The Hungarian Sea and the largest lake in central Europe – all this is about the national Hungarian resort Lake Balaton. From the article you will learn not only about interesting facts about Balaton, but also about resorts where tourists can come for vacation, about beaches, and also where to drink local wine and swim in thermal baths.

Lake Balaton: General Points

Hungary is one of the few European countries that does not have access to the sea. In fact, this is the reason why Hungary is not as popular among tourists as Croatia. In this article I will tell you everything about Lake Balaton, there will be information that is useful specifically for travelers.

Here are some interesting facts about the lake:

  • The largest lake in central Europe and of course Hungary itself
  • Its dimensions: 79 km x 10 km. At the same time, the narrowest point of the lake is only 1200 meters; there is a ferry crossing there, but more about it below.
  • There are many thermal springs around Balaton, some flow into the lake, and some are equipped for tourists to visit.
  • The lake water is often green in many photos. But in fact, it is very clean, and the color of the water comes from a special type of plankton that lives in its waters.
  • High season at Balaton is from May to September inclusive. Moreover, on the neighboring Lake Heviz you can relax all year round.
  • All about thermal springs and baths in Hungary: TOP of the most popular and best. There are also those near Lake Balaton.
balaton where to stay
It is not the water that blooms, as many people think. Lake Balaton is a clean lake. And this is plankton, thanks to it there are a lot of fish here.

Why is Lake Balaton called the “Hungarian Sea” or “The Largest Puddle in Europe”

  • Everything is clear with the sea, because Hungary does not have a real sea
  • And the largest puddle, because despite its impressive size, Lake Balaton is very shallow. Here are three facts that will speak for themselves:
    • The average depth of the entire lake is less than 3 meters!
    • And the deepest place is called the Tihany Depression, where the depth is 14 meters.
    • If for any reason the water level in the lake drops by 1.5 meters, it will lose more than 60% of its area.

How to Get to Balaton Resorts

There are no problems with this at all. Since this is the main resort of the country, which is only 90 km from Budapest, getting here is simple and convenient. There are regular public buses and trains from Budapest, and you can get there by car in less than an hour. There is a toll highway running across the entire southern shore of the lake, with a speed limit of 130 km/h and it goes straight to Budapest.

There is a railway all the way around the lake. More than 50 stations, all of them literally 300 meters from the shore. You get off the train and you’re already on the beach.

how to get to balaton
Just for information: a map of the train stations around Lake Balaton. Transport connections with Budapest are excellent
  • A useful and necessary article for those without a car: intercity buses and trains in Hungary, where to see the schedule, prices, how to buy a ticket. There are answers to all questions.

I won’t even list what routes there are, since there is really a lot of transport. If there are a couple of buses (3-5 per day). Then trains from Budapest to Lake Balaton depart every hour, starting at 5:30 am.

Balaton Beaches: best places for swimming, fishing

I’ll tell you what the lake’s beaches are like. All of them around the lake at any resort are approximately the same. There are important points to know here:

  • There are few sandy beaches like the sea here, and where they exist, they are very small. There are paid beachclubs in large resort towns, but there are few of them, and there is not sand everywhere either.
  • All public beaches of Balaton are free. This beach looks like a large field with lawn grass, changing cabins, playgrounds and comfortable stairs into the water.
  • The shore is flat, the bottom is mostly sandy. Just great for children. Since the lake is very shallow, you can go to a depth of 100 or 200 meters, and it will only be waist-deep.
  • Even in summer, the water in the lake rarely warms up above +26.
balaton beaches
The most common type of beach on Lake Balaton is one with grass like this and equipped with ladders into the water. Although there are sandy ones, they are not very large.
balaton vacation price
Dogs are not allowed on these beaches. You don’t want to lie on the grass where dogs pee, do you? This large area is all beach. There are a lot of people here during the season. The photo was taken at the end of October, when there were no more tourists.

Good to know:

There are almost no beaches outside of the equipped beach areas and resorts that were pictured above. It’s either all covered with reeds or the bottom is very muddy. You won’t even be able to go into knee-deep water.

Actually, for all these reasons, fishing from the shore at Balaton using a float or spinning rod is not interesting. People often ask me for advice about what if they take a fishing rod with them and go fishing. Fishing on Balaton means that you will do it from a boat. Of course, there are places where you can cast a spinning rod from the shore, but this needs to be done early in the morning, before vacationers come to the beach, and almost everywhere near the shore it is very shallow.

The Best Resorts in Lake Balaton

In fact, there is one continuous resort around the entire lake. Here one settlement ends and another immediately begins. You can rent housing anywhere through the popular resources we all know. In the article you will read about the features of Hungarian rental accommodation and there will also be links to rental accommodation providers popular in Hungary.

Advice on where to stay:

It is better to rent an apartment in a large town on the shores of Balaton, and the closer to the city center the better. Because there will be good beaches nearby, large shops, many cafes and restaurants and at least some entertainment in the evenings. And all of this within walking distance.

It is important to understand that all the resort towns of Balaton are mostly asleep after 8-9 pm. There are no attractions, no nightlife, everything opens early in the morning and closes just as early. Hungary is a country for early risers. A useful article about time in Hungary, about the opening hours of markets and shops, about daylight saving time and more.

balaton resorts
The center of the resort town of Siófok and its main attraction is the water tower. It’s 9 pm and there’s no one on the street anymore.

There are about four dozen settlements around Lake Balaton. You can stop for rest anywhere. But below I will list the most popular and largest towns of Lake Balaton. I recommend taking a closer look at them, as there will be places to swim and places to take a walk in the evening. There will be a promenade and many restaurants. There will be museums and even palaces, but not everywhere 🙂

balaton attractions
Festetics Palace in Keszthely. This is perhaps the most popular tourist town on Lake Balaton.
  • The village of Tihany – as for me, this is not a resort, it is a village that is located on the only peninsula of Lake Balaton. The village is very beautiful and I recommend everyone to come here and walk through its hills.
Tihany Balaton
Paprikahaz, or in English “Paprika House” in Tihany. No need to explain why they called it that way?

And then there are the most popular resort villages and towns of Lake Balaton:

  • Balatonboglar
  • Balatonsemes
  • Siofok
  • Balatonfured

The author recommends:

Choose Keszthely, Siófok, Balatonfürde or small Balatonboglar for your holiday. These are beautiful cities, there are places to walk and go shopping. But if you stay in Keszthely, there is also a palace, museums, and just a beautiful medieval city center.
best place to stay balaton
View from the observation deck in the village of Balatonboglar to Lake Balaton. There is also a toboggan and a rope adventure park on a mountain in the forest. A great place for a couple of days to relax with children.

Resorts with thermal baths near Lake Balaton and private wineries

I would like to tell you a lot, but I will try to tell you the most basic and important things. I will provide links to articles where you can read more. Let’s start with wine:

  • There are 31 wine regions with PDO status in Hungary. This is the highest classification, according to which wine is protected by region of origin. There are 5 such regions around Balaton and each produces wine that is considered 100% Balaton.
  • There are (literally 15 km from Balaton) two wine streets, where there are dozens of private wineries with their own cellars. You can come, eat and taste everything.
    • Outskirts of the town of Heviz (we’ll talk about it later)
    • And the Hegymagas wine region
    • Coordinates, photos, descriptions of these regions are detailed in the article: alcoholic drinks and wines of Hungary.

Good to know:

If you are planning a trip to Lake Balaton and love wine, I recommend staying in Keszthely. Since both Heviz and the village of Hegymagas are literally 7-15 km from Keszthely. You can even get to Heviz by public transport. But if you stay in Siofok, then Heviz is already 100 km away.
wines balaton
Hungary is not only about Tokaji wine. There are dozens of great wines here that most people simply don’t know about. The photo shows a shelf in a regular store with Rieslings, which are made from grapes from the shores of Lake Balaton

And why Keszthely? because there are thermal baths nearby and an underground cave with a lake where you can take a boat ride.

Let’s start with the cave and underground lake.

  • 25km from Keszthely there is a small village called Tapolca.
  • There is a cave there, the entrance fee costs about 9-10 euros. There is a lake in the cave, and you can take a boat across this lake.
  • Cave coordinates 46.88323918672329, 17.4434263101192
  • Official website: Opening hours, map, current prices, and most importantly, buy tickets there. Since the boat tour in the cave underground is tied to a specific time.
tapolca cave balaton
An underground lake in the village of Tapolca, 25 km from Keszthely

Author rating:

The fun is more for children, and the boat route itself is very short. Personally, I’m not particularly delighted, but I’ve already been to similar caves in Asia and Africa. In general, I know some adults who really liked the cave in Tapolca. If you have time and a car, so as not to spend half a day traveling on buses, then you can go have fun. By the way, there is a wine village called Hegymagas on the road.

And now briefly about the cool town that is located only 5 km from Keszthely – Heviz. This is a true thermal and wine region in Hungary. I would recommend coming here for a couple of days, even though Heviz is a little away from Lake Balaton. But there is a good reason:

  • Heviz has the largest thermal lake in the WORLD! Where there is hot water all year round and it is open for visitors.
  • And you already read above that on the outskirts of Heviz there is a whole street of private wineries that you can reach on foot.
  • Great overview of Heviz, one of the most popular thermal resorts in Hungary.
heviz thermal lake near balaton
Thermal lake Hévíz. And the dots on the lake are all people. The lake is open in winter too.

Author rating:

Heviz is a must-visit for everyone. Even if you don’t plan to go to Lake Balaton :). In general, for me, after Budapest, Heviz is one of the top places in the country, even better than Lake Balaton. Tourists come here and stay for weeks. During the day they go to the thermal lake to improve their health, and in the evening they go to the wine street to drink it away. This is the cycle of health in nature.

Szántód-Tihany Ferry from Tihanyrév to Szántódrév

For those who need information about the ferry to quickly move from the north coast to the south. You can go by car, bike or on foot. Saves time on travel; the detour takes about 100 km, which is at least an hour and a half through the villages. A very convenient map to understand below.

balaton lake map
Balaton from above. I marked important places with numbers so that everything falls into place in your head. 1. Ferry crossing 2. Tihany 3. Keszthely (next to Heviz) 4. Siófok 5. Balatonfürde. To better understand the distances, between points 4 and 3 there are 90 km by road by car.

What you need to know about the Balaton ferry:

  • The length of the ferry crossing is only 1 km, 1200 meters to be exact.
  • The ferry runs all year round. The ferry travel time is only 8 minutes.
  • Official website of the ferry company: You can also see the schedule and current prices there. There is no need to buy a ticket in advance; buy it on the spot without any problems.
  • In winter, the ferry runs every hour in each direction. More often in high season.
balaton ferry
The ferry carries cars, motorhomes and pedestrians

Just come to the end of the line, the line moves quickly. Usually everyone leaves on the first ferry, only in the summer during the high season there are problems. If you walk or bike, then you can generally arrive at the departure time and immediately approach the ferry, bypassing all the cars. All pedestrians will be allowed to board the ferry. The ferry is very convenient for pedestrians to sail to Tihany, walk around this beautiful village and return back.

One way ferry prices:

  • 2 euros per pedestrian
  • 1 euro extra if you have a bicycle
  • 7-8 euros for a passenger car up to 3.5 tons. All prices are on the website.
ferry cost balaton
This is what the ferry across Balaton looks like up close

In conclusion: holidays on Lake Balaton are very popular among both Hungarians and tourists. But as practice has shown, not all tourists know that there are cool thermal baths and wine regions that will greatly diversify your beach holiday on the lake. And the best resort of Lake Balaton, according to the author, is Keszthely. It has many more advantages than all other cities. There are beaches, a castle, and nearby baths and wineries. And of course, if you have a car, you can easily drive around the entire lake and look into every corner.

Have a wonderful holiday at Lake Balaton!

IMPORTANT: Below are useful links that will help organize your trip to Hungary and Budapest:

  • Flight: Aviasales – compares prices for flights among 30+ airlines flying to Budapest.
  • Tours and excursions:
    • Viator and GetYourGuide – the best services for finding tours in Budapest and Hungary with the largest database of activities in Hungary. They offer river cruises on the Danube, tickets to baths, and 1000+ tours (available in different languages).
  • Accommodation, apartments, hotels, hostels:
    • Hotellook compares the prices among dozens of other booking services and offer the best price
    • Booking – the most popular booking platform
    • Agoda – even more accommodation options in Hungary
  • Car rental: DiscoverCars – the leading and largest car rental service in Hungary.
  • Travel Insurance: EKTA.
  • eSIMAiralo virtual SIM card in Hungary.
  • Taxi and airport transfers: Intui.Travel