You can't leave Budapest without experiencing the Thermal Baths! A network of 125 thermal springs is Budapest's treasure and it is this medicinal water that is drawn in from under the ground and brought in into the magnificent baths. A dip in the rejuvenating pools, in palatial surroundings, is what dreams are made of. And it was mine- to be in the oldest and arguably the most picturesque thermal baths of Europe. Built in 1913, Szechenyi Thermal Bath is one of the largest spa complexes in all of Europe.
It was a day of exploring the beautiful and romantic Budapest on cycles. The sun had set and it was a nippy evening. Zipping up our jackets and pulling down our warm hats, the husband and I were pedalling from Heroes' Square to the Szechenyi Baths located on the outskirts of Pest. The cold breeze tingled our cheeks and noses and at the back of my head was a thought - "Is it a good idea to do Szechenyi on a winter night?". Hours later, I got the answer - a resounding yes!
It was 6 pm and we hastily parked our cycles. As you enter, the first thing you notice is the stunning architecture. Szechenyi Baths is a neo-baroque masterpiece. The opulent first dome is where you get your tickets. For a 4600 HUF (about Rs.1100) ticket you get an entry and access to the common changing room and a locker. We chose the 5100 HUFF (about Rs.1200) ticket which gave us entry and a tiny private cabin.
The tickets are basically a plastic armband key. Wear them like a watch and don't lose it- it is key to your locker/cabin and your key to enter and exit.
What more can a newly married couple ask for than a tiny cabin to change out of layers of warm clothes and get into bathing suits? I'll tell you! Some hot water to soak your aching muscles in. After a quick shower, we wrap ourselves in towels and run in our flip flops towards the indoor pools.
Inside the regal building are 15 pools spread out between several stunning arches. At temperatures between 28-40 degrees centigrade the water in these pools are hot, warm, lukewarm - temperatures marked for our benefit. The blue waters of the thermal pool with vapours dancing on the surface, inviting us in, increasing our heartbeats, making our skin turn crimson, lulling us into a state of intoxicated stupor. The water is rich in minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulphate, and is said to have healing properties.
There are also steam rooms, saunas, freezing plunge pools.
Time stretches out here. The thick pillars, the long corridors, the beautiful ceilings, the glass windows and the carved arches - it is like bathing in a cathedral. Even two minutes in the 40-degree pool feels like forever and then the dash to the cold water pool comes in almost a slow motion.
The indoor pools remain open till 7 pm and having charged up our blood circulation by then - we stepped out to be greeted by the piercing winter air and the outdoor pools.
A heavy fog hung over the outdoor pools. A fluffy white envelope, torn here and there with the lights from antique lamps. The pale yellow exterior of the building offsetting the blue of the waters. At 38 degrees the water felt like a warm blanket as we stepped in. Steam rose from our bodies, as marble statues spurted out hot water. It is advised to not stay in the thermal pool for more than 20 minutes but the cold outside made us stay in for at least 30 minutes.
Only to go around to the leisure pool where the water dances to music and light. You can spin in a central whirlpool and let the water drag you along in soft circles. The outdoor pools remain open till 10 at night and we only came out till it was time.
There are hairdryers out in the gallery outside the cabins that you might need before you change back into your warm clothing. Back on the road, there's a spring in our step! Totally rejuvenated, our skins glowing, muscles and joints felt like an oiled machine!
So would I recommend Szenchenyi visit on a winter evening! Yes! Here is why-
1) Szenchenyi sans crowds: Search the internet for Szenchenyi images and you are bound to see pools piled with people. But winter evening experience is quite different. Besides us, there were 6-7 more people in the outside pool and fewer indoors.
2) Exceptionally Beautiful: The play of light and shadows, the blur of steam and the centuries-old building...a picture worth remembering!
3) Stargaze: Look up as you soak in the hot waters. Don't worry about the skin tan, look for your favourite constellation instead!
4) Romantic AF: No crowds pushing or bumping into you, the dim lighting, the steamy surroundings- love is in the air!
5) Better Deals on tickets: After 5 PM the ticket cost dip slightly!
General Tips On Szenchenyi Visit
1) TICKETS: Book tickets online or through your hotel would be a good idea. You can beat the crowd by getting into a VIP queue. You can also get a complete list of ticket costs at different times and days. For example, the ticket cost peaks a bit on weekends and holidays.
2) TOWELS: Remember to carry your own towels. Else you will need to rent them for 1000HUF, plus pay a 2000 HUF deposit. Don’t lose the wristband or any other rented gear, you will lose your deposit and will be punished with a hefty fee.
3) FLIP FLOPS: Carrying flip flops to the baths is a good idea since you will be walking from one pool to another, indoor to outdoor. Just make sure they have good grip and don't skid on a wet floor.
4) CABIN VS LOCKER: For a little extra money you can get a tiny cabin which might be better than a locker. You can comfortably change, keep your valuables and bags etc. And it is ok for two people to share one cabin.
5) CHECK WEBSITE: It would be a good idea to glance through the official website to make sure there are no maintenance alerts etc. http://www.szechenyibath.hu/
6) SWIMMING COSTUME: Bathing Suits are compulsory - but a bathing cap is required only for the lap pool which has cold water.
7) DRINK WATER: Keep yourself hydrated. You are soaking yourself in hot water, for the experience to be completely therapeutic, remember to keep sipping water. You can order beverages in the outdoor pool or can carry your bottle of water with you.
8) DON'T BE IN A HURRY: Give yourself at least 3 hours to completely enjoy without having to rush out from one pool to the next.
9) NO KIDS: Children under 14 years of age are not allowed in the thermal pools so this might not be the place for family fun.
10) SAY CHEESE! It is a tourist attraction and no one has problems with you taking pictures here. So make sure you carry a waterproof pouch for your phone and click away!
Writer: Simran Gill