Balaton (Lake Balaton), Hungary

Lake Balaton (Plattensee) in the west of Hungary is the largest inland lake in Central Europe. Besides the capital Budapest, the beaches of Lake Balaton and its fascinating nature are the most important tourist attraction of Hungary.

Lake Balaton is located in western Hungary and is better known in German-speaking countries as "Plattensee". With an area of almost 600 square kilometers, it is the largest inland lake in Central Europe. Together with Lake Neusiedl in the Austrian Burgenland, it represents one of the most important steppe lakes in Central and Western Europe. Besides the capital Budapest, the beaches of Lake Balaton and its fascinating nature are the most important of our top 10 sights of Hungary.

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PICTURES: Balaton (Lake Balaton)

Photo gallery: Balaton (Lake Balaton)

Vacation at Lake Balaton

Idyllic boat trips are possible at Lake Balaton in Hungary even without sails in a kayak - © andras_csontos / Shutterstock
© andras_csontos / Shutterstock

Lake Balaton is 75km long from northeast to southwest and covers a shore length of about 200 kilometers. Thanks to its shallow depth of only three meters on average, Lake Balaton can offer pleasant bathing temperatures of up to 27°C, especially in summer. It is no wonder that Lake Balaton is extremely popular with both Hungarians and tourists as a vacation destination or for swimming trips.

The deepest point of the long lake is 12 meters near the peninsula of Tihany. This is also the narrowest part of the lake, at 1.3 kilometers, and allows car traffic to cross by ferry.

South shore of Lake Balaton

Around Lake Balaton in Hungary can enjoy a vacation atmosphere, swimming fun and the fantastic landscape - © hofhauser / Shutterstock
© hofhauser / Shutterstock

In the north of Lake Balaton, the peaks of the Dolomite Highlands rise into the sky, which are particularly beautiful to see from the southern shore. In the evening they offer probably one of the most spectacular sunsets in Europe. On the southern part of Lake Balaton the water is rather shallow, in some places you can walk several hundred steps into the lake and still have the bottom under your feet.

The sunbathing areas on its southern shores are therefore best suited for families with small children. The tranquility of the hinterland, the many sports opportunities and the family atmosphere have been taken advantage of by many settlements, which, thanks to the lively tourism on Lake Balaton, are thriving and have partly grown together. The largest vacation destinations on the southern shore are Balatonlelle, Balatonboglár, Fonyód and Siofók.

North shore of Lake Balaton

The area around Badacsonyörs on Lake Balaton in Hungary is also called the "Balaton Riviera" and is famous for its Badacsony wine - © pgaborphotos / Shutterstock
© pgaborphotos / Shutterstock

The northern shore of Lake Balaton also has a lot to offer. The area between Balatonalmadi and Badacsonyörs is also called the "Balaton Riviera", which shines in the magnificent colors of the fruit and almond tree blossoms, especially in spring. Due to the almost Mediterranean climate, which the summer sun gives to the northern slopes, not only almond but also fig and pomegranate trees grow here. On the steeper slopes grows the Badacsony wine, which is clearly mandatory to taste during a visit to Lake Balaton.

Speaking of tasting: Lake Balaton is known for its high abundance of fish. Besides eel, pike, carp, catfish and others, especially the pikeperch is the "king of Lake Balaton". The delicious fish attract not only gourmets, but also professional and amateur anglers to the shores of Lake Balaton.

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Water sports at Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton is also the most important sailing area in Hungary and home to many yacht clubs - © Botond Horvath / Shutterstock
© Botond Horvath / Shutterstock

Fishing, by the way, is not the only sport that can be practiced at Lake Balaton. On the northern shore the water is deeper than in the south and therefore well suited for diving trips. Diving equipment can be rented on site. Lake Balaton is also the most important sailing area in Hungary and home to many yacht clubs.

Sailing boats can be rented, for example, at the dinghy rental on Tihany, the navigation of Lake Balaton with motor boats is prohibited, by the way. In addition to some sailing schools, there are also a few surf schools on Lake Balaton, with the windiest months being April, May, September and October. In July and August the wind is also suitable for beginners.

Around the lake, vacation atmosphere, bathing fun and the fantastic landscape can also be enjoyed by bike or on horseback. Also the vast meadows around Lake Balaton are almost made for cycling or horseback riding.

Balaton Uplands National Park

In the catchment area of Lake Balaton in the west of Hungary live over 250 bird species, which can nest undisturbed in the dense reeds - © Botond Horvath / Shutterstock
© Botond Horvath / Shutterstock

Almost the entire shore of Lake Balaton is surrounded by a reed belt up to several hundred meters wide, where a large number of birds can nest undisturbed. More than 250 bird species live in the Lake Balaton catchment area, including several endangered species such as the black stork, the long-eared owl, the cormorant and several heron and spoonbill species. In addition to the feathered ones, 1,000 different insect species also populate the skies around Lake Balaton, including 800 species of butterflies.

In order to protect this magnificent diversity of flora and fauna, Lake Balaton is part of the Balaton Uplands National Park, which was established in 1997. With an area of 56,000 hectares, it covers the Tihany peninsula to the Kis-Balaton ("Little Lake Balaton") marsh.

Kis-Balaton used to be a bay of Lake Balaton, but was separated from the lake by human intervention in the early 19th century. As a result, the extensive marshland was severely threatened and shrank to only half a square kilometer. Today, Kis-Balaton is 22 kilometers long again and serves primarily as a strictly protected refuge for fish, birds and reptiles. 1,400 hectares of it may only be entered in the company of an expert guide.

Buffalo Reserve at Lake Balaton

On the other hand, the impressive buffalo reserve at Kis-Balaton can be entered freely. In the past, the buffaloes, one of the oldest Hungarian animal breeds, were kept as working and farm animals. In the course of industrialization, however, they were displaced by agricultural machinery and today still serve as a tourist attraction.

About 100 animals live in the reserve, some of the specimens born there have already been relocated to the Hungarian puszta. In the exhibition center visitors learn everything about the former keeping of the buffaloes and the historical agricultural life at Kis-Balaton.

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