On a quick visit to Budapest, the best place to see a variety of local Hungarian handicrafts and souvenirs in one place is at the Central Market Hall (also called the Great Market Hall). Conveniently located on the busy shopping street of Váci utca, the Central Market Hall is worth checking out the even if you’re not a shopper– it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Budapest.
While I read a little about the Central Market Hall before arriving, I wasn’t prepared by how massive it is. The Central Market Hall is a cavernous space, its 10,000 square feet spread out over three floors lined with stalls. It’s not just the size of the market that’s striking but also the old world grandeur— the Central Market’s art nouveau design and light-flooded skylights overhead make browsing vegetables an other-worldly experience.
The Central Market’s best souvenirs (in my opinion anyway) are edible– paprika is a must-buy, along with caviar, jams and other Hungarian delicacies.
As for Hungarian craft souvenirs, while there were some exceptions, many of them were too folkloric for my taste— I couldn’t picture incorporating them in my decor back home. But I would be interested to hear from others who have successfully worked intricate Hungarian lace or embroidery into their decor back home. In any case, I still appreciated browsing the beautifully made handiworks and chatting with the artisans behind the designs (the artisans often manned the stalls themselves and were very friendly).
While there was a wide diversity of Hungarian crafts available at the Central Market Hall, some crafts (like the lace and embroidery) were available at multiple stalls. So instead of buying at the first stall you see, make a sweep through the stalls first and check out all the options.
We photographed the most interesting craft and souvenir finds at the Central Market Hall. Here’s what we found:
*Keep in mind that not all vendors will allow photos, so make sure to ask permission first before snapping away (a good rule of thumb in any market).
1. Hungarian Paprika
I Our number one souvenir recommendation to buy at the Central Market is Hungarian paprika. In fact, we wrote an entire post about the different varieties, how to shop for it, and even threw in a goulash recipe.
2. Other Hungarian Food Souvenirs
3. Hand-Forged Knives
4. Handmade Hungarian Lace
5. Hungarian Embroidery
Hungarian embroidery is an example of a souvenir that can sometimes veer too folkloric to use back home (like the children’s traditional costumes or rooster pillows). But if you take some time to sift through the traditional crafts, you’ll find some beautifully made items that just hint at Hungarian design. I loved the gorgeous, subtly-patterned wool capes (about $300 US dollars) and can totally picture myself wearing one on the streets of New York.
Even the more over-the-top Hungarian embroidered designs can work in small doses. While I loved the colorful floral designs, they might be a bit much on a blouse– but could look chic on a pair of gloves or a small keepsake box.
6. Rubik’s Cube
Did you know that Rubik’s cubes, that huge 80’s trend, originated in Hungary? If you are nostalgic for the key chain size rubik’s cube you carried around in elementary school, you’ll find plenty of options at Central Market. When speaking with the Hungarian tourism board, I learned that the Rubik’s Cube is actually just one example of Hungary’s longstanding gaming tradition. While I didn’t have time to explore Hungary’s other games and puzzles on this short trip, I hope to do so on a future trip.
8. Hungarian Bags
There were plenty of bags to choose from at the Great Hall Market. I thought some of the inexpensive, beaded cloth bags could make fun evening bags. But I wasn’t crazy about the designs (or stiffness of) the leather bags
9. Hungarian Jewelry and Hair accessories
Most of the accessories at Budapest’s Central Market Hall weren’t super-high quality, but they were fun, sparkly and cheap– an ideal souvenir or gift for a tween.
I liked these leather hair pins stamped with traditional Hungarian designs– a perfect souvenir that incorporates Hungarian design into a wearable piece.
10. Hungarian Wooden Souvenirs
I saw lots of wooden boxes of all shapes and sizes painted with Hungarian designs– they were all relatively inexpensive.
11. Random Finds
While there were certainly lots of beautiful Hungarian crafts at the Central Market, there were also some more questionable items (furry bunny hats anyone?). I’m not sure that absolutely everything at Central Market Hall is actually made in Hungary, so if buying something locally-made is important, makes sure to ask.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Souvenir Shopping Tip Sheet
What to Buy: Paprika and other Hungarian food delicacies, embroidered items, painted wood souvenirs and a Rubiks Cube.
Where to Get it: Central Market Hall (aka Great Market Hall, on Váci utca)
What to Know: While the Central Market Hall is open on weekdays, it is closed completely on Sundays and closes at 3 pm on Saturdays, so if you’re only there for a weekend visit, plan accordingly![/box]
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Have you been shopping at Budapest’s Central Market Hall? Tell us about your experience in the comments!