Budapest shows a great variety in term of prices. The essential items are very affordable, but over-the-top quality items cost significantly more. You can eat out and have a decent quality of life from a daily 10 USD but if you’re looking for more fun and more luxury you can top that price up to a hundred. Finding the best products need a right amount of knowledge and search, so you need to take your time exploring the city. Food is fantastic, the local shops however often offer lower-end quality products. Shopping malls are in the central of the city with international brands but if you are looking for something different, try the small local fashion stores, there are plenty.
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Prices and cost of living
If you earn in foreign currency and live in a Western country, Hungary will be a playground for you. For a better understanding I state all prices in US Dollars down below:
Food and drinks
Meal in a local restaurant: 5 USD
Meal for 2 people in a local restaurant, 3-courses: 25 USD
Classic McDonald’s meal: 5 USD
Beer: 1-1.5 USD
Espresso: 1-1.5 USD
Coke (0.33): 1 USD
Water (0.33): 0.5 USD
1-way BKK ticket: 1.3 USD
Monthly BKK pass: 35 USD
Taxi 1km: 1.6 base fee + 0.7-1.0 USD / km
Uber 1km: 0.8 USD
Gym pass, 1 month: 30-40 USD
Cinema ticket: 5-6 USD
Levi’s 501: 68 USD
Nike shoes (mid-range): 75 USD
Rents and utilities
Apartment 1 month, 1 bedroom (center): 400-600 USD
Apartment 1 month, 3 bedrooms (center): 750 USD
Apartment 1 month, 1 bedroom (outside of the center): 250 USD
Prices in market halls are negotiable. Tipping is 10% for cab drivers, waiters, counters, couriers and hotel staff. Rents are negotiable. When the sign states the price, you can still try to negotiate, but it might not work. Prices in shopping malls are fixed, just like the prices of tickets and passes.
From my perspective as a local, a daily shopping in grocery stores from where you leave with 3-4 full bags of fantastic quality food and some treats costs around 50-70 USD. The average salary is around 620 USD per month after tax in Budapest for locals. In a month, you can keep up a local middle-class lifestyle from 1 000 USD which includes the rent of your flat, shopping and paying for leisure.
If you pass the 1 000 USD per month in spending, the quality of your lifestyle in Budapest will grow exponentially and dramatically. If you go around 2 000 USD per month, you will be a considered as of a very high social status. Above 2 000 USD, you can have all the luxuries as well. You must remember: Budapest is not a Western European country where all luxury labels are accessible, and there is a wider gap between the underclass where the majority of the population lives and the upper-class where only a small percentage of people can pursue a lifestyle.
The city of malls
In most cities shopping malls are outside the town or at least in the outskirts. In Budapest, malls are favorite locations for locals and can be found mostly in the center. The big high street international brands are available in malls as well as restaurants and other amenities. Smaller shops on high streets are primarily local vendors with different quality of products. Malls are usually placed strategically on Grand Boulevard and/or next to a subway/metro station. Malls on the Buda side offer more high-end fashion, malls on the Pest side provide fast fashion labels mostly.
The most popular malls are: Westend City Center on Western Square (Nyugati tér), Mammut on Szena Square (Széna tér), Alleé in Újbuda – all of these can be found along the 4-6 tram lines. Other popular malls are the Arena Plaza next to the Keleti Railway Station and the MOM Park which offers the most high-end labels and also has a multiplex cinema playing original sound version or subtitled movies.
Vorosmarty Square (Vörösmarty tér) and the areas close to the city’s hub Deak Ferenc Square (Deák Ferenc tér) are also popular shopping destinations with high street brands. Andrassy Avenue (Andrássy út) is the home for luxury fashion labels.
Food and markets
Grocery stores offer a wide variety of products,, but the quality of the shops may vary. German and Austrian chains like Lidl, Aldi, and Spar, are considered the best in class but expect slightly higher prices than in their Hungarian counterparts. Hungarian chains like CBA, Prima, Penny, and other stores are also available literally on every corner. You can find small 0-24 shops as well, usually indicated by a sign “Non-Stop” or “0-24”.
Fresh vegetables and meat are available in food market halls. These market halls offer a unique shopping experience where you can meet farmers and local vendors. Get picky, but the products are usually on-the-day fresh and better than in a grocery store. Prices are also way friendlier. The biggest market halls are the Great Market Hall at Fovam Square (Fővám tér) which is also a tourist spot, Feny Market Hall (Fény utcai piac) in Feny Street (Fény utca), Lehel Market Hall (Lehel csarnok) at Lehel Square (Lehel tér). Ask around locals, smaller market halls are available in all districts. Market halls are referred to as “piac” among locals.
E-commerce is getting more and more popular, but most the e-commerce sites are unfortunately available only in Hungarian as they are mainly used by locals. However, this is changing, and the trend is promising. Most international carriers and brands ship to Hungary so you can solely rely on eBay and other vendors as well but expect some extra days in the delivery. Local e-commerce sites usually accept cash on delivery as well.
Even though most of the Hungarian e-commerce sites are in Hungarian only there are a few which are available in English or you can get around them with little local help. These are the ones you don’t need to miss because they truly offer great options for you:
www.netpincer.hu - food home delivery from restaurants in your neighborhood
www.jofogas.hu - the local Craigslist
www.vatera.hu - the local eBay
Tips on prices and shopping in Budapest
1. Check out the crafted local labels in the 6th and 7th districts and local fashion designer stores for unique stuff
2. When you’re not sure that you’re paying for the right amount, ask for the receipt and check the price
3. There are monthly design markets and outlets: check WAMP for homegrown fashion, Gozsdu Market for antiques and KORZÓ market for fashion and antiques
4. Visit the Ecseri Flea Market for antiques and old Soviet-era styled stuff
5. Falk Miksa Street is the antique row in Budapest with several galleries and shops
6. Souvenir shopping is also available everywhere in the central areas, but prices are tailored for the tourists
7. Most stores are open from 10am to 6pm, but in frequented central locations and shopping malls, it can be extended till 9pm. Supermarkets tend to be open from 6am till 9pm, but market halls often close at 4pm
8. Big hypermarket stores like Tesco are located on the outskirts and usually open 0-24
9. VAT is 27% and is included in the price
10. During December, Vorosmarty Square (Vörösmarty tér) – which is next to the city’s hub Deak Ferenc Square (Deák Ferenc tér) – turns into an amazing Christmas Shopping fair that you should definitely visit