Many believe that the days of the Gutenberg Galaxy are numbered due to the emergence and growing popularity of e-book readers and the ubiquity of the Internet. While change is absolutely inevitable, as demonstrated by the shrinking number of secondhand bookstores operating in Budapest, the written word is still revered at a variety of long-standing used bookshops citywide. Here we feature some of the best stores where serious bookworms can drop by for top-quality artifacts ranging from antique tomes to mysterious yellowed maps to historical prints from decades ago.
During our quest to find the oldest and tiniest secondhand bookstores of Budapest, we got a glimpse of a charming and mysterious world where everyone knows everyone, and shop owners are not afraid to praise the competition. The only thorn in their sides is online retailers, and all they tend to disagree about is whether the iconic owl statue has a place inside a bookshop.
A prime spot for books about the humanities, this veteran establishment has been present on the Budapest book scene since the 1960s, and was transferred into private ownership after first being run by the Hungarian state. Even more interesting than the history of the store is the man standing behind the counter: Miklós Walloschek has been involved in the book business since 1967, for almost 50 years, and has led auctions for the past four and a half decades. He started his career in Szombathely, western Hungary, and worked at a range of different locations from Múzeum Boulevard and Váci Street to Buda Castle and Országház Street before finally settling in his current shop in District VII on April 1, 1993. In addition to the intriguing books lining the shelves, this one-man store sells wonderful etchings, too.
Budapest 1077, Király u. 81
Awaiting bibliophiles near Madách Square since 1996, this haven of secondhand books stocks an astonishing assortment of venerable volumes. A collector-turned-used book vendor and library science graduate, the owner believes that people today in fact read more than ever before, they just do the majority of their reading online. However, he maintains that in-depth knowledge about certain topics can only be attained from printed works, and that reading a novel on paper is a unique experienced a PDF document can’t replicate.
Budapest 1075, Asbóth utca 19
A legendary lair for used books on prominent Múzeum Boulevard, this shop has refined classical music playing in the morning, and smooth jazz tunes spicing up the afternoon hours. The owner has banished all owls from his territory because in his eyes they don’t go with the scientific atmosphere, but he keeps a couple of classic sculptures, mainly busts depicting important figures of Hungarian history, on display in the shop windows. The store holds three auctions every year at nearby Kossuth Klub, featuring about 500-600 high-quality books, maps, and etchings at each event.
Budapest 1053, Múzeum körút 35
Kárpáti és Fia
A respected representative of Múzeum Boulevard’s distinguished secondhand book “quarter”. The owner has a degree in history and library science, and has made a living selling used books since 1974. Initially operating in Pilvax Alley, the store moved to the spot it occupies today in 2002. In addition to its main profile, the shop also deals in old maps and etchings, boasting one of the most diverse selections in Budapest. Auctions are held twice a year. Some of the items kept here date back as far as the 1500s.
Budapest 1053, Múzeum körút 29
You might think that the name suggests a female owner, but it actually comes from the moniker of the surrounding district. The building housing this treasure trove of books used to be owned by Budapest’s famous confectionery clan, the Auguszts. The owner first got into books in his mid-teens when he began collecting them at age 15. Ever since opening in 1998, the shop has been a popular haunt of local intellectuals. If you’re looking for something rare and printed, this place is your best bet.
Budapest 1013, Roham utca 7
The four owners have been working together in this building for the past 30 years: first they sold books at neighboring Honterus, and in 1999 moved on to open their own store at the premises next door. The shop trades in everything paper from books, etchings, and maps to posters, which have been a real hit in recent years. Their stock of books only contains selected items, and their online auctions feature special, highly coveted pieces. Owls are banned here as well.
Budapest 1053, Múzeum körút 35
This secondhand bookstore opened at its present address, once occupied by a bookseller, in 1991. The building used to be home to a press company as well as the offices of the renowned literary periodical Nyugat. To honor the grand traditions of the premises, the business initially focused on old works of fiction, but later expanded its profile to include etchings, cityscapes, and postcards, all of which can be found online and at their auctions as well.
Budapest 1054, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út 34
Opened on February 29, 1992 at the former site of a bookshop called Zrínyi Könyvesbolt, this store technically celebrated its sixth birthday this year. The owner used to work for Hungary’s National Book Distribution Company, but later earned a degree in Hungarian and library science. The biannual auctions feature around 1,000-1,200 items. Perched on one of the floor-to-ceiling shelves of the back room, the shop’s mascot owl keeps an eye on everything that goes on inside.
Budapest 1055, Szent István körút 3
The owner, who originally trained as a cinematographer, eventually decided to give in to his love for books, and opened his own secondhand bookstore 16 years ago on bustling Király Street. While the majority of the pieces don't fall into the “antique” category, some of the volumes here were printed in the 17th-18th centuries. The shop’s “old world” feel is further enhanced by several paintings, typewriters, and cameras adorning the interior and the shop windowns.
Budapest 1077, Király utca 31