Budapest has held the title “City of Spas” since the year 1934, as it has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world. There are 118 springs in Budapest, providing over 70 million litres of thermal water a day. The temperature of the waters is between 21 and 78 degrees Celsius.
Budapest’s thermal waters were enjoyed by the Romans as early as the 2nd century, but it was only during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century that the bath culture really started flourishing. (from here)
Our first visit to ‘the baths’ was within a week of arriving. It was snowing outside, I had a cold, we were tired… we booked a private tub indoors at Széchenyi Medicinal Bath (Széchenyi-gyógyfürdő) and spent about an hour soaking in it. To be honest, it gets a bit boring in a tub indoors, with no people-watching to be had.
It’s taken us far too long to return, but today we did, and we were not disappointed. A glorious spring day for it too; about 16 or 17 degrees, the sun blazing and the surrounding park beginning to show more green than brown.
Whilst one of my few regrets is that we did not bathe outdoors surrounded in snow when we arrived, I am so glad I bathed today in the cool air. The baths range from 34-40 degrees Celsius. Indoors there is one plunge pool that is 20 degrees – a bit chilly for me.
Given the influx of tourists in the afternoon, I can imagine it would be very busy in the summer; though why you would want to swim in a pool the same temperature (or hotter) than it is outside beats me. By 3pm, a disproportionate amount of Italians and Americans were using the whirlpool and squealing with glee, much to the disdain of the oldies surrounding them in the larger pool. We arrived at 1.30pm, and after figuring out the locker system, found ourselves relaxing in a pool of 34 degrees, surrounded by locals (mostly aged 50+) sitting around in the pools, faces turned to the sun, eyes closed, relaxing. As I mentioned in my post about Marcius 15, Hungarian seniors do not while away their days indoors. They get out amongst it, and some of them even wear bikinis. All kinds of bodies on display, ridiculous swimming caps, shower caps, towels fashioned as turbans, bellies and bosoms out, suntanned shoulders and towelling bathrobes.
We bathed in both thermal pools outdoors, two indoors, then walked through the entire indoor pool complex (what a labyrinth!) and back outside into the sun. People watching is the BEST part of the whole experience.
Tips: Bring thongs (flip-flops, for anyone who is not Australian), get a locker, bring water (we had dehydration headaches after 2 hours), make sure you eat first because you’ll be starving afterwards, wear a swimming cap if you want to use the centre pool outdoors (it’s for laps) and arrive early – it fills with tourists after lunch! Apparently you can get a partial refund on the daily ticket price if you keep receipts and ask for it nicely, though we didn’t know how this worked and didn’t bother trying to find out this time around.
“Towels” (they are sheets, essentially) are available, as are basic bath products, all for a fee. BYO shower gel/shampoo for the showers, and your sense of bravery as you enter the change rooms – nudity on show, old and young! Nude up with the rest of them, I say. No one cares!