak English, and have little patience with anyone who does not speak Hungarian, but this should be seen as a challenge rather than an obstacle. As part of the challenge, here were a couple questions that I had … szechenyi bath blog
- Will I have to get naked in front of other people? Only if you want to … you can cover your modesty or walk out junk strong!
- Are there rules I need to know about before I go? Follow the crowd … you’ll be fine
- Will there be a locker? Yes … see above with the wristband
- Are the locker rooms for men and women? Sexes are separated
- Will I get yelled at if I do something wrong? Nope … and if you are … ignore it.
To be honest, after I figured out the way to get in, it was actually quite overwhelming. There is so much to see and to do … tourists who first visit the spa baths typically feel at a loss. That being said … my first tip is to take a waterproof camera!!
Ticket prices vary depending on if you go on a weekend or weekday as well as the time of day you go. The current ticket prices are (10 Hungarian forint = 0.05 USD):
Here’s a little map on what’s around the baths – click on the map to take you to a Google Mashup of a Budapest tourist map.
If you’re thinking about visiting the largest geothermal baths in Europe, you’ll need to visit the following site : Szechenyi Spa Baths : It is as comprehensive a resource on a single tourist attraction as I’ve seen before. To give you a sense of scale on the baths, here’s a map below – I only swam in the outdoor thermal pools – 101F and 91F
As for the pictures from the water
For me, it was just a larger version of hot springs that one would find anywhere else in the world, except that it was highly organized and quite ornate. There was a completely international mix of people in the thermal baths :old men in aggressive Speedos, young men, old women, young women, locals, tourists, families….you name it, they were there. I ventured into one of the communal baths, and took a seat. The water was a lovely temperature, I sat and people watched.
There were some baths that looked like something from a horror movie though … with the lighting and everything.
As you head into the super hot spas, you can even take in your ice with you to massage into your skin. The waters of Szechenyi Baths come from natural hot springs, just like in Iceland or Japan. Naturally hot water is cooled down to suit bathing. Rich in beneficial minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, sulfite, and sodium, these pools are said to have healing powers. You can also recognize the intense smell of sulfur by the inside pools. After a couple of hours in Szechenyi, you’ll feel rejuvenated for sure. Every pool has a sign telling its temperature and mineral content – in Hungarian.
As for top 10 things to do in Budapest … this all depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a mind blowing spa experience, you’re going to be disappointed – as you will with any touristy type activity. That being said, if you’re looking to see something that you won’t have in your own country along with the human carnival of the experience, then I highly recommend it. So don’t be a travel douche like some other travel bloggers I’ve read and put it down. Like a lot of tourist experiences, your mileage may vary – it depends on what you want to get out of it.
Here’s a 9 tips that will enhance your Szechenyi Bath experience
- Bring your own towel/robe : I took my robe from the Marriott. It was a winning idea … others who had to rent a towel weren’t as happy.
- Rent a private cabin : If you’re like me and you like your space, then renting a locker will suck.
- Bring your own flip flops : Again, I was prepared for the baths, so I had my flip flops. Bring your flip flops or water shoes: Walking around the spa complex, you’ll be walking through pools of standing water – along with everyone else. The spas are incredibly clean and hygienic. However athlete’s foot is no joke.
- Bring your own “water” bottle : You can fill it with as much water or vodka as you want.
- Bring a waterproof camera : This is my #1 tip … I mentioned it before … prep before hand and you can take pictures safely.
- Get a Budapest Card : There was a 20% discount on my ticket. It will save you about $7USD on your ticket.
- Reserve at least 2 hours for the bathing experience: Don’t plan a massive sightseeing tour afterwards. After all the hot pools and steam rooms of Szechenyi Baths, you’ll feel healthy but exhausted.
- Don’t drink beer in the pools: I really thought about this … but I did see guards making rounds and looking for this type of behaviour and you don’t want anyone thinking you’re American or British.
- Bring your own shampoo and other toiletries: You won’t find anything here. I wanted to clean up quickly before hopping back on the metro, and I needed to dry my hair since it was little on the cooler side outside.
How to Get to Szechenyi Baths
Szechenyi Baths lie on the Pest side of the city, by the leafy City Park. Getting there is super easy: take a yellow metro line (M1) to the station Szechenyi Furdo, aptly named according to the bathhouse.
When getting out, you’ll see the yellow baroque palace on your right side. That’s the Szechenyi Baths building you’re looking for! Just pass the building until you reach the street; follow it a few steps to the right until you’ll reach the main entrance.
Do enjoy and drop me a line to let me know your experience at the baths 🙂