One of the largest and most ornate spa complexes in Europe, the Széchenyi Baths feature three outdoor pools and a warren of indoor ones, saunas and steam rooms alongside. Along with the Gellért, these are the most popular (and expensive) baths in town, jam-packed with tourists in high season and over Christmas. Planned from 1868, completed in 1913, the spa is both a neo-Baroque landmark and feat of water engineering, Vilmos Zsigmondy siting the outlets on the northern flank of Városliget park close to Budapest Zoo. The spa’s metro station was only added in 1973 but today provides easy access for the many daily bathers heading towards the main entrance opposite the circus.
In the main pool, the sight of old locals playing chess in the water is one of the classic images of Budapest. The whirlpool at the outdoor water facility on the other side is also phenomenally popular. A bar/eatery terrace overlooks the lane pool in the middle.
Couples can hire a kabin to don/remove swimming things in private – everyone else has to find an empty locker in the single-sex changing rooms, then lock it with the face of the plastic wrist-watch they’ll be given at the ticket office.
Open daily from 6am all year round, the ‘Szecska’ is at its most atmospheric in winter, when steam rises into the freezing air and snowflakes fall over bathers’ heads.