Lake Balaton is romantically called the Hungarian Sea. It is indeed boundless! It also stretches over around 80 km! Its coast is covered in resorts. Thousands of sailboats ply the azure of Balaton. Yachtsmen and water sports lovers from all over Europe come here: there are pretty much sea waves on the lake! The season begins at Balaton early: the shallow lake warms up quickly, and the season lasts from mid-May to September.
Even in ancient times, Balaton attracted various people. The Celts were here, Germanic and Slavic tribes, Thracians were here as well. The Romans conquered this region in the first century AD and founded the province of Pannonia. The Hungarians crossed the lake in the early 10th century. Just then, Andrew I the White founded the Tihany Abbey, one of the oldest in the country.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, several fortresses were built along the northern coast of Balaton. The ruins of some of them survived through and can be seen today. The region was badly damaged during the Second World War when the so-called Operation Spring Awakening took place. However, when the war came to an end, the beautiful shores of Lake Balaton continued to attract tourists. And now this is the most popular place not only among Hungarians but also Europeans.
What makes recreation at Balaton special
The lake warms up quickly because its depth is on average 2–3 m. The only relatively deep place is the Tihany depression which is near the peninsula of the same name. Crystal clear water shines with azure colour and serenity. Many swans and ducks live here.
This is also a great place for sailing lovers since Balaton boasts strong winds. In winter, the lake often freezes despite the mild temperature. Back in the day, carriages travelled on it because the water froze up to 70 cm of ice.
Balaton in facts and numbers
- Lake coast – 236 km.
- It stretches from southwest to northeast, its length – 79 km.
- The narrowest part of the lake is between the Tihany Peninsula and Szántód Peninsula. A ferry runs in this area (8-minute ride).
- 12.4 km – the widest part of the lake.
- The lake bottom is covered with sand.
- Average depth – 3.2 m, maximum – 12.2 m.
- Average water temperature in summer is + 21... + 26 degrees.
You will find many interesting places along the coast of the lake and in its surroundings. Read more about the sights of Balaton in our article. The main ones are:
- The Tihany Peninsula – a nature reserve and one of the most visited places of Lake Balaton. It goes into the lake for 5 km and divides it into two parts. The island itself appeared thanks to the volcanoes raging back in antiquity.
- Kis-Balaton. It is a protected reserve, a wetland. This is the place where a lot of birds and fish live, however strict restrictions for fishing are applied here as well.
- Balaton Uplands National Park. It lies across the northern shore of the lake. There are many extinct volcanoes and inactive geysers.
- Lake Heviz. The largest thermal lake in Europe where tourists come from all over the world. The deepest depression is more than 40 m. Even in winter, the water temperature is 26 degrees. The lake helps ease many ailments.
- Cave lake in Tapolca. A small underground lake where you can go boating!
- The Volcano Valley. The region has basalt mountains. Millions of years ago, volcanoes raged here. And the basalt peaks were the volcanic islands of the non-existent Pannonian Sea.
- Lavender fields. The Tihany Peninsula is famous for lavender festivals. Its plantations explode with lilac colours in June: about 30 hectares of lavender beauty!
- The Festetics Palace in Keszthely. The castle was built in the 18th century and is famous for its luxurious décor, especially, an unusual old library.
- Castle Szigliget. There are remains of an ancient fortress which is now being reconstructed. Excellent viewing platform and venue for medieval festivals.
- Balaton museums. Among the most famous is the House of Lavender, Hunting Museum and Model Railway Exhibition, Doll Museum, Marzipan Museum and many other. Cities and villages boast a huge number of museums!
- Wine Hill of Egregy. A place to go for a wine tasting.
- Promenade in Balatonfüred. The most beautiful and lively promenade of Balaton.
Leisure at Balaton
- Sailing. Balaton is famous for holding regattas. The largest one called Blue Ribbon gathers several thousand sailboats together.
- Water activities. Almost on every beach, you can rent a catamaran, kayaking, water skiing, windsurfing, and surfing. A lot of information can be found in this article.
- Swimming in the thermal lake. People like to rest and improve their health here in Heviz. Spring and autumn are the best seasons for that.
- Beach vacation. Balaton has a beach with all the necessary amenities, most of them aren’t free.
- Fishing. There is a lot of fish in the lake: catfish, carp, bream, pike, and others. You need to purchase a fishing license though.
- Bicycle trip. There are more than 200 km of roads running along Lake Balaton, many marked bikeways.
- Tank ride. During July–September, you can ride a tank for only five euros: it drives tourists across the field!
- Air-ballooning. You can fly over the lake in Heviz!
- Extinct volcanoes hikes.
- Festivals. Balaton has many holidays all year round. In the summer, it turns into a region of festivals with various themes: music, fish and wine.
- Siofok beaches. “Hungarian Miami”, a place for parties.
All the details can be found in our article about activities at Balaton.
Where to eat
In every town and village of Balaton, you will find a good cafe or restaurant. There are many cosy coffee houses with pastries and restaurants offering Hungarian cuisine, there are vegetarian cafes as well. In this article, you will learn more about 14 best places with delicious food. Be sure to taste the traditional dishes. The average bill for the main course is 2–4 thousand forints. The most popular dishes in the region are fish soup, goulash, grilled fish, dishes with lavender flavour, duck, lángos. Don’t forget to try the local white wine with pepper.
Where to stay
To see the whole Balaton, you should choose a few locations. The best options are:
- Heviz. The most visited city in the region. The thermal lake and spa hotels that provide comprehensive treatment are located here. For example, Hotel Helios.
- Keszthely. The capital of the western part of Lake Balaton. A good place to explore the region.
- Tapolca. The city with an underground lake and a therapeutic lake cave. By the way, you can get treatment right in the cave if you stay at the Hunguest Hotel Pelion.
- Balatonfured. Northern capital of the region is a must-visit.
- Tihany Peninsula. One of the most interesting places of Lake Balaton, covered with lavender in June.
- Balatonalmádi. A small village that can become a convenient starting point for the tour from the southern part of the lake to the north. A good option is to stay at the Hotel Bál Resort: beautiful panoramic views.
- Siofok. The southern capital of the region, a young people’s favourite place.
On average, the cost of a 3-star hotel is about 40–80 euros in the winter, 70–100 euros in the summer. The price for apartments in low season ranges from 20 euros for two, and to 30–70 euros per room during the high season. More information on where to stay at Balaton is available in this article.
- Trains and electric trains. In the largest cities of Balaton, international trains stop at Siofok, Balatonfured, Keszthely. Small suburban trains travel to different points as well. There is a narrow-gauge railway along the coast.
- Buses of Balaton. They are convenient to use for short rides. There is no point in travelling from one part of the coast to the opposite with this type of vehicle. Bus services stop working in the evening after 21:00–22:00. They depart every hour or two.
- Tourist “trains”. The city of Heviz and the village of Tihany have an amazing public transport. These tourist trains pass main city landmarks.
- Car. A convenient option is to rent it upon arrival in Budapest. However, you can also rent it in any Balaton city.
- Bicycle. A convenient way to make a trip around Balaton. Only about 200 km. The circular route will take 2–3 days at a measured pace. Many marked tracks can be seen here.
- Water transport. The best option for a trip from the north to the southern part of the lake. The ferry runs between the Tihany Peninsula and Szántód. The ride takes only eight minutes. There are also a lot of boats between different cities of Balaton. There is also a water taxi.
More about schedule and prices in the article "Getting around Balaton."
How to get to Balaton
It is recommended to start your trip from Budapest and get to Siofok or Balatonfüred.
- The cost of the train and bus is around 2.5–2.8 thousand forints. The ride takes one hour and twenty minutes (to Siofok) or about 2 hours (to Balatonfured).
- By car. To get to the southern part of the lake, to Siofok, you should follow the M7 highway. The travel time is around 2 hours, the distance is 120 km.
- The M7 highway leads to the northern part of the lake; once on it, take a turn to the 710 or 71 highway. The ride will take around 2 hours, the distance is 150 km. Read more about travelling to Balaton in the article "How to get to Balaton."