Lake Balaton, affectionately known as the “Hungarian Sea”, has long been a favorite Hungarian holiday destination. During Communism the shallow lake and its surrounding villages served as a meeting point for East and West Germans separated by the Berlin Wall. Here there are beautiful vineyards overlooking the lake, volcanic hills which produce lovely mineralic wines, and lots of small family-operated cellars. While the lakeside is lined with strands for sunbathing and vendors selling lángos and beer, the countryside surrounding the lake is full of rolling meadows of wildflowers, winding streams, tiny villages with pretty churches, patches of vineyards, and views of the shimmering lake from many angles. While the quieter north side is characterized by hills covered by a patchwork of grapevines, set among fields of lavender and chunks of limestone, the south side is mostly flat. The Balaton area produces mostly crisp and aromatic white wines, though the southern shore is producing an increasing amount of reds. Badacsony is just about the only place in the country that grows kéknyelű—an indigenous grape which is difficult to grow and nearly disappeared—which is being resurrected by a few dedicated winemakers.
We also offer weekly Small-Group Tours to Somló and Northern Lake Balaton on Sundays.
• You’ll taste plenty of welschriesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, and muscat lunel. But reds are making a comeback on the southern shore, which also produces some fine sparkling wines. The southern shore holds a small distillery which produces some of Hungary’s smoothest pálinka.
• Taking a dip in the lake. Many people are surprised by how shallow the lake is on the southern side.
• Some of the most scenic vineyards and hills in the country.
• A visit to the Balaton Uplands National Park, which holds traditional Hungarian breeds like Racka sheep, Mangalica pigs, buffalo, pulis (long-haired Hungarian sheep dogs), and Hungarian Grey cattle (which are rented out to farms to eat their grass). The village of Salföld, where it is located, is home to only 60 people. Carriage rides around the village can be arranged.
• West of Balaton, Kis-Balaton (Small Balaton) is a swampy protected area with tens of thousands of birds nesting, a lookout tower, and a buffalo reserve.
• A visit to Tihany, a peninsula jutting into the lake from the northern side, which holds a Benedictine abbey.
• The Szigliget peninsula, which has ruins of a castle and panoramic views of the lake.
• Dining at a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the lake, which appears to change colors throughout the day.
Lake Balaton is a 78-kilometer-long lake with more than 300 kilometers of shoreline. The closest region for wine tasting is about a 1.5 hour drive from Budapest. The area around the 78-kilometer-long Lake Balaton is officially five separate regions. Our favorite regions are Badacsony and Balatonfüred-Csopak on the northern shore, and Balatonboglár on the southern shore.
Year-round, but keep in mind that many places will be closed during the off-season. We do not recommend doing a day tour of Balaton on a Saturday or Sunday during the high season, however, as the traffic can be heavy.