Balaton is a freshwater lake in the Transdanubian region of Hungary. It is the largest lake in Central Europe, and one of the region's most popular tourist destinations. The Zala River provides the largest inflow of water to the lake, and the canalized Sió is the only outflow. The mountainous region of the northern shore is known both for its historic character and as a major wine region, while the flat southern shore is known for its resort towns. The microclimate around Lake Balaton has also made the region ideal for viticulture. The Mediterranean-like climate, combined with the soil (containing volcanic rock), has made the region notable for its production of wines since the Roman period two thousand years ago.
The peak tourist season extends from June until the end of August. The average water temperature during the summer is 25 °C (77 °F), which makes bathing and swimming popular on the lake. Most of the beaches consist of either grass, rocks, or the silty sand that also makes up most of the bottom of the lake. Many resorts have artificial sandy beaches and all beaches have step access to the water. Although the peak season at the lake is the summer, Balaton is also frequented during the winter, when visitors go ice-fishing or even skate, sledge, or ice-sail on the lake if it freezes over.
If you're wondering how to get to Lake Balaton, it's pretty straightforward! There are daily, direct trains from Budapest Déli railway station to Balatonfüred (the north side hub) and Siófok (the south side hub), with ongoing trains and transfers from there. The journey lasts between 1-2 hours. Let’s see 8 recommendations you can do around Lake Balaton.
1. Excursion in the Balaton Uplands
Lake Balaton does not only consist of swimming, sunbathing, and bathing mixed with fried dough. There are also great and beautiful excursion places here, such as the Balaton Uplands (Balatonfelvidék). This area is located on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, in a part with coves and mountains. One of the must-see attractions is the Bujdosók Stairs, which can be reached from Badacsonytördemic. We should warn you that you will have to get yourselves up on 464 basalt stairs, but the view that awaits us at the top will make up for everything.
The Folly Arboretum is favourable for lovers of the Mediterranean climate: the arboretum, which mostly consists of pines, is in Badacsonyörs, on the southern side of Kisörsi Hill. The internationally listed collection also includes cypresses and cedars. There are still many countryside and sights waiting to be explored in the Balaton Uplands, so it is worth taking several days to do so.
2. Wine tour in the Badacsony wine region
Badacsony is a volcanic mountain and wine-growing region, where you can taste excellent/first-class Hungarian wines. This is a great program where good wines, delicious food, and a great atmosphere harmoniously go along. You can map the deservedly famous Badacsony wine region and also the experienced and innovative young people who have made this place super cool!
Surrounding Lake Balaton, beautiful volcanic hills cover a fertile mineral ground that is the finest base for vineyards. Filled with patches of grape-growing farms and meandering streams, fields of lavender and limestone, the entire landscape is simply idyllic. Badacsony is one of the richest regions that capture the viticulture of Hungary and has been popular since Roman times.
3. Discover Tihany
On the north shore of the dazzling Lake Balaton stands proud the oldest medieval town in the region. Tihany sits proudly on the top of the peninsula, which centres the entire panorama of the turquoise lake valley. The Baroque abbey crowns it off. There are brick towers, a royal crypt, and hillside streets dressed in cobblestone – romance and history in one. If you finish the abbey visit, test the famous echo of Tihany, eat a delicious lavender ice cream, and admire the breath-taking panorama, there is still a lot to do here. It is possible to rent a bike to explore the peninsula this way and pick up your lavender bouquet from a natural field, but you can also try sailing or rent a small boat.
4. Bathing on the best beaches
The major resorts around the lake are Siófok, Keszthely, and Balatonfüred another resort town on the southern shore. In Siófok there is a 2,000 square meter beach area, a sunbathing area with palm trees, and comfortable sun loungers await you. The free beach in Zamárdi is 3 km long and not only so popular during the festivals. In addition, while swimming here, the Tihany Peninsula unfolds in front of your eyes. Balatonkenese has hosted numerous traditional gastronomic events. Keszthely is the site of the Festetics Palace and Balatonfüred is a historical bathing town that hosts the annual Anna Ball.
Secondly, if you like swimming, you can complete the Balaton crossing competition, which is a 5,2 km long section between Révfülöp and Balatonboglár. Do you plan to come with your furry friends? No problem, the dog beach in Fonyód is the right choice to make both owners and dogs feel good.
5. Cruising in Lake Balaton
Among the coolest programs on Lake Balaton – besides swimming and bathing – is cruising. There are many varied types to choose from for crossing the foams on the big lake, either to get from A to B or just for a little cruise. If you like speed, there are fast boats, which you can use on the Siófok – Balatonfüred, and Fonyód – Badacsony routes. Racing in the middle of Lake Balaton is going to be an unforgettable experience.
How about a real Sunset Tour? You can choose from several cruises: whether you choose the one- or two-hour version, the romantic Badacsony tour, or the night star tour, an experience of a lifetime awaits you. And for those who want an unusual and frantic party in the middle of Lake Balaton, the party boat is there for them. Lights, DJs with retro, and today’s hits: the mood is up to you.
6. Get to know Kisbalaton (Little Balaton)
One of the most special points of Hungary is located in Kisbalaton, at the southwestern tip of Keszthely Bay. This was once the bay of Lake Balaton, so for a long time, no distinction was made between the two lakes. The river Zala deposited sediment here, so Kisbalaton served as a filter, but it slowly lost its role. After many careless and bad years, experts helped with a unique water protection system, and they began to restore the conditions of 200 years ago quite slowly. So, fortunately, we can already enjoy this wonderful landscape and its special wildlife.
7. Street Food Show and Festetics Palace in Keszthely
Many people think of the dried-out fried dough, when they remember Lake Balaton, even though there has been a real gastro-revolution in the area in recent years. Not only super restaurants have opened up thanks to this, but great festivals have also taken place. One of these is the Street Food Show in Keszthely, where all restaurants and cafés dealing with street food in the area, or even further afield, are present. But not only because of the delicacies, it is worth visiting here at such times, but also because of the programs. Musical and dance events are waiting for the young ones and the old ones. As the dishes become more varied, so does the list of performers: we find all genres here be it rock, jazz, or folk music.
Keszthely is well-known for the Festetics Palace when the Festetics Family moved to Hungary in the 18th century. They settled in none other than a monumental Baroque palace surrounded by idyllic gardens covered in flowerbeds and fountains. Inspired by French opulence, the palace numbers 34 rooms over two floors. It includes neoclassical furniture, the country’s largest intact library, gold-framed portraits, and an entire regal assembly.
8. Balaton Picnic
Not only in the capital you can meet world-class performers but also at the Balaton Picnic Festival. This event in Balatonboglár has become so popular in recent years that it has expanded to a two days event. It is worth visiting here just because of the breathtaking location, the organizers couldn’t have found a few better places than the Balatonboglár Spherical Lookout. This, the great musicians, and the many other varied programs give a whole magical atmosphere. You don’t have to expect huge crowds here, you can safely bring your kids, and the whole thing is very familiar, yet professional.
We hope you are inspired and get great ideas on how to explore Lake Balaton in the summer. Let’s take off your office suit and have a good relaxation at the shore of the Hungarian sea.