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I stop for a moment at the door, my toes already curling in my newly acquired flip flops from the cold air wafting in from the outside, trying to calculate the shortest distance to the pool stairs. Then I skip outside, make a mad dash for a park bench, drop my towel, kick off my flip flops and run the last few meters with bare feet on icy cobblestones. The cold is soon replaced by the sting of hot water on frozen skin.
As I sink into the steamy water, I can feel the stress of the past weeks disappearing. This is what travelling in the colder seasons should be like. Freezing your hands off while clutching your umbrella and fighting against rain and wind is obviously included in the “Europe in fall” package, but relaxing in one of Budapest’s thermal baths afterwards, makes braving the bad weather almost worth it.
I have decided to visit the Széchenyi Baths, the oldest thermal bath on the Pest side of the town and the biggest medical bath in Europe. Over 100 hot springs feed the many baths in the city and form an extensive cave system under the region. But the bath houses in Budapest aren’t just your average and ordinary pools. In Budapest, you bathe in style.
The yellow neo-baroque building is in itself a sight to behold. I know I’ve been complaining about too much pretty architecture lately, but I honestly didn’t mind this one. With the steam rising off the water and clouding my mind, I feel like it’s my first day travelling again, back when everything was still new and exciting.
Pillars rise up to vaulted ceilings in sweeping colonnades and elegant arches, as fountains splash and statues watch over the scenes of floating people. The pools form a beautiful turquoise contrast to the pastel yellow of the building and groups of men crowd around chessboards, all of them submerged to their shoulders and intently focused on their game. I feel like I’m swimming back in time. I drift around for a while, contemplating my next move.
“They should have really connected these pools,” someone tells me, as I make my shivering way to the other end of the complex, intent on following through with my decision of trying every pool this place has to offer. It dawns on me now, why the website strongly urged people to bring a robe – a sentence I had laughed at earlier. Still, I’m having fun and don’t intend to stop anytime soon.
There are 15 pools in the Széchenyi Baths, all of varying temperatures, sizes and with different medical properties. I manage to submerge myself or at least dip my toes in most of them and I even give the 70°C sauna a chance. While the drops falling from the ceiling feel like hellfire on my back, I decide to get out of there before my eyeballs catch on fire. I spend another 20 minutes in the outdoor pools, till hunger drives me back to the city.
- Get a cabin. Seriously. There is hardly a price difference between cabins and lockers, but the cabins are far more convenient. They guarantee you privacy, while storing your belongings securely for the duration of your stay. You can even share one with your traveling partner(s), split the price and save some money.
- Bring your own towels, bathing suits and flip flops. Renting them is pretty expensive and the lines for acquiring what you need can be long. If you do not have one of those items, buy instead of rent. Once again the price difference is minimal and everything is available at the store near the entrance.
- In the colder seasons, consider bringing a bath robe. The pools are not connected and moving between them requires some walking in the freezing cold while being basically naked.
How to get there:
Take the M1 (yellow metro line) to the “Széchenyi fürdő” station in the direction of “Mexikói út”. When you get out of the station you should see the yellow building immediately.