If you are visiting Budapest in summer, take a perfect day-trip to Lake Balaton Hungary, and thank me later!
Dubbed as Hungarian Sea, about 50 miles long lake with charming little towns, rustic villages, resort towns, and vineyards stretched along its shorelines, Lake Balaton is Hungary’s and Central Europe’s largest freshwater lake.
Balaton is Hungary’s second most visited destination after Budapest for a good reason. Hungarians flock here every summer for some outdoor fun.
We visited Lake Balaton on our way to Budapest, Hungary from Zadar, Croatia. It can be a great destination for travelers looking for a peaceful day trip from Budapest.
Away from crowds, time seems to have stopped here.
Whenever I recommend people to add Lake Balaton to their Hungary bucket list, they respond with a question mark on their face – Is Lake Balaton worth visiting?
Ah! I get that. Balaton is not your typical city-break destination. It might be famous among the locals but is still largely unknown among tourists.
As a typical Indian tourist, When we plan a dream Europe trip from India, the places that make it to our list almost always are the famous European capital cities like Paris, Budapest, Prague, Zagreb, Vienna, Bratislava, Rome, and so on.
Well, I’ve never been one to follow convention and crowd. Replacing touristy destinations with lesser-explored towns and villages (whether it’s Europe or any continent for that matter) has been a tradition now.
Okay. Before I go off on a tangent let’s get back to the main question.
Hell yeah! Lake Balaton has been a top-rated and most visited family destination in Hungary for decades now.
It has been billed as the most thrilling gourmet region in the country because of its intriguing food, wine, and arts scene.
Over the years, the Hungarian Lake District’s popularity resulted in a good number of spa towns and resorts along its foreshore.
Untouched countryside, thermal spas, pretty villages, wildlife, and a big blue lake shimmering under a summer sun – Welcome to Balaton!
Well, there are a plethora of resort towns and villages spread out around the lake’s southern and northern shore – Siófok, Zamárdi, Balatonszemes, Balatonlelle, Badacsony, Veszprém, Balatonalmádi, Fonyód, Keszthely, Tihany, Csopak, Kapolcs and many more.
From Budapest, Siófok and Veszprém will be the closest resort towns. It takes about an hour via motorway M7 to reach them from Budapest.
So, the time of the journey from Budapest to Balaton solely depends upon the town or region you choose to visit.
Here are the driving distances and directions from Budapest to some of the major towns at Lake Balaton:
Many of Balaton’s best attractions are away from the shore. Southern lakeside resorts like Siofok, have been thronged by tourists, but the northern shore is peaceful, untouched and is a place to be for outdoor lovers.
The party capital of Balaton (as Hungarians call it), Siófok is one of the most popular holiday destinations along Lake Balaton’s southern shore best known for its beaches and nightlife.
A little away from Siofok, Zamárdi is a famous family destination with an adventure park, Balaton’s longest beach, and a bobsleigh track.
It’s also a famous destination for music lovers as it hosts the Balaton Sound, one of the largest open-air electronic music festivals in Europe.
We stayed in Fonyód. It’s from here that passengers board ferries across the lake to the famous wine region on the northern shore, Badacsony.
Where to stay in Fonyód? We stayed at this pretty Airbnb. Our host, Edit was warm and friendly. She tried her best to communicate and help us even though she didn’t know English.
We were welcomed with chocolates and a bottle of local wine.
Known as the town of grapes and wine, Balatonboglár is a popular wine region on the southern shore.
You can visit the Majthényi Présház, a family-owned winery for an authentic experience.
Don’t forget to climb the unique lookout tower, the Globe Observatory for jaw-dropping views over the lake area.
Balatonlelle has Kishegy (Little Hill). Take a walk on the hill to admire one of the best sunsets of Lake Balaton.
Located between Lake Balaton and the Bakony Hills, Veszprém is one of the oldest cities in Hungary.
It’s nicknamed as the City of Queens as the queens of Hungary were crowned by the bishop of Veszprém.
The city swaddles Hungary’s significant historic sites. You can see one of Hungary’s first stone castles, the Episcopal Palace, and the first Cathedral, St. Michael’s Cathedral.
The Porcelain factory of Herend is a recommended detour from Veszprém.
A little village on volcanic hills in Veszprém county, Szigliget is best known for its medieval castle, Szigliget Castle. A short hike to the castle is worth an effort!
This tiny village boasts one of the most iconic and beautiful chapels of Lake Balaton, Lengyel Chapel. Perched on Szent György-hill, the chapel features views over Szigliget.
A traditional lakeside getaway, Balatonfüred hosts the eminent annual beauty pageant, the Anna Ball of Balatonfüred.
It’s also famous as a great yachting and fishing destination in Hungary.
Tagore Promenade is named after the famous Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore. The poet spent quite a time in Balatonfüred when he was traveling the natural springs in the Balaton region.
Located in the Veszprém County on the Tihany Peninsula (narrowest point of lake Balaton ), Tihany is celebrated for its 11th-century Benedictine Abbey Church, one of the oldest churches in Hungary.
The church perches on a cliff offering picture-postcard views of the lake’s southern shore.
Climb the Tihany Echo Hill to relish the views over Lake Balaton or shout your name from the hill to listen to the echo.
Come July and August, the fields of Tihany transform into gorgeous bright violet carpets of blossoming lavender, a sight to behold, of course.
Recommended Hotel in Tihany: Oliver Lux
It’s a well-known wine-growing region on the northern shore. Take a wine tour at Márga Bisztro and taste signature wine from Csopak, Welschriesling.
Where to Stay in Csopak: Balatoni Élmény
Where to eat in Csopak: Borkuria Bistro located at St. Donát winery
Keszthely, the largest town by the lake on the western shore is famous among history and culture lovers.
It houses Baroque-style Festetics-Castle, Helikon Library, and the Balaton Museum.
The town is quite close to Europe’s largest thermal lake, Hévíz Lake.
Take a dip in Hévíz Lake, World’s largest thermal lake with natural medicinal water.
Located in the Veszprém county, Tapolca is a charming town close to Lake Balaton.
It’s visited by tourists for its unique attraction – Lake Cave. It’s best explored on a guided tour. The entry fee is 2000 HUF.
One of Hungary’s iconic wine regions, Badascony is popular across Europe for its white wine. At 438 meters, Badascony Hill is the region’s highest point. The vineyards belt the hill and the landscape and the scenery remind of Italy’s Tuscany region.
A little village in Balaton Uplands, Kapolcs along with neighboring villages of Taliándörögd and Vigántpetend host the largest multi-art festival in Hungary, The Valley of Arts Festival every year in July.
If not for the festival, you can visit the village for its pretty row of water mills at Eger stream’s shore.
Where to Stay in Kapolcs: Kapolcs Cottage
There are some amazing trails near the village of Köveskál on Balaton uplands.
Where to Spend a night in Köveskál: Káli Art Inn
Almost all the beaches on Lake Balaton are grassy with playgrounds. Some of them offer a host of water activities like kayaking, paddle boating, and surfing.
Some have the entrance fee of about HUF 500 per adult while some are free.
They are open from May through October.
The Balaton Association award the Blue Wave Flags (Kék Hullám Zászló) to the best beaches on the Balaton every season. You can check the list of best beaches on the Hungarian sea’s shores here.
We spent time on Fonyód Sándortelepi Panorama Beach. It was clean and well-maintained.
Lake Balaton is just over an hour’s drive from Budapest.
Note: Lake Balaton region is also within a drivable distance from other European cities of Zagreb, Ljubljana, Bratislava, and Graz.
If you have a car, the M7 motorway to Siófok is the fastest road to get to the lake’s northern shore. For Balatonfüred, leave the M7 onto Route 71 while for Veszprém, leave M7 onto Route 8.
For solo and budget travelers, local public transportation is on the place. Regular trains run from Budapest’s Déli Station to all main resort towns. Regular buses run from the Népliget bus terminal.
Alternatively, you can also book a private or group tour with an expert local guide. Taste Hungary is rated highly for its expert food and wine tours from Budapest to the wine regions around Lake Balaton.
By all means, the fastest way to get around Lake Balaton is by car. And the best part is that parking isn’t an issue here.
Regular ferries and boats connect the major towns around the lake. You can take a passenger ferry from Siófok to Tihany and Balatonfüred, and from Fonyód to Keszthely and Badascony.
Renting a boat is another option if you’re willing to spend a few hundred thousand forints.
Another beautiful way to discover the gems of Lake Balaton is by bike – you can actually cycle around the lake. It’s pretty easy with dedicated bike lanes and a well-signposted cycle trail.
The summer months of June to August are the best months to go and thus bring a lot of crowds. During the off-season, the lake is serene and peaceful.