From Budapest Lake Balaton can quickly be reached by rail (South Station; Déli pályaudvar), by bus (Erzsébet tér) or by car along them 7 expressway (E 96).
Lake Balaton covers an area of 598sq.km (230sq.mi.), making it the largest inland lake in Central Europe, and together with its surrounding countryside it has become Hungary's major tourist region.
It lies west of the Danube between the hilly region and the Bakony Forest, about 95-190km (60-120mi.) southwest of Budapest. The many opportunities for bathing and leisure pursuits, areas of natural beauty and places of interest all serve to attract more than 600,000 holidaymakers to the region every year.
The name "Balaton" comes from the Slavonic word "blatno", meaning marsh or moor.
Measuring 77km (48mi.) in length and up to 14km (9mi.) in width, and fed mainly with water from the Zala river and the karst springs in the Tapolca region, the lake was formed at the end of the Pleistocene period, some 20,000-22,000 years ago, as the result of structural sinking of the earth's crust. With an average depth of 3-4m (10-13ft), the bed of the lake is comparatively flat (measuring only 12.4m (41ft) at its deepest point, near the Tihany peninsula, in the Tihany Spring), has dried out completely twice during its existence, mainly because of the relatively small amount of water it contains, i.e. approximately 1.8 billion cu.m (2.35 billion cu.yds) Being so shallow the water in the lake warms up very quickly; as early as May it reaches a temperature of 15°C (59°F) and does not fall below that level until late autumn. In the summer months the average temperature is over 20°C (68°F) and quite often will reach 27°C (81°F), especially near the flat south bank. When the lake freezes over, as it usually does in winter, it provides excellent opportunities for ice-sailing and skating.
The climate on and near the lake is very pleasant. From early June to the end of August the average day temperature is over 20°C (68°F). Every year there are about 830 hours of sunshine, more or less equally divided over the three summer months. During these months the thermometer averages 25°C (77°F) on 70 days, while the nights cool down to a pleasant 20°C (68°F) or just under. The relative humidity is 70-75 per cent. The soft water, being sweet and slightly alkaline, has a high calcium, magnesium and hydrocarbonate content, and can be described as a heavily diluted mineral water.
Nature reserve At the mouth of the Zala river, in the southwest of the Balaton region, lies Little Balaton (Kis-Balaton), a humid area covering 40sq.km (16sqmi.), with many rare plants and animals. Protected species of birds which have already died out in other parts of Europe include the great white egret (egretta alba). The Tihany peninsula is also a nature reserve, because of its interesting geology and unique topography, and so is the Badacsony volcanic mountain on the slopes of which flourish vines producing top quality grapes.