One result of Eastern Europe’s economic transformation is that shopping is no longer a voyage into the unknown. Familiar international brands fill the malls, and local crafts lie hidden behind shelves of mass-produced souvenirs. Luckily, a parallel culture of flea markets and craft fairs is still going strong, and if you happen to be in Budapest over the weekend then there’s no better city in which to indulge in a rummage.
Dedicated browsers should head first for the bustling flea market held outside the Petőfi Csarnok, a cultural centre in the middle of the Városliget park. With traditional porcelain sold next door to pirate DVDs and hand-operated meat-mincers, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. You’ll usually turn up the odd bit of folk art if you prowl the stalls for long enough: the embroidered pillowcases here are certainly better quality than those in Budapest’s central souvenir shops. Fans of hammers, sickles and furry hats may be disappointed to discover that there’s not as much communist-era memorabilia on display as there used to be, although Red Army-issue gas-mask fetishists are unlikely to walk away empty-handed.
While it’s the jewel-or-junk unpredictability of Petőfi Csarnok that makes it so enjoyable, serious seekers of collectables will want to head for the Ecseri antiques market on the city’s southeastern fringes. A century or so of Budapest’s domestic history stands piled up in the dense bazaar-like warren of stalls. If you haven’t got room to stow a hat-stand in your luggage, there are plenty of smaller items that might appeal: china, cutlery, vintage postcards and piles of magazines from the 1920s and 1930s.
Those really serious about their shopping should time their visit to coincide with the monthly WAMP design fair, an open-air market on the central Erzsébet tér featuring cutting-edge work by local designers. If you’re looking for something that will bring out the individual in you, then the affordable accessories on display here should help
do the trick.