Shopping in Budapest: browsing the markets

by adrian.phillips

Budapest's market halls and flea markets offer a lively and colourful shopping experience. These are the places for souvenirs and gifts - from Communist-era badges to amber bottles of Tokaj wine

Hit the markets and the flea markets and you'll be doing what Budapesters do when they're after the best bargains and the freshest produce. You'll need cash in your pocket at these sorts of places - few are likely to accept cards. There might also be a little room for a discount on the marked price, although Hungarians don't have a culture of haggling - if you're lucky, you might squeeze 10 per cent at markets and a bit more at flea markets.

Markets

When locals want the freshest fruit, veg, meat and flowers, they hit a market hall. Stalls displaying their wares are ranged in rows beneath a roofed hall, rather like a fancy warehouse space. You’ll find them at Rákóczi tér, Klauzál tér, Hunyadi tér, Hold utca, Vámház körút and Batthyány tér, and most date back to the last years of the 19th century.

The biggest and best, however, is the Great Market Hall or Nagycsarnok (Vámház körút 1-3; www.piaconline.hu; open Mon 6am-5pm, Tue-Fri 6am-6pm, Sat 6am-3pm). It’s a proud, impressive place. Designed by leading architect Samu Pecz in 1897, it has a turreted roof covered with brightly-coloured roof tiles, while inside there are arching girders and beautiful iron railings. There are three floors. On the ground floor, stall holders sell strings of paprika, tins of goose liver and caviar, bottles of Tokaj wine and throat-tingling fruit brandy, fragrant vegetables, slabs of meat, and the less-appetising ingredients of Hungarian cuisine - hanging sheets of stomach lining, piles of chicken feet, fat in its various forms. There’s more of the same on the lower-ground floor, including large tanks of live river fish. The upper floor holds stalls selling souvenirs: pretty lace tablecloths and handkerchiefs, Russian dolls, leather handbags, patterned glassware and wooden games and toys. Here too are some büfés, fast-food shacks offering plastic plates of sausage, stuffed cabbage and other belt-busting Hungarian favourites for a few forints.

At Christmas, several seasonal markets appear in the city’s squares. The main one capitalises on the tourist trade in Vörösmarty tér, home of the popular Gerbeaud. Wooden toys, glassware and bottles of Hungarian wine and spirits dominate the many stalls, and you can keep your strength up with kürtős kalács (a sweet pastry ‘chimney’ covered in caramelised sugar) and mugs of hot wine.

For something more modern, the WAMP Market (Erzsébet tér; +36 1 784 8475; www.wamp.hu) is a relatively fresh addition to the city’s market scene. It operates once a month, and sells ceramics and jewellery crafted by contemporary Hungarian designers.

Flea markets

At weekends, bargain hunters hit the flea markets. Every visit is a new experience - you never know quite what you might find. Ecseri Flea Market (Nagykőrösi út 156; open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat 6am-3pm, Sun 8am-1pm) lies in a suburb to the south east of the city centre. It offers an eclectic collection of items, ranging from cheap clothing to spare parts, furniture and memorabilia.

The huge Józsefvárosi piac (Kőbányai út 16; open Mon-Fri 6am-6pm, Sat-Sun 6am-4pm) is near Kerepes Cemetery, and is often referred to as the ‘Chinese market’ because of the Far-Eastern heritage of many of the traders. Novák piac (Dózsa György út 1-3; open Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat-Sun 6am-5pm) sits near the Puskás Stadion, and has a particularly vibrant atmosphere at weekends. Petőfi Csarnok (Zichy Mihály út 14; open Sat-Sun 8am-2pm) is a small, weekend flea market in City Park.

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...