A Guide for Shopaholics in Budapest

by Bogi Palotas

Everything people studying in Budapest need to know to successfully scour the city for anything, vintage clothing, to trendy Hungarian fashion, to traditional liquor, and what...a fashion bar? Budapest may just have something to suit everyone, the tourist, the antique-lover, the contemporary artist, and even the literature student on the hunt for cheap books.

A Design Shop in Budapest.
A Design Shop in Budapest. Photo Courtesy of Robby Veronesi

Currency - Good To Know

Usually you can use your credit cards everywhere, but in small shops and markets you have to pay in cash. Although Hungary is part of the European Union, the currency used isn’t the Euro, but instead the Forint (HUF). Even if sometimes Euros are accepted you’ll get Forints back if you need change, which is not worth it because of the exchange rate; so having enough Hungarian Forints with you may come in handy.

Fashion Design Shops - Unique to Hungary

Budapest’s main design street is called Király utca. Stroll down from Deák Ferenc Square to Nagymező Street for design galleries, funky boutiques, home-improvement shops, and gift ideas from contemporary designers. Also for handmade shoes, this is the place to be.

Budapest Fashion Week is held each April while Design Week takes place in October, and once or twice a year you can go on a Downtown Design Discovery with Stylewalker. Fashion pop-up stores can surprise you in town, and showrooms like Flatlab are worth exploring too!

Unknown Shops - Off the Beaten Path 

Budapest has a few art bars - fashion pubs that don’t only offer booze - where you can combine pub-crawling with accessories and clothes. You can sometimes even buy plants or the bar’s very own decorations! These bars include, Kék Ló (a fashion pub), El Rapido (grill and taquería, tequila bar with retro deco) on Kazinczy Street, Csendes Vintage Art Café on Ferenczy István Street, and Arborétum (a bar in Gozsdu court), all examples of tempting, tipsy shopping opportunities! 

For those who want to get their hands on something special, away from the touristy crowd, visit Rododendron, Buborék, or Insitu. These shops have badges, unique vintage sheet music earrings, necklaces, and other awesome accessories, or retro-ish, fancy postcards, wearables, and items with the city’s landmarks; for example, a clock made of an old record cut into the shape of the Parliament or Heroes’ Square. These make for awesome souvenirs to take home with you after your semester abroad in Budapest has come to an end. 

Face masks, Budapest

Treasure Hunt- Calling all collectors! 

Whether you’re looking for furniture, porcelain, or contemporary works by Hungarian artists, you’ll find it all on Falk Miksa Street which is packed with antique galleries and hole-in-the-wall shops. By Jászai Mari square you will stumble upon BÁV, a state-run auction house and Kieselbach Galéria that focuses on modern art.

For flea markets and design markets in the center check out the Gouba Market in Gozsdu Court or get informed about the monthly event at Akvárium Club. The most famous design market is WAMP, which specializes in accessories, clothes, and more. The best known flea markets are Ecseri and Petőfi Csarnok, which is often called Pecsa by locals for short (pronounced peh-chaw - however it might sound like a curse word if pronounced wrong so maybe just stick with the first version). Many sellers don’t speak English, so if you aren't studying Hungarian, you may need to use the display of your cell phone if you want to haggle. There are also two shops that sell all kinds of old stuff, Antique Bazaar and Nostalgy.

For rare books and second-hand books, walk down Múzeum körút, the city’s “antique book row” – there’s a big neon owl that will watch your steps. Under number 13 to 15 you’ll find some English books. For other second-hand books in English and other non-Hungarian languages go to Bookstation in Visegrádi Street 9.

For a magnificent atmosphere, visit the former Parisian Department Store – the inspiring Art Nouveau style interior and the piano player will make you hungry for culture and cakes, which you can have at the Alexandra Bookstore.

Expand Your Style - Go Vintage

Studying in Budapest is a great chance to explore vintage style. From hippie and punk to “rock-able” and retro, Budapest has some great vintage shops. Lovebug is a flat shop in Buda that features clothes, bags, and shoes, and other little treasures; but check their Facebook page for opening times because they only grant entry to curious collectors on certain days! Antifactory, another shop in Pest, is home to one of the shop’s owners; you might end up having a glass of wine or some homemade cookies with her while you browse through their collection! Szputnyik takes its name from the novel Sputnik Sweetheart (by Haruki Murakami). The store’s motto is “Fashion from the past, style from the future” and it is popular with stars from the present, Sex and the City’s Miranda (a.k.a. Cynthia Nixon) and her girlfriend have even visited this shop! Other vintage shops worth a visit are Retrock, Ómama Antik, Iguana Retro, Vintage shop on Práter Street, Karmazsin, and Jajcica.

Souvenir items

Unusual Souvenirs - A Gift for Everyone

To spice up your food get csípőspaprika and to burn your throat try the local schnapps Pálinka, that comes in many different flavors. The best flavors include honey and fruit, usually apricot, pear, and plum. Unicum is Hungary’s herbal liqour that is similar to Jaegermeister. But since Hungary boasts 22 wine-growing regions, you also have a wide choice of wine: Bull’s Blood, a.k.a. Egri Bikavér or Blue Frankish a.k.a. Kékfrankos; but the most famous wine is Tokaji Aszú.

Local handicrafts include linen table-cloths, chess sets, and nesting dolls, but these are actually more Russian than Hungarian. Herend and Zsolnay porcelain are very pricey, but exclusive gifts. The colorful Zsolnay tiles you’ll see all over the city, mostly adorning the roofs of Budapest’s buildings (.e.g. the Great Market Hall or the Matthias Church), are also great gifts.

Cool shirts can be purchased in the BP shop or sneakers from Tisza, a once-reviled Communist-era brand. Ironic or tacky tees of communist times and the city itself can be found in any souvenir shop, especially located on Váci Street, Buda Castle Quarter, Gellért Hill, and near the Basilica. For Hungarian music, pop in to the Opera gift shop. If you like games and logic, a fun thing to get is the Rubik’s Cube or the Magic Box. The first one is a colorful Hungarian invention while the second one has a key hidden inside and you have to figure out how to get ahold of it.

Food Market-ing - Tasting Hungary

Voted as one of the best markets of Europe by CNN, the Great Market Hall is one of Budapest’s top attractions, where you can combine shopping with a bit of sightseeing and go on a culinary adventure on all three levels. This picturesque building adorned with Zsolnay tiles lies at the end of Váci street by the Liberty bridge. Originally, the products were shipped into the market hall through tunnels that are connected to the Danube and the University of Economics, right next to this gigantic market hall, which used to be the customs house where goods were unloaded. You’ll find a supermarket and a fish market in the basement, butcher stalls, bakeries, produce stands, salami, and paprika on the ground floor, and eateries and souvenirs on the second.

For a local vibe, drop by the Hold utcai piac, a market on Hold street, and make sure to experience the farmer’s market in Szimpla Kert on Sunday (from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for gastro products and live music.

Window Shopping- high end fashion

Andrássy Avenue is all about high end shopping. From Deák Ferenc tér to Oktogon, the stores of Gucci, Burberry, Armani, and Luis Vuitton dominate the street. The newly opened Il bacio di stile, a push luxury mall with brands like Valentino, Jil Sander, and Jimmy Choo, provides an upscale shopping experience. On Fashion Street you’ll find labels like Lacoste, Sisley, Mexx, and Tommy Hilfiger. But for fashionistas the Hungarian designer brand, Nanushka’s unique retail store, is a must if only for its interior – not to mention the fabulous clothes that are actually made in Budapest.

Major Shopping Malls - Possibly a Bit of Something Familiar

The American-style shopping malls are Westend by the Western Railway station (Nyugati pályaudvar), Allee near Móricz Zsigmond körtér, Arena close to the Eastern Railway station (Keleti pályaudvar), Árkád at the end stop of the red metro line in Pest, and Mammut by the other end station in Buda.

Budapest Food court

Opening Hours - For the Top Shops in the Pest

Most shopping malls are open Monday thru Saturday from 10am to 9pm, and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Other shops vary greatly:

  • Shops on Vörösmarty Square and Váci Street- Monday thru Saturday from 10am to 9pm and Sunday from 10am to 7pm.
  • The Ecseri Flea Market- Monday thru Friday from 8am to 4pm, Saturday from 6am to 3pm, and Sunday from 8am to 1pm (locals recommend this flea market on Saturdays and Sundays).
  • The Petőfi Csarnok Pecsa” Flea Market- Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 2pm
  • Smaller shops are often open till 6pm except for Saturday, when they close around 1pm or 2pm, and most small shops are also closed on Sundays.
  • The Great Market Hall- Monday from 6am to 5pm, Tuesday thru Thursday from 6am to 6pm, Saturday from 6am to 3pm, and it is closed on Sundays.
  • Market Hall on Hold Street- Monday from 6:30am to 5pm, Tuesday thru Friday from 6:30am to 6pm, Saturday from 6:30am to 2pm, and it is closed on Sundays.

Study in Budapest and explore their markets suitable for all types of tourists!