Just about everywhere a traveler will venture, one will find shops carrying antique artifacts from keys to heirloom furniture; Budapest antiques shops have something to please every shopping buff.
Maria Theresa approved the establishment of pawn shops in 1773 with the goal of preventing predatory lending of money. These pawn shops have evolved into today's antiques stores. Many of them still function as a pawn shop as well as an antiques store, selling what people have not returned to claim. During the Communist times, art collecting or trading was illegal, so couldn't be done openly. Dealers and collectors made their covert deals around the pawnbroker shops on Falk Miksa utca. When the laws changed, newsagents, grocers, and repair shops changed hands and became antiques shops.
Nevertheless, when shopping for antiques, you should know that Hungary forbids the export of items that are designated "cultural treasures." All antiques more than 50 years old need to follow a process. First, the antique must be shown to an expert for valuation purposes. To receive the valuation certificate, you will need to present the object, or a minimum of five photographs of it, and the charge of valuation is a percentage of the item's price. After you have the valuation certificate, you must then receive a permit issued by the appropriate official government office: For paintings, it is the Hungarian National Gallery; for furniture, the Museum of Applied Arts; and all other objects, the Cultural Inheritance Office. The entire process can take up to 4 weeks to complete.
The most celebrated street for art and antiques is Falk Miksa utca where more than 20 shops and galleries are filled to the brim with collectables of all varieties; some shops specialize in particular items, while others are generalists. As you stroll through the city, you will no doubt find other isolated antiques shops as well. Please see the note above about opening hours.
The Ecseri Flea Market also deserves mention here, as numerous private antiques dealers operate booths at this one-of-a-kind open-air market. As with all flea markets, the quality and selection are never consistent, so it is just luck of timing in finding a real bargain. Take your chances for the fun of it; it may be your lucky day.
Budapest is home to a developing, yet often economically turbulent art gallery scene. Many galleries open, seem to generate public enthusiasm, then just as quickly are vacant storefronts. Uniquely, some art galleries are also auction houses, and vice versa, but dedicated art galleries are trying their hand at independence. Many galleries are antique and contemporary hybrid ventures that feature anything from fine art to vintage books. A new generation of Hungarian collectors has developed, and significant interest from European and international collectors has really fueled the development of the Hungarian modern-art market. The market for antiques has also been on the rise as long-forgotten objects from the Communist era have been removed from storage and are once again entering the market. Contemporary artists have made less headway in the past, but in the last few years they are starting to get recognized and rewarded for their efforts.
Export rules apply to all works of art as well as antiques that are considered Hungarian cultural treasures, although that list has become less expensive than it once was. Before completing a purchase, confirm that you'll be allowed to take the work out of the country; gallery proprietors should have the requisite documentation on hand.
The new galleries are breaking with tradition regarding their opening hours. Some are open daily, while others are closed on Monday, like museums. Still others are open until early evening on Saturday, really deviating from all norms. Two areas of concentration are the Inner City of Pest and Buda's Castle District. However, breaking out of the crowd means breaking out of the neighborhood too. If you want to power browse in a concentrated area, then head to the art and antiques area of Budapest along Falk Miksa, from Jászai Mari tér down to the parliament. A host of art galleries and antiques shops can be found along this route.
Contemporary Hungarian Art Lights the Spark -- Sometimes a foreigner can make a difference in the country they adopt as a home, and this is what Dianne C. Brown has done. After moving here in 1994 when her husband was transferred to Budapest, Dianne founded the Friends of the Fine Arts Museum, the first museum Friends program in Hungary. At the time, the museum was a place for research, but not an amicable place for visitors. Many of the holdings of the museum were shipped to Germany during the war, and returned at the end of the war with the help of repatriated Hungarians who raised money and awareness of the importance of the pieces. The newly founded Friends organization sponsored events such as Open Day, allowing a behind-the-scenes look at the holdings which were not on display and how paintings were restored. Dianne continued to work with the organization for 6 years acting as its first president and continuing as a member of the board.
With her 16-year commitment to working with Hungarian art, she has been inspirational in renewing interest in the country's contemporary artists and their work. Dianne founded the Sparks Gallery; she opened the Art Factory in 2005 and continues as its director.
The Art Factory was created with the mission of highlighting some of Hungary's most promising young artists while promoting their work abroad and establishing their place in the international art world. To achieve this, the Art Factory participated in several international art fairs. In 2007, Sparks Gallery and the Art Factory were combined to create the Art Factory Gallery. Up to this point, the most important period of Hungarian art was from the late 19th and early 20th century, but with all of those pieces off the market, new interest has developed in contemporary pieces. Gallery manager, Virag Major, and gallery curator, Delia Vekony, oversee a rigorous exhibition schedule in several venues, including galleries, institutions, and museums abroad.
The studio is located in a Socialist-era industrial complex near the center of Budapest: a tremendously large space where artists can develop their style and their career simultaneously. While the artists work in all media and styles, the common thread is a distinctly Eastern European emotional expressionism. Artists-in-residence are Zsolt Bodoni, Dora Juhasz, Marta Kucsora, and Sandor Szasz, and are often joined by visiting artists. Their work can be viewed at the Gresham Four Seasons Hotel, which has purchased work from the studio's artistic pool.
In addition to the Art Factory Gallery's vast studio and exhibition space, the facility also houses a newly built micro-gallery for photography, video, and works on paper. You'll also find a smart-sized gallery and photo gallery at this location, but viewing is by appointment only along with a studio tour. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information about current exhibitions or arranging a studio tour.
The Art Factory Gallery itself is located in public space in the mezzanine of the ABB Office Building, XIII. Váci út 152-156 (just past the Arpad Bridge). Admission is free when the building is open, which is Sunday through Friday 10am to 6pm and Saturday 11am to 2pm. Since this is a public space, the gallery is unattended, but the studio is nearby, making a tour convenient if arranged ahead.
Beauty & Health
Before you happen to have the need for an aspirin, but realize you forgot to pack it, it is best to know that anything remotely related to medication from pain relievers to stomach upset remedies, can only be purchased in a pharmacy. Conversely, personal products for ladies, and condoms can be found everywhere.
DM -- Forget to pack your toothbrush? Need shampoo? Head over to a DM store. A mainstream brand of cosmetics, perfumery, and personal essentials, DM operates more than 150 outlets around the country. It carries more than your ordinary drugstore-type store, but no medicines other than herbal remedies. You can find quick birthday gifts like cheap CDs, home decor, and even munchies for your favorite pet. They are all over the city, but you will find many on the ring road, the route of the nos. 4 or 6 tram lines.
There is never a moment when we are without a book, so browsing in a bookstore is an avocation. If you are time limited, want a book fast, but don't want to splurge on a new book, Bookstation, Red Bus, and Treehugger Dan's are the best for used English-language books.
Department Stores & Malls
As everywhere else in the world, Budapest has a lion's share of seen-one-seen-most-of-them-style malls, which, like in many other places, is putting a strain on the financial health of small independent stores. Although they are immensely popular with Budapesters, the locals also lament the closing of local shops that were once their only shopping opportunity. Due to high rents in malls in conjunction with a fragile economy, you may just find a number of empty stores from time to time. I am listing only the most popular malls, although there are others.
I have listed some options assuming that you'll discover new ones on your own, but to start you off, I suggest you begin on Haris köz, an alleyway that is actually just a small street that starts at Váci utca. There is a large and diverse selection of fashionable shops there.
Budapest's Youthful Designers -- WAMP (WAsárnapi Muvész Piac) is the Hungarian designers association that follows the example of the London and New York markets. Their main objective is to establish a regular forum for design and applied-art products. Secondly, they want to create a more intense relationship between artists and potential buyers through interaction. Success has come for many artists in this organization when they have improved their craft through interactions with buyers or direct feedback from visitors.
Not every artist or craftsperson can get into WAMP; first a portfolio of their work is presented, it is judged for quality of workmanship, design, and unique appeal and only after it passes, can one register. The artist is then entered in the WAMP database and is allowed to sell at their sponsored functions.
The number of Hungarian designers associated with WAMP is quickly growing with more than 1,000 artists exhibiting and selling their products after 3 years of the organization's existence. Artists are realizing the uniqueness of the sponsored events as a seal of approval of their work. A wide range of design objects, such as jewelry, textiles, clothing, ceramics, glassware, children's toys, games, and cake design are routinely presented. WAMP opens its market, usually on the first Sunday of the month. During the warm months, it is held at Erzsébet tér (a former bus station) across from Le Méridien Hotel from 11am to 8pm. During the winter, the locations change and increase for the holiday season, so check their website (www.wamp.hu) for current information.
For information about youthful Hungarian designer shops, pick up a free copy of the seasonal Budapest Navigator at Tourinform.
Hungary's famous folkloric objects are the most popular souvenirs among foreign visitors. The mushrooming number of folk-art shops (Népmuvészeti Háziipar) has a diverse selection of handmade goods. Popular items include pillowcases, embroidered tablecloths, runners, wine cozies, pottery, porcelain, dolls, intricately painted or carved eggs, dresses, skirts, and sheepskin vests. One shop that has a wide selection and helpful staff is Folkart Craftman's House (tel. 1/318-5143) on the side street, Régiposta u. 12 right off of Váci utca and open daily 10am to 7pm. An outstanding private shop on Váci utca is Vali Folklór, in the courtyard of Váci u. 23 (tel. 1/337-6301) open Monday to Saturday 10am to 8pm and Sunday noon to 8pm. A soft-spoken man named Bálint Ács, who travels the villages of Hungary and neighboring countries in search of authentic folk items, Communist-era badges, pins, and medals, runs this cluttered shop. His sales staff does not speak English, so don't try to ask questions.
Markets in Budapest are very crowded, bustling places. Beware of pickpockets; carry your valuables under your clothing in a money belt rather than in a wallet.
Fruit & Vegetable Markets (Csarnok or Piac) -- There are five vintage market halls (vásárcsarnok) in Budapest. These vast cavernous spaces, architectural wonders of steel and glass, were built in the 1890s in the ambitious grandiose style of the time. Three are still in use as markets and provide a measure of local color you certainly won't find in the grocery store. Hungarian produce in season is sensational, and you'll seldom go wrong with a kilo of strawberries, a cup of raspberries, or a couple of peaches.
The Központi Vásárcsarnok (Central Market Hall), IX. Vámház krt. 1-3 (tel. 1/217-6067; Metro: Kálvin tér on Blue line or Tram: 47 or 49), is the largest and most spectacular market hall. Located on the Inner Ring (Kiskörút), just on the Pest side of the Szabadság Bridge, it was impeccably reconstructed in 1995. This bright, three-level market hall is a pleasure to visit. Fresh produce, meat, and cheese vendors dominate the space. Keep your eyes open for inexpensive saffron and dried mushrooms. We have had French guests who found truffles for less than 10€. The mezzanine level features folk-art booths, coffee and drink bars, and fast-food booths. The basement level houses fishmongers, pickled goods, a complete selection of spices, and Asian import foods, along with a large grocery store. Open Monday 6am to 5pm, Tuesday through Friday 6am to 6pm, and Saturday 6am to 2pm.
The restored Belvárosi Vásárcsarnok (Inner City Market Hall), V. Hold u. 13 (tel. 1/476-3952; Metro: Kossuth tér on Red line or Arany János utca on Blue line), is located in central Pest in the heart of the Lipótváros (Leopold Town), behind the Hungarian National Bank at Szabadság tér. It houses a large supermarket and several cheesy discount clothing shops, in addition to a handful of independent fruit-and-vegetable vendors. Open Monday 6:30am to 5pm, Tuesday through Friday 6:30am to 6pm, and Saturday 6:30am to 2pm.
The Rákóczi tér Vásárcsarnok, VIII. Rákóczi tér 7-9 (tel. 1/313-8442; Tram: 4 or 6 to Rákóczi tér), was badly damaged by fire in 1988 but was restored to its original splendor and reopened in 1991. There's only a small area of private vendors; the rest of the hall is filled with retail booths. Open Monday 6am to 4pm, Tuesday through Friday 6am to 6pm, and Saturday 6am to 1pm.
In addition to these three large classic market halls, Budapest has a number of neighborhood produce markets. The Fehérvári úti Vásárcsarnok, at XI. Korösi J. u. 7-9 (tel. 1/385-6563), in front of the Buda Skála department store, is the latest classic food market in Budapest to be renovated. Some of the charm is lost, but such is progress. Just a block from the Móricz Zsigmond körtér transportation hub, it's open Monday 6:30am to 5pm, Tuesday through Friday 6:30am to 6pm, and Saturday 6:30am to 1pm. To get there take tram no. 47 from Deák tér to Fehérvári út, or any tram or bus to Móricz Zsigmond körtér.
The Fény utca Piac is on the Buda side behind the Mammut Mall at II. Fény utca (Metro: Moszkva tér on Red line or Tram: 4 or 6 Széna tér). It is attached to the back of the Mammut shopping mall. Open Monday 6am to 5pm, Tuesday through Friday 6am to 6pm, and Saturday 6:30am to 1pm.
Lehel tér Piac (VI. Lehel tér; tel. 1/288-6898; Metro: Lehel tér on Blue line), is another neighborhood market, whose reconstruction was completed in 2003, making it look like a beached ship. The market features a changeable selection of fresh food and meats, cheap Hungarian trademark products as well as rinky-dink kiosks for clothing, kitchen appliances, and flowers. Shops continually open and close depending on the current economy. Open weekdays 6am to 6pm and Saturday 6am to 2pm.
Wines & Spirits
Wine store hours are Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm and Saturday 10am to 3pm, unless noted otherwise in the description.
Supermarkets -- Buying snacks for the day or doing self-catering, you may need a supermarket. There are plenty around the city, but the prevalent chains are Kaiser, Spar, Plus (all the same company), Smatch, Match, and CIB. Many Match stores are now open 24 hours. There are nonstop shops in every neighborhood for picking up essentials like a soft drink or cookies. Just about every mall and the great market have a supermarket. Here are a few locations for starters. Kaiser at VII. Blaha Lujza tér 1, Match on the corner of Rákóczi tér and Erzsébet körút in the VII district, which is open 24 hours. Rothchilds at Oktogon is open 24 hours.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.