Situated in the south west of Hungary, Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe and is well known for it’s history and it’s wine; two big ticks for us. The north side of the lake has the old resorts that have become less populated and more relaxed over the years, catering to an older crowd looking for a relaxing holiday walking in nature and laying about on vineyards. The south side is where the new resorts are, think teenagers, nightclubs and party boats.
Typically, we chose a town on the north side called Balatonfüred; usually the busiest town on this side, but at this time of year (1st of June) the high season was still a couple of weeks away so it was blissfully sleepy. Cue days of wine, food, caves, views, swims and more wine.
Note – Pricing will be in pounds sterling, as trying to count in Hungarian Forints is ridiculous. In the cost summary I will provide the current (2016 pre-brexit) exchange rate.
Flights to Budapest from London start from £37 one way flying Ryan Air, however at the time we used Wizz Air; departing from Luton for £76 return each. For those who want to land closer, there’s also an airport at Lake Balaton itself; Hévíz–Balaton Airport, but it’s seasonal and only connects with a few European cities.
We landed in Budapest and hired a rental car to drive to Lake Balaton and keep for the duration of our trip. It’s only about two hours drive with breaks from Budapest to Balatonfüred, but the car gave us freedom to stop on our journey when we liked, as well as the freedom to explore other parts of the lake and surrounding areas once we were there. Our tiny car cost us £39 per day and over four days we only used £21 of fuel.
You can also get to Balaton by trains that depart from Budapest and cost about £10 return.
Hint – Try hitchhiking or ride-sharing if travelling in peak season (July-August), as the main road will be full of holiday makers travelling from Budapest. Hungarians are very friendly and would likely relish the chance to give a ride.
After an exhaustive search we found a dream cottage situated on a private vineyard for £34 per night. A highlight of our trip was drinking a (free) bottle of wine made from this tiny vineyard, on the vineyard, looking out over the turquoise lake. That’s value for money right there. If you ever go to Balatonfüred, consider staying at Boscár Guesthouse. The perks of staying at locals houses away from resorts are endless.
Airbnb’s in the area start from around £30 per night and hotels from £38 per night. Hostels are on the other (south) side of the lake and start at £10 per night per person.
I’ve mentioned the different sides of the lake and the different vibes above. I can’t speak for other towns, but what I can say is Balatonfüred itself is small enough to walk most places. We were up on the hill, overlooking the town and it was maybe a half hour walk to the water. Taxis are easy to find and cheap, so no matter where you are staying you won’t find it too hard to get around.
Lake Balaton is dotted with towns all along its shore, and there’s beauty to be found everywhere. Around Balatonfüred you can find one of the things the region is known for; vineyards and wine. Hungarian wine is fighting its way back from post WW2 depression and is finding its voice in a big way. Characteristic crisp whites and light, woody reds can be found in abundance and for very little money. We visited the Koczor Winery and paid £6 each for a wine ‘tasting’ (drinking session) and local food platter.
Another activity that will take up a lot of your time in Lake Balaton is eating. The food in the area is outstanding and plentiful, with restaurants lining the water’s edge and up into the surrounding hills. Be sure to try the local pike-perch, often served lake to table on the same day. We ate at four or five fantastic restaurants, including Franciska Grill, where the owner is a real laugh and will LOVE speaking english, and Vitorlas Etterem, a nice relaxed lakeside experience. Expect to pay £7-£11 per person for a meal in a quality restaurant and about £1.50 for a pint of local beer.
Walk up Tamás Hill for epic views and visit Lóczy Cave (£1 entry including guide) on the way back down. Ponder the ruins of the 12th century St Michael’s church and drink from the sour mineral water well outside the heart hospital. Swim in the beautiful lake water, but look out for lake snakes! Whatever you do in Balatonfüred, don’t miss Tihany, the historical peninsula village to the south west and the so called jewel of the ‘Hungarian Sea’.
Although a bit of a tourist trap, Tihany is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours and have lunch. You can tour the stunning Benedictine Abbey and museum for £3.50 and explore the cafes of the village before finding a quiet spot to watch the sun set over the lake.
Hint – Take a short trip to the Csopak strand for a typical hungarian family lakeside experience. It’s good swimming and there are lots of places selling cans of beer for almost nothing.
Please note – Flight is one way as we spent time in Budapest (next blog!), the return flight cost will be accounted for in the Budapest blog.
Lake Balaton for three nights;
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