A day at Budapest’s famous baths is absolutely essential when visiting the Hungarian capital, Szechenyi was the one I chose out of the many options. It’s the biggest thermal spring bath complex in Europe.
Enter the sunshine yellow building almost straight out of the metro station, admire the grandeur and period features from this 1913 structure, join the queue and sneak a peek through the windows to the outdoor pool while the excitement builds. Choose from a cabin in which to change and keep your clothes or just a locker and a cubicle like your local leisure centre. Emerge from the changing facilities into the indoor pool area and you’re faced with a long room full of different pools, different sizes and different temperatures.
I tentatively lowered myself into the first pool chosen at random before realising that this is set at a shockingly sub zero temperature and I was not at all prepared! I spent a few seconds continuing on into the water and trying to blend in by acting cool, but I am not made for the cold, especially surprise cold. On the way out I see a sign on the wall noting the temperature of the water, yes, seems quite obvious now. Moving swiftly on to the next pool I find that it’s refreshingly hot, you can spend a while hopping from one to the next looking for the heat that’s just right for how you’re feeling. Think of yourself as a rather spoiled Goldilocks.
After thoroughly testing the waters (and the sauna) of the indoor baths, the piece de resistance is the outdoor area consisting of three pools, the sun is shining so most visitors have congregated here. It’s like stepping into a hot bath, just a notch above comfortable but something I was quickly able to get used to and enjoy. It smells fresh, there’s an occasional hint of chlorine but with overtones of cucumber and lettuce, it’s very relaxing to shut your eyes and enjoy the warmth. There’s a fountain of sorts shooting into the water with some force, when you allow it to hit you it almost gives the feeling of a strong massage, it’s very satisfying. All your senses are activated by the feel of the water, the sight of the sun glinting off its surface, that curious smell of cucumber and the sound of the fountain gushing, all these combined create a truly other worldly feeling.
While the water is packed with people, it doesn’t feel crowded or claustrophobic because everyone is just slowly milling around, calmly enjoying themselves, and of course playing chess from the water. There is a mix of all different types of people; old, young, locals, tourists. And when I left around half past 3 there were young teenagers lining up to enter after school.
When you go, remember to take a towel (though they can be hired) and flip flops with you. When I was swimming I left nothing but my towel, a bottle of water and suncream on the sun lounger, everything else was kept in the locker which I kept bugging the staff to go back to. I spent a good four hours of blissful relaxation at Szechenyi and would certainly return to Budapest in order to sample more baths.