Lake balaton Travel Guide

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Lake Balaton near Siofok

Lake Balaton near Siofok

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Lake Balaton may not be the Mediterranean, but don't tell that to Hungarians. Somehow over the years they have managed to create their own Central European version of a Mediterranean culture along the shores of their long, shallow, milky-white lake. Throughout the long summer, swimmers, windsurfers, sailboats, kayaks, and cruisers fill the warm and silky smooth lake, Europe's largest at 48 miles (77 km) long and 9 miles (14km) wide at its broadest stretch. Around the lake's 123 miles (197km) of shoreline, vacationers cast their reels for pike; play tennis, soccer, and volleyball; ride horses; and hike in the hills.

First settled in the Iron Age, the Balaton region has been a recreation spot since at least Roman times. From the 18th century onward, the upper classes erected spas and villas along the shoreline. Not until the post-World War II Communist era did the lake open up to a wider tourist base. Some large hotels along the lake are former trade union resorts built under the previous regime. Most of these hotels in the meantime are rebuild to modern and comfortable accommodations. 

Lake Balaton, it seems, has something for everyone. Teenagers, students, and young travelers tend to congregate in the hedonistic towns, like Siofók, of the south shore. Here, huge 1970s-style beachside hotels are filled to capacity all summer long, and disco music pulsates into the early morning hours. The south-shore towns are as flat as Pest; walk 10 minutes from the lake and you're deep in farm country. The air here is still and quiet; in summer, the sun hangs heavily in the sky.

Older travelers and families tend to spend more time on the hillier, more graceful north shore. There, little villages are neatly tucked away in the rolling countryside, where the grapes of the popular Balaton wines ripen in the strong southern sun. However, if you're coming from Budapest, the northern shore of the lake at first appears every bit as built up and crowded as the southern shore. Beyond Balatonfüred, this impression begins to fade. You'll discover the Tihany Peninsula, a protected area whose 12 square kilometers (4 3/4 square miles) jut out into the lake like a knob. Moving westward along the coast, passing from one lakeside settlement to the next, you can make forays inland into the rolling hills of the Balaton wine country. Stop for a swim--or the night--in a small town like Szigliget. The city of Keszthely, sitting at the lake's western edge, marks the end of its northern shore. All towns on the lake are within 1 1/2 to 4 hours from Budapest by a gyors (fast) train, but the trip takes much longer on a sebes (local) train.

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June 07, 2005 change by giorgio

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