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.
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.
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.