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Why I Didn’t Like The Budapest Baths…and Why I Felt Guilty About It

I had been dreaming about the Budapest baths since I booked my trip to the Hungarian capital months ago. Old architecture, thermal baths, relaxed atmosphere, men playing chess – it was going to be great. After a long day of exploring, it would be the perfect place to soak my achy, tourist bones.  It was (almost) as if they were going to serve me bon-bons while I soaked.

You can imagine my surprise when arriving at the Széchenyi Baths (and dragging my traveling companion with me) I discovered something monumental – I did not like them. Not one bit. How was this possible? From the moment I entered the outdated and dirty changing stalls, I became wary. Making my way outside, I admired the yellow Neo-baroque buildings, but was immediately turned off by the atmosphere. The baths were packed with not an empty spot to be found. Kids and teenagers were running around and splashing. Slipping into a corner, I tried to relax and tune out my surroundings. After spending twenty minutes at the baths (and ten of those minutes desperately searching for a towel), I had had enough. I was overwhelmed. I felt dirty. I needed to leave.


                                       I returned at a later time to take photos…much less crowded! See maybe I would like it then…

Max and I moved into one of the indoor pools, hoping the change of scenery would provoke different emotions. Wrong again. I held on for five minutes longer, but then a group of teenage boys practically trampled me in one of the pools. Suddenly shoved into corner with the water splashing all around me, I was far from relaxed. Shuffling off to our dressing quarters, I felt a little guilt at paying almost thirty dollars for only twenty minutes at the baths. “Maybe we should give them a few more minutes,” I suggested to Max. Max confirmed what I had been thinking since I arrived, “I think we should just leave now.”

I squirmed back into my clothes which now stuck to my damp body. Leaving as quickly as we arrived, a pang of remorse swept over me. I was supposed to like the Budapest baths. I was supposed to love them! Was is something I did? Did I not give them enough of a chance? Did I expect too much? Did I oversell them to Max?

In the end, I realize it was nothing I did. Always one to give the benefit of the doubt, to stick with something longer than necessary, this was just something that was not for me. Maybe it was because at the beginning of September the baths are still very crowded. Maybe it was because my expectations of a “spa-like” experience were too high. Maybe trying a different, less touristy bath would have yielded a different outcome.

Maybe not.

Guilt typically creeps in when I do not love a travel experience I have been expecting to love. It took me a long time to realize I was not going to love every travel experience I ever had, every place I had visited, every foreign meal I had eaten. Part of travel is being disappointed by what we are expecting, but accepting that as part of the travel experience.


  Pre-bath excitement….followed by post-bath disappointment

Returning back to the hotel and preparing for the hottest shower of my life, I made peace with the fact that the baths had not lived up to my expectations. (I will admit though that after only twenty minutes my aching body felt a slight reprieve). Maybe I would try another bath on a different visit, but that was not a decision for this trip. I segregated my clothes into a solitary part of my suitcase. A part where they could not touch anything. Looking down at my feet, I gave out a little cry. I had worn my nicest pair of flip flops. And they were no longer my nicest pair of flip flops.


Did you have a different experience at the Budapest baths?! 

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