Cultural Immersion: Bathing at the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest
Come rain, shine, snow, or sleet you can find Hungarians relaxing in the mineral rich waters of their public spas in Budapest. This is a deeply rooted part of their culture, and a must-do if you visit. I was lucky enough to take a river cruise along the Danube which ended in Budapest, and before I even stepped foot on the ship, I knew to pack a bathing suit. Going to one of the Budapest baths was something I knew I needed to experience if I wanted to do as the Hungarians do.
Budapest sits on top of 123 hot springs that deliver approximately 1,849,204 gallons of water a day. This water is between 70 and 172 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of these natural springs, both the conquering Roman and Ottoman Empires were taken by Budapest and set up baths to soak in the water. The waters themselves are known to have healing powers and often doctors in the area prescribe soaks. At the turn of the century new glamorous spas began popping up and Budapest became “The City of Spas” in 1934.
During our time in Budapest, my mother and I decided to go to the Szechenyi Baths. These are the oldest baths on the Pest side of Budapest and are one of the largest facilities, with both indoor and outdoor pools. They are also right by a metro stop, that’s named Szechenyi; easy enough right?
The outdoor pools can be compared to a typical public pool in America, except for two key differences:
- The water is a lot warmer, were talking 78 to 100 degrees (F).
- This is the fanciest outdoor pool I’ve even been too. The pool is surrounded by statues of what seem to be Greek goddesses lounging in the waves.
Once we arrived, we booked cabins to change in. To access them we were given a wristband that looks like a watch, but essentially is coded with your cabin, so it acts as the key to get in an out. The cabins are small, and this isn’t like a gleaming spa facility, it’s more of a do it yourself space, so don’t expect to be escorted or to have cucumber infused water waiting for you. We brought our own towels, but you can rent them there too.
Once we got into the pool we were a little disappointed because the water wasn’t as warm as we thought it would be, but we soon learned our lesson. Each of the pools is set at a different temperature and we were in a cooler pool. After making a mad dash for our towels we made our way to the other end of the complex with the warmer pool where there seemed to be hundreds of locals just lounging and one woman was even reading a book. Sitting on the steps we quickly made friends with some locals and then some travelers. It’s a wonderful experience that seems to bring people from all walks of life together.
After over an hour of soaking, the sun was setting and our fingers were getting wrinkly, so we ventured to the sauna. I’ve been to saunas before, but never one this hot. Outside the sauna there are containers of ice so that men and women can grab it to put on their super-hot bodies. The sauna was so hot it was hard to breathe. I could only stand it in there for a minute, but it seemed the locals fared much better.
There are showers everywhere, but bathroom facilities aren’t the greatest, so be prepared. The hair dryers leave a lot to desire, so plan on a trip back to your hotel or ship right after your visit to freshen up. But don’t let these minor flaws distract you from the amazing cultural experience that is lounging in the warm waters of a Budapest bath.
Bonus, your skin will feel baby soft.
Erica Kritt works at The Cruise Web. The Cruise Web is a travel agency that specializes in cruising. The expert cruise consultants focus on providing travelers with the best value for their time and money in finding and booking a cruise vacation! Visit The Cruise Web for the best European river cruises.