What’s the best way to counter sleep deprivation from a late night out in Budapest? By taking the waters at Széchenyi thermal bath in the Hungarian capital.
Széchenyi is a complex of a dozen thermal baths and five swimming pools in Budapest’s City Park, the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Like many of city’s famed baths, it takes advantage of the 123 hot springs that have emerged from a geological fault that runs beneath the city.
Built in 1913, the neo-Baroque complex’s creamy yellow façade is somewhat shabby.
But Széchenyi’s interior features ornate walls, sculptures, black and white floor tiles, columns, arches, elegant chandeliers, mosaics and even potted palm trees. A café overlooks the complex’s three outdoor swimming pools.
Visitors can also purchase a basic bikini, swimsuit and bath towel in Széchenyi’s lobby. Unlike some baths in Eastern Europe, Szechenyi is coed. Swimsuits must be worn.
The temperature was around 60°F on the day our group visited, so I was concerned I would get cold in the outdoor swimming pools. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I put my foot in the balmy 84°F water. I spent a good 15 minutes floating around the large whirlpool, along with nearly a hundred other people.
I shivered as I walked to another pool on the other side of the complex, but I warmed up when I stepped into the 90+°F degree water. Our guide Balázs and I chatted among Hungarians, Germans, Russians and other foreigners. Old men played chess in another corner of the pool.
After 15 minutes or so, we went inside and soaked in another hot pool. While the smell of sulfur chloride permeated the room, it didn’t deter us. I was not brave enough to jump into the cold water bath.
The steam baths and saunas with temperatures that exceeded 140°F, however, proved particularly beneficial to the allergy-induced cough that I had suffered before leaving New York. They also purged the smoke that had clung to my hair and skin from the night before.
The effects of Széchenyi stayed with me long after we left. The calcium, magnesium, hydrogen carbonates, sodium and other minerals in the water left my skin feeling smooth and looking healthy – and ready to take on more caffeine in Budapest’s famous cafes.
An all-day pass with a cabin costs 3,400 HUF (roughly $18) during the week and 3,500 HUF ($18.58) on the weekends. An all-day pass with a locker costs 3,000 HUF ($15.93) during the week and 3,100 HUF ($16.46) during the weekend. Two-hour passes with a cabin or a locker costs a bit less. Széchenyi also offers massages, mud packs, access to a gym and a variety of other treatments and services.
Thanks to American Airlines and the Hungarian National Tourism Office for sponsoring my trip. American Airlines launched a daily non-stop flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport on April 6.