Why visit: thermal baths, swimming pools, architecture, City Park
A Brief History of Széchenyi Baths
Although it may look like a Baroque palace, Széchenyi Baths (Széchenyi fürdő) is the largest medicinal bath and one of the largest public baths in Europe. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the healing waters, or to take a few laps in the swimming pool. The Széchenyi is a favorite for both locals and tourists alike.
The first thermal bath in Pest opened here as a temporary establishment in 1881. As it became more and more popular, construction began to expand the bath. The medicinal baths were built in 1913, and the northern wing, with a beautiful Neo-Baroque interior, was completed in 1927. Today, there are 18 pools, of which 15 are spring fed. In one of the large outdoor pools, you can witness the surreal spectacle of men playing chess while immersed up to their chests in steaming water.
'Szecska' - Late Night Summer Fun at Széchenyi
Throughout the summer Széchenyi Baths offers a popular Saturday night party series called Szecska. Pool parties with plenty of great music run every Saturday from 10:30 pm to 3:00 am from June through August.
Visiting Széchenyi Baths
As Széchenyi is one of the largest public baths in Europe, there's more than one entrance. The grandiose main entrance beneath the baroque dome (facing City Park), leads to the indoor thermal baths, the side entrance leads to the steam baths and the rear entrance (opposite the circus) leads to the outdoor pools. Although everything is interconnected and visitors will have access to all areas once inside, I would recommend using the rear entrance, from Állatkerti körút, as this is where the private changing cabins are located.
Ticket options may seem somewhat overwhelming at first as there are so many, including monthly and yearly passes, swimming-pool only tickets, different treatments and so on, but actually it's not as complicated as it seems, and the only thing you have to decide is whether you would like to opt for a private changing cabin (ideal for couples, as two people can share one cabin) or for a locker, which costs a little less. Upon paying the entrance fee you'll receive a plastic armband (it's called a 'proxy armband') that grants you access to your cabin or locker and all of the indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and steam baths. The armband opens and closes your cabin and/or locker by simply touching the lock with it.
Once you have donned your bathing suit (the Széchenyi is coed and swimsuits are mandatory) check out the outdoor pools first. The large, rectangular pool in the middle is the swimming pool (swim caps are required) with a water temperature of 27°C/84°F. At one end of the swimming pool is a warm pool with a lazy river and a large Jacuzzi in the center. The water temperature here is 30°C/90°F (34°C/98°F in winter). At the other end of the swimming pool is another warm pool with steaming 38°C/106°F waters. This is, where no matter what time of year you visit, you will always find men playing chess in the steaming water.
After 20 minutes or so head inside and check out the 15 indoor pools, several steam baths and saunas. These are located in the Baroque wing, beneath the domes. A light smell of sulfur chloride permeates the rooms. The indoor pools vary in size and range in temperature from 40°C/110°F down to 20°C/70°F, should you be brave enough jump into the cold water at least once. There are numerous steam baths and saunas located next to the pools. My favorite is the aroma sauna. Each pool, sauna and steam bath has a sign showing the temperature (some are as high as 70°C/170°F) and there are showers everywhere to cool down and refresh.
My recommendation would be to take two towels with you (towels are not provided, so bring your own or buy them in the lobby), leave one in the cabin or locker to use at the end and take the other one with you as it will come in handy when you go from pool to pool. If you visit in the summer, be sure to take some sunscreen with you. Bring flip-flops, towels and a bottle of water and make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Visitors can also purchase basic swimsuits and bath towels in the lobby. There's a cafeteria overlooking the outdoor pools that serves some light snacks and sandwiches. Its charming terrace is a favorite throughout the summer, especially on the weekends, when breakfast is served.
The hot spring feeding the thermal pools is rich in calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulfate, with significant content in fluoride and metabolic acid. The waters are recommended to help cure degenerative illnesses of joints, chronic and semi-acute arthritis, and orthopedic and post-injury treatments. There are also trained instructors who offer a series of balneal and physical therapies, like underwater gymnastics and weight baths. Other services include mud packing, infra-sauna and Finnish saunas. Széchenyi also offers massages, mud packs, access to a gym and a range of private baths and treatments.
Admission includes a locker and access to all of the indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam baths and the gym. If you stay less than two hours, a small refund is given. The attendants speak little English, but this shouldn't deter anyone from visiting as it is not difficult to find your way around and you can always follow the signs. Széchenyi has always been one of my favorite Budapest baths and I am sure you won't be disappointed either.
Admission fees in 2014:
A day pass with a locker is HUF 4,100 during the week and HUF 4,300 on the weekends.
A day pass with a cabin is HUF 4,600 during the week and HUF 4,800 on the weekends.
Swimming pools - Monday-Sunday: 6 am to 10 pm
Thermal pools - Monday-Sunday: 6 am to 7 pm
Getting to Széchenyi Baths:
Take the Millennium Underground (M1) to Széchenyi fürdő station.