For the typical Hungarian it is a clear fact, no summer is complete without a trip to Balaton lake. In fact, most of them spend even more summer weekends there. And now, that we’ve been there, we can’t but agree with them. Balaton Lake region is spectacular with a lot of fun things to do. We would gladly spend one week there. In fact, we stopped for three hours and stayed for 4 days. So, we’re not that far away from actually doing it.
Although the area is well-known in Hungary, it remains a pretty much underrated destination among the foreign tourists. As a preview, here are some of the attractions one can find around Balaton Lake: gorgeous beaches, ancient towns, historic castles, lavender fields, good wine and the only geothermal lake in Europe. This guide covers all these and even more fun things to do at Lake Balaton, in Hungary.
How to get to Balaton Lake?
The long pepper-shaped lake lies in central Hungary, about two hours drive from Budapest. If you don’t have a car, you can rent one. This guide will give you all the helpful information for renting a car. There are trains and buses connecting Budapest with the larger towns around the lake, but a car will offer you much more flexibility and the option to access remote places.
Just don’t forget that in Hungary there’s a 0 tolerance for alcohol while driving. Also, if you want to take the highway, there’s a vignette that you have to buy, otherwise you’ll get a fine. One can also choose to stick to secondary streets, as we did.
Where to stay at Balaton Lake?
This will mostly depend on your interests, but here are some nice options:
- Tagore Spa Aparthotel in Balatonfüred – rental apartments for beach lovers with a nice garden and a pool
- Római Apartman – a pretty studio in Badacsony area with outdoor pool, parking, quick lake and wineries access. Guests can enjoy free wine tasting at the property.
- Zenit Wellness Hotel Balaton – a nice spa hotel on a hill with a panoramic view over Balaton Lake
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Top 15 fun things to do in the Balaton Lake area
1. Relax on a nice beach on the shore of Balaton Lake
Balaton Lake is also known as the Hungarian Sea as the country doesn’t have access to an actual sea, being surrounded by other countries. But Hungarians don’t mind too much, as the Balaton Lake is huge and one can bath in its cool turquoise waters from May to October. Balaton beaches reminded me of childhood with retro playgrounds, colorful doors at the changing cabins and a lot of grass for the sun lovers to lay on. But in front of the beach, instead of a concrete pool is a wonderful clear water sparkling in the mild October sun.
Two of the nicest beaches at the Balaton Lake are Balatonederics and Csopak. You’ll recognize them easily by the nostalgic wooden entrance. In summer it costs 900ft/day to enter. In autumn it is free and still quite nice.
2. Visit the spa town of Balatonfüred
Balatonfüred is the oldest resort town in the area. It became popular in the second half of the 19th century, when the Hungarian nobility chose it as a favorite holiday destination. The historical bathing town is still appreciated for its elegant promenade, wellness centers, spa facilities, aqua park and yachting events. The local yacht club is in fact the oldest in the country and there’s almost all summer long a fun sailing regatta, festival or competition to entertain guests.
3. Wander the pretty streets of Tihany
The stylish old town of Tihany stands on the peninsula with the same name in the northern part of Lake Balaton. Its most recognizable sight is the 11th century Benedictine Abbey on top of the hill. We have heard that the inside of the church is spectacular but it was too late for us to enter. From the promenade next to it, you’ll have a breathtaking panorama. At the end of the alley, you’ll reach the Echo Hill, where once can test the echo of Tihany.
Don’t hurry to leave! Follow the enchanting lavender waft through the old houses to the Lavender House and learn more about the area. You can also test Eau de Tihany, a local perfume made with lavender. Browse through the local cafes to find a special treat, lavender ice cream. As per souvenirs, you can try the House of Pottery or the House of Paprica.
If you get in town in late June, you’re in for a real treat, as the yearly Lavender Festival should be going on.
4. Check out the Liliomkert weekend market
If you happen to be on the shore of Lake Balaton during a weekend, a visit to Liliomkert market in the small town of Káptalantóti is a must. Locals and tourists gather at this popular market to look for bargains, local products, books or antiques. The spot is great for people-watching and tasting some delicacies. This is definitely one of the best things to do in the Lake Balaton area on a weekend morning.
5. Taste the local wine in the Badacsony wine region
Badacsony is a grape-growing region that produces first-class Hungarian wines. Visiting some local wineries is one of the best things one can do in the north of Balaton Lake. Thanks to its volcanic fertile soil and microclimate, the area is perfect for vineyards. This was discovered even since Roman times, thus Badacsony has a rich tradition in viticulture.
In summer, the vineyards occasionally open their doors on Szent Gyorgy Hegy until midnight. But even if you don’t visit the area during the event, it’s still worth to walk around and taste a few glasses of wines at the cellars on the hill.
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6. Take a bike ride around the lake or the vineyards
Both Badacsony and Lake Balaton areas are great for cycling as there are a lot of paths especially created for bikes and the region is gorgeous. Cycling is a great way to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and scenery around you. Besides, driving is not allowed after driving, but cycling is, as long as you don’t drink too much. Most accommodations provide bicycles for rent. It is a good option, as parking space is a bit scarce on the rolling hills.
7. Enjoy the best views over Balaton Lake from Szigliget Castle
On top of an ancient volcano, this medieval castle has overseen over the lake for more than 750 years. It was a silent witness to battles, invasions, rise and fall of empires. The mighty fortress resisted the attacks of Tatars and Ottomans and the Austrian takeover. However, a strike of a lightning and subsequent fire in the 18th century destroyed it.
Part of it was restored and can now be visited. It is a great place to see how nobility and the army lived during medieval times, but especially to enjoy the most spectacular views over Lake Balaton and the volcanic landscape.
Entrance to the castle costs 1000 HUF per person and can only be paid cash. The hill is pretty easy to climb for anybody and it’s for sure one of the best things to do in the Balaton Lake area.
8. Find out more about Lake Balaton’s Volcanic History
Once you’re up at Szigliget Castle, there will be no doubt about the volcanic past of the region. In short more than 10 million years ago, the region was the land of fiery volcanoes spewing lava and ash. The heritage they left is the fertile soil perfect for wine growing. You’ll see tens of caldeiras dotting the landscape.
However, this won’t be able to tell you more about the volcanoes that were once here. In order to find it out, you can follow the four kilometers long Szent György Hill Basalt Organ Study Trail. The trail passes by a number of formations, including a basalt organ. Alternatively, one can also check out Hegyestű Geológiai Bemutatóhely (Needle Hill), a partially excavated former volcano, once a mining site with a nice view over the area.
9. Look around the pretty Lengyel Chapel
The fade pink chapel is not only beautiful to explore, but from its terrace you’ll also get some of the best views over the rows of lush grapevines. It was built in the 18th century by a wealthy family of local barons. Admire the Baroque-Rococo features of the buildings, but even more the panoramic views over Lake Balaton, rolling hills and Szigliget Castle.
10. Go on a boat ride in a cave in Tapolca
Just 10 km north of Badacsony, you can have an unique experience and go on an underground boat tour in the town of Tapolca. Entrance costs 2900 HUF (7 euro) and it also includes a guided tour of the museum.
If you know Hungarian, you may stay with the guide. If not, you can just read the information on the walls and walk a little faster. This way you won’t feel so pressured in the cave, as there won’t be another boat right behind you. The ride lasts no longer than 20 minutes, but the experience is quite unique and definitely one of the best things to to in the Lake Balaton area.
In high season, you should book the tickets online in advance. In October we were able to buy our tickets at the entrance, but there were still many other visitors. I suppose we were lucky.
The medieval town is also cute by itself and deserves a stroll after or before touring the cave system. The main square is set around a small lake and full of colorful medieval buildings.
11. Enjoy a spa session at Lake Hévíz
Even if this attraction is geared mostly towards older people, it can be a nice experience for everyone. The spa facilities are centered around the only geothermal lake in Europe and the largest of this kind in the world. Another one is located in New Zealand.
Due to the temperature, the lake is famous for its lilies and you can swim right next to them. The healing properties of Lake Hévíz have been discovered even since Roman times. Its water is extremely rich in minerals that might improve rheumatic diseases and other degenerative conditions. Many survivors of the World War II came here to rest and recover. The interior is quite unattractive, but the lake is beautiful.
Entrance costs 3500 HUF (around 10 euro) per person for three hours. The lake is between 2 and 38 meters deep, so we highly recommend that you rent a floatie from the reception for 600 ft. Water temperature varies between 36 degreed Celsius in summer and 24 degrees in winter. But the water in the interior pool is warmer.
12. Take a walk around Keszthely
Close to Lake Hévíz, there’s the stylish Keszthely town, the largest on Balaton Lake. Its main attraction is the 18th century Baroque Festetics Palace. The palace was built in the 18th century. Its manicured gardens are open to the visitors for free. In order to enter the palace, one has to pay a fee. Keszthely also hosts Balaton Museum, a railway museum, a dolls museum, a marzipan museum and many other. If it’s a rainy day, there are still a lot of things to do in this nice town at Balaton Lake. An evening walk on the promenade and a ferry wheel ride are also worthy of your time.
13. Have a picnic at Balaton Lake
Balaton is a beautiful lake and offers some quite romantic views. Pack some cheese, dried meats, tomatoes and fruits and have a nice picnic with your loved one by the lake. Of course, a glass of local wine is also mandatory. In fact, having a picnic on the shore of Balatoon lake is so popular, that there’s even a yearly two-days event called Balaton Picnic Festival in Balatonboglár.
14. Windsurfing and sailing
Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. Thus it’s one of the best locations to go windsurfing or sailing. One can go on a short cruise or take a fast boat on the Siófok – Balatonfüred and Fonyód – Badacsony routes. Sunset tours are of course the most appreciated ones. For party people, there’s also a party boat so that they can dance and sing in the middle of Lake Balaton both retro and modern hits.
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15. Taste the local food
Hungary is world-known for its tasty dishes. While you’re here, you can taste some of them. Our recommendation is to try goulash, langos and kurtos at least. A glass of wine is a nice pair for the Hungarian hearty food.
We hope this article inspired you to get outside of Budapest and get to know more of Hungary. Lake Balaton is a great destination to relax and have a good time for people of all ages. As you see, there are plenty of things to do at Balaton Lake and it would be pretty hard to get bored.
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