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Balaton Dreamin’: how to visit “The Hungarian Sea” from Budapest

Whether sipping wine in sunshine on the north shore’s volcanic hills or making a splash by moonlight at a wild south-coast music festival, you’ll find that Lake Balaton offers such pleasures in plentitude, along with many other sporty and leisurely pursuits. Nicknamed “The Hungarian Sea”, Central Europe’s biggest lake is a cherished destination for generations of Magyars who holiday along its 236-kilometer-long coastline, with varied attractions offering something for everyone. Here are some of Lake Balaton’s major hotspots, followed by details about traveling to the region from Budapest.



For comprehensive English-language info about events, accommodations, and travel tips for the entire Lake Balaton region, check out our sister website, – updated daily and including in-depth recommendations for everything from renowned restaurants to hidden lookout points, We Love Balaton is the world's best resource for Lake Balaton travel info.



Summer nights in Siófok thump with the beats of waterfront clubs – this is Lake Balaton’s party capital. The water is shallow here on the south coast, so during daytime the grassy strands are filled with families and friends sunbathing on beach towels or splashing about… but after dark, the skies are brightened with disco lights as revelers dance at the resort town’s huge open-air shoreside nightspots. Lake Balaton’s biggest summer music festival – Balaton Sound – happens just outside of Siófok.



Rich with history and majestic Magyar culture, Balatonfüred was Hungary’s first spa resort and a summer residence for many notable politicians and writers, who built grand villas still standing today. Popular activities here include strolling along the long tree-lined promenade or competing in any of the many sailing regattas; among other refined amusements, the annual Anna Ball is continually hosted here since 1825. For an escape from civilized society, hike amid the nearby Koloska Valley’s 761 hectares of protected woodland.



Natural beauty abounds all around this peninsula formed from an ancient volcanic crater, with central wetlands providing an ideal habitat for ducks and herons. Trails lead through the area’s almond and ash trees – especially beautiful while flowering in the springtime – while the arrival of summer in Tihany is announced with the fragrance of lavender emitting from omnipresent purple blooms. The charming town of Tihany is perched atop a bluff with a sweeping Balaton panorama; the abbey church here is visible from across the lake.



Dramatic volcanic outcroppings tower above rustic Badacsony – a revered Hungarian wine region, with vineyards nourished by the unique mineral makeup of the special soil below. Life is pleasantly slow-paced in this part of Lake Balaton; a few family-friendly lidos offer watery fun, while inland attractions include mountain biking and Nordic walking, with modern wine hotels often hosting active excursions. Nearby, the Káli Basin is the setting of more beautifully rugged terrain, along with the Valley of Arts festival.



At the westernmost edge of Lake Balaton, the small city of Keszthely features a fascinating assortment of architecture: the late-Baroque Town Hall stands before the central square, while an impressive Gothic church is found just a few steps away – yet the main attraction here is the grand Festetics Palace, with its 101 rooms formerly serving as a home for Hungarian nobles. A short journey away from Keszthely, the world-renowned spa town of Hévíz is centered on the planet’s second-largest thermal lake, soothing soakers year-round.


Traveling to Lake Balaton from Budapest

BY TRAIN: Direct rail service is offered daily to several Lake Balaton destinations from Buda’s Déli Station (at Buda’s M2 metro terminus). Trains from Budapest to Siófok (full one-way fare: 2,375 HUF) depart at 7:35am, 9:35am, 11:35am, 1:35pm, 3:35pm, 5:35pm, and 7:35pm, while direct trains from Budapest to Balatonfüred (full one-way fare: 2,725 HUF) and Badacsony (full one-way fare: 3,395 HUF) depart at 8am and 6pm. From Friday through Sunday, people under 26 can receive a 33% discount, while students with proper ID can receive a 50% discount anytime. Certain trains allow passengers to bring bicycles with them for a small charge. Check for English timetable info.

BY BUS: Hungary’s nationwide Volánbusz bus service offers daily service between Budapest and Balatonfüred, Siófok, and Keszthely from Pest’s Népliget Station (at the M3 metro Népliget stop) – however, with frequent stops along the way, this can be a time-consuming means of travel. Bus service is more useful for reaching smaller towns around Lake Balaton from bigger communities with train stops. See for English details.

BY CAR: The easiest way to drive to Lake Balaton is to take motorway M7 west of Buda (don’t forget to purchase a “matrica” highway permit from a gas station before getting on the motorway), which goes directly to Balaton’s south shore; if traveling to a north-shore destination, make sure to exit the M7 at the juncture with main road 71 and turn right. Be aware that traffic jams between Budapest and Lake Balaton commonly occur in both directions during summertime.

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