Looking at a map of Hungary or even Central Europe, it’s hard not to notice the large lake in the west of the country. This is Lake Balaton, one of the main geographic features of this relatively flat country, maybe after the Danube River. Deciding to act on my curiosity during my recent journey to Hungary I decided to head to Keszthely on Balaton’s shores and see what it was like.
Deciding on where to stay on this sizeable lake was quite a challenge, but I eventually rested on the city of Keszthely on its western end. Keszthely was a good choice, especially as it turned out to be more than just a seaside town. I’m not really a beach person, especially when travelling solo, so this definitely made it a better fit for me. Read on for the reasons why I think you should stay in Keszthely when visiting Lake Balaton in Hungary.
1. The Hungarian “Seaside”
As a landlocked country, Hungary is one of the few unfortunate countries of Europe to be denied its own coastline. So what is a Hungarian to do when summer rolls around? Well the answer is that they descend upon Lake Balaton, the country’s largest body of water. Balaton is actually the largest lake in Central Europe and its long, skinny shape means that there is plenty of waterfront for holidaymakers to enjoy.
Lake Balaton has been a popular vacation destination for decades and as such, many spa towns and resorts have popped up along its foreshore. The city of Keszthely just so happens to be one of these. So if you’re looking to get pampered or spend some time by the water in Central Europe next summer, Lake Balaton is worth some consideration.
2. Far From Budapest
As Lake Balaton is so popular in Hungary, there are plenty of towns and destinations spread out around its shore. The more popular of these spots, like the city of Siófok or Balatonfüred, are found on the Lake’s eastern end. This is because they are much closer to the capital Budapest. Certainly not close, but closer at least.
Fewer people are likely to travel the length of the lake to reach Keszthely, which means it’s both cheaper and quieter. Keszthely is also a convenient choice if you’re travelling through the country’s west, like in Kőszeg, or travelling overland from Croatia.
3. It Has Beaches, Sort of
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m really a “beach” type of person so it wasn’t really my main goal when visiting Keszthely. Regardless, dotted along the shore in and around Keszthely are several paid private beaches to enjoy. The closest to the city centre is the municipal beach at Varosi Strand. This large fenced-off park has everything from beachfront, to a large swimming pool and even some big water slides. Varosi is also right next to the awfully cute floating Sziget Cafe, seen below. Entry when I visited was 800HUF (roughly 2.5€) for adults.
Further around to the north is Libás Beach, another fenced-off private beach. Libás is a bit far to walk from the city centre but there are nice bike paths that run past there. The area has plenty of space for families, a small stretch of beach and of course, calm water. There are also of course plenty of other spots to sit by the water, without their own beach.
4. A Calm, Compact City
Even though Keszthely is the largest city on the shores of Lake Balaton, it’s a far cry from a big city. With about 21,000 residents, the centre of the city really is quite compact and easy to get about. What’s more, it’s only a little over a kilometre from the main square to the waterfront. This means it’s really pretty easy to explore on foot.
The city centre is made up of one long pedestrian street, Kossuth Lajos utca, that runs north-south down to the unconventionally shaped Main Square. During my visit, the square was draped with a banner celebrating its 770th anniversary. It’s here that you’ll find some of the city’s more grand buildings like the city theatre and main high school. The main pedestrian street is also home to many of the restaurants of Keszthely, as well as several boutique clothing stores.
5. Festetics Palace
After the city’s waterfront, the main attraction of Keszthely has to be Festetics Palace. This sensational Baroque palace hints to better days and instantly reminded me of palaces I’d seen in Vienna. Festetics Palace is positioned just north of the city centre and yet feels wholly secluded. While you have to pay to take a tour of the palace interior, visitors are free to roam the expansive English gardens at the front and back of the palace.
Construction on the palace began in 1745, but due to frequent changes and expansions, took over a century to complete. The palace owes its name to the noble Kristof Festetics, who started the project, and was continued by his descendants who earned the title of Count in 1772. Since 1974 however, the palace has housed the Helikon Palace Museum, focusing on aspects of aristocratic life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- All of Lake Balaton and Keszthely is connected to Hungary’s national train network, with lines running along both sides of the lake. Search train connections from places like Budapest here.
- There are ample choices for places to stay in Keszthely or around Lake Balaton. My stay at the Barbara Wellness Pension was quite comfortable and not far from Libas Beach. It is removed from the city centre but is overall quite affordable.
- Some of the most recommended restaurants in the city are not actually in the city centre. Many are in the Zamor neighbourhood out near where I was staying.
Have you heard of or visited Keszthely and Lake Balaton before? Would you consider making a stop if you were travelling through the region? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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