Shopping in Budapest: antiques and fine china

by adrian.phillips

If you're after a special memento of your visit to Budapest, then what about an antique print, a tablecloth embroidered with traditional rural motifs or a fine piece of Herend porcelain?

The antiques shops and folk-art centres offer an eclectic range of mementos that should suit any pocket - whether you want chintzy doilies decorated with bright folkloric patterns or a highly crafted porcelain tea set from the Herend factory - a factory, incidentally, that provided Queen Victoria with a specially designed selection of regal tableware (the range remains one of the company's most popular). 

Antiques

The first port of call on an afternoon’s antiques hunt is Falk Miksa utca, just off Szent István körút at the northern end of the city centre. This road is characterised by commanding residential buildings and a gaggle of antiques shops - almost 50 in total - selling porcelain, prints, furniture and a great deal more. There is a small string of antique bookshops along Múzeum körút (near the Hungarian National Museum), where the old maps and city prints are likely to be of most interest (unless you hanker for a first edition of a Hungarian literary classic). Alternatively, Király utca is noted for its furniture shops, while there are various BÁV outlets - the Hungarian national auction-house company - in the city centre and beyond. These operate as shops as well as auction houses, and so you can browse and buy as you choose, and don't have to visit during an auction itself. (Check out their website, www.bav.hu, for a full list of locations, and for details of auctions taking place during your visit.) If you’re buying an antique, you will require an export permit; the seller should be able to sort out the necessary paperwork.

Central antiques shops and galleries include:

BÁV outlets: Falk Miksa utca 21 (+36 1 353 1975); Ferenciek tere 10 (+36 1 318 3733); Szent István körút 3 (+36 1 473 0666); Bécsi utca 1-3 (+36 1 429 3020)

Dunaparti Aukciósház (Váci utca 36; www.dunapartiaukcioshaz.hu): This auction house and gallery on the city’s main tourist thoroughfare sells a range of glass and silverware, as well as paintings, porcelain and more.

Nagyházi Galéria (Balaton utca 8; +36 1 475 6000; www.nagyhazi.hu): A gallery and auction house off Falk Miksa utca that specialises in works of art.

Polgár Galéria & Aukciósház (Kossuth Lajos utca 3 or Váci utca 11B; +36 1 318 6954; www.polgar-galeria.hu): A pair of galleries dealing in art, furniture and jewellery.

Folk art

Favourite souvenirs among tourists to Budapest are folksy items adorned with colourful floral motifs; such artwork is rooted in the traditions of rural Hungarian peasants. As you’d expect, the shops have tourists in mind and so there’s much kitsch, and prices that are higher than you’d find elsewhere. The following stores are at the heart of the city:

Folkart Centrum (Váci utca 56–58; +36 1 318 5840; www.folkartcentrum.hu)

Folkart Kézművesház (Régi posta utca 12; +36 1 318 5143; www.folkartkezmuveshaz.hu)

Folkart Nepművészeti (Rákóczi út 34)

Porcelain and pottery

If you’re dining in a fancier restaurant, there’s a good chance that you’ll find the mark of Herend or Zsolnay on the underside of your dinner plate. These rival porcelain producers - the first based in a small village to the north of Lake Balaton and the latter in Pécs, one of the country's leading cities - have traditions dating back over 150 years, and offer fine tableware and figurines, as well as more rustic plates and bowls for everyday use. Zsolnay also makes the colourful majolica roof tiles that adorn landmarks like Matthias Church and the Great Market Hall.

You’ll find pieces of porcelain in shops all over the city, both new and antique. However, specific company outlets include:

Herend Porcelain (József nádor tér 11; +36 1 317 2622; www.herend.com)

Herend Village Pottery (Bem rakpart 37; +36 1 356 7899)

Zsolnay (Kecskeméti utca 14; +36 1 318 2643; www.zsolnay.hu)

More expert advice on Budapest

For suggestions on where to stay in Budapest, see my Budapest Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Budapest page.

Read my overview on Shopping in Budapest.

adrian.phillips

I am Publishing Director at Bradt Travel Guides (www.bradtguides.com) -- the last independent mainstream guidebook publisher in the UK -- and a professional travel writer, broadcaster and occasional photographer. My articles feature in a range of national newspapers and magazines (including The Independent on Sunday, The Express and Wanderlust); I recently won the award for Best Short Feature Article of the Year. I speak regularly about travel-related topics on radio/television programmes and at leading shows and exhibitions (such as the Destinations Travel Show). In addition, I teach at travel-writing seminars and I am one of the judges of the annual Bradt-Independent on Sunday Travel-Writing Competition (which launches every April).

Hungary is one of my favourite destinations. Several years ago, I spent six months exploring the country's highways and byways in preparation for writing the most comprehensive guidebooks on the market -- Budapest: The Bradt City Guide and Hungary: The Bradt Travel Guide. The latter was voted Best Guidebook of the Year by the British Guild of Travel Writers, and both are now into their second editions. I return as often as possible, and have also written guides for the AA, Michelin and Insight. If further proof was needed of my love for Hungary, I am now engaged to a Hungarian and getting married in Hungary next year! 

My Budapest

Where I always grab a coffee - Where to start?! Budapesters love the ‘black soup’, and there are coffee houses dotted all around the city, several of them with genuine yesteryear elegance. Gerbeaud in Vörösmarty tér is the big daddy for the tourists, but I prefer to take an outdoor table at the Gerloczy, set in a quiet square beneath a shady tree.

My favourite stroll - There are some classic strolls in Budapest - including the river promenade and the broad Andrássy Boulevard, both of them UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, my rather unusual choice would be the gravelled pathways of the Kerepes Cemetery. It’s deathly peaceful!

Fiction for inspiration - The Paul Street Boys - first published in 1906 - is a coming-of-age tale of two rival gangs of children fighting for control of one of the city’s recreational areas. It’s probably the most famous novel set in Budapest.

Where to be seen - It’s got to be Liszt Ferenc tér – a square that straddles Andrássy Boulevard, and attracts the hip and trendy to the tables outside its many bars.

The most breathtaking view - It’s all about getting high! The outer walls of the Castle District offer great views over the river, while for the best of Pest you should climb up to the gallery running around the outside of St Stephen's Basilica.

The best spot for some peace and quiet - Head for the hills! If you want a few minutes of real solitude, take a seat on the chairlift (libegő) that runs up and down János Hill.

Shopaholics beware - Váci utca is the main place for the browsers of expensive boutiques. If you want some real character, though, hit the Great Market Hall. It’s an architectural wonder of metal girders and bright majolica roof tiles, and you can buy everything from intricate lacework to bags of powdered paprika at its busy stalls.

City soundtrack - Anything by Ferenc Liszt, Hungary’s most-famous musical son. If pushed to pick, it would have to be his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2!

Don’t leave without... Eating some Hortobágy pancakes - meat-filled pancakes with a paprika sauce - and taking a dip at the Széchenyi Baths. Not necessarily in that order - and certainly not at the same time...