Keszthely is also called the capital of Lake Balaton. Not by chance. With its many attractions, it overwhelms the visitor.
Anyone who lives or was born close to water, be it a lake, sea or ocean, knows for sure that it is absorbed almost at the cellular level into people and their daily lives.
It is a completely different feeling to have fun or just relax at the waterfront: it is as if the waves are smoothing the nervous system. Keszthely is a perfect blend of everything you would expect from a small lakeside town: culture, easy relaxation and everything that is Lake Balaton are present at the same time.
The town is located on the western tip of Lake Balaton, at Keszthely Bay and it is surrounded by natural treasures like the magical Zala Hills or the Keszthely Plateau. It is safe to say that we are talking about a very diverse area: if you are looking for water sports, light hiking, forest walks or mountain climbing, then you are at the best place.
Secrets in the depths of Lake Balaton
Like its surroundings, its history is quite diverse. There are many indications that people were living here in Neolithic ages. According to many theories, it is possible that there has been life in the area even before, but if any, its signs are now covered by the water of Lake Balaton.
One of the richest sites in the area is Fenékpuszta (Rear Mere) – a literal translation of which would be worth a mass – where objects and ruins have survived for several ages, especially during the Roman and conquest periods.
However, the most significant period in the life of Keszthely is linked to the name of the Festetics family from the 1700s to the 1800s. This is when the city became a true cultural center, thanks to the Count’s family for things such as the Festetics castle which still functions as a real spectacle , hospital, gymnasium, and even a university were built.
A famous Hungarian writer, Daniel Berzsenyi, once mentioned Keszthely as the little Hungarian Weimar, and he had every reason to do so. Helikon celebrations, held every other year since the 1800s, have attracted famous writers and poets to the city that any major European city would envy.
It is one of the most important programs of the settlement today, where talented young people arrive to prove themselves, not only from the country but also from abroad.
“The City where it is good to live”
We can read it on the town’s website and not without a reason. Due to the proximity of Lake Balaton, a true bathing culture has developed and there are several beaches to choose from if you want to cool down.
The friendly squares, the sometimes narrow cobblestone streets make the city look really cozy. Keszthely cannot be easily mixed up with any settlement at Balaton.
The city can be easily circled on foot or by bike. Keszthely can be divided into two centers, on the one hand the Balaton-shore pavilion line, where different restaurants and unloads await us next to the city beach. Over and above is the main square, which is not far from the Festetics Castle, the main square church, the Gymnasium, now called János Vajda, founded by the Festetics, the Balaton Theater and many restaurants.
Fortunately, the two centers are within easy reach of each other, so for example, after a bath, you can walk down to the main square for a delicious dinner or, if you are lucky enough, you can run into an exciting program: let it be a play or a concert.
There is a great debate about which settlement can be called the capital of Lake Balaton, although locals prefer Keszthely to this title, which is sparkling in the summer and more important in culture in the winter, but the issue has not yet been decided. In any case, I attribute this as an honorable title to Keszthely.
The main attraction of Keszthely is the Festetics Castle
Regardless of the capital city title, there are many attractions in the city, of course, the first and not to be missed is the Festetics Castle, which has a beautiful park that has been renovated a few years ago and waiting for the visitors.
The castle is also a museum, so we can get behind the scenes: and the everyday life of the Count’s family unfolds before us.
We can look at the nice and nicer rooms, of the Helikon Library, with its large collection of nearly 80,000 volumes, thanks to the Festetics family. It is the largest intact aristocratic library in Europe.
The castle’s hall is used for larger events, and even the mirror room, and in case of good weather in the park, weddings are held. So the Countesses are preferential! 🙂
The castle also has a 500-year-old cellar system, which houses the Balaton Wine House. If you are interested in local wine specialties, make sure you get there.
Cultural centers of Keszthely
As you leave the castle, many experiences await you in the area. As we walk down the pedestrian zone next to the many restaurants and shops, we reach the main square, which had been renovated.
In the beautifully paved center you will find the high school built by the Festetics. One of the attractions of this – that is, in this case, the focus on our ears – the musical facade clock.
Not far from the school is the Main Square Parish Church, which is one of the oldest gothic buildings in the city. The discovery of the frescoes is a coincidence, because they discovered their existence during electrical work in the 1970s.
The series of pictures covering the whole shrine became Hungary’s largest continuous frescoes. The temple garden is well worth a walk, as it has been renovated in line with its old light, so this once-sheltered place for young people escaping from the watchful eye of adults is today a wonderful little minipark with lots of benches, flowers and a small lake.
As I mentioned, there are no distances in Keszthely or at least not too much. A few minutes’ walk from the main square church we find ourselves at the Balaton Museum. The neo-Baroque style building has a glorious past. Between 1925 and 1928 it reached its final form.
The museum’s collection grew nicely, which was stopped by World War II. Its most valuable pieces were carried on wagons and destroyed in a bomb attack.
Today, however, it expects its visitors with more and more exciting exhibitions and events. During its permanent exhibitions we can get acquainted with the history, art and memories of Lake Balaton and its surroundings, but there are several exciting temporary exhibitions waiting for us.
Georgikon Major Museum
And if it is already a museum, we should mention the Georgikon Major Museum, which is also associated with the name of Festetics.
The economic school, part of which today functions as a museum, while the other is the first independent agricultural higher education institution in Europe at the Georgikon Faculty of the University of Pannonia.
At the exhibition you can see the history of agricultural education in Keszthely, the building of the Majors and the life of the maids, and of course the important machines and tools belonging to the spot.
A must-see sight
Keszthely has many things for people to jump into, but perhaps one of the most noteworthy is the Snail Parliament (Csiga Parlament), which is unique in the world. The 7.5-meter giant model and no mention of the mockery of the Hungarian parliamentarians.
There are some astonishing numbers about the mock-up made by Aunt Ilona Miskei: the work was made over 14 years using 4.5 million Pannonian sea snails.
The 28 million-year-old remains were obtained from various mines in the country, which, when assembled, perfectly represented the Hungarian parliament. Inside, there are 10 courtyards and 29 staircases for 20 miles, with 691 rooms.
It is currently on display at the Doll Museum (Baba Múzeum).
Bathing and party on the beach
The culture here, the museums there, we are still talking about a spa town and most people visit Keszthely because of the proximity of Lake Balaton.
The city currently has three main spa locations: the city, Libás and Helikon Beach.
The largest and most popular of these is the City Beach, where there is a moving library, a Balaton-shaped swimming pool and many exciting programs are waiting for the ones who want to relax.
It sounds like a paradox, but for those who want a little quiet on the beach, they also have a solution: a small “peace island” of the Island Bath (Szigetfürdő), which brings the turn of the century, while enjoying the beach and sunbathing away from the slightly louder beach.
As the sun goes down, we get to know a whole new face of the city and the beach. Just as the last Lángos was sold and no sand castles are already built on the beach, those looking to party flood the Viviera Beach, Bloom Bar or the 512 Club, whether it be rock, disco or electronic style will satisfy every taste.
Keszthely has grown into one of the most exciting cities of Lake Balaton in the last few years. Anyone who wants to understand the mystery of the proximity of water should visit this city, where we get such a pleasant blend of trinity of culture, relaxation, and entertainment, while this indescribable atmosphere sweeps around us like no other few cities.