Budapest’s bathing culture is a legacy of the 16th-century Turkish occupation, and the wealth of hot springs bubbling up from under the city. For the quintessential Budapest experience, head to the most splendid spa in the city (and the biggest spa in Europe) – the century-old Széchenyi Baths. This sprawling spa complex contains a host of baths and pools, from steam baths and artesian water baths inside, to swimming pools outside. During summer, the outside area doubles as a beach, attracting everyone from bathing beauties to old men playing chess.
Entrance is on a day-by-day basis and massages or spa treatments can be booked on arrival. Pack a towel as well as a swimsuit, as towel hire is extra. If it is an impulse visit, you can hire both towel and trunks at the ticket office. Fizzy drinks and salty snacks are available at the baths, but you won’t find proper meals here. Picnics are not allowed. See the website for a list of other spa venues.
The baths are open all year, daily 6am-10pm. Naturally the outdoor spaces are more popular in summer, but some hardy souls still brave the dash to the heated outdoor pools in winter.
Where to eat or drink
Try Robinson’s Restaurant (Városligeti tó) on an island in the nearby artificial lake, or the upscale Gundel (Gundel Károly útca 4), renowned for its pancakes.
Get the massage
You can book a Swedish massage session with one of Széchenyi’s on-site masseurs, but only if you want a fairly vigorous working over. That’s how it’s done here.
- Type Spa
- Place Budapest
- Notoriety Somewhat known
- Price guide $$$$$
- Adults price from £12
- Recommended duration 2+ hours
- Available Jan-Dec
- Best time Apr-Oct
- Booking requirement Booking not required
- Wheelchair friendly No
- Physical difficulty
- Fear factor
- Authentic & unspoilt
- Cultural insight