- 19 Jul 2023 4:25 PM
There’s culture too, best found in Keszthely, while there are wine cellars around Badacsony, medicinal springs in Balatonfüred and music festivals at Zamárdi.
All is an easy train ride from Budapest, usually setting off from Déli station or a zip down the M7 motorway. Note that traffic can be heavy coming back into Budapest on Sunday evenings.
Major resorts of Lake Balaton
1. Badacsony - Wine and Volcanos
The volcanic soil of Badacsony make it a must-visit for any oenophile, for here is where you find wine cellars a plenty, nestled beneath vineyards and rolling hills.
This is also where the major wine labels have their estates and restaurants, most notably Laposa, whose terrace basks in a panoramic view of the lake.
Down below, near Badacsony station, the Hableány also marries fine wines and top dishes. Behind, you can scale the volcanic slopes to reach look-out points and observation towers – rewarding yourself with a wine afterwards, of course.
2. Balatonfüred – Baths and Balls
The main town on Balaton’s north shore, ’Füred has long been known for its medicinal springs. Among the spa seekers over the years was famed novelist Mór Jókai, whose house here is now a museum.
On the last Saturday in July, well-dressed Hungarians descend on ’Füred to take part in the Anna Ball, soon to celebrate its 200th year, one of the biggest social occasions on the calendar.
The rest of the time, visitors stroll along the pretty lakeside promenade of Tagore sétány and admire the grand façades of the main square, Gyórgy tér, its name a reference to ’Füred’s healthy heritage.
3. Fonyód – Far From The Madding Crowd
The south shore is not known for its peace and quiet, which is precisely why a discerning few head to Fonyód, seeking tranquillity and less crowded shores. It even has a dog beach, if you’ve got Fido in tow.
Among the more bizarre landmarks is the hilltop Crypt Villa, built by a grieving widower over the last resting place of his beloved wife.
If solitude isn’t your thing, you can easily hop on the regular ferry from here to the wine mecca of Badacsony 30 minutes away.
4. Keszthely – Balaton Baroque
A stately seat of learning on Balaton’s western shore, Keszthely appeals to those seeking history and culture over less cerebral pleasures.
Home to the grandiose Festetics Palace, one of Hungary’s largest Baroque landmarks, Keszthely is where the country’s intelligentsia gathered in the later 1700s and 1800s. Here is where you find the Helikon Library and its 90,000 books, some dating back half a millennium.
Also initiated by the Festetics dynasty, the Balaton Museum closer to the waterfront covers the man-made and natural history of the lake.
5. Siófok – Balaton’s Party Capital
Siófok attracts a younger, up-for-it crowd, who usually indulge in water sports by day - or sleep off the night before on the beach.
Its main drag lined with loud bars and clubs, Siófok comes alive after dark when DJ sounds pound until the early hours.
While the city’s signature Water Tower remains closed, you can enjoy panoramic views from the upper floors of one of the many high-rise hotels close to the shore.
6. Tihany – Royal Remains
The most historic landmark at Lake Balaton stands overlooking the headland jutting out from the quaint village of Tihany.
Within the crypt of Tihany Abbey lie the remains of András I, king of Hungary until 1060, who established the monastery in 1055. The deeds related to this event are the oldest known writings in the Hungarian language.
Although these are kept at Pannonhalma, it is still worth wandering around the abbey, open every day until 5pm. Nearby café terraces offer the same panoramic view across the lake, Szantód beckoning on the south shore, a short distance served by ferry.
7. Zamárdi – Festival Fun
Now best known for the Balaton Sound festival that takes place here in late June and Strand Festival in late August, Zamárdi hasn’t lost its family-friendly attractions, either.
Its Adventure Park contains a zip line, a tower for bungee jumping and a mini steam train, as well as all kinds of things to climb and splash around in.
Siófok is a short walk away if it’s nightlife you’re after.
Hidden Gems of Lake Balaton
8. Ábrahámhegy – Wine With a View
Alongside Badacsony, Ábrahámhegy has recently attracted a new generation of winemakers, who get together every August for the Wine Days festival, allowing visitors to sample their wares and meet producers. Live music and artistic performances are also a major feature.
Also close by is the cute little village of Salfold, where you can go to see the ruins of a Pauline Monastery if you need a break from life by the lake.
9. Balatonlelle – Family Fun
Siófok may attract the crowds by night but Balatonlelle 35km west should keep the family happily occupied by day.
There’s all kinds of fun to be had on the water, with a go-karting course and amusement park tucked in behind the long lake shore.
A boat glides over the Balatonföldvár twice a day or a catamaran zips over to Badacsony.
10. Paloznak – Not All Jazz
Synonymous with the Jazz Picnic that takes place here every summer – names appearing at the 2023 event between 3-5 August include Thievery Corporation and Rick Astley – Paloznak is otherwise a peaceful village of a few hundred souls, a lovely lakeside restaurant and some great walks.
A daily ferry runs from nearby Alsóörs to Tihany.
Words by Peterjon Cresswell for Xpatloop.com
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website liberoguide.com
MTI Photos by Áron Szántó, Zoltán Máthé, Balázs Mohai