How does one get from Budapest to Zagreb? I’m sure there are a number of ways but to find a way to get there via Lake Balaton proved extremely challenging to me. Nonetheless I eventually found a way and spending time by Lake Balaton was well worth the effort and an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world!
As such I share the information about my route below hoping it will make planning a little easier for others so they too can enjoy a pleasant stop off by Lake Balaton.
To find the summarised practical details of my route please go to Route Planner below, otherwise continue reading my short story about the Ticket Lady of Siófok.
I have been travelling for some time now, hopping from one European city to the next. No sooner have I mastered one street map than I have to start all over again, learning to navigate my way through yet another concrete jungle, memorising new landmarks as points of reference and planning walking routes to encompass that city’s best attractions, all the while dodging hordes of tourists and unrelenting traffic.
I am slowly making my way towards Croatia and am now longing to get to the coast, looking forward to soaking up some sun and taking a break from arduous city exploring. I left Budapest a number of days ago and have stopped en route at lovely Lake Balaton, a welcome short break, on my way to Zagreb which will be my last city stop before I finally reach the Dalmatian Coast in a few days’ time.
I have been staying on the northwest shore of Lake Balaton, first in the shore side town of Balatonfüred and then moving a short distance round the Tihany Peninsula to the quaint little village of Tihany. Now I am making my way by passenger ferry across the vast lake to Siófok on the eastern shore.
This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy being on the lake rather than just admiring it from the shoreline and as the ferry skims across the lake’s smooth turquoise surface I stand on deck, a gentle breeze tickling my face as I embrace its beauty, an incredible picture of calm tranquillity. And as the occasional paddle steamer or sailboat passes by I wistfully watch Tihany with its hilltop Abbey slowly disappearing out of sight.
An hour after leaving Balatonfüred I arrive in Siófok and immediately feel its upbeat beachside tourist vibe. As I walk along the strand, handsome waiters attempt to coax me into restaurants with their charm; stalls sell brightly coloured plastic buckets and spades, beach balls and candy floss and ice cream vendors are everywhere. Tourists happily wander and I get the distinct impression it would be a fun holiday resort to stay in for a few days.
However, I am not staying. I am making my way to the train station, where I plan to buy a ticket for the only train to leave for Zagreb later today.
The train station is conveniently only a short walk from the lake shore and I quickly find myself in front of an attractive early twentieth century stone building. As I enter I am immediately swept back in time to an era where technology had no place, ladies wore long skirts and hats and well-dressed gentlemen proudly sported handlebar moustaches. For with the exception of two electronic train information screens attached to one wall the inside of the railway station appears to have been frozen in time.
What must have once been amongst the grandest of railway station interiors, but now showing more than a few subtle signs of decline, this cool and spacious room has walls decorated in wood panelling and a high ceiling from which an elaborate chandelier of a dozen large round opaque glass shades hang, with only a few lit up. More opaque shaded light fixtures, bulbs missing, make up the ornate wall decoration around the room. Enormous black and white prints of life in Siófok in a time gone by are framed within the wooden panels, probably having hung there since the station opened in 1904. Wrought iron framed wooden benches are dotted around the perimeter of an unpolished marble floor and the tellers work from behind traditional glass fronted kiosks quaintly devoid of any modernisation, each one numbered but only a few in use.
Customers lean down to talk to the teller or pass her their money through a small square opening in the bottom right of the kiosk window. The redundant kiosks with covers over the little square holes sit sadly derelict, waiting in silence for busier times to return.
On the opposite side of the room from the main entrance another large doorway opens directly out onto the platform and as I wait to be served I fully expect a steam train to pull up, its whistle blowing and its steam hissing as it churns noisily to a halt.
The station is not especially busy but people come and go, buying tickets, chatting to the tellers and leaving to catch trains. My train is not due for several hours and I am in no hurry, but I want to ensure I have my ticket and find out which platform it leaves from in advance.
Now I am in front of the teller; a friendly young lady in her early twenties and leaning down to speak through the small square opening I ask her if she speaks English. “Nem” she replies, apologetically shaking her head. I use pigeon English to ask for a ticket to Zagreb.
“Zagreb” I say expectantly.
“Nem” she replies, once again shaking her head.
I can see she is searching for words to communicate with me, but to no avail, so she points to the teller next to her urging me to try my luck there.
I obediently move to the next teller and again, when it is my turn, I lean down to speak through the little square opening. “Do you speak English?” I enquire hopefully. “A little” the teller, another friendly lady, this time in her mid-thirties, replies.
“Can I have a ticket to Zagreb please?” I ask.
“Nem” She responds, shaking her head. “No train!”
I feel a slight panic, even although I have already checked the timetable on one of the walls to confirm there is a train.
I question her answer “No train to Zagreb?”
“No! No Is kaput, come back another time!” She replies and pointing to the next teller along in the last kiosk she says. “Is International – you must go there!”
Feeling rather stupid I notice, for the first time, sign-painted onto the window of the last kiosk in large letters the words “International Tickets” in English! So I sheepishly line up once again, although I am quite confused about the “kaput no train!” part of the conversation.
The lady sitting behind the window in this kiosk is a rather rotund middle aged lady wearing an untidy blouse and an extremely cold and stern expression. Smiling my best smile I lean down again to speak through the little square opening, asking once more for a ticket to Zagreb.
“Nem!” She snaps before launching into what appears to be a rant in Hungarian, not once changing her cold stern expression. I have no idea what she is saying and use hand gestures to explain that I don’t understand. Finally she calls over the mid thirties teller from the middle kiosk to translate for her.
Once again Ms Mid-Thirties-MiddleTeller explains “The train is kuput come back another time!”
“When another time?” I ask feeling somewhat confused.
“Maybe two hours” she explains.
“But the train is not until 4pm” I venture.
“Yes yes, but cant’ sell you a ticket!”
“Do you mean the train is full?” I ask, panic now rising in my throat.
“I don’t know, but no ticket until another time!” she tries to explain, pointing at an antiquated computer monitor behind the glass window.
Finally things start to make a little sense and as we communicate back and forth using basic English I ascertain that the computer system has crashed and they are unable to issue me with a ticket at the moment, but hopefully it will be fixed in an hour or so or maybe never!
Meanwhile Mrs Stern-InternationalTeller is openly agitated that we are crowding her kiosk and as soon as Ms Mid-Thirties-MiddleTeller finishes talking to me Mrs Stern-InternationalTeller slams the cover over the little square opening with brute force shutting me out!
I am quite taken aback, but happy that I have a better understanding of the situation, I put my backpack in a station locker and venture out into Siófok to do a little exploring. It is a pretty little town and I sit near the town square sipping an iced coffee as I kill time and watch the world go by.
Later, I return to the station and seeing that Mrs Stern-InternationalTeller has re-opened the little square opening of her kiosk and is possibly selling a ticket to another customer, I anticipate that the computer glitch is fixed and once more approach her. Again I ask for a ticket to Zagreb and once more she snaps “Nem” rants in Hungarian, slams the cover over the square hole and this time pulls down a blind to cover her entire kiosk window, leaving me standing in front of the closed kiosk in bewilderment!
Once more I wander off for a stroll around the town, but the afternoon sun is beating down amid unpleasantly high temperatures and I eventually retreat back to the cool shelter of the station to wait. It is getting uncomfortably close to the time of my train now and I really do wish that the ticket situation could be resolved.
As I enter the station I see that Mrs Stern-InternationalTeller has once again opened her kiosk, but I am not about to be fooled by this charade a second time! I sit on the wrought iron wooden seat right next to her kiosk and wait patiently while I surreptitiously spy on her. She is talking pleasantly with another customer and then I see it!! Not only a friendly smile but she also hands over a ticket to the customer!
Ahah! I think to myself!! Tickets!!
However I approach her kiosk with caution as I make tentative hopeful gestures towards her, terrified that I might send her into another cover slamming, blind pulling frenzy and pray that she will respond favourably to my questioning body language.
However she looks me up and down with a blank but stern expression as if she’d never set eyes on me before. As I get closer I see her quizzing expression letting me know she is wondering what on earth is wrong with me as I pathetically and submissively sidle up to the little square window.
As she impatiently looks at me I take a deep breath and rather pathetically mutter through the window in a plaintiff little voice “Zagreb?”
“Yes! Of course!” she snaps in reply, with an air of surprised indignity that I should question her ability to produce a ticket to Zagreb!
With that she immediately bursts into a flurry of officious activity and after a rather lengthy process including several phone calls on a mobile phone, a discussion in Hungarian with her Supervisor and several bankcard transactions later, all of which I can only presume are related to the ongoing computer glitch, she finally passes through the little square opening, one ticket to Zagreb, which I quickly snatch from her before she changes her mind!!
After spending a lovely time in Budapest I felt compelled to explore more of Hungary before moving on to Zagreb in Croatia. Unsure where to go next I was gratefully guided by the recommendations of my new friends at Zsofis’ House Hostel in Budapest and settled with anticipation on a visit to Lake Balaton; Central Europe’s largest lake situated southwest of Budapest and ideally en route to Zagreb.
Bus links conveniently connect Budapest directly with Zagreb with Flexbus and other companies offering a number of reasonably priced services every day, but I found it more of a challenge to plot a route which included Lake Balaton along the way. Nonetheless, after spending a morning researching on the internet I developed a plan that ultimately proved to be a pleasant and suitable route which I recommend to other travellers.
Budapest Déli Railway Station ⇨ Balatonfüred
Balatonfüred is a popular resort town on the northwest shore of Lake Balaton and considered to be the capital of the north lake. It is a popular yachting destination with two marinas and boasts a number of good quality hotels and restaurants. It makes a good base to visit surrounding villages either for the day or overnight.
The train line runs from Budapest Deli Railway station along the shore of Lake Balaton to Tapolca in the south about 27kms west of the lake. Services operate frequently throughout the day stopping at Balatonfüred and other towns and villages along the way. Some services require a change before reaching Balatonfüred while others are direct, taking approximately 2 hours from Budapest Déli Railway Station. N.B. There are a number of towns and villages with names beginning with “Balaton…” so be careful to get out at the right place!
Tihany is a quaint little village on the Tihany Peninsula of Lake Balaton only about 8kms from Balatonfüred. I decided to stay there for a few days, but it would also be a great day trip from Balatonfüred. It can be reached by local bus services which run frequently throughout the day and fares are incredibly cheap. The Bus Station is situated next to the Train Station.
There are also frequent Ferry Services.
Balatonfüred ⇨ Siófok by Ferry
I took a very pleasant ferry trip from Tihany, which went back via Balatonfüred before sailing across the lake to Siófok on the east side of the lake. Ferry services run around four times a day and take just under an hour from Balatonfüred to Siófok.
I had great difficulty finding the correct information on the internet about train services from Siófok to Zagreb, with some information showing night trains taking up to 15hours and indicating a near impossible journey.
However, there is at least one direct train which operates most days leaving at around 16.00hrs and takes around 5hours. The confusion seems to be caused by the fact that Hungarian railways only show trains running from Siófok to Nagykanizsa, which on this route is the last Hungarian station before the Croatian border. More detailed and accurate information about direct trains from Siófok to Zagreb are best obtained at local railway stations while you are in Hungary.
My train journey had me arriving in Zagreb in the late evening which I would normally avoid doing. However I had booked Zagreb Palmers Hostel in advance which is only a few minutes walking distance from the railway station on a well-lit main street and I felt quite safe walking to it. There are also quality hotels in the vicinity of the railway station, which is also very central and an easy walking distance to Zagreb’s main sites.
My Posts on Lake Balaton:
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