Are Szechenyi baths the best thermal baths in Budapest?
Are Szechenyi baths the best thermal baths in Budapest?
One of the main reasons behind millions of visitors travelling to Hungary are hot springs in Budapest, with one particularly popular, Szechenyi baths. When booking our flights from London to Budapest, best known as the European ‘City of spas’, our gut feeling was screaming out loud that this trip would be nothing less than exhilarating!
And…it did not disappoint, in a slightest. Whilst our concise guide to Budapest can be found here, our experience from Szechenyi was so good that it has inspired me to dedicate an entire post about Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest. Although our video from our trip to Szechenyi is right below, I strongly suggest you read this article first and then watch it!
Thermal Baths in Budapest weren’t so popular amongst tourists up until a couple of decades ago but have been well known to the locals ever since the early 20th century. In fact, the practice of a thermal soak dates back even further, as far as the good old Romans had their presence of today’s Pest side of Budapest. History buffs will be totally enamoured with this place but don’t worry, culture lovers, ultimate pampering seekers and lads on the stag dos seem to find the trip to Szechenyi just as exciting, here is why.
Budapest sits on the old Roman City Aquincum, which in Latin means ‘water’ and although it might come at a surprise to you, it has close to 100 baths to choose from. This was, indeed, the reason why Kevin and I wanted to literally ‘test out the waters’ of Budapest and visit this beautiful, well preserved Central European capital.
No matter your age (as long as you’re over 14 that is!), a good old soak in a thermal bath is a quintessential Budapest experience. We booked our tickets online in advance to ensure that we don’t end up queuing up outside. Szechenyi is a prime tourist attraction and most guides use pictures from Szechenyi to entice the visitors so be prepared for the hordes of people getting their all-year-round splash.
We read that in 2013 Szechenyi Baths turned 100 years old and I have to say, the moment we were outside, we noticed the elegant, sleek design for such an old bath house. But the glamorous art nouveau design and splendour is the result of an ongoing renovation which somehow reminded us of Pena Palace in Portugal!
Let’s face it, we were simply enchanted by the beautiful Roman Baths in England and even more by the natural onsens in Japan. I guess you really can’t go wrong with picking Szechenyi. After all, Szechenyi has been crowned as the biggest natural hot spring in Europe and it does live up to its expectations.
How to get to Szechenyi Baths in Budapest
Szechenyi is also the first hot spring bath palace on the Pest side of Budapest and perhaps the vibe inside and especially the outside seemed like a good way of introducing ourselves to Budapest.
Just like us, you are likely to have your accommodation somewhere quite central. Just so that you know, Pest is where you want to stay in Budapest as it’s by far more lively than Buda.
Yes, most historical places are in the Buda side, but for the nightlife and generally busy city life, I would choose Pest all day (and especially night) long.
Getting to Széchenyi spa is quite straightforward and if you enjoy taking refreshing strolls like us, I can reassure you it is easily walkable. It takes 20 mins walking from St Stephen’s Basilica to the City Park near Hero’s Square or 15 minues from Deak Square, the metro hub. Since it is tucked away from the bustling Budapest centre, you are also going to walk past the City Park called Városliget. It’s the biggest park in the town and for the peckish ones, there’s also a Langos stand, where stopped by to savour on the traditional Hungarian pizza -like, deep fried langos.
Elegance of Szechenyi, the signature Budapest bath house
It won’t take you long to spot the artistic designs in Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance styles of Szechenyi thermal baths. They are all over. You don’t even have to walk inside to spot them. The statues are very enticing even on the outside and relate to water motifs and mythology, like mermaids and naked water goddess statues. If you don’t necessarily feel like stripping off, people tend to walk in to have a peek around.
In my opinion, a trip to a Budapest bath house is a must, whether it’s a balmy, summer day, windy spring afternoon or a snowy, cold night!
What if you forgot to bring your swimwear or a bath towel to Széchenyi spa?
Good news. You can hire or buy a towel, and even swimwear in case you WEREN’T planning to bathe – and food. For us, this visit was a must so we made sure we’re all geared up with our swimwear, towels and flip flops way before entering Szechenyi baths.
To save yourself some time, get your tickets online. Although when we visited, the entrance did not seem overcrowded, I could tell you that visiting in the afternoon and especially if you’re planning a Sparty on a Saturday night, it will pay off.
Luckily your pass isn’t time limited so you could stay as long as you please! You get a canary yellow wrist band so hold onto it as it’s for your private cabin or a locker, depending on what you pick.
Although it’s a popular attraction all year round, you will see hundreds of people chilling out outside and in the pool in the summer time, but during the colder months most people will be staying inside the pools.
Szechenyi stays open 365 days a year which we found very convenient and the opening hous are super convenient, covering pretty much the whole day, between 6am – 10pm.
Is it worth paying for the cabin area inside Szechenyi baths?
Yes. For an extra £1, we got a very spacious cabin area each. It just feels a lot more private and you have so much more room for your belongings.
The cabins are split between 2 floors and although most cabins were taken when we arrived (that’s April so not even the prime time I guess!), I do suggest you book your cabin in advance too.
All cabins are mixed by the way so someone next door and you are more likely to be having a large group of blokes next door. Showers don’t have doors in case you wondered, I found it a little strange but then again, Japanese people strip off and bathe completely naked with strangers so it didn’t seem to be too much of an issue to me.
One last thing. There is an age restriction and if applies to anyone under the age of 14.
What should you wear to Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest?
Alright, think of it like a huge swimming pool. It’s in Eastern Europe and if you’re are thinking that visitors can wear absolutely nothing because you’ve heard from a friend about the insane Sparties, I don’t think it would be a good idea.
By all means, even though Szechenyi thermal baths are considered as medicinal thermal baths, save yourself some dignity and do not attempt to go in naked as it will not end well. We didn’t see anyone wearing skimpy swimwear either. The outfit would be as per usual, just like what you would wear on the beach but not overly fancy as some swimming pools inside Szechenyi bath house will have a higher sulphur content and you wouldn’t really want to damage your swimwear.
Sadly, during our Budapest trip we did not end up going to one of the wild Sparties taking place on Saturday nights with DJ and 3D laser projections but are considering to re-visit the thermal baths over winter time now. It was that good!
They do go on until 3am so you are likely to come across rowdy, intoxicated lads, significantly outnumbering the girls in the pools and one of my colleagues has gladly informed me about his experience, mentioning some stories of seeing condoms scattered around. Not cool!
Anyway, I warned you! Daytime is all nice and clean and very manageable though and you won’t see any of that. There’s a 50-meter long open-air swimming pool which we found to be pretty cold during a windy April afternoon but before you go in, make sure to have a swimming cap for it and it has no natural spring water in it either. It stayed pretty much empty for the duration of our stay.
What’s so special about Szechenyi baths in Budapest?
Well, Szechenyi is the largest medicinal bath in Europe, and just like the artistic Gellert thermal baths, Rudas baths or historical Király thermal baths, it is known known for healing chronic illnesses and stress relief of just offering amazing relaxation.
Here’s a video from our trip to Gellert baths which we knew we also had to see after having watched Anthony Bourdain’s Budapest series. Honestly, it was a hard choice to make between the two so we ended up visiting both of them!
People get their doctors to prescribe it to them and apparently it works. It happens that Hungary sits on mineral-rich geo-thermal waters from the depth of 1256 meters below the ground, that’s 0.78 miles! It’s so deep that the water needs to be cooled down from 77 °C to a pleasant 30+ degrees. If you wonder why I’d even bother researching those things, well, I love anything to do with geology and I find it exciting, whether it’s geoengineering, volcanoes, thermal waters or fossils!
You are going to be spoilt for choice at Budapest Szechenyi spa. At least we were! Altogether, there are 18 pools with sizes and temperatures. On the outside, one swimming pool and two outdoor thermal pools which are in fact symmetrically shaped and on the inside, 15 smaller and less crowded thermal baths of various temperatures, minerals and underwater jets, steam rooms and saunas. If you’re not in a rush and came for the pampering experience, you will be excited to hear about the massage rooms too!
The pool water is rich in sulphate, calcium, magnesium and a few other minerals and it does have a bit eggy taste! Yes, you can try it too. See how many sips you can take without turning your head!
Our favourite had to be the outdoor thermal pool with adults’ whirlpool. Although it would look rather strange to imagine guys in their 20s, 30s and 40s behave there no different than a 5-year old would, it looks juuuust fine inside Szechenyi.
Final thoughts on Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest
Szechenyi thermal baths are definitely a place to mark on your Budapest trip and subjectively speaking, one of the best European attractions. You know that no matter how many times you book a spa, can never get enough of the time you spend and it’s the same with Budapest thermal baths!
Knowing that Budapest thermal baths are natural as they come from under the ground, spas like Szechenyi baths, Gellert baths, Rudas baths, Király baths and St Lucas thermal baths in Budapest are even more appealing because they are humongous, are medicinal and can be used both indoors and outdoors. After all, what is there not to enjoy during the pampering sessions that are totally unique to the region and tempt you with a fraction of the price tag this very same experience would cost you elsewhere?
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