Surrounded by vineyards, volcanic mountains, thermal spa resorts and a National Park, Lake Balaton is a stunning body of water in western Hungary. Around an hour's drive southwest of Budapest, Balaton is Central Europe's largest lake and attracts sun seekers, foodies, music lovers and watersports fans from neighboring countries. It's largely unknown outside the region but it's a great year-round destination to pair with a city break in Budapest, especially in the summer months when you can cool off from the Hungarian heat at one of the many 'beach' resorts that dot the shoreline. Read on for our top reasons to visit beautiful Balaton.
01 of 09
The Scenery Is Spectacular
Lake Balaton is almost 50 miles long and 10 miles wide at its widest point. It's a freshwater lake, but it's a striking milky green color because of the algae that grows in the shallow waters. Around the lake you can roam the north shore's rolling hills, climb an extinct volcano in the Tapolca Basin, pick your own plants in Tihany's lavender fields and spot wild boar, lynx and stag in the Balaton Uplands National Park. For the best views, head to the Badacsony Hill on the north side of the lake.
02 of 09
You Can Swim in Summer and Ice Skate in Winter
Known as the 'Hungarian Sea', Lake Balaton attracts landlocked sunseekers from across the country. The average water temperature in the summer months is around 25°C (77°F) and the safe shallow waters make it a great destination for families. Many of the 'beach' resorts along the shoreline are geared up to cater for children with playgrounds, sports pitches and paddle boats. The north side of the lake is home to established resorts like Balatonfüred and Balatonalmádi where you can relax on grassy banks by the water, and the south side has more of a party vibe with beach clubs in resorts like Siófok and artificial sandy beaches in Fonyód and Balatonlelle. In winter, the surface of the lake can freeze over and when it's thick enough you can go ice skating and even ice sailing.
03 of 09
It's One of Europe's Top Sailing Destinations
Lake Balaton's prestigious Blue Ribbon (Kékszalag) sailing competition attracts huge crowds every summer. It's Europe's longest round-the-lake sailing event and sees competitors navigate a 93-mile route in the fastest time possible within a 48-hour period. To explore the lake at a more leisurely pace, consider renting a boat or chartering a yacht with a skipper from one of the large marinas in Balatonfüred, Siófok or on the Tihany Peninsula. There are no motorized sports available on the lake, which makes windsurfing and kitesurfing all the more enjoyable and for an even gentler ride on the lake, kick back on the deck of one of the passenger ferries that sail between Tihany and Szántód.
04 of 09
It Hosts a Massive Eletronic Musical Festival
Founded by the team behind Budapest's legendary Sziget Festival, Balaton Sound is one of Europe's biggest open-air electronic music festivals. The 5-day event takes place in Zamárdi on the lake's southern shore and the site features floating bars, food trucks, a camping area and chill out zones dotted with hammocks and bean bags. You can swim and sunbathe by day and dance to big-name DJs at night. Previous acts include Tiësto and David Guetta.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Its Vineyards Produce Top-Notch Wines
The north side of the lake is a prime wine growing region, particularly around Badacsony where the fertile soil contains volcanic rock and is rich in minerals. Cisterian monks planted Badacsony's first vines in the 14th century and the Pinot Gris grapes that grow in the area are still referred to as Szürkebarát (grey monk). Many of the hillside vineyards offer cellar tours and tastings. Highlights include Laposa Birtok, which features a large terrace overlooking the lake and Homola, a family-run winery in Paloznak that offers tastings paired with snacks and live music events. Time a trip in August to enjoy the Balatonfüred Wine Weeks, an event that showcases around 250 different types of wine from the region
06 of 09
You Can Swim in Healing Thermal Waters
On the northern shore near the town of Keszhely, Heviz is Europe's largest thermal lake. The healing sulphuric waters are naturally heated to around 30°C (86°F) and are said to help promote relaxation and ease ailments like rheumatism. You can spend your time floating in the waters around the historic bathing house or book in for a soothing massage. There's also a hospital in the area for treatments based around water therapy.
07 of 09
It Has an Exciting Food Scene
Foodies flock from far and wide to Kistücsök on the south shore of the lake. Considered one of the country's best restaurants, it serves fine dining dishes in a laid-back setting. Locally sourced, seasonal ingredients feature heavily on the menu in dishes like pickled cucumber soup and pork belly with green bean stew. Budapest's popular Bock Bisztró has an outpost in Vonyarcvashegy and serves Hungarian-style tapas dishes alongside excellent local wines. For gourmet beach food (burgers, pizza, sandwiches), Kishableány is a hipster spot in a converted 1960s building in Badacsony. For spectaular views of the lake and a menu full of traditional dishes and wines from the Balatonfüred-Csopak region, Ferenc Pince Csárda on the Tihany Peninsula is hard to beat.
08 of 09
There's a Cycle Track Around the Entire Lake
You can explore the lake on two wheels without encountering any road traffic. A wide path encircles the entire lake, a route that encompasses 93 miles of coastline. There are rental shops in the major resorts and plenty of pit stops along the way to pick up drinks, ice cream and traditional Hungarian beach food like lángos (a flat savory donut topped with sour cream) and fried fish. Remember that the paths are flatter on the south side of the lake if you're looking for an easier ride.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
It's Only an Hour From Budapest
You can reach the northeast corner of the lake by car from Budapest in around an hour. If you're looking to explore several towns in one trip, it's best to rent a car. Otherwise, you can take a train from Déli Station in Buda or Keleti Station in Pest to resorts like Balatonfüred, Badacsony and Siófok, although journeys can take between two and four hours. A bus service operates from Népliget Station but there are frequent stops along the route so it can be a time-consuming trip. Local buses run between towns on the lake once you're in the area.