Picture this: Baroque-style baths, filled with thermally-heated water, that are outdoors and open year-round.
If you're a Midwesterner like me (or just anyone not from Europe, really), chances are you can't picture this scene. Because we simply don't have places like this at home.
Which is perhaps why I was so taken with the idea of visiting the Szechenyi Baths and Spa while I was in Budapest.
These famous baths were the first such thermal baths built on the Pest side of the city, opening in their original incarnation in 1881. Located within City Park, today Szechenyi makes for a great place to escape from the heat that descends upon Budapest in the summertime — at least, that's why I decided to go.
That, and because the neo-Baroque buildings (erected in the early 1900s) look like this:
Yeah, I could definitely spend a few hours here.
Visiting the Szechenyi Baths somewhat reminded me of visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland earlier this year. Except on an even grander scale.
Szechenyi has 15 different pools, a mixture of both indoor and outdoor, hot and cool. I stuck to the outdoor pools on such a warm Saturday afternoon, and even the crowds couldn't keep the smile off my face.
There's the swimming pool — the largest of the three outdoor pools — with a summer water temperature of about 79 degrees F (26 degrees C). I spent most of my time sitting on the steps here, soaking my legs in the cool blue water.
There's also a smaller pool with hot-tub-like jets and a true whirlpool, with a summer temperature between 89 and 93 degrees F (32-34 degrees C).
And there's a thermal “sitting pool” with a temperature of about 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) — far, far too hot to stay in on a summer day. I got in, and immediately got back out. Signs recommended you not spend more than 20 minutes here.
Like at the Blue Lagoon, the waters in Szechenyi are said to have healing powers thanks to their mineral content — things like fluoride, calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium, sulphate and more are in abundance here. The waters are so rejuvenating, in fact, that there's actually a physiotherapy “hospital” on-site, offering up treatments and therapy for all sorts of ailments.
Szechenyi's website also mentions a drinking well that is supposed to cure all sorts of digestive and respiratory disorders, but I didn't notice it while I was there. But, then again, I didn't go exploring very much beyond the outdoor pools (there are a whole host of indoor pools, saunas, and massage areas that I didn't even see!).
I was perfectly content to just soak in the cool water and enjoy the fabulous people-watching that a place like this always offers up.
Things to Know Before You Go
Some things worth noting if you're thinking of visiting:
- Szechenyi is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday.
- The Bath is located in City Park on the Pest side of Budapest, and is easily accessible. You can reach it using the yellow metro line (M1), or you can walk up Andrassy Boulevard like I did, making a pit stop at Heroes Square along the way.
- A daily ticket with a locker will cost you 3400 HUF ($14.90 USD) on a weekday, or 3550 HUF ($15.50 USD) on the weekend. With this option, you'll get an electronic, waterproof bracelet to wear that locks and unlocks a locker of your choosing, giving you unlimited entry.
- The Gellert Baths are similar to Szechenyi and also popular in Budapest, but I was told they were slightly more touristy (and more expensive) to visit. There were certainly plenty of tourists at Szecehnyi, but also a lot of local Hungarians.
Tips For Visiting Szechenyi
If you're thinking of visiting the Szechneyi Baths while in Budapest (which I highly recommend!), here are some practical tips to consider:
- Go early, or go late. I arrived a bit before 1 p.m. on a toasty Saturday afternoon. I didn't really have to wait in line, and was able to find an empty locker easily. If I had wanted to sun myself on a chair by one of the pools, I would have had no problem finding an empty one of those, either. However, when I left Szechenyi after 4 p.m., there was a line around the corner of would-be bathers eager to get inside.
- Leave the modesty at home. This is Europe, which means open changing rooms and less of an obsession with nudity than in some other parts of the world. When I visited, there were separate locker rooms for men and women, but no enclosed changing rooms or private shower stalls. (This may not be the case in winter, however, based on in January).
- Bring flip-flops. I only brought my hiking sandals with me, and tucked them safely away in my locker before heading out to the pools. Poor decision! The stones around the pools were almost unbearably hot underfoot, and I was longing for a pair of flip-flops before long.
- Bring a towel. I didn't see any options to rent a towel (though you could buy one), so bringing one of your own is a good idea.
- Bring a swim cap. If you actually want to swim in the cool-watered outdoor swimming pool, you'll need a swim cap/shower cap — you aren't allowed to fully get into the pool unless your hair is covered. There are lifeguards stationed at each end of the pool to enforce this rule.
All in all, I was very happy to pay $15 to spend a few hours here, even on my own. It's the perfect place to relax, or to recover from a night of Ibiza-like partying on Margaret Island (where all the locals go, I was told).
If you have some free time in Budapest (at any time of year), I highly suggest “taking the waters” at Szechenyi.
What do you think? Would you visit these baths in Budapest?