I am a sucker for any activity that involves soaking in hot water (hot springs, hot tubs. You name it), so I obviously had to give visiting a famous Budapest bathhouse a try. At the recommendation of my hotel, I decided to check out Széchenyi Thermal Bath, a gorgeous, 1913 Neo-Baroque spa complex that ranks as one of the largest in Europe!
Hungary’s thermal bath culture goes back centuries, beginning with Roman settlers and continuing with Turkish occupiers. Read on to see why these historic bathhouses deserve a slot on your Budapest itinerary!
WHY VISIT A BUDAPEST BATHHOUSE?
If you’re thinking a Budapest thermal bath is no more than a glorified hot tub, think again. Word is the spa waters have healing properties thanks to their mineral components, which include calcium, magnesium and sodium. I’ve heard that they can help every ailment from joint damage to arthritis to poor circulation to skin conditions (need I go on?); their medicinal qualities have attracted bathers for hundreds of years.
If that sounds a little “woo-woo” to you, go for the history and architecture. Széchenyi, with its ornate lobby, cheerful yellow facade and seemingly endless fountains, blew me away!
WHEN TO VISIT A BUDAPEST BATHHOUSE
So here’s the best part about thermal baths:
They’re warm all the time. Obvious, right? But when it’s 45° F, gray, and drizzling, sitting in an outdoor bath might not be the first activity that springs to mind.
I personally probably would have saved Széchenyi for a nicer day if there had been one in the forecast, but in the end, I was glad I picked the day I did. Once in the water, the precipitation didn’t bother me at all, making the baths the perfect rainy-day activity.
Of course, if it’s too cold or wet outside to even contemplate the five-second run into the water, you have indoor options, too! Széchenyi has a whopping 11 indoor thermal pools, with temperatures ranging from about 82° F to 104° F.
On the flip side, if you catch a summer day that’s too hot for heated water, you can hit up Széchenyi’s immersion pools (with temperatures of around 65° F); or its cooling pool (around 68° F). Seriously, there’s an option for every type of weather!
SZÉCHENYI THERMAL BATH CHANGING & LOCKERS
I was a little bit worried about what I was going to do with my stuff (read: my DSLR camera) while in the pool by myself, but as it turns out, I needn’t have been. Széchenyi has a super-simple locker system that makes the whole storage and changing process really easy and worry-free! At the ticket window, you’ll receive a waterproof wristband that acts as fob, and you’ll use it to automatically gain entry into the complex.
Once you get to the changing rooms, there’s ample locker space, and you simply pick an open one and touch your wristband to it to lock it. From then on, only your wristband will open it up.
When leaving, simply fob out and leave your wristband in a collection box near the exit. And that’s it!
Of course, I might have been a little more nervous about my camera if it had been a nicer day and Széchenyi had been busier. And if you are, Széchenyi offers other storage solutions that might suite you better. The complex has private changing rooms, or “cabins,” as well as safe-like boxes available for rent; find more info here.
SZÉCHENYI THERMAL BATH TICKETS & ADMISSION
When I first looked at Széchenyi’s pricing information, I had no idea which ticket I needed. Hopefully the above section helped explain the cabin vs. locker situation, so you might have a better sense of what you need than I did before I went, but even so; I recommend just showing up and talking to the person selling tickets at the window. When I got there, the woman told me there was only one type of ticket I could buy at the time I was arriving, which was definitely not before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Still, I only paid 5,200 HUF (about $18.50) for the ticket, which doesn’t match up with any on Széchenyi’s website! I know it’s probably not the world’s most helpful, but my best advice is to save yourself time trying to figure things out and get some guidance when you arrive.
To pay for my ticket to Széchenyi, I used my Citi ThankYou Premier credit card, which earns 2 points per dollar on entertainment purchases. To be fair, I had no idea whether Citi would code Széchenyi as entertainment; tickets to movies, concerts, museums and sporting events almost always code that way, but the bathhouse was new territory for me! Luckily, when I went back to check my statement, the purchase had in fact come up as entertainment; so if you have a card in your arsenal that earns an entertainment bonus, go with that one!
For more on earning and using points and miles to travel for free, visit the 52 Cities free resource library or register to join me on my points and miles masterclass! And for more info on Budapest, check out this perfect itinerary for first-time visitors, my review of the Hilton Budapest and the recap of my latest trip.
Is visiting a Budapest bathhouse on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments! >>
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