Tourists often tell me that Budapest’s shopping options are surprisingly meager compared to other European capitals, both in luxury fashion and local designers’ stores. This may be true. But there are nonetheless a number of local specialty shops, often hiding on quiet side streets, where it’s well-worth spending your money. Before we get to them, below is a summary of Budapest’s general shopping landscape.

Andrássy Avenue is where you can quickly shell out a fortune at stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Rolex. Large commercial chains, like Zara and H&M, and tourist-aimed folklore shops are mostly along the bustling Váci Street, Budapest’s version of La Rambla. In between, both price-wise and geographically, is Fashion Street - a short pedestrian row with labels like Hugo Boss, Lacoste, and Massimo Dutti.

As in other cities around the world, shopping malls in Budapest have siphoned away customers from downtown. This is partly why, for example, the once truly grand Grand Boulevard appears so forlorn these days. If you’re curious to see a Budapest mall, try WestEnd City Center, a gigantic commercial space next to the Nyugati Railway Station.

Now, in thematic order, here are the 28 specialty stores you should consider visiting in Budapest. They’re scattered around in different neighborhoods, but almost all of them are in or within walking distance of downtown.

ANTIQUES AND FLEA MARKETS

#1 - Antique row on Falk Miksa Street (€30-€10,000; location; usually 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-2 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): More than 35 antique stores line this leafy street near the Parliament building. Although you can unearth some inexpensive bric-a-brac, most places here sell pricey silver tableware, porcelain sets, turn-of-the century paintings, and art deco furniture. Keep an eye out for Zsolnay’s signature biomorphic design items. My favorites store are Pintér (#12), Artcore (#12), Antikvitás (#12), Pethő (#24), and Virág Judit Galéria (#30).


#2 - Herend Porcelain (€30-20,000; location; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-2 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): Around since 1826, this maker of hand-painted premium china is one of Hungary’s iconic brands, counting Queen Victoria and the Rothschilds among its numerous historic clients. Although prices for some of the more elaborate vases and tea sets can be exorbitant (the giant vase in the window retails for €50,000), wallet-friendly small gifts like figurines and little baskets are also available.


#3 - Ecseri flea market (€20-1,000; location; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon-Fri, 6-3 on Saturday; 9-1 on Sunday): Budapest’s biggest and most well-known flea market lies about a half-hour bus ride of the city center. Most vendors here specialize in antiques. As with most flea markets, the best part is the slew of eccentric characters. A word to the wise: go on a Saturday, and be sure to get there before 9 a.m. for the best experience.


#4 - Bakancsos flea market (€1-20; location; 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fri-Sun; closed otherwise): For a truly, deeply local experience, journey out to this flea market on the outskirts of Budapest, about an hour away from the city center by public transport. Predominantly Roma vendors hawk used cell phones, shoes, bags, clothing, and a sea of tchotkes. In comparison to Ecseri, this one is more chaotic and customers have more room to negotiate. Here too, the action is on Saturday mornings.

BOOKSTORES (with English-titles)

Photo: Babbling Books#5 - Írók Boltja (€7-20; location; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 11-7 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): Since its opening in 1952, this cozy bookstore has been an island of peace and quiet for local bookworms, writers, and intelligentsia. The English-language books, located on the upper floor, include translated works of Hungary’s leading writers like Péter Nádas, Sándor Márai, and Péter Esterházy. (I hope they never remove the vintage sign above the entry door.)


Photo: Babbling Books#6 - Bestsellers (€10-30; location; 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mon-Fri, 11-6 on Saturday, 12-6 on Sunday): A dedicated English-language bookstore in the heart of the city that’s particularly popular among local expatriates. The array of international magazines (Vanity Fair, Wallpaper, The Economist, GQ, etc.) and extensive Budapest-related guides can make a visit here worthwhile.


Photo: vaciutcanegyed.hu#7 - FUGA - Budapest Center for Architecture (€7-20; location; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wed-Mon, 10-2 on Saturday; closed on Tuesday): Architecture buffs shouldn’t miss this downtown bookstore / exhibition gallery. The front of the space is packed with books, including many English-language titles, with the back and downstairs sections hosting the ever-changing architecture-related exhibits.


#8 - Massolit (€5-15; location; 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-7:30 on weekends): This dimly-lit, snug café and English-language bookstore in the Jewish Quarter draws mainly tourists, and students and professors from the Central European University. The inside eschews the usual trappings of contemporary coffee shops, and instead features worn-out furniture and greenery. (I wish they lowered their prices so that more local Hungarians would also come here.)

SKINCARE & PERFUMERY

Photo: Omorovicza#9 - Omorovicza (€60-225; location; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-6 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): This premium skincare line harnesses the healing powers of Budapest’s famed thermal waters. The brand has conquered half the world since their launch in 2006, but their flagship store, also offering face massages and mud masks, is right here in Budapest.


Photo: hipshops.com#10 - Madison Perfumery (€100-1,000; location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-7 on Saturday; 12-6 on Sunday): An upscale, multi-brand perfumery inside a mahogany-fitted boutique on Andrássy Avenue. Instead of celebrity and mass fragrances, they carry cult lines of the likes of Nasomatto, Byredo, and Clive Christian. Romania-based Madison also has stores in Bucharest and Reykjavik.


Photo: lignoart.hu#11 - Neroli Luxury Perfumery (€50-500; location; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Sat; closed on Sunday): Another high-end perfumery and home fragrance store in Budapest, specializing in exclusive scent lines like Oman’s Amouage, and Diptyque, the faddish French brand known for its scented candles. For skincare and grooming products, check Tinamu, two doors from here and run by the same owners.


DESIGNER CLOTHING

Photo: Aron Erdohati#12 - The Garden Studio (€60-300; location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Sat; closed on Sunday): Parallel to the royal Andrássy Avenue on a winding backstreet hides this edgy contemporary fashion store. Their clothes come from young, locally well-known labels like TOMCSANYI, KELE, MEI KAWA and THEFOUR. Also expect a better-than-average accessories selection that include YKRA, a hip local brand making colorful vintage bags. If you’re lucky, you’ll visit during one of their recurring in-store sales.


#13 - Berlin (€60-300; location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Sat, 10-6 on Sunday): This ill-named fashion store has little to do with the German capital, but is instead the main depository for about 35 leading Hungarian designer clothing labels. My favorites are Je Suis Belle’s denim-and silk dresses and konsanszky’s lightweight blouses. The limited selection of men’s clothing comprises Sandor Lakatos’ black-and-white pieces.


Photo: Coveteur#14 - Nanushka (€80-500; location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Sat, 12-6 on Sunday): This swanky downtown store is the flagship location of Nanushka, Budapest’s leading women’s fashion label. Nanushka’s easy-to-wear cosmopolitan pieces, distributed around the world, often riff on the classics. If you need an energy boost, order a shot of espresso from the mini specialty café inside the store.


#15 - Eszka (€50-100; location; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tue-Sat; closed on Sun-Mon): Stylish and comfy knitted long coats are the claim to fame of this Hungarian clothing line by Kriszta Szakos. She makes vivid, multi-colored pieces from recycled materials, and at €100 a piece, they’re affordable for a designer item. Sweaters, blankets, and pillows are also available, designed in a similar manner.

VINTAGE CLOTHING

#16 - Retrock (€30-100; location; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon-Sat, 11-8 on Sunday): If aged denim jackets, worn-in plaid flannel shirts, and quirky tweed jackets are your design choices, be sure not to miss Retrock, the mecca for vintage clothes in Budapest. Besides the secondhand retro items, they have a colorful collection of rugged sweaters, jackets, and bags imported from Ecuador.


#17 - Ludovika (€20-€60; location; 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri, 12-6 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): If Antifactory (below) leans toward “trash vintage”, then Ludovika, a small store in the Jewish Quarter, is quite the opposite, with cute and approachable throwback items. Highlights are the blouses adorned with Hungarian folk motifs, bohemian denim dresses, and a motley array of bracelets and silk scarfs (check out the upstairs, too).


#18 - Antifactory (€30-€60; location; 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Sat; closed on Sunday): Chipped plaster walls, concrete floors, a neon sign flickering in the background, and hip hop music blasting from the speakers - this slick vintage store is designed down to the minute detail. Their selections are small, women-friendly, and veer toward a scrappy ‘90s look, but a range of dapper suede bomber jackets and the obligatory plaid flannel shirts are also available.


Photo: thespoiledqueen.com#19 - Szputnyik (€20-100; location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Sat, 10-6 on Sunday): If you haven’t found what you were looking for, give Szputnyik a chance. It's yet another vintage store in the Jewish Quarter, but in addition to retro items, they also carry popular global brands like Toms (shoes) and Kanken (backpacks) - a true hipster paradise.

DESIGNER ACCESSORIES

#20 - MONO art & design (€10-€100; location; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-8 on Saturday; 11-6 on Sunday): It’s easy to spend more time and money than originally planned to at this gleaming downtown store stocking hundreds of local designers’ products, ranging from cool ceramics through jewelry and notebooks. Keep a special eye out for AGNESKOVACS bags, PomPom’s natural skincare products, and Nubu’s clothes.


Photo: Printa#21 - Printa design shop (€20-€150; location; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Sat; closed on Sunday): This concept store in the bustling Jewish Quarter marries a specialty café, a designer shop, and an artist’s studio. Peruse an array of screen-printed drawings, posters, T-shirts, and Budapest-inspired gift items designed by Hungarian artists. And new-wave coffee of course.


Photo: Andris Zombori#22 - Repertory (€10-€70; location; 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri, 11-6 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): The Buda side of the city isn’t exactly known for its designer scene, but in part thanks to local creative duo, Melinda Tóth and Kinga Nagy, this may soon change. Their jewelry (Mama Kin) and clothing (DAIGE) lines are supplemented by cute gift items, analogue cameras, and succulents. Part of this tiny store’s charm is its “mom-and-pop” vibe.


#23 - Rododendron (€20-€40; location; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-5 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): This cute design store sits on a quiet downtown backstreet, and sells plenty of prints and posters by more than a dozen Hungarian designers. My favorites are Anna Holló’s funny-and-sad cartoons and Marcus Goldson’s colorful Budapest characters. You’ll also find notebooks, postcards, jewelry, and some clothes here.

SPECIALTY STORES

Photo: krullung.hu#24 - Vass shoes (€500-1,800; location; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-4 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): This tucked-away men’s shoe store is nothing short of a pilgrimage site for shoe-fanatics. Vass’ handmade suede loafers, high-polished oxfords, and classic derbys are considered among the best in the world. They keep an inventory of all the models in-store, but customers can also order a bespoke pair.


Photo: Bortársaság#25 - Bortársaság wine store (€8-150; location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-7 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): Most people have already heard of the Tokaji dessert wine, a favorite of emperors and presidents. But few people know that Tokaj, and other Hungarian wine regions like Szekszárd and Villány, produce some excellent dry wines too. This wine store sells an extensive selection by local winemakers, including furmint (white) and kadarka (red), varieties indigenous to the region. When in doubt, ask the informed and helpful staff.


#26 - Rózsavölgyi Chocolate (€7-30; location; 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mon-Fri, 12-6 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): Budapest is hardly known as a chocolate capital, but this family-run local chocolate maker produces some world-class varieties. They import single-origin cocoa beans directly from places like Venezuela, Peru, Tanzania, and Madagascar, and process them in house, letting the natural flavors shine through. Dark, milk, and flavored kinds are all available.


#27 - Wave record store (€8-30; location; 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Mon-Fri, 11-5 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): Wave is more than a record store. It’s been the mecca for Hungarian alternative music since the ‘90s. They’ve lived through all of the cycles: from vinyl to tape and then CD, and survived even when nobody wanted to pay for music. With current releases from all genres, Hungarian folk, jazz, and Beat-influenceda selections, almost anyone can find treasures here.


Photo: Tipton Eyeworks#28 - Tipton Eyeworks (€280-450; location; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10-3 on Saturday; closed on Sunday): What do Elton John, Quentin Tarantino, and Robbie Williams have in common? The unlikely answer is that they all own Vinylize glasses, frames made of recycled vinyl records by local designer brand Tipton Eyeworks. Their downtown showroom sells hundreds of their prescription- and sunglass-ready vinyl frames, and here you can also get a glimpse of the meticulous production process.


#29 - Budapest Poster Gallery (€150-20,000; location; by appointment only: [email protected] or +3630 662 7274): With over 2,500 original Hungarian vintage posters, this gallery is a treasure for fans of graphic art. The collection spans over an array of 20th century artistic styles, including art nouveau, art deco, and also historic pieces done during communist Hungary. Many of the posters were designed by pioneers of modern Hungarian art. The gallery can be visited by appointment only, so it's well-worth perusing their online catalogue before you go. See also Budapest's best contemporary art galleries.

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Memories of Hungary folklore and gift shop (€5-100; location; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon-Sun): Let’s be honest, folklore stores often represent the pinnacle of the tourist-trap genre. But under the pressure of buying a last-minute gift for your in-laws, there's often no way around them. Yes, this folklore store is overpriced, but you will find a decent selection of Hungarian textiles, porcelain, postcards, fridge stickers, or whatever other knick-knack you're after. You can also try your luck next door (#6) and across the street from here (#7).