Budapest is nothing if not an alluring cave of retro treasure. Secondhand bookstores abound, several lined shoulder to shoulder along Múzeum körút, somewhat akin to the Charing Cross Road in London. Many have foreign-language sections or, failing that, postcards, posters and other items worthy of a Christmas gift, even framing. Some specialise in English literature and non-fiction, most notably Dani's in the Castle District and the adorable Massolit, café, bookstore and community resource in one. Here are our ten favourites!
Awaiting bibliophiles near downtown Madách tér 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 most of it 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 tactile experience a virtual document cannot replicate.
Dani’s English bookshop
Tucked away in the Castle District, Dani’s English bookshop is a hidden gem among the storied cobbled streets usually humming with tourists. The owner has been a bookworm ever since his Oxford days, then turned his passion into a business, aiming to share his love of books. This father-and-son outlet offers a wide range of purely English-language editions of every possible genre, History and Philosophy are on the left, crime and thrillers at the back, literature aligned A-Z to the right. There's even a section for Shipping. First and rare editions are given pride of place to the left just inside the door. To find the place, look out for the archway opening to the Vörös Ördög restaurant, but do phone ahead (+36 30 633 0558) as opening hours can be capricious.
Named after the Renaissance-era theologian,
cosmographer, printer, woodcutter, educator, lawyer and first great figure of Saxon
Transylvanian literature, Honterus is appropriately eclectic. Classical music
jazz tunes spice up the afternoons as collectors browse the more rarefied items
stocked here, surrounded by busts of famous Hungarian figures. The modest selection
of used English-language books is at the back on the left-hand side, with unique
maps and etchings carefully stored in the long drawers opposite – a member
of the elderly staff will direct you to them if you're lost.
Kárpáti és Fia
Changing its named from the Antiquarium
Hungaricum on its 40th anniversary to reflect the familial legacy, ‘Kárpáti
& Sons’ has been in business since 1974. Initially located on downtown Pilvax köz, it moved to the hub of
the used-book trade near the National Museum in 2002. The owner has a degree in
history and library science, so it all feels very erudite – they say there are
items kept here dating back as far as the 1500s. A small gallery above the intimate
space, and beautiful old prints and maps embellishing the walls, lend further
scholarly tones. Auctions held twice a year. For English books, go to
the bookcase in the middle. You may not find what you’re looking for but there’ll
be something worth framing, for sure.
The mother of all secondhand bookstores, the largest of its kind in
Hungary, has been in business since 1891, nearly 25 years before the Astoria
Hotel nearby. Announcing its presence with a quite wonderful neon owl in bright
blue, the ‘Central Antiquarian Bookshop’ has a display of classic vintage
advertising posters in its many windows, and around the large main room centrepieced
by glass cabinets containing rarities and autographed editions. The posters and
the attractive old maps, stacked back-to-back to one side, carry hefty price
tags, so if you’ve fallen for the gorgeous Orion radio ad from the 1920s, be
prepared to pay for it. A substantial English-language section of used books,
to the left of the counter as you walk in, goes beyond McBain, with histories, biographies
and travelogues in good measure – bring the little steps your way to peruse
the higher shelves.
If you’re after something more unique, books as well as records, ask one of the staff to open up one of the display cases. Serious collectors can inspect the goods in a roped-off side room while alongside, right at the back, experts assess the value of artefacts being brought in for sale, turning their nose up if it’s dross – don’t even think about dumping your dog-eared chick-lit cast-offs here. This is the kind of place which hires out the gilded Mirror Room of the Festetics Palace for auctions.
You might think that the name suggests a female
owner, but this actually comes from the name 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 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 a good bet.
Massolit Books & Café
café and community space in one, Massolit in the heart of the Jewish Quarter takes its name (‘Literature for the Masses’) from Bulgakov’s cult Soviet novel, Master and Margarita, copies left in a prominent spot in the busy lobby
area. Foreign-language publications comprise the bulk of the stock, tatty old volumes
left outside, new editions neatly arranged just inside the entrance, then
shelves and shelves of mainly used titles in the warren-like interior leading to
a small back garden. Labelled by category, non-fiction fills the front (Film,
Photography) and narrow middle (African Studies, Eastern-European History) spaces, where tables are at a
premium in winter, customers deep in long Zoom conversation by laptop. Literature begins towards the back, two separate
groups organised in A-Z order, differentiated by whim into ‘fiction’ and ‘pulp fiction’,
cheaper, racier type facing the French- and German-language shelves by the door
to the ivy-clad garden. Irvine Welsh will be pleased/displeased to know
that he has been categorised in ‘fiction’.
Massolit’s key role in the expat community – Budapest’s Shakespeare and Company, if you will – is underlined by the rack of postcards by long-term expat urban caricaturist Marcus Goldson in the window and stack of English-language arts magazine Panel on the bar counter. Its editorial staff, equally responsible for recent anthology If We're Talking Budapest, is one of many local groups to congregate here. Massolit staff, meanwhile, post up little hand-written recommendations of their latest reads. Alongside, a doorway opens into a white-walled gallery where, currently, an exhibition of line drawings by Lili Moharos gives the talented 18 year old her first platform. Christmas sees a constant buzz around the café-cum-cash till, traditional bejgli rolls laid out by the gluten-free brownies – this is the kind of place that offers loyalty cards for carrot cake – and gifts to peruse. Pretty postcards by PaCa design present animal likenesses, lovely notebooks show Budapest and Kraków on the cover and famous writers feature on tote bags. Local expats can also donate their cast-off books or negotiate a fair price for something a bit special.
of Honterus (see above) next door, this charming store was opened by four bookworms
more than 30 years ago, an attractive space decorated with the vintage
advertising and film posters all for sale. If you’re after an original poster with
lettering in Art-Deco style advertising the XXXIV International Eucharistic Congress
in May 1938, this is where to come. The English-friendly website lists far more books, exhibition catalogues, maps,
postcards and manuscripts than could possibly fit into these intimate surroundings,
but if you’re just browsing for random treasure, you’ll spend a very happy
half-hour here. English-language books are near the back, on the left-hand
side. For specific rarities, look out for their online auctions.
The owner, who originally trained as a
cinematographer, eventually decided to give in to his love for books, and
opened his own secondhand bookstore in 2005 on
bustling Király utca. While the majority of the items don't fall into the antique category, some of the volumes here were printed in the
17th and 18th centuries. The shop’s old-world feel is enhanced by
several paintings, typewriters, sketches, cameras and a collection
of 30 vintage mechanical watches, some adorning the interior and
the shop windows.
Perhaps the least acclaimed of the many antiquarian
bookshops opposite the National Museum, with next to no web presence, the 'City Wall' is well
worth a visit if you’re passing. Once you enter – mind the door handle, it’s tricky
– you’ll find an expanse of books in English, French and German filling
half the right-hand side of the store. Rows of old Penguin paperbacks,
histories and biographies line the shelves, and if you’re just after an easy
read for a few hundred forints, something you can slip into your coat pocket
for a train journey, say, this may be the place. It’s also right next door to
the Vinikli wine & bike shop, so you can open up your new-old purchase over a glass of red.