Shopping can be a great way to get to know a city. You can start exploring Budapest by sampling some paprika-cured sausages at a grand market hall, try on a new wardrobe or a pair of shoes by a local designer, or hunt for an antique piece with a unique story from a quirky street stall. Just don’t forget your wallet!
Budapest’s most famous market hall is Nagycsarnok. This vast hall held together with an intricate network of steel beams, topped with a red-and-yellow tiled roof, is one of the city’s prominent landmarks. But it’s more than just a tourist sight to take photos of – you can get all kinds of local delicacies here, such as packets of paprika, tinned foie gras and cured meats. Clamber up to the second floor for folk crafts, especially if you’re looking for an embroidered tablecloth, traditional Hungarian shirt or painted wooden spoons to take home.
If you want to shop where the locals do, escape the city centre and head to Lehel Market. The building looks like a ship from a surrealist’s dream, with canary yellow and scarlet forms mixed in concrete and steel; the grand light-flooded hall is lined with crates of seasonal fruit and vegetables, along with stalls of meat, cheese, fish and baked goods on the perimeter.
Farmers markets in Budapest feel more like a street festival than a shopping experience, probably helped by the fact that they occupy some of the city’s most popular bars on weekend mornings. The most famous market pops up every Sunday morning at the iconic Szimpla Kert ruin bar, complete with live music and a charity cook-off. Get there early, or prepare to try slivers of craft cheese amid the jostling crowd. For something more low-key, head over to Élesztő, a large craft beer bar set in a former glassworks that also hosts a food market on Sundays. If you prefer to lie in on a Sunday, go up to Czakó Kert in Buda for its Saturday market or the vast organic market set in the field next to the MOM Park shopping centre.
Food and drink
Beyond the market halls, you can buy food and drink as gifts or souvenirs all over the city. Hungarian wine is a popular gift, and you can have some fun by booking a tasting at the Tasting Table before choosing that perfect bottle – or just drop by for a chat with one of the sommeliers. If you’re a fan of spirits, pay a visit to the Zwack Museum & Visitors’ Centre to learn about the iconic Hungarian bitters, taste from the barrel and buy an orb-like bottle (or two) at the large shop afterward. Those who don’t like bitter drinks can get a bottle of local pálinka (fruit brandy) at the Magyar Pálinka Háza instead. While the best foodie gifts are found at the market hall, for something pre-packed just head to any supermarket.
The antique shops and galleries lining leafy Falk Miksa utca in the V District beg to be explored. You could spend hours here searching for that perfect piece to take home. But if you’re in the mood for adventure, catch bus 54 or 55 from Boráros tér to Ecseri Piac. This vast flea market in the XIX District (open daily) is a real treasure trove, with stalls and alcoves piled with unique collectibles, such as a giant serpent fountain taken from an old villa in the Buda Hills, and communist-era nostalgia like the portraits of Lenin. If you don’t feel like going that far, peruse the antique shops in the basement of Bálna – a striking glass structure on the riverbank – where you can also find some interesting pieces.
Budapest has earned a reputation as a city of design. Its central districts are home to design collectives tucked away in a hidden courtyard, like Paloma and Rododendron, or a private apartment you’ll need to buzz to be let in, such as Flatlab or YLKA Design Studio. Sharing a building with the famous Szimpla Kert ruin pub, Szimpla Design Shop has an eclectic collection of design and vintage bags, books, toys, postcards and more. If markets are more your style, you’ll want to visit the monthly WAMP design market whose stalls feature work by local designers.
Fashion and vintage
Budapest has plenty of spots for fashionistas, whether it’s the usual designer suspects on Andrássy Avenue, from Gucci to Armani, or the trendy stores lining Váci utca and Deák Ferenc utca. But if you’re looking to slip into something Hungarian, head over to Nanushka’s flagship store for women’s fashion catering to urban nomads, or turn to Vass Shoes, a few corners down the road, for quality men’s footwear.
Vintage clothes are often found swinging on coathangers next to unique design pieces, or tangled in a hidden basement you’ll only discover by accident or through a savvy friend. Get a new wardrobe or just have some fun dressing up like a 1980s pop star at downtown vintage stores such as Retrock, Ludovika, LoveBug Vintage and Jajcica. If you’re shopping for both vintage and design, you may want to add Szputnyik Shop to the list.
Souvenirs with a difference
Forget the fridge magnet and try to take home something unique from the city. Pop into tiny Bomo Art boutique that smells of paper and leather to pick up a handbound vintage-style notebook for yourself or someone special back home. You can also get a coffee and browse around trendy Printa for a silkscreen print of Budapest or a piece of upcycled clothing if you want a break from the mainstream. And if the luggage weight limit is not an issue, pay a visit to Zsolnay or Herend stores, where you can buy the famous Hungarian glazed ceramics.