Balaton is spread out over three counties, but it’s managed by a single entity in terms of environmental protection and preservation: skilful environment experts take care of the Balaton Uplands in Veszprém County, Kis-Balaton in Zala and the Nagyberek region in Somogy - all three attract countless tourists to this part of the country covering a total area of one million hectares, 57 hectares of which are designated as conservation areas. Here are the top 10 attractions of the Balaton Uplands National Park.
Tapolca Cave Lake
Tapolca Cave Lake has the newest visitor centre around Balaton; it was reopened after a full revamp in January of this year. The cave, which you can explore by boat, has always been a popular destination, especially on rainy days. It’s a perhaps less known fact that in the 80s the water in the cave disappeared for decades due to the effects of bauxite mining, but by some miracle, the crystal clear karst water re-emerged after a while. Every exhibition area has jaw-dropping features, including the crawling cave, the “feel-the-rocks” games, a 3D screening room and more. The aim of the visitor centre is to showcase how the unbelievable, multi-level, underground lake system was created. The tour of the facilities ends with the coolest attraction: you can hop into a boat and descend into the depths of the cave – the experience is almost spine-chilling. Make sure you continue your tour at Mill Pond, which is just off the high street, as it is directly connected to the cave as well. You might want to book an appointment or buy tickets in advance because the queue can get pretty long on inclement days.
A natural wonder in itself, the Tihany Peninsula is one of three European Diploma-winning sites in Hungary, and it’s special by European standards as well. The renowned Old Lavender Field, which is located by the road at the entrance of the peninsula, is beautiful even outside the June blooming season. While Tihany is not only about lavender, starting your tour at Lavender House is a great idea. With a garden stretching out into the reed fields of Lake Belső, Lavender House features a short film, which is a memorable and educational representation of the old Tihany, the local fishing traditions, the history of lavender harvesting, the geological characteristics, flora and fauna of the surrounding area. Activities and craft workshops are organized to keep the kids busy, so this spot is an ideal choice for the entire family. From here, head towards the Benedictine abbey and Echo Hill, or choose another route – there are plenty.
Great for science enthusiasts. If you are looking for a truly educational tour, you won’t have to go further than Bakonybél, which has the biggest and modernist digital planetarium in the whole of Hungary. The lush countryside and the splendidly fresh air make Bakonybél a prime hiking destination anyway, not to mention that it offers a unique cinema experience: the image projected onto the semi-spherical dome, which has a diameter of 8 metres, has the highest resolution in Hungary. With the help of a range of well equipped telescopes, you can stare into the unknown both day and night. Before you arrive, check the screening schedule to make sure you won’t miss the films you’re most interested in.
Csodabogyós Cave outside Balatonederics is perhaps more suited to adventurous visitors to the Balaton region. If you’re amazed by the thrilling world of caves, and you want a more difficult challenge than walking on a designated underground path, you should definitely check with the organizers because there’s a 1-2-hour basic tour and a 4-hour extreme adventure. Csodabogyós Cave is not a tourist hot spot by any means, so visiting here is a unique opportunity. Both tours start at the headquarters in the woods: as guests are provided with the necessary gear, headlamps, overalls and helmets, all you need to bring with you is your hunger for adventure and a pinch of bravery. Creeping and crawling among the stalagtites, stalagmites and spectacular crevices of a specially protected cave under the Keszthely Hills and marvelling at the exceptional view is a pretty good deal.
Salföld Conservationist Manor
A comfortable hiking spot for families, perfect for times when you don’t want to get a lot of exercise, but you feel like giving yourself over to the Káli Basin atmosphere. Regardless of how old you are, you’ll surely have fun seeing native Hungarian animals up close, and the best is that you can even snuggle some of them at the petting zoo. The kids will definitely enjoy the playground, which blends seamlessly into the landscape, while the adults will perhaps find a walk through the herb garden equally captivating. From the pen and the stable to the pasture, every bit is as fun as the next. If you come at the right time, you can see the local horse parade, while those up for a more individual challenge can try horseback riding. You can meet the latest star of the manor, a small albino donkey. Still want more? Visiting the ruins of the Pauline monastery near Kőkút on a horse-drawn carriage is absolutely worth your time.
This option obviously involves a fair amount of hiking and exploring. The hiking trails that criss-cross all over the Balaton Uplands are not marked with the usual green, blue and yellow blazes, but have been turned into study trails, which means that you can find out lots of information while you roam the footpaths. There’s one in Csopak called Dormouse Study Trail, and others running through the Tihany Peninsula, the Tapolca Basin, the Keszthely Hills and virtually all parts of the national park. You can find all of them in our database.
A spectacular spot for an ambitious hike. The most exciting formations of the Balaton Uplands are worth separate trips, so the options for routes are basically endless. The hills could tell tales from 4-5 million years ago, about an era when the entire area was flooded by the Pannonian Sea. They emerged thanks to the eruption of basalt volcanoes: with time, the deposits crumbled away, leaving the hard blocks of basalt to tower over the peaceful landscape. The view of Badacsony, Csobánc, Szent György Hill, Hegyestű, Gulács, Tóti Hill or Haláp is pure perfection courtesy of Mother Nature. Bleak, old Gulács is as great a destination as any, especially as Sér Well nearby is easily accessible and has an abundant supply of fresh spring water.
Szent György Hill Basalt Organs Study Trail
A hike with a wonderful panorama and moderately challenging terrain. If you pick Szent György Hill out of all the monadnocks, be prepared for a massive walk and fantastic scenery. Start on the northern, “mogyorósi” side of the hill, leave your car there, and get climbing on the smooth path up the hill. You can stop to take a break once you reach the tourist shelter before the hike gets a bit steeper, leading straight to the basalt organs. While you are jumping around, it's easy to forget that the 30-40-metre giants have been built by volcanic activity 3-4 million years ago. This trip is not ideal with small kids, but families with bigger children will definitely find it attractive.
A trip of re-discovery. We all know Kis-Balaton from the books we had to read in primary school, but it would be unfair to judge this great spot just by those memories, so it’s time to go and see the landscape for yourself again. Why? Because Kis-Balaton has been revived. Up until the 18th century, it was widely regarded as part of the bigger lake – it used to be the bay of Balaton, but after the construction of the Sió Channel, it gradually lost its function as a filtering pool, which ultimately put its mere existence at risk. By devising a water protection system, experts eventually managed to save the lake from deterioration, allowing it to become one of the most versatile animal and plant sanctuary in Hungary. It’s with good reason that this small pond can only be visited with a guide. Start the tour at Kis-Balaton House in Zalavár to find out about the amazing flora and fauna of the region.
Meeting these extraordinary native animals is quite the unusual rendezvous. If you head toward the western part of the national park, you’ll bump right into the Buffalo Reserve in Kápolnapuszta, right between Zalakomár and Malatonmagyaród, and the herd of hundreds of buffalos lounging comfortably and casually and wallowing in the mud, knowing that their genome is safe. There’s an exhibition showcasing the history of the species as well as the buffalo raising traditions of the past. Don’t be surprised to find ground squirrel running under your feet or to grow fond of some bats during bat night.
Check out the website of the national park for upcoming events because there’s something new and exciting in store for every month of the year. The minute you start exploring the landscape, you’ll fall in love with nature without a doubt – that is, if you haven’t already fallen for the Balaton region.