To say I was impressed when I’ve seen Lake Balaton, Hungary for the first time is an overstatement. It was a gloomy March afternoon (20 years ago), I was taking the train from Budapest to Ljubljana (Slovenia) and passed “the Hungarian see” on the way.
It looked gray and depressing, the landscape around it also didn’t look very inviting, and I couldn’t really understand what the whole hype is about. But I wanted to give the place a proper chance and decided to visit Lake Balaton again.
Now, after two Lake Balaton trips, I can say it is one of the best places to visit in Hungary (even if you go there only on one of the day trips from Budapest). However, it really depends on which places you decide to visit on Lake Balaton as some of them are pretty great while others are just ok.
Here is the Lake Balaton guide with all information you might need!
Table of contents
- 1 Where is Lake Balaton
- 2 How to get to Lake Balaton
- 3 How to get around Lake Balaton
- 4 What to see at Lake Balaton
- 5 What to see near Lake Balaton
- 6 Where to stay at Lake Balaton
- 7 Day trip from Budapest to Lake Balaton
- 8 Final thoughts on visiting Lake Balaton
- 9 Further reading
- 10 Travel Resources
Where is Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Hungary, is located in the central part of the country. From Budapest to its northern shore it’s just under 100 km while the southern edge is 180 km away from the capital.
How to get to Lake Balaton
Getting to Lake Balaton is actually really easy. There are frequent, fast, and direct trains from Budapest, serving both shores of Lake Balaton (be sure to check in advance which side of the lake you want to go to and choose the right train).
In Budapest the trains depart from Deli station, you can easily reach it by metro as it’s the last stop on the red line 2. They also stop at Kelenföld station (at the end of green line 4 of the metro) but I recommend taking the train from Deli.
You can check the connections and get tickets here at the website of Hungarian railways MAV.
On the weekends and on warm days the trains might be overcrowded so better arrive at the train station a bit ahead to score a seat.
How to get around Lake Balaton
Getting around Lake Balaton is easy too! Besides trains, you can also use local buses and boats.
I especially recommend the boats as this way you can see the lake from a different perspective. Boats are also the easiest way to get across the lake. You can find the schedule of boats here.
What to see at Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton stretches for almost 80 km and both sides of it are lined with towns and villages. Some of them are more interesting than others but basically, everywhere you can enjoy Lake Balaton with its nice views and numerous beaches to relax.
I personally preferred the northern shore more but you can easily visit both during your trip to Lake Balaton. Here are the best places to visit at Lake Balaton.
Balatonfüred, located on the northern shore, is known as one of the capitals of Lake Balaton (the other one being Siofok across the lake). Even if it’s the third largest town on the lakeshore it still feels like a small charming town with elegant villas, a nice promenade to wander along, and a lovely relaxing vibe. This is also one of the oldest spas in the region where treatments started in 1722.
Located just south of Balatonfüred, the beautiful peninsula is one of the biggest Lake Balaton attractions.
The main reason to come here is to visit the Benedictine Tihany Abbey dating back to the mid-11th century (however, the place got its current look after the reconstruction in Baroque style in 1754). The abbey, located high on the hill above the lake, is important for its cultural, religious, and artistic values.
While you are here, stop for a coffee and cake in the nearby Rege Cukrászda as views from there are simply breathtaking.
The real capital of Balaton, located on its southern side, is known especially for its vibrant atmosphere and great nightlife. But even if you are not really interested in parties, there are some nice attractions in Siofok too: the water tower, two interesting churches or some beautiful villas from the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century.
This is the oldest town at Lake Balaton (with a history of over 750 years), located at the very end of it (looking from Budapest).
The city’s biggest attraction is the stunning and impressive Festetics Palace from the 18th century, one of the largest buildings of that kind in Hungary. Today the palace is home to the museum but you can find more attractions on the estate and wander around the pleasant gardens.
The lakeside promenade is another fine place for a stroll as is the center of the town with numerous monuments and attractions.
Badacsony is the most popular destination on Lake Balaton for fans of wine, especially locally produced Olaszrizling. The picturesque rolling hills are where you will find numerous vineyards, you can also visit numerous wineries located in the area.
Besides the typical Lake Balaton attractions, it’s worth stopping here to see the graveyard with the heart-shaped tombstones from the early 19th century.
The village, inhabited already in Roman times, with the oldest church in the Lake Balaton region (originally dating back to the 12th century). The place is also home to the uniquely shaped hill of Hegyestű.
Another picturesque place on the northern shore, with impressive views of Lake Balaton and a pleasant center. Badacsonytomaj is also known for its quality wines.
Another pleasant place, dating back to the 13th century (the church located in Balatonederics is from that time, however, what you can see today is from the second half of the 19th century). In the village, you can also visit the interesting Africa Museum and zoo.
A popular destination south of Siofok where you can see some beautiful old mansions and villas as well as enjoy a pleasant promenade and the harbor.
The resort is popular especially among families. Balatonlelle is also home to the wine festival that takes place in the first half of August.
One of the most picturesque spots of the town is St. Donatus Chapel, located on the hill above the lake, from where you can also admire the beautiful panorama of the area.
What to see near Lake Balaton
If you spend more time at Lake Balaton you can also explore nearby areas that also offer plenty of attractions.
Just before arriving at Lake Balaton, you can stop in Szekesfehervar, the first capital of Hungary (in the 11th century) with its beautiful center and many interesting spots to see.
Another place worth visiting is Tapolca known for its Lake Cave – the underground water system under the center of the town.
Not far from Keszthely you can go to Heviz where you can find the world’s second-largest thermal lake. The water in the lake comes from the thermal spring and never drops below 24°C, not even in the wintertime.
The area around Lake Balaton was declared the Balaton Uplands National Park in 1997 and you can enjoy there numerous beautiful wonders of nature, such as Csodabogyós Cave or Szent György Hill Basalt Organs.
Where to stay at Lake Balaton
Not every place on Lake Balaton is suitable for everyone.
If you are looking for a bustling base with great nightlife, Siofok is a place for you. For a more artistic and laid-back vibe choose Balatonfüred. The best place for families is Balatonlelle while if you are looking for a great wine destination (which means you won’t have to drive too much) then choose the accommodation in Badacsony.
Day trip from Budapest to Lake Balaton
If you are short on time during your trip to Hungary you can easily go for a day trip from Budapest to Lake Balaton. I did it once and had a really good time, seeing some of the best places to visit in Lake Balaton.
You can take the train from Budapest to Balatonfüred, it takes just under 2 hours so it’s better to start your day early. After seeing the town take the boat or bus to Tihany to see the monastery and drink coffee with probably the best view of Lake Balaton.
Once you are done with this charming place take the boat to Siofok on the other side of Lake Balaton. From there, after seeing the town, you can take the train back to Budapest (it takes 1h20min to get back to the capital).
Final thoughts on visiting Lake Balaton
To be honest, I wouldn’t really choose Lake Balaton as my holiday destination. But for a day or a few, it is a good place to visit, to escape the hustle and bustle of busy Budapest, to enjoy the unique vibe of the “Hungarian sea” and to see what the whole hype about Lake Balaton is about.
I’m glad I’ve decided to give the place a chance as I actually really enjoyed my time there, especially when it was warm and sunny and the lake had a beautiful emerald shade. Who knows, maybe you will find Lake Balaton a great place to visit too!
While everyone goes to Budapest, Hungary actually offers many more great places to visit. I’ve been to many of them so far and covered them on my blog.
If you think of visiting Hungary, you might find these articles useful:
- 35 Amazing Places to Visit in Hungary
- 7 solid reasons to visit Budapest, Hungary
- 10 Great Things to Do in Pecs, Hungary
- Gyor, Hungary – the Baroque Jewel on the Danube
- 30 Pictures to Inspire You to Visit Sopron, Hungary
- What to See in Szeged, Hungary – the Art-Nouveau Gem of Europe
- and more
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