Discover Hungary by houseboat: a cruise through the Tokaj region is full of wonder

Discover Hungary by houseboat: a cruise through the Tokaj region is full of wonder

Hungary is one of the hottest new destinations for houseboats — its tranquil waters, great boating infrastructure and fun for the kids make for a fantastic holiday. Nature lovers, bird watchers, and wine connoisseurs will especially love it here.

A tranquil cruise through gorgeous countryside, taking in the scenery and the wildlife, with the occasional dip and a drink or two of the excellent local wine in the evening. Sound like the ideal holiday? The good news is that you don't have to travel far to find it — head to Hungary for a houseboat holiday.

You may find the idea of exploring Hungary on a houseboat rather surprising — while France and Holland are more traditional destinations for cruising the waterways, houseboats have become much more common on Hungarian rivers in recent years. This gives you the opportunity to explore new routes while enjoying all the beauty and hospitality this country has to offer. Cruising in Hungary is ideal for beginners and experienced skippers alike — most of the rivers are suitable for those with no houseboating experience and those more experienced will appreciate the fact that these areas are relatively undiscovered.

Terezia chapel with vineyards in the Tokaj region of Hungary.

Terezia chapel amongst the vineyards in the Tokaj region

The spectacular Puszta, wildlife and a lake superior to Balaton

But no matter your level of experience, you're sure to enjoy exploring the surrounding countryside — especially if you cruise along the Tisza River from Kisköre and through Hungary's Hortobágy National Park. Marvel at the grazing herds of buffalo, oxen and wild horses as you travel through the Puszta, a unique and vast region of plains and wetlands. You will also encounter the "csikos" among them — the mounted horse-herdsmen who still wear traditional costumes.

A Hungarian tsikos in traditional folk costume shows off his trained horse.

Hungarian csikos in traditional folk costume

Lake Tisza: an oasis of peace and water sports

The shallow waters of Lake Tisza (on the river of the same name) warm up quickly, making it a popular spot with swimmers and water sports enthusiasts. It is not a typical lake — you'll discover several large bays, backwaters and the river Tisza itself all dotted with islands and islets, perfect for those looking for tranquillity and a bit of solitude. And you'll be surrounded by an abundance of birds and fish (part of the lake is located in the Hortobágy National Park). While you're on Lake Tisza, stop by the spa town of Tiszafüred — a haven for fans of water sports, such as windsurfing and canoeing. Here you'll also be able to go swimming at the local beach or bathe in the 39-degree thermal waters.

Hungary - Lake Tisza near the town of Poroszló as seen from a drone, top view.

Lake Tisza near Poroszló

If you're travelling with kids, don't miss the town of Kisköre with its sandy beaches and water slides that lead directly into the river. At the end of the cruise, you'll reach Tiszalök, famous not only for its impressive hydroelectric power station, but also for its peat bogs, which you can explore on foot.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Are you tempted by a houseboat holiday but don't know where to start? Don't worry! We have 5 routes that are perfect for beginners. All you need to do is decide whether you’d prefer to take in some sights or simply relax on the tranquil waters of a lake. Check out our 5 best houseboat routes for beginners.

Cruise through the Tokaj region and sample the local wines

If you're more into fine wine, set off from Tokaj. The cruise will take you along the Bodrog and upper Tisza rivers to places that are renowned for producing excellent Tokaj wine. This aromatic, golden-coloured wine has received widespread acclaim and it is no wonder that in the 16th century Pope Julius III was compelled to remark that "Such fine wine belongs on the papal table". In addition, try the local ice or straw wine, or wine from the tufa cellars — caves dug into the volcanic igneous rock (tuff) where Tokaj wine ages for several years, acquiring its complex flavours and round body. The gorgeous views of the vineyards are an added bonus.

Bottles of Tokaji in traditional Hungarian cellars.

Bottles of Tokaji in traditional Hungarian cellars

Bird watching on the deck or visiting historical sights

Nature lovers won't be missing out either — while cruising the Bodrog River, anchor among vineyards, meadows and marshes in the Tokaj-Bodrogzug protected area, home to several species of migratory birds. From the deck, you can watch eagles, fieldfare and storks. Plus, you'll find many Tokaj wine cellars in the village.

During your cruise, you'll also have the opportunity to visit historical Hungarian towns and monuments. While floating down the Bodrog River, we recommend the Rakóczi Palace, rebuilt in the 16th century and showcasing superb Renaissance architecture, the former medieval dungeon Vörös torony (Red Tower), or the church and castle in Sárospatak — this cultural centre was home to numerous distinguished people, such as John Amos Comenius the renowned Czech philosopher, pedagogue and theologian considered to be the father of modern education. This is where he wrote his most influential work — Orbis Pictus.

Late Renaissance Rákóczi Castle in Sárospatak, northern Hungary.

Late Renaissance Rákóczi Castle in Sárospatak

Journey towards the Slovakian border to Zemplén Kalandpark National Park

Follow this route to Tiszalök. If you get as far as Sátoraljaújhely on the border with Slovakia, visit the Zemplén Kalandpark National Park (Zemplén Adventure Park). Adventurers and fun lovers will especially enjoy it here — it has the longest summer bobsleigh run and the longest chairlift in Hungary.

YACHTING.COM TIP: A glass of wine a day is said to be beneficial to your health. So why not combine it with cruising the waterways on a houseboat? During the day, you can drift in peace, soaking up the sun and scenery, and head off to sample the finest wines in the evening. To find out what destinations are worth considering, take a look at our guide to houseboating for wine lovers.

Boating and fishing on the Tisza River

What you'll appreciate most is the incredible tranquillity that awaits you in Hungary — the perfect antidote to today's hectic times. Of course, Hungarian waters are great for swimmers, and the local cuisine is superb, but if you're a keen fisherman or fisherwoman, don't forget your fishing gear. Hungary is a real fishing paradise — you can catch carp, roach, pike, perch, catfish or mullet (the area around the town of Dombrád on the Tisza River is renowned).

Lake Tisza and a watching heron

A heron on Lake Tisza

YACHTING.COM TIP: Every year at the turn of May and June, millions of long-tailed mayflies (also known as Tisza flies) swarm in clouds on the Tisza River. If you are an amateur entomologist, don't miss this breathtaking natural phenomenon. It is a rare event that lasts only 3–4 days.

Boats and local infrastructure

There are two houseboat bases in Hungary — one in Kisköre and the other in Tokaj. Along the route, you'll find 29 well-equipped moorings.

Most often you will encounter the Estivale range of boats with a capacity of 2–10 people, depending on whether you choose a 2-cabin (Quattro B), 3-cabin (Sixto) or 4-cabin (Octo) model. You can plan your cruise for one week, two weeks, or even just a weekend.

Beautiful sunrise by the Tisza River with a houseboat moored

Beautiful sunrise on the Tisza River

FAQ Exploring Hungary on a houseboat