At 48 miles (77 kilometers) in length and seven miles (11 kilometers) at its widest point, Balaton is Central Europe’s largest freshwater lake and landlocked Hungary’s prime summer playground, with spectacular scenery and swim-friendly milky green waters. The lake is fringed by beach resorts, a national park, and wine-producing vineyards.
Because of its proximity to Budapest, Hungary’s largest lake is a prime choice for day-trippers based in the city. Full-day Lake Balaton tours from the Hungarian capital typically pass through the countryside before stopping at attractions around the north shore, such as the Herend Porcelain Manufactory, the spa town of Balatonfüred, and the 18th-century Benedictine Abbey on the Tihany Peninsula. Some sightseeing tours also stop at local Balaton wineries. Active travelers can bike around the lake on the cycle path that encircles it.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Lake Balaton makes a peaceful escape from bustling Budapest.
- Bring a swimsuit to take advantage of Lake Balaton’s shallow, calm waters.
- Watersports, such as windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and sailing can be practiced on the lake, though no motorized sports are allowed.
- Many full-day tours include lunch at a traditional Hungarian restaurant.
How to Get There
The shore of Lake Balaton is just an hour’s drive from Budapest via the M7 motorway. Drivers must purchase a highway permit from a gas station before venturing onto the motorway. Alternatively, trains depart several times a day from Budapest-Déli Station, stopping at Siófok, Balatonfüred, and Badacsony.
When to Get There
Lake Balaton is at its best in summer. During this time, warmer temperatures invite sunbathing, swimming, and outdoor activities. Music lovers may want to time their trip to coincide with Balaton Sound, a major open-air electronic festival that takes place in July in Zamárdi on the south shore. Get there early in the day to avoid summer traffic. In winter, it’s often possible to ice skate on the lake.
North Shore vs. South Shore
The lakeside resorts on Balaton’s northern shore are more low-key and often offer family-friendly facilities such as playgrounds and paddleboats. The northern shore is also home to the main wine-growing regions, the hiking-friendly Balaton Uplands National Park, and Szigliget, a village known for its 13th-century fortress. The resorts on the south shore of the lake, such as Siófok, Fonyód, and Balatonlelle, are typically livelier, with a party-style atmosphere and beach clubs.