We drove from Bonn Germany to Balatonfüred in Hungary and spent a week exploring Lake Balaton. Central Europes largest lake and Hungary’s ‘sea’. While we were there we visited the annual Balatonfüred wine festival showcasing local wines from around Lake Balaton.
Here’s what we did during our week at Lake Balaton. And some of what we saw at Balatonfüred and Tihany.
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Lake Balaton | Balatonfüred Hungary
Balatonfüred is a summer resort town on the northern shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary. Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. It’s a natural lake (not man made) and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Hungarian Sea’.
At only 78 km long and 14 km wide Lake Balaton is not the biggest lake in Europe. Lake Balaton is also surprisingly shallow. Lake Balaton only has a maximum depth of 12.2 meters.
Balatonfüred is the third largest town on Lake Balaton. Keszthely and Siófok are the two largest. But they only beat Balatonfüred by a few thousand people. All the towns surrounding Lake Balaton are small. And each has its own unique character and claim to fame.
Balatonfüred is known for it’s mineral water that was originally believed to have healing properties. From the 17th century to the present, people have travelled to Balatonfüred for its carbonated mineral springs and baths. The water itself is drawn from the Kossuth Spring and can be sampled at outlets near to the hospital.
I found the mineral water to have a metallic taste. It’s not something I’d drink again. But then the region has so many great wines and an annual wine festival. And I’d much rather drink the wine from the region.
Why we went to Balatonfüred
For me the Balatonfüred wine festival was one of the highlights. And it was one of the selling features of the region with which I was convinced by friends to visit. The other main rational for visiting the region was the lake itself.
The wine festival was set out along a large promenade near one of the two boat harbours along the lakeside. The Hungarian wine from the region was amazing (and cheap). And with a little traditional Hungarian music and a lot of ABBA the area turns into one large street party.
But if like me you have a little too much wine each night at the wine festival, there’s always the Lake and its ‘strand’ to fix your hangover the next day. The Csopak strand is a cross between a beach and a water park.
Because we would be travelling from Germany where there had been an excessive amount of rain and all the rivers and lakes had turned brown, the lure of blue skies and clean water for swimming really sold me on the idea of a road trip to Balatonfüred.
Blue skies, lake swims and wine. What more could we want?
Getting to Balatonfüred Hungary
The two main options for getting to Balatonfüred in Hungary are by car and train. But given it would be a logistical nightmare to try and get around in this part of the world without a vehicle, I’d strongly suggest visitors drive to Balatonfüred.
A member of our group caught the train and was picked up from the station. But from memory he had to change trains a few times and wouldn’t recommend that mode of transport. Plus he wouldn’t have been able to get from the station to the house without a vehicle picking him up.
The rest of us drove to Balatonfüred Hungary from Bonn Germany, via Austria. The Austria-Hungary Border was where we encountered the least effective border guards I’ve ever met. The Austrians had traffic backed up for miles on the Hungarian side.
After 3-4 hours sitting in traffic at the Austrian border we got to the checkpoint. Only to be asked by one officer if we had COVID vaccinations. We said ‘yes’ and he didn’t even check. He just waved us straight through.
If the other 5+ Austrian border guards had also been doing something other than just standing around chatting to each other they could have avoided causing a huge traffic jam. But at least the countryside in that part of the world had a nice view.
Getting Around Balatonfüred Hungary
Car or motorcycle. Pretty much any form of private motorised transport is best in Balatonfüred. There is limited public transport and it’s rather useless.
I’d hate to try and find a bus or cab in Balatonfüred. And I did check Uber while I was there and found it didn’t work.
Is Balatonfüred Safe?
For the average straight white tourist without a wasp allergy Balatonfüred in Hungary is very safe. It’s a sleepy rural lakeside town.
Balatonfüred is a family summer destination. And Balatonfüred isn’t like Siófok on the opposite side of the lake which is geared more toward resorts and parties. Balatonfüred is where family groups go to drink wine, swim in the lake and nap in the sun. It’s not where singles go to drink and party.
Note for those travellers with wasp allergies
There are a lot of European wasps in all the towns around Lake Balaton. It’s a rural wine growing region and there is plenty of land for the wasps to set up nests and grow large colonies. European wasps are everywhere around Balaton.
You will find that the wasps are attracted to food and drink. If you’re eating or drinking you can expect to be hassled by European wasps. They are also attracted to vape devices so it would be a good idea to quit before visiting Lake Balaton.
Always check your food and drink before consuming it. And I’d suggest that if you’re drinking out doors you should get bottles you can re-seal. Or keep your thumb over the bottle opening to stop wasps getting inside.
I almost swallowed wasps on a few occasions because they’d gotten into my food and drink. If you’re allergic to wasps you can imagine what would happen if you swallowed one and got stung mid throat.
If you’re allergic to wasps you should take an EpiPen or other necessary medications and keep them close at all times. The wasps rarely sting but they are everywhere.
Your chances of getting stung are higher in this region of Europe. If you do get stung you will want to have the necessary medications easily at hand.
Note for ethnic travellers and LGBTIQ travellers
They listen to a lot of ABBA in this region of the world. ABBA plays on all public speakers, radio stations and at events. There’s so much ABBA you’d think it’s the gayest place on earth. And you’d be wrong.
They just love their ABBA around Lake Balaton in Hungary. But there’s also a rather common right wing neo-nazi element. I was told about them by a local. So I found myself constantly keeping an eye out for trouble.
Using the Telegram ‘around me’ feature that shows where people are in the users near vicinity with an estimated distance, I was continually seeing accounts with symbols of hate. Lightning bolts, swastikas and wolfsangels were common.
Now we had no problems around Balaton. And I doubt they’d ever do anything in a public space. But if you were a solo traveller and really out there (i.e. flaming) you might want to watch out.
Also, if you were to turn up to one of their many beloved ABBA tribute bands in drag you might get sent home in an ambulance. They take their ABBA seriously in the towns around Lake Balaton. ABBA is not a beloved gay icon in this region of the world.
Weather in Balatonfüred
The summer weather in Balatonfüred consists of warm sunny days. In summer it’s almost always sunny and beautiful. Summer provides perfect weather for swimming in the lake and barbecuing outdoors. During summer the average seems to be +22°c to +35°c and is perfect beach weather.
Winter does get very cold. But is warmer around the lake. Due to the effect the lake and its surrounding mountains have on the climate.
Annual temperatures can range anywhere from -10°c to +35°c.
Most of the time we were in Balatonfüred Hungary there was virtually no clouds. And the daily temperatures averaged in the low 30°c and mid 20°c at night.
Balatonfüred had perfect shorts and t-shirt weather. And we spent most of our days at Csopak strand swimming in Lake Balaton.
Where to Stay in Balatonfüred Hungary? Airbnb or Hotel?
If I was returning to Balatonfüred Hungary I’d likely stay in an Airbnb. Balatonfüred has a huge selection of Airbnb accommodation and they are all really competitively priced. Even in the high season which is June to September.
The hotels aren’t better than the private Airbnb accommodation in Balatonfüred. And hotels are significantly more expensive than Airbnb’s during the high season in Balatonfüred Hungary.
Where we stayed in Balatonfüred Hungary
We stayed in my tattooists girlfriends parents second home in the hills. It was a traditional Hungarian house with a thatched roof, separate kitchen, outhouse and no bathroom or shower.
Thankfully the weather in Balatonfüred was nice. Or the cold outdoor showers in the yard with a garden hose would have been even more unpleasant. And thankfully there was a functioning toilet.
I wouldn’t voluntarily stay in a place with a thatched roof again. Judging by the number of spiders I caught crawling on me at night I probably swallowed a dozen of them in our week-long stay. And we thought we’d got all of the spiders out of the place.
When we first arrived I was lifting the furniture and boosting my friend up to the higher spots while he was wielding a vacuum cleaner trying to get all the spiders out. Evidently we didn’t even put a dent in the spider population. Because every time we moved something we were finding more spiders.
Like most houses in the hills around Paloznak in Balatonfüred it had it’s own vineyard and wine making onsite. And from the balcony under the large A-frame thatched roof a magical view of Lake Balaton.
For me it was the view that made backyard showers and an army of spiders worth swallowing. Heck even cooking in the outdoors while getting bombarded by European wasps was worth it for the view.
Yet I’d probably look for an airbnb or hotel if I was visiting Balatonfüred again. I found Hungary to be so cheap it’s worth paying for a place that’s spider and wasp free.
But I do appreciate having had the opportunity to experience traditional Hungarian housing. And I would extend my deepest gratitude to our hosts. They were lovely.
Lake Balaton Tourist Attractions
Readers familiar with Balatonfüred and it’s surrounds will no doubt notice that I haven’t listed all the old churches or former homes of painters and poets. Or even the museums that are numerous in the region.
I’ve focused on what most people look for when they travel to Balatonfüred. And most people visiting Balatonfüred do so for Lake Balaton and the regions many amazing vineyards.
Swimming and lazing by the lake are the order of the day. With maybe a little sailing thrown in for good measure. And at night drinking wine by the lake in the cool evening breeze is definitely on the menu.
Every year in summer Balatonfüred and the wider Lake Balaton ‘coast’ of the ‘Hungarian Sea’ sees an influx of around 500,000 people. Almost all those visitors arrive for the lake and the weather. Very few visitors make their way to Balaton just to see museums.
With that said there are plenty of good museums, old churches and the former residences of poets and painters that are now shrines to their legacies. And if you can tear yourself away from the lake you might want to look them up on Tripadvisor.com and visit some of them. But that’s a big if.
Is Balatonfüred Walkable?
The many little towns surrounding Lake Balaton are very walkable. However you would be wise to have a vehicle. The towns are some distance apart. There are few options for public transport running between the towns.
Even getting groceries without a car would be difficult in the many little towns surrounding Lake Balaton. It’s a region of the world where it’s certainly best to have your own mode of transport such as a car or motorcycle.
Transiting back and forth between the attractions listed below would be extremely difficult without your own transport. On average it was a 20 minute drive between each of the locations or events listed below. And a 15 to 20 minute drive each way to our accommodation from those places I’ve listed.
Places To See In Balatonfüred Hungary
Swimming in Lake Balaton is the reason most people visit Balatonfüred. And it was one of our reason for visiting. We spent most of our days on the Csopak Strand swimming in Lake Balaton.
During summer the region has mostly blue skies and daily temperatures hovering around 30°c. The Csopak Strand allowed us to make good use of the brilliant weather.
Armed with blow up mattresses, floating toys, a few good bottles of wine and some Hungarian beers, we whiled away (most of) our days in Balatonfüred just floating in the lake. I spent at least a couple of hours every day just swimming with a beer.
For those in our group who were more adventurous than me, the floating obstacle course kept them busy. Personally, I was more interested in the small peddle powered boats. We were able to rent a small peddle powered boat with a water slide on the front that we could use to just cruise around Lake Balaton.
I tried to convince some compatriots that we should try and paddle across to the other side. But then they all objected. Rightly so. As it turned out that the other side is much further than it looks. Apparently it’s 14km. Just a little too far to swim.
When not swimming, paddling or otherwise splashing around in Lake Balaton, we made good use of the many restaurants and kiosks at Csopak on the strand. Though I did find I’d need to make my orders smaller and huff them down quickly so as not to attract wasps.
Between splashing around in the lake and many different food stops, were opportunities for me to take naps in the sun. Csopak was brilliant.
We made a point of visiting nearby Tihany for its views. And pink gin. Tihany is the peninsular that juts out into the lake on the northern side. The whole peninsular is one big historical district centred around the Benedictine Tihany Abbey. And the inner lake has fields of wild lavender.
We first walked up through the historical district and past a myriad of market stalls selling all kinds of local handicrafts to tourists. When we emerged out of the markets and to the first of a couple of lookouts over the lake we stopped to take in the view. Before making our way to the restaurant at the top for some pink gin.
Now, Tihany has been continuously inhabited for at least the last millennia and has a lot of history. It has the abbey, town, many cave dwellings carved into the mountain and far more lookouts than we could count. But it also has pink gin made from local lavender and for which its quite famous.
Being the drunken miscreant that I am I bypassed the church and headed straight for the pink gin. Sure, I could have stopped at one of the market stalls and bought any manner of local product made from local lavender. But lavender gin just sounds like a better deal to me.
Tihany Inner Lake
Once we’d sampled all of Tihany’s amazing lavender gins we decided it would be a good idea to walk around the inner lake. Because we needed to walk off all that pink gin we’d just consumed.
I can’t read Hungarian and my translate app seems to freak out whenever its asked to translate Hungarian. So I have no idea what the signs said (pictured below). But I did understand the sign that said dangerous bulls. Because there was a dangerous bull standing less than a meter from the sign.
So instead of walking through the bulls paddock we sort of followed the flattened grass trail around the inner lake. And our path somewhat resembled the path laid out on that sign below. It’s actually a nice walk. And there were heaps of ground squirrels or weasel looking things darting through the grass.
While traversing the path around the inner part of Tihany we got a different view of the town. We saw some old style wells and found the gin distillery. It’s a walk I’d suggest everyone take.
The Balatonfüred town itself is rather sleepy. It’s a small town with a hospital, waterfront promenade and two boat harbours. It has some ruins and caves. And many statues and museums dedicated to notable people who’ve lived in the area. But it’s predominantly a resort town.
If you’re looking for a large amount of historical buildings, caves and a medieval feel then go to Tihany. In contrast Balatonfüred feels more residential. Tihany feels more like a historical tourist attraction.
But the good thing about Balatonfüred is that its only a 15 minute drive from Tihany and you can relax in Balatonfüred and venture to Tihany when you want to be touristy. Since at least the 17th century people have been arriving in Balatonfüred to relax and recuperate. Mainly drawn by the towns carbonated mineral springs.
Water drawn from the Kossuth Spring near the current hospital is transported to the spas. And it’s still believed by some to have healing properties. It’s definitely high in metal content.
The water from the Kossuth Spring tastes like an iron rod. A fizzy iron rod but an iron rod nonetheless. It’s not something I’d willing drink. But I’d fill a spa bath with it. Yet I’d much prefer to drink Tihany’s gin or the local Hungarian wine we got from the Balatonfüred wine festival.
Balatonfüred Annual Wine Festival
Each year in Summer the Balatonfüred wine festival is in full swing along the lakeside promenade. Other than the lake itself its one of the main attractions drawing folks to Balatonfüred in the summer.
Over about a kilometre of the waterfront boulevard you’ll find small caravans or shacks selling local wines and foods. We found that at certain times during the evening it can be hard to find a table so take some friends to mind your table and get in early.
Once you’ve bought your wine glasses (you get to keep them) and your first bottles of wine you can just pull up a table and enjoy the evening. There aren’t any substantial meals served by any of the vendors as they don’t have full kitchens. And the festival is about the wine.
All the venders sell meats, cheeses and other locally produced items that pair with their wine. So eat before you go to the wine festival. And be ready to drink a lot of wine and eat a whole lot of salamis and cheeses.
Balatonfüred Annual Wine Festival Entertainment
Throughout each evening at the Balatonfüred Wine Festival you’ll get to see street performers playing traditional Hungarian music. And performing traditional Hungarian dances. They’re pretty darn groovy and you should stop and check them out when you see them.
In the video below I’ve captured one group of street performers twirling up a storm to traditional Hungarian music. They’re dressed in traditional looking attire and are performing what I’m told is a famous Hungarian dance.
At the larger ‘main’ stage you’ll get to hear local bands and artists play Hungarian songs. And a lot of ABBA. They love ABBA in this part of Hungary. But if music isn’t for you and you’d like a different view of the festival try out one of the rentable electric boats.
These electric boats are like dodgem cars for the lake. They’re lit up in neon colours and have a joystick operation. They are very stable and don’t go very fast. Nonetheless they won’t let you take your wine with you on the boats. They held mine for me while we cruised about.
We got stuck with one called ‘hello kitty’. So I gave the honour of piloting the SS Hello Kitty to my mate. And despite the name of the boat the view it provided of the festival was definitely worth having my wine held hostage for the duration of the 15 minute cruise.
And once you’re back on land and reunited with your wine you can go for a walk up and around the harbour. Before heading back to get even more wine and try another vineyards produce. We walked around the harbour and were quite amazed at the some of the yachts people keep in Lake Balaton.
Siófok is not in Balatonfüred. It’s directly across on the other side of Lake Balaton. This is more of a resort destination with a 24/7 party atmosphere. For those travellers looking for more nightlife Siófok would be their best option.
Balatonfüred does have nightclubs and nightlife but its limited. Siófok is where most go to party and where the younger crowd travel for a big weekend of night clubbing. Siófok is the place with the big glowing Ferris wheel that can be seen at night from Balatonfüred.
Balatonfüred Hungary | Conclusions
Lake Balaton is definitely worth visiting in the Summer. It’s not a location you would want to visit in the winter. With a car and the ability to move easily between the small towns that dot the lake you could easily fill your entire summer calendar.
With that said, we spent one week at Lake Balaton before making the 80km journey to Budapest. Ideally, I’d say 2 to four weeks for the Balatonfüred region and to properly explore Tihany would be an idea length of time to stay per trip.
We only hit the big ticket items and did what most tourists do. We swam in the lake, drank a lot of local wine and explored a little. And after since learning about how much we missed at Tihany for example, I would definitely plan to go back when I’m next in Hungary.
I’d likely combine a trip to Budapest with a fortnight at Lake Balaton drinking wine and exploring the more historically significant sites. Particularly around Tihany and into Keszthely.
I wouldn’t visit the lakeside towns as part of an organised tour. I saw some of those tours in action and they didn’t look like they were having fun.
I’d rent a car and just drive from Budapest to Balaton. And I’d even go so far as to suggest that for the more abled among us it would be a fantastic journey to slowly circumnavigate the lakeshore on a motorcycle. Perhaps over a couple of weeks one summer.
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