We have a rule: If you buy it, you carry it. As a result, we limit our purchases to authentic souvenirs that are specific to the place we visited and, ideally, were made locally. We hit the mother lode in Budapest – the most popular Hungary souvenirs are actually produced there and used in daily life.
If you want a genuine memento that embodies the culture and heritage of Hungary, here are the 5 best things to buy and where you can buy them in Budapest.
1. Hungarian paprika
Inexpensive and easy to find, paprika is the perfect souvenir for food lovers. Paprika is Hungary’s national spice and it is used everywhere in Hungarian cuisine.
Hungarian paprika is available in several varieties, from sweet to hot and everything in between. You won’t find smoked paprika though; that comes from Spain.
- Csipos and eros are hot. Csipos is more pungent, eros is hotter.
- Csemege and edesnemes are sweet and mild.
- Feledes is half-sweet, half-spicy.
- Use bright red-orange Rosza paprika to add intense color in your dishes.
For non-chefs who would prefer something more decorative, shops also carry strings of colorful peppers.
TIP: If you're wondering where to buy Hungarian paprika, purchase it a local grocery store. You'll pay a fraction of what the souvenir stalls charge, you’ll have more selection, and it will be fresher.
2. Hungarian wine
In Budapest, you’ll have no difficulty finding quality wines at wine shops and liquor stores. Hungary has 22 distinct wine regions and produces the full spectrum, including reds, whites, roses, and sparkling wines.
Hungary is so famous for its excellent wines that its Tokaj region is a bona fide UNESCO site.
A universal specialty throughout Hungary, pálinka is the generic name for a fiery-strong fruit brandy. There are many flavors to choose from including plum, apricot, and apple, so even if you find the drink overwhelming, you can still have fun trying to find a flavor that suits your palate.
For those who prefer a milder taste taste Palinka is available with honey. An added bonus is that pálinka is available in bottles of various sizes and shapes, which makes it an ideal gift.
4. Handmade embroidery
Hungarians have a rich cultural heritage and they are especially proud of their needlework. Kalocsai (Kalocsa) embroidery is especially popular because of its distinctive bold colors, floral patterns, and rich textures.
All kinds of handmade items are available for sale in markets throughout the country, such as tablecloths, linens, serving towels, curtains, and even garments.
TIP: Hungarian embroidery is sold upstairs at the Great Market Hall in Budapest, or find it online here.
5. Hand-painted porcelain
Anyone with an interest in porcelain will certainly know that Hungary produces one of the world’s most sought-after ceramics. Queen Victoria was so impressed by Hungarian porcelain that she ordered some for her palace.
One of the best known manufacturers is Herend, which has been producing fine porcelain for decades. You can’t go too far in Budapest without seeing their classic, hand painted plates, ornaments, and other unique items. That said, you do need to watch out for fakes. Be sure to buy from factory stores or from a registered stockist. They will give you a little card of authenticity with your purchase.
For a memorable shopping experience, you can even buy Herend porcelain at their factory. It's a popular day trip from Budapest, often combined with a visit to Lake Balaton, a popular holiday destination and the largest lake in central Europe. (Book it here.)
TIP: Small porcelain items travel well and make good gifts. On the other hand, sometimes it's easier to buy a souvenir online to avoid the risk of damage en route.
Where to buy souvenirs in Budapest
Choosing where to buy Hungarian souvenirs partly depends on what you're going to buy.
The best shopping streets
The nicest place to start your shopping in Budapest is along the city's two famous shopping streets Váci utca and Andrássy út. These two streets are Budapest’s versions of Fifth Avenue and Champs-Élysées, lined with designer names and top international brands.
If you plan to buy any higher priced items, bear one thing in mind. Although VAT (value added tax 27% in most most cases) is built into the price of most consumer goods and services, tourists can get refunds for most purchases that exceed 50,000 HUF.
Budapest Central Market Hall
If you want edible souvenirs, you’ll want to head to historic Budapest Central Market Hall. The colorful indoor market is lots of fun to explore and like a local shopping mall. Downstairs, you’ll find myriad stalls selling more variations of Hungarian paprika than you could possibly imagine. No wonder it's a top Budapest attraction!
You’ll also find meat stalls selling other specialties that are easy to pack, such as small tins of goose liver paté. And for those who prefer drinking to eating, Hungarian wine and palinka are unique Hungarian gifts to consider.
TIP: To avoid buying anything “made in China,” try to buy directly from small, local producers or from shops which specialize in handmade crafts.