Budapest is a fantastic city for shopping, whether you’re in the market for traditional folk craft with a twist, cutting-edge designer goods, the latest in flash headgear or honey-sweet dessert wine. Traditional markets stand side by side with mammoth shopping malls, and old-style umbrella-makers can still be found next to avant-garde fashion boutiques.
Specialities & Souvenirs
Traditional items with a Hungarian brand – called Hungarica here – include folk embroidery and ceramics, pottery, wall hangings, painted wooden toys and boxes, dolls, all types of basketry, and porcelain (especially that from Herend and Zsolnay). Feather or goose-down pillows and duvets (comforters) are of exceptionally high quality.
Foodstuffs that are expensive or difficult to buy elsewhere – goose liver (both fresh and potted), dried mushrooms, jam (especially the apricot variety), prepared meats like Pick salami, the many types of paprika – make nice gifts (as long as you’re allowed to take them into your country). Some of Hungary’s ‘boutique’ wines also make excellent gifts; a bottle of six-puttonyos (the sweetest) Tokaji Aszú dessert wine always goes down a treat. Fruit brandy (pálinka) is a stronger option.
Books and CDs are affordable, and there’s an excellent selection, especially of folk and classical music.
Markets & Malls
Some people consider a visit to one of Budapest’s flea markets – the celebrated Ecseri Piac – a highlight, not just as a place to indulge their consumer vices, but also as the consummate Budapest experience.
In the mid-1990s Budapest began to go mall crazy, and at last count the city had upward of two dozen in the centre of town and on the fringes. However, ‘mall’ may not properly describe what the Hungarians call bevásárló és szorakoztató központ (shopping and amusement centres); here you’ll find everything from designer salons, traditional shops and dry cleaners to food courts, casinos, cinemas and clubs. It’s a place to spend the entire day, much as you would just about anywhere in the globalised world of the 3rd millennium. Don’t bother, we say.
Instead visit one of the city's 20 large food markets, most of them in Pest. The vast majority are closed on Sunday, and Monday is always very quiet, with only a few stalls open. The Nagycsarnok is a good introduction, but can get rammed with tourists in season. Instead, check out the Rákóczi tér Market or the covered market at Lehel tér in Újlipótváros.
Some streets or areas in Budapest specialise in certain goods or products.
Antiques V Falk Miksa utca in Pest and II Frankel Leó út in Buda.
Antiquarian and secondhand books V Múzeum körút in Pest.
Boutiques and souvenirs V Váci utca in Pest.
International fashion brands V Deák Ferenc utca (aka Fashion St) in Pest.
Local designer goods and fashion VI Király utca in Pest.
Exporting Art & Antiques
Antiques and art more than 50 years old require a permit from the Ministry of Culture for export; this involves a visit to a museum expert, photos of the piece and a National Bank form with proof-of-purchase receipts.