Why visit: freshwater lake, water sports, beaches, sightseeing, wineries
Things to Do and See at Lake Balaton
Since Hungary is landlocked, Lake Balaton is often affectionately called the "Hungarian Sea". This nickname isn't far from the truth, as the region was once covered by the ancient Pannonian Sea (around 10 million years ago). Lakeshore villas and resorts began to appear in the 18th century, primarily catering to the wealthy. In the 20th century, as more and more people discovered this hidden gem, many resorts and cottages were built in the area. Today, millions of people come here every summer to enjoy the warm waters.
Balaton's south shore is almost entirely built up with a continuous chain of resort towns. Most of the beaches are grassy, but many resorts have artificial sandy beaches. The largest destination is Siófok, known as the "Party Capital of Hungary", which attracts many young partygoers in the summer. Another city on the south shore is Fonyód, from where ferries take passengers across the lake to Badacsony, a popular wine region on the north shore. As an interesting fact, maps from the 14th century still show Fonyód as an island, and Lake Balaton being much bigger. A famous wine region to visit on the south shore is Balatonboglár.
The north shore has cooler and deeper water. The hills offer wonderful scenery and excellent wineries. The major resort towns on the north shore are Keszthely and Balatonfüred. Keszthely is the site of the famous Baroque-style Festetics Castle and the Balaton Museum, which displays geological and archaeological exhibitions. Balatonfüred is a historical bathing town home to the annual Anna Ball. Balatonfüred is also known for its wineries. Other attractions include the Tihany Peninsula, amid the picturesque village of Tihany, and the wine-producing Badacsony Hill, a volcanic mountain as well as one of Hungary's prominent wine regions. Cistercian monks planted the first vines on the slopes in 1375. The wine produced is Pinot Gris; however, it is still called Szürkebarát by the locals, meaning, "grey monk". Hike to the top for fantastic views of the lake. Finally, a favorite spa & wellness destination on the north shore is Hévíz, located only a few miles from Lake Balaton.
The beaches around Lake Balaton, open May to October, come alive as soon as the weather gets warm. Most of the beaches are grassy and have playgrounds, showers, sun beds and lockers for rent. Many offer water activities ranging from kayaking and paddle boating to surfing. The entrance fee for a day is around HUF 500 for adults, but you'll find that there are still some free beaches by the lake.
Hungary's beaches are checked prior to each season for water quality, safety, child-friendliness and range of facilities. The best beaches receive the 'Blue Wawe' flag for the season. The following is a list of beaches that consistently meet or exceed the 'Blue Wawe' requirements:
Alsóörs: Alsóörsi Strand
Badacsonytomaj: Badacsony Strand and Badacsonytomaji Strand
Balatonakali: Községi Strand
Balatonföldvár: Balatonföldvári Strand
Balatonfüred: Esterházy Strand and Kisfaludy Strand
Balatonlelle: Napfény Strand
Balatonszemes: Balatonszemesi Strand
Csopak: Községi Strand
Fonyód: Bélatelepi Strand, Sándortelepi Strand and Városi Strand
Keszthely: Helikon Strand and Libás Strand
Siófok: Hotel Móló Strand and Nagystrand
Zamárdi: Zamárdi Strand
Zánka: Gyermek és Ifjúsági Centrum Strand
Some Facts About Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton has remarkably clean waters. Its size is 50 miles (80km) long, varying in width from 8.5 miles (14km) to 0.9 miles (1.5km). The narrowest point is at the Tihany peninsula. Major settlements include Badacsony, Balatonalmádi, Balatonfüred, Fonyód, Keszthely, Siófok and Tihany.
Getting to Lake Balaton from Budapest: Lake Balaton is about an hour's drive from Budapest. Highway M7 to Siófok is the quickest road; to get to the northern shore, turn off the M7 onto Route 71 for Balatonfüred. Trains from Budapest's Déli Station run to all main resorts. Buses leave from the Népliget bus terminal. Another option is to take a personalized tour with a local guide. Taste Hungary offers expert wine tours (group and private) from Budapest to the wine regions surrounding Lake Balaton. Tours can be customized to your wishes.
Passenger ferries are a great way to get around. Ferries run from Siófok to Tihany and Balatonfüred, and from Fonyód to Badascony and Keszthely. Another great way to explore Lake Balaton is by bike - you can actually cycle around the lake. Need a break away from the beach? Go to the north shore and make a little detour to visit the famous porcelain factory of Herend, located near the city of Veszprém.