Just back from… Budapest

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Emma at Buda Castle, overlooking the iconic Parliament building © Emma Sparks

Emma Sparks, Deputy Editor at Lonely Planet, is just back from a girls’ trip to Budapest.

Tell us more… Every year my two best friends from university and I get together for a European adventure. We’ve been to Porto, Florence, Sardinia… so it’s now officially a tradition. We take it in turns to pick the destination – and 2016 was my year. I chose Budapest, lured by the thought of luxurious thermal baths and the prospect of a decent night on the tiles. I wasn’t disappointed.

In a nutshell… Hungary’s capital is wonderfully walkable – and while you’re getting from A to B, chances are you’ll stumble across colourful street art, intricate architecture and evidence of the city’s remarkable history in the form of sculptures and memorials.

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Taking a dip at Szechenyi thermal bath © Emma Sparks

Quintessential experience? You cannot go to Budapest and not take a dip in one of the thermal baths. We loved them so much we went to three! Széchenyi Baths is the most famous of the lot – and well worth the trip. The complex is huge, with swimming lanes, two outdoor thermal pools and countless indoor baths, steam rooms and saunas. But Gellért Baths was my favourite; ample sunbathing space, gorgeous art nouveau design and a steamy 40°C bath (among others) sent it hurtling to the top of my list.

You’d be a muppet to miss… Budapest’s ruin bars. In part responsible for the rejuvenation of the seventh district, these ramshackle drinking holes are undeniably hipster – but in the best way. Check out the Sunday farmer’s market in Szimpla Kert or go down the rabbit hole and make a night of it in labyrinthine Instant.

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The hipster haven and all-round-awesome ruin bar of Szimpla Kert © Emma Sparks

Good grub? I was pleasantly surprised by the food. It’s not a case of ‘goulash or go home’ here. In fact, I had one of the most delicious meals ever at Zeller Bistro: scrumptious, salty whitebait, followed by rabbit with potato velouté and baby carrots. They even treated us to complementary mini cupcakes with the (incredibly reasonable) bill!

Hungarian wine is also pretty decent – it’s nigh on impossible to decipher the labels if you don’t speak the language, so I recommend just picking up a few bottles and seeing which one you like best…

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You’ll see an array of local life along Budapest’s Liberty Bridge © Emma Sparks

Defining moment? Our walk over Liberty Bridge from Buda into Pest at dusk will stay with me for a long time. The sky was a glorious dip-dyed pinky purple, a boat sailed below us along the Danube and the bridge was abuzz with cyclists, pedestrians and trams. Local kids were chilling out on the iron beams, eating picnics and taking pictures. It just summed the city up for me: busy-yet-laid-back and absolutely beautiful.

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