Balaton Lake On a Budget
SightsLake Balaton is one of the region's leading tourist destinations. The mountainous region of the northern shore, located largely within the bounds of Balaton Uplands National Park, is known both for its historic character and as a major wine region. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore the unique features of these volcanic hills, as well as wine trails to follow a different kind of journey tasting the wines produced by local growers. The flat southern shore is mainly known for its resort towns-the most popular three include Siofok, Keszthely, and Balatonfured. Each town has its own unique features from beaches and nightlife to historic sightseeing and architectural attractions. A few highlights near Balaton include the Lake Cave of Tapolca, Zirc Arboretum, Festetics Palace, and Tihany Abbey.
NeighborhoodsListed below are some of the best-known lake towns of Balaton and their major features:
Siofok – situated on the south shore, charming and most popular holiday resort town with peaceful beaches and lively night life
Badacsony – located on the northern coast of Balaton, best-known for its wine
Balatonfured – on the north shore, another resort town like Siofok, though it is more traditional and less commercialized
Heviz – Hungary's most famous thermal spa with a large naturally-heated lake
Keszthely – the oldest town of Balaton, located on southern end; showcases architectural gems like the Festetics Palace
Szent György-hegy – an area known for its hiking opportunities, like the trail to the Basalt Organ Pipes
Szigliget – a village with hilltop castle ruins
Tihany – a peninsula town with an inner lake and landmark church that is visible from most of the lake
ActivitiesThe region of Lake Balaton is home to a wide variety of activities. North of the lake there are volcanic hills with opportunities for hiking trails, as well as for exploring vineyards and tasting local vintages. Badacsony Hill, for example, combines the best of both worlds, providing a scenic climb peppered with small wine growers. Visitors can also spend time in Balaton relaxing in thermal spas, the most famous located at Heviz, which is home to Europe's largest thermal lake dotted with water lilies and surrounded by a nature conservation area.
The lake itself is also host to a range of activities. Boating is popular, with several annual sailing races and rentals available. The best rentals can be acquired at Fonyod, Balatonlelle, and Balatonfured. With fairly shallow waters, the lake also has many beaches. Beaches on the north shore typically have more facilities but with an entrance fee, while beaches on the south shore are usually free, though many sections are privately owned by hotels and campsites. In addition to boating and swimming, kite surfing is also popular with visitors.
Food and DiningCuisine of Hungary is primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, dairy products, and cheeses. Paprika is used generously in cooking and is considered the national spice. Goulash, a soup or stew of meat and vegetables and seasoned with paprika and other spices, is especially popular and common throughout Hungary. Other specialties include stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, roasted meats, and casseroles, as well as a hot and spicy fish soup called halaszle, a chilled sour cherry soup called hideg meggyleves, and Hungarian crepes called palacsinta which can be stuffed with jam, cheese, raisins, or meat. The Balaton region is a great location for lake fish dishes, such as Fogas (Pike-perch or Zander, a white fleshed fish), Keszeg (bream), Ponty (Carp), and sometimes Harcsa (catfish), which is the base for halaszle (a spicy fish soup).
TransportationThe best prices for buses and trains in Hungary can be found on Omio (formerly GoEuro). They let you search across all train, bus, and plane routes throughout Europe.
Budapest is the nearest major city to Balaton, making it a hub for international travel into the general area. Most travelers will arrive via Budapest Franz Liszt International Airport, Hungary's largest airport. Frequent trains from Budapest Deli and Budapest Keleti connect the capital with both shores of Lake Balaton. The journey by train to Siofok will take about 1.5 hours.
There is also a small international airport in Sarmellek, called Heviz Balaton Airport, which is located on the south end of Lake Balaton. It offers flights arriving from many European cities, especially German cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Erfurt, and Leipzig, but also from Moscow, Russia, and Riga, Latvia.