There has never been a better time to enjoy a holiday in Hungary, home of that great summer getaway: Balaton! Escape the bustle of Budapest and discover some of the most beautiful lakeside locations to enjoy the peace and serenity of the Hungarian sea. And most resorts are just a couple of hours from the capital.
Before we begin, did you know that WeLoveBudapest has a sister website wholly dedicated to Balaton: welovebalaton.hu/en? Updated daily, and full of local recommendations, We Love Balaton is the best place to plan your lakeside adventures!
Located on the southern shore of the lake, Siófok is known for being Balaton’s party capital. Shops and restaurants throng with visitors, and music blasts from numerous waterfront clubs. By day, families and sunbathers stretch out on the grassy lakeside before disco lights beckon revellers to continue the good times at shore-side nightspots. From Budapest Déli, the train takes 1hr 20-45mins to reach Siófok (tickets from 2,200 HUF).
Look across the lake from Siófok and you’ll find Balatonfüred, the location of Hungary’s first spa resort! Many notable politicians, writers and other celebrities built grand villas here, which can still be seen today. Enjoy a quieter holiday walking along the beach here, in an area rich with Hungarian history. There is also the Annagora Aquapark, perfect for families, and guided tours of nearby Lóczy Cave. From Budapest Déli, the train to Balatonfüred swings between 2-2½hrs, and tickets start at 2,520 forints.
A small peninsula juts out into Lake Balaton, formed from an ancient volcanic crater. This is Tihany, and the charming town offers a panoramic view of the water. Walking trails take visitors through the area’s almond and ash trees, and the central wetlands are great for bird-watching. Looking down over Tihany is the grand Abbey, a Benedictine monastery established in 1055. A comfortable walk of 1-1½ hours brings you to Barátlakások, a series of man-made caves, and back again. Trains for Tihany depart from Budapest Déli and Kispest, and take 2-3hrs, depending on the route. Tickets start at 2,520 forints.
Hungarians revere Badacsony for its wines, as the vineyards here are nourished by the unique mineral make-up in the soil thanks to the ancient volcanoes which once dominated. Forego the idleness of the beach for the nearby Balaton Uplands National Park, where a huge, wild landscape lets you immerse yourself in nature. If that’s not exciting enough, jump in a boat and paddle underground – into the Tapolca Lake Cave! Online tickets can be purchased to reserve your spot. Trains for Badacsony depart from Budapest Déli and Kispest, taking 3+hrs, and tickets start at 3,130 forints.
Keszthely and Hévíz
Located at the westernmost edge of Lake Balaton, the modest city of Keszthely brims with architectural landmarks, starting with the Gothic Our Lady of Hungary Church and late-Baroque Town Hall right on central Fő tér. But most impressive of all is the sprawling Festetics Palace, with a breathtaking 101 rooms. You’ll feel transported to France as you admire the exquisite and grandiose finery commissioned by one of Hungary’s most significant 18th-century families. Keszthely is also the gateway to Hévíz, a year-round tourist draw, situated on top of the planet’s second-largest thermal lake. Train tickets to Keszthely start at 3,710 forints and services depart from Budapest Déli and Kispest, journey time an average 2½-3½hrs. Not all are direct – many require a change at Balatonszentgyörgy.
Balatonlelle is mentioned in the founding document of Tihany Abbey in 1055, making it one of the oldest settlements along the southern coast of Lake Balaton. It suffered many attacks from invading forces, but the local population always survived. In 1904, a swimming and bathing complex was founded, making it a popular recreational area even today. Near the lakeshore, you can find the spectacular Globe Lookout Tower, which affords astounding views of the lake, and can be spotted from the opposite side at night thanks to the decorative lighting. Also located in Balatonlelle is the Konyári Winery, cultivating 38 acres and producing 230,000 bottles of fine South Balaton wine a year. Visitors can stay in the beautiful guesthouse on site. Trains to Balatonlelle depart from Budapest Déli and Kelenföld, journey time roughly 2-2½hrs. Tickets start at 2,830 forints.
Balatonfenyves is only a small village in Somogy county, but it has the longest beach on Lake Balaton, covering about 1.8km. It is free to enter, and makes for a truly relaxing getaway, far from the lights, music and parties of Siófok. Locals sunbathe in the parks along the beach, walking and cycling paths are abundant, and camping is available at a couple of locations. Trains depart from Budapest Déli, Kelenföld and Kispest, taking between 2-3hrs, and tickets start at 3,130 forints.
Zamárdi is famous as a holiday destination for its music festivals in summer –though the main ones, including Balaton Sound, whose in-person attendance hs been postponed until 2021. However, live-streaming of many participating acts is happening this weekend! It is part of the Balatonboglár wine region, making it a good choice for oenophiles. Before Hungarians settled in the area, it was home to the Avars, a group of Eurasian nomads. In fact, a large Avar cemetery was found in the area dating back to the 6th or 7th century, first discovered in 1972. A ferry connects Zamárdi with Tihany, and the ferry’s website has a countdown clock to the next service. It takes eight minutes to glide from south shore to north. Passenger tickets are 800 forints, cycles 1,000 forints and cars 1,900. Campsites are available at Zamárdi, as well as several guest houses and a hostel. Trains depart from Budapest Déli, Kelenföld and Kispest, with tickets starting at 2,520 forints. Journey time to Zamárdi is 1½-2hrs.