Budapest is steeped in history – unique, turbulent, varied, discouraging, triumphant, hopeful history. Perusing the streets, ducking into courtyards, exploring alleyways, investigating the riverside… it has yet to get old, and I predict it never will. Of all the European cities I have visited, Budapest remains my favorite.
Now, it’s not for everyone. The culture is rich and interesting, but very different than many parts of Western Europe and the United States. You will easily feel at home in this humbled city, then feel like a total outsider just moments later. The architecture is intriguing and impressive, but the streets can be dusty and dirty. It gleams in Austro-Hungarian glamour, but the bleakness of the Soviet-Era still holds its own. Take the grandiose stature of Paris or Vienna, then mix it with the raw culture of Istanbul or Krakow. Now you have Budapest.
If that city character appeals to you, imagine what you can find while rummaging through Budapest’s largest flea market, Ecseri Piac. And that’s exactly what you should do if you have a morning to spare. It’s a bit out of the city centre, but well worth the early morning trip. Here you will find rows upon rows of vendors selling all sorts of treasures, from knickknacks to books to clothes to instruments.
Just like any flea market, you need to roll up your sleeves and get ready to rummage. You’ll find the usual Made in China fare, but if you conjure up a bit of determination, you can score some amazingly interesting finds. On a recent adventure with a friend, we dug up a 1977’s children’s book with the title translating to Sweet Homeland ($1.50), a frayed pocketbook of poetry by Hungary’s greatest writers ($2), clocks made in the ‘USSR’ ($3), and a 1920s era vintage wallet from Italy ($1). With a bit of patience, you too will find the perfect, quirky souvenir; or at the very least, you will take in a different side of the city and delve into Budapest’s convoluted history.
When you enter the market from the main entrance, you will see several rows of covered vendors to your right. To your left you will see outside vendors and some indoor shops. Start here with the tables and shops, then make your way around the perimeter of the market. The covered vendors are usually selling more expensive items and less likely to drop their prices, so these could be your last stop. The perimeter of the market, on the other hand, is full of bins for rummaging and the vendors almost always expect a good old fashioned barter.
Don’t be shy with asking for a cheaper price. It’s expected and a part of the experience! But be a little careful with the treasures you find in the already dirt cheap bins. I once had my items aggressively snatched out of my hands after I asked to drop a price from $1 to $.50 on an antique insulator. I quickly apologized and made my purchase, but not without several heavy sighs and eye rolls from the offended vendor.
Learn some basic, polite Hungarian words, such as hello (jó napot), thank you (köszönöm), how much? (mennyi?), and goodbye (viszlát), as well as numbers 1 – 10 and hundred (száz) and thousand (ezer). You will drastically increase your chances of scoring a better bargain, gaining a Hungarian smile, and enjoying your overall experience. A little goes a long way when it comes to the Hungarian language!
How to get There |
From the city centre, take tram #2 or #4-6 to the transportation hub of Boráros ter. From there, hop either bus #54 or #55 to Használtcikk piac. Cross the pedestrian bridge over the highway and you’re right at the main entrance. The total journey should be no more than 45 minutes on a good traffic day.
Tell me: do you have any favorite flea markets around the world? What is the best treasure you’ve found?