It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that shoppers don’t travel to Central Europe for its fashion - while Budapest’s Váci utca has its fair share of exclusive boutiques, there’s nothing you wouldn’t find within the space of 100 metres on many streets in London, Paris or New York. Nor are you very likely to want to spend your break trawling around shopping malls, albeit you can find these if you want to. Yet there’s considerable colour - of a more specifically and interestingly local kind - to be found in other areas of the city’s shopping experience.
For the best of the bustle you should take a browse around a market hall or a flea market. The Great Market Hall at the southern end of Váci utca is the biggest and most famous, a vast Art Nouveau hangar of a place where locals come for fresh food but where there are also stalls hawking bags of dried paprika, bottles of Hungarian wine, delicate lacework and other hand-crafted goods. During December, Vörösmarty tér is filled with Christmas market stalls selling wooden toys and cups of mulled wine. A flea market promises a truly mixed bag of items, from the vaguely useful to the utterly useless; you never know what you might find, but they are the safest bet if you want to pick up some authentic communist memorabilia (badges and the like). While prices are fixed at market halls, you can do a little haggling at the flea markets. If you’d prefer to go on an antiques hunt, take a stroll down Falk Miksa utca, just off Szent István körút; here you can find dozens of shops offering fine clocks, furniture, jewellery and more.
High on your shopping list of souvenirs or gifts should be: bottles of the globally renowned Tokaj Aszú, a sweet, golden dessert wine; paprika - the ubiquitous spice of Hungarian cuisine - sold in dried strings or powdered in little bags; tins of goose-liver paté; tablecloths and napkins embroidered with colourful folk motifs; and pieces of porcelain by the Herend and Zsolnay factories, each with long, magnificent traditions.
Standard shops are generally open during the week between 10am-6pm and on Saturdays from 9am to lunchtime. Food shops keep slightly longer hours, while shopping malls will usually open every day. Credit cards are accepted in main stores and in shopping malls, but at markets and smaller shops you’ll need to pay with cash.