The Széchenyi Baths (Széchenyi Furdo) in Budapest, Hungary are one of the world’s oldest and most famous thermal bath complexes. The baths sit in the city’s attractive Széchenyi Park and can be easily reached by Metro, itself the oldest underground line in mainland Europe. The baths make a grand impression from the outside with their recently restored palatial architecture that is quite unlike any modern thermal bath complex.
The entry process is somewhat confusing if you don’t speak Hungarian but you’ll surely not be alone with plenty of other bamboozled tourists always comparing notes in the ticket halls. If you enter from the main entrance on the side of the Metro station then you’ll see the inside of the main ticket hall to have been beautifully renovated with spectacular mosaics lining the main dome above. It would be easy to miss if you didn’t know that they were there.
The ticket options are really the biggest hurdle for most visitors, and depending on which entrance you are at the options are different. In the main entrance, they offer tickets to the steam baths, and in the rear entrance they offer tickets to the swimming baths. The prices are actually the same (2800 forints), and you’ll end up in the same place, but we would recommend entry to the less spectacular rear entrance (opposite the circus), because they give you an option of a private changing cabin for 400 forints, which you can share if you’re a couple. If you do enter this way, then once inside you’ll need to wait for a lady dressed in white to come and allocate you your cabin. You don’t get a key, but a tag with a number on which you must show her each time you want to lock or unlock your cabin. It’s therefore a good idea to save time and confusion by thinking carefully about what you leave in the cabin. It’s quite normal for people to carry bags into the bath areas with them, so you may want to carry in items like suncream, shampoo, drinks and towels so that you don’t have to keep popping back to the changing rooms. Remember you are in a city though, so don’t leave any valuables lying around.
The Széchenyi Baths claim to be one of the largest medicinal baths in Europe, and it is very easy to believe with more thermal pools than you can count on your fingers and numerous steam rooms and saunas. The highlight for many are the two thermal outdoor pools, enclosed in a courtyard by the 18th century Turkish bathhouse, which shuts out the bustling city creating an oasis of calm. There is a warm pool at 30° C (34° C in winter), with a Jacuzzi and lazy river in the centre, and a steaming 38° C pool, where you’ll always find local men playing chess on the edges, clearly not bothered by the advised 20 minute maximum duration advised in this pool, with their backs burning red in the sun. This bath as well as some of the other very hot baths have a green tinge to them, and there is a certain amount of pond life floating around in places, which can be disconcerting but is nothing to worry about.
If you did enter through the swimming baths entrance, you could be forgiven for thinking that the three outdoor pools are all there is, but go up one of the two staircases into the Turkish bathhouse, and you’ll find a labyrinth of indoor pools and saunas. The pools vary in size and range in temperature from a scorching 40° C down to what feels like an icy 20° C.
There are numerous steam rooms and saunas, with temperatures in some going as high as 70° C. There is a canteen selling drinks and some typically Hungarian fried buffet foods, as well as a pleasant raised gallery for relaxing outdoors looking over the pools. A range of small private baths and treatments are also available for additional fees.
The sheer number of different pools is unrivalled and will keep you busy for hours.
The level of cleanliness is a bit mixed. Most of it is pretty clean, but there are some parts that feel a little manky.
No matter how much you love the warmth of the thermal pools, it’s worth plucking up the courage to try dipping in one of the cold pools after you have soaked up enough heat. Do it once, just for the experience.
The Széchenyi Baths in Budapest are grand in both scale and aesthetics, but not at all ostentatious, with a very laid-back, jovial atmosphere making it the perfect place to come and relax away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Rating:Setting: 4/5 Architecture: 4/5 Ambience: 5/5 Facilities: 4/5 Value: 5/5 TOTAL: 22/25 (4 stars)