Through a lucky shift in tectonics millions of years ago, the geothermal waters that fuel the public baths of Budapest make the Hungarian capital a haven for the onsen-aficionado. Here’s what it’s like at the famous Széchenyi Baths.
Sitting on a geological fault line separating the Buda Hills and the Great European Plain, Budapest has over 100 geothermal hot springs pouring mineral-rich water into its midst.
The Romans spotted it first, building many public baths around the city. And over the centuries, more have come and gone.
Probably the most famous of the public hot spring baths of Budapest—Széchenyi Baths—is well worth the visit.
Visiting Széchenyi Baths, Budapest
We arrive at the grand entrance of the Széchenyi Baths—it’s pronounced “sey-che-nyee” by the way—after exploring the beautiful and expansive City Park.
The domed roofs and pillared halls of this impressive building give an impression of a museum or even a palace rather than public baths.
But built in the 1920s and named after a prominent Hungarian family, the Széchenyi Baths show clues about their purpose as soon as you walk in.
We notice the mermaids and sea monsters decorating the arched walls and lofty ceilings of the entrance hall. Statues, frescos, reliefs and even Roman style mosaics peer down at us as we approach the reception desk.
The tickets we buy get us into the baths, but we also invest in a private changing room, a pair of Széchenyi Baths branded flipflops, which are ours to keep (footwear is mandatory around the complex) and a towel, which we can also take home.
There’s also an option to buy swimwear here, so you really can arrive with nothing and still enjoy these baths.
Inside the Széchenyi Baths—outdoor leisure pool
Once we’re through the turnstile, we notice the aesthetic change to be more utilitarian than the opulent Art Nouveau of the baths’ entrance. But we quickly change and head to the main outside pool.
At the steps into the vast central atrium we stop and stare.
The pool here is more like a lagoon. Chest-deep water flows and ripples around the splashing crowds enjoying the naturally heated water.
In the centre is a rapid that lifts you off your feet and zooms you round in a wide circle. From the low walls surrounding this rapid are giant gushing faucets that release a jet flow of water on the back and shoulders of any who feel like a massage.
We leave our towels and shoes on an empty lounger and hop into the warm water.
As we relax, the sheer beauty of where we are sinks in. From this perspective, the building, painted butter yellow, looks even more palatial than when we walked in.
Two storeys of delicately arched and pillared verandas look out over us and crenelated towers peep from the flat roofs. And domes and spired cupolas add to the growing feeling that we’ve gone back in time to an age when soaking in the city’s public baths was a cornerstone of civilised society.
Inside the Széchenyi Baths—indoor treatment pools
After we’ve soaked for a while, we decide to don our flip-flops and explore more of the building. Inside is room after room of pools. The baths themselves are quite plain to look at, but each one has a unique feature.
With all different ranges in temperature or rich in different minerals, you soak in a particular pool that matches your ailment.
The water coming up through the earth’s crust via the St Stephen Well—the second deepest well in Budapest—has a wealth of health-related minerals. Calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulphate, and a significant fluoride and metaboric acid content too.
The drinking water here also has healing virtues: calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, chloride, sulphate, also containing alcalics and a substantial amount of fluoride.
You can see the various things the water here can help with on the baths’ site I have no idea what most of these compounds are btw!
Some of the baths smell pretty bad and others have a very gloomy feel. The few we go into don’t feel very healthy in spite of all their minerals, and we’re keen to get back to the fresh air of the outdoor pool.
Have a Dip in the Beer Spa
If what ails you isn’t bone or joint related, but is more of a gourmand nature, you might want to have a crack at the Beer Spa!
You’re given your own private tub (or you can share it with one other person) and the tub’s filled with warm geothermic water at 36°C as well as real beer, which is considered good for your skin.
Between the two tubs is also a beer tap, where you can pull as many glasses beer as you like while you’re bathing.
If this is your thing, get your beer spa tickets here.
Other services at Széchenyi Baths
There are plenty of there things you can do here at Széchenyi Baths.
The list of day spa treatments you can have here is almost endless.
From basic detox and aromatherapy massages to a full package that includes your own private room with day beds, massage treatments, cocktails and snacks, and private shower room, you can easily spend all day here.
And don’t forget the range of saunas available to everyone.
If you get hungry or thirsty while you’re here, there is a simple cafe where you can buy basic snacks and drinks too. The cafe looks out over the outdoor pool.
The Széchenyi Baths are well worth a visit while you’re in Budapest, so make sure you budget at least half a day to come here. I wasn’t keen at first to be honest, but I’m so glad Christina managed to persuade me.
It’s an wonderful piece of the puzzle to this fascinating European city.