They were right - bathing in the geothermal bath pools really is a unique experience.
The Szechenyi thermal spa baths are not only the largest thermal spring bath complex in Budapest, but they are also the biggest in Europe. It's no wonder they attracts tourists and locals alike.
The baths were built in 1913 in a very distinct neo-baroque style. Back then the men's and women's pools and bathing areas were separate, which is why the baths have a unique, symmetrical style, so that both men and women enjoyed the same amount of space.
The Szechenyi bath complex was expanded in 1927, with three outdoor and 15 indoor pools. With this additional size, came an additional requirement for more thermal spring water, so a second thermal spring was found, dug and connected in 1938.
And that, as far as I could tell, was where the renovations stopped. I imagine the baths on the outside and inside look pretty much identical to what they did 75 years ago.. It's like stepping back in time!
Using our Hop On, Hop Off bus tickets (a great way to see all the city by the way - £15 for two days, and includes a river bus too!) we jumped off at Hero's Square, and made our way towards the baths.
Given it was a cold January morning, the city ice rink was bustling with children, parents and couples, enjoying the most of the sizeable rink.
We snapped a couple of pics, headed over the small bridge and made our way through the gardens to the baths complex.
We bought our tickets, and my girlfriend booked herself in for a 30 minute massage. We were ushered through to the changing rooms, which were mixed, and....odd.
There were changing cubicles...but they also acted as a turnstile. You enter one side, get changed, and exit the other side to the locker area. We couldn't figure out how to lock the door until we left - simply fold down the lip on the wooden bench and it blocks the door. Handy if you don't want random men and women walking in on you when you get changed!
We threw our stuff into the seemingly secure lockers, and made our way through the baths to a lift to the second floor. This, I am convinced, is the only area that looks modern in the whole complex. I dropped off the girlfriend for her 30 minute massage and headed back to the lockers to grab my phone and GoPro to snap some footage - the result of which can be seen below!
You find a wonderful mix of people in the thermal baths. Old men, young men, old women, young women, locals, tourists, families....you name it, they were there.
Much like Rotorua in New Zealand, geothermal areas have a smell of sulphur that lingers in the air, but you soon get used to it.
I ventured into one of the communal baths, and took a seat. The water was a lovely temperature, I sat and people watched. The lady to my left was reading the paper. An older couple were massing themselves. A group of younger locals were laughing and joking in the other corner. And all I could think was;
"this is like sitting in a giant sulphur smelling bathtub with a load of complete strangers"
And that is exactly what it is. But it is really quite relaxing. I guess everyone is there for the same reason - to relax and enjoy the geothermal warmth.
I collected my now very relaxed girlfriend after her massage, and we headed out to the outdoor pool. Steam rose off the surface as the warm water hit the icy cold outside air.
We had a great time swimming around, and watching the locals play chess.
We headed back to the lockers after an hour or so and got changed. After we left the building my girlfriend realised she had lost her phone. But then we recounted the steps. Her phone had been in a zipped up pocket and had been stolen.
Whilst the baths are a great experience, and I would recommend them to anyone visiting Budapest, there are a few reports of items been stolen, so make them as secure as possible before you head to the baths!
Whilst we waited for the bus, we had a look around Hero's Square. Known locally as Hősök tere, Hero's Square reminded me of a smaller version of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It is one of most visited attractions in Budapest.
At the centre is the Millennium Monument, which was completed in 1929. The column is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel. Behind the column is a semicircular colonnade with statues of famous men who made their mark on Hungarian history. Statues on top of the colonnades symbolise War, Peace, Work & Welfare, and Knowledge & Glory.
Around the base of the monument are a number of equestrian statues that honour the chieftains who conquered the area now known as Hungary.
Despite having her phone stolen, my girlfriend was still enjoying herself, so we took a quick selfie in front of the monument. On my phone :)
The Szechenyi thermal spa baths cost 4,700 Hungarian Forint per person, which works out at around £11. Just don't forget a towel, flip flops and a very secure bag!
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