The Szechenyi Spa (pronounced Set Sheyni)was our destination on day two of our sojourn in Budapest, city of spas. After a lovely walk down Andrassy Ut, the so-called “Champs Elysee” of Budapest, and a quick peak at the ornate Opera House, we climbed down a few steps to a the orange line of the metro, a throwback to the 19th century, when this was the first metro built in all of Europe. The stations are tiled in white and burgundy tiles, with wooden cabinet fittings; the look is entirely retro, but the metro is extremely functional, and brought us quickly to Hero’s Square and from there a short walk to this largest of all spas.
The spa complex is an enormous yellow and white set of buildings built in 1909 in the modern Renaissance style, it is perhaps the largest spa in Europe. The building circles a huge, heated swimming pool and a thermal pool of equally large proportions. The swimming pool is heated to 28 C and the thermal pool clocks in at 38 C. The waters themselves are quite comfortable; the only problem is getting in and out of them into the frigid 0 C weather. Unfortunately, I had to do that one extra time because I was not wearing a bathing cap, apparently a sanitary requirement in the outdoor swimming pool (not the thermal pool, don’t ask me why). After swimming several laps, and enjoying the outdoor thermal pool, where you can observe men playing chess while immersed in the water as if this was a very normal, everyday sort of event, we made a mad dash to the indoor pools of which there are no less than 19! Each one is a slightly different size and has the temperature of the pool noted above it. The waters range from 28 C-40 C allowing one to choose or go between the various pools. All signs are in Hungarian, and in my attempts to understand what they meant I searched in vain for a Hungarian speaker. Apparently, Mondays are tourist days, and while there were very few people speaking any language that I could recognize, there were no Hungarian speakers to help out. The pools were all filled, but there was room enough for all.
After traveling among the various pools for two hours we indulged ourselves in a relaxation massage, which was quite similar to a massage in any spa we have visited, including massage table, soft music, candles, and pleasant cream. The only unusual feature of my massage was that my masseuse, who spoke no English, answered her cellphone several times, and the knocks on the door at least twice. Rather than getting annoyed, I figured this was my introduction to Hungarian spa culture, and let it pass.
After the massage we returned to our single sex changing rooms, and used our plastic watches to unlock our lockers, once again bundle up, and prepare to face the chilly Budapest evening. A quick stop for a hot chocolate warmed our insides before making our way to a Bach filled organ concert in St. Stephen’s magnificent cathedral.
Szechenyi Spa can be reached by the orange metro line taken to the last stop. Entrance to the spa which includes a locker is 3400 forint. Towels can be rented, and one can upgrade to a private changing cabin as well. Please note that one can rent a locker in the building with indoor baths (we didn’t know that), and if you prefer not to expose yourself to the cold outdoors this may be preferable.
Additonal spas you might want to try: