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Boating holidays in Hungary on board Nicols self-drive boats

For the 2020 season boating holiday specialist Nicols have joined forces with local partner Mahart to provide two new bases in Hungary. The bases are located:

  • In Tokaj: at the intersection of two waterways, the Tisza river and the Bodrog river.

  • In Kisköre: on the Tisza river with the added benefit of also sailing on the “Tisza-Tó” or “Lake Tisza” between Kisköre and Abádszalók.

Our vision for the Kisköre base in 2021 – panoramic views of the lake and its surroundings from the tower


Do you need a boat licence in Hungary? If so, from what age?

In Hungary, in the same way as it works in France, the rule is that you are authorised to navigate a boat on the waterways without a licence providing that you have received both theory and practical instruction prior to departure. Once you have received this instruction by the base team you will be issued with a ‘pleasure craft card’ which is all you need. Please note however, the minimum age of the captain is 21 years old if you are not a boat licence holder (or 18 years old if you already have a river boat licence).


What are the sailing conditions like in Hungary?

The Tisza river is almost 1,000 km in length, 240 km of which are accessible for pleasure boating without a license. Both the Tisza river and the Bodrog river, which you will also navigate on, are waterways that have retained their natural and wild character. It is also possible to cruise on a small area of Lake Tisza-Tó, immediately after leaving Kisköre base, and on to the port of Abádszalók. Note though that most of the lake of Tisza-Tó located near Poroszló is not navigable by boat (due to its vast wilderness), but you and your crew can however follow it by taking the river of the same name (Tisza). If you specifically want to venture out on Lake Tisza-Tó itself you can do so by ordering a canoe or kayak in advance.

The waters of the Tisza river come from the mountains meaning that floods are frequent during spring on the northern part (Tokaj region). Due to this and to ensure navigation is safe and trouble-free for boaters our boating holidays in Hungary are only available from May. The southern part (Kisköre region) is hardly affected by these variations in water level thanks to the presence of hydroelectric dams (Tiszalök dam and Kisköre dam) which regulate the level of the of water.

The current can significantly impact your cruising speed so it’s important to bear this in mind when planning your route! So, for example, when you go upstream of the river and therefore against the current (north direction) you will progress more or less at 6 km per hour. Then, when you go down the river towards South, you have the advantage of the current (4 km per hour on average) meaning your cruising speed will be around the 10 to 12 km per hour level. If there is no official limit to the speed of navigation however, you should still reduce your speed to a minimum if you pass other boats or people using the waterways (e.g. fishermen) so as not to cause waves.

Navigation is allowed from sunrise to sunset but be careful as in this region it will begin to get darker from 8pm in summer and as early as 4pm in other months. This is earlier than many other destinations so don’t get caught out!


Is there a lot of traffic on the rivers and waterways in Hungary?

There is no commercial traffic on the Tisza and the Bodrog. These two waterways are reserved purely for leisure boating, therefore there is no risk of meeting the bigger commercial barges that might make waves! While on board your Nicols canal boat the only others you will come across are private pleasure craft, fishermen, canoers, jet skiers, water skiers, stand-up paddle boarders… and other leisure boats.


Are there locks on the rivers in Hungary?

When writing this in early 2020 there are no locks present on the Tokaj or Kisköre route and currently the two bases operate "round trip" cruising itineraries only. The Tiszalök hydroelectric dam has a lock which is currently under construction for the whole year (2020). When it is reopened to navigation it will mean that in addition to the “round trip” cruises there will be “one-way” cruising itineraries on offer between Tokaj and Kisköre!

Although you may find no locks on the Tisza river and Bodrog river you will approach a movable bridge at Tiszadob. This is used for road traffic and when a boat comes technicians are on hand seven days a week to operate the opening and closing of the bridge to allow the passage of boats. Using this bridge is intriguing in itself due to the remarkable opening system composed of five removable "shutters"! You will also find some "floats" which allow cars to cross the waterway: these floats are moved using a cable stretched across the rivers (Tisza and Bodrog) – simply signal your arrival if necessary using your horn to ask the staff to lower the cable into the water and allow you to pass.


What infrastructure is present along the waterways?

In addition to the two bases of Kisköre and Tokaj, you will also find along your route:

  • Simple mooring pontoons.
  • Harbours/ports fitted out with pontoons, water supply, electric points, toilets and showers, sometimes a restaurant and floating swimming pool as in Abádszalók (mooring costs around 30 € per night). More and more pontoons are being built with the aim eventually being one on average every 15 km to 35 km.
  • Where the river is wider you will find “buoys” for wild moorings in the wilderness: 18 of these mooring points are being developed on average every 20 km to 30 km, identified with buoys to which the canal boats can be securely attached to for a stop-off right in the heart of nature.


Can you easily find shops and restaurants along the waterways?

Due to the Tisza river having often been subject to floods in the past, villages have tended to establish themselves a few kilometres from the waterways in order to avoid the powers of nature! Consequently, this means that you will not always find shops in the immediate vicinity of the river so our recommendation is to stock up at the beginning of your boating holiday and hire at least two bikes on board for quick and easy shopping trips during your cruise.

Please note: in small villages, shops are sometimes only open in the morning, from 6am to 12 noon (sometimes 2pm). In larger cities or tourist communities like Tokaj there is no such problem with the shops also open in the afternoon, usually until 6pm.

When it comes to dining out, during off-season restaurants are mainly open only for lunch. In the main season though (from June to September inclusive) they are also open in the evening. Be careful however, as in Hungary dinner is served early. The restaurants are open from 6pm to 9pm approximately, but generally accept customers at the table until 8pm at the latest. After 8pm the kitchens will tend to close and new customers are no longer served so bear this in mind as it would be a shame to miss a good table for having arrived a little too late! Our top tip is to make sure you discover the "Halászcsárda" – these are typical Hungarian restaurants where fish and local food are served, and the good news is that you’ll find them in almost all villages.

Some of these restaurants are directly on the waterfront and have their own private jetty. Regional specialties are served here ... based on fish of course! Details of the restaurants will be in your waterways guide on board your boat. You can also download details to your tablet or mobile phone.


Can you fish during your boating holiday in Hungary?

Pleasure fishing is possible from your boat. The permit can be purchased and registered at the base before boarding your Nicols boat. Fishing is fruitful everywhere in Hungarian waters: in 2015 the record posted was the catch of a catfish weighing 80.5kg and that was 226cm long! Fishing enthusiasts will enjoy it because the Tisza river offers a great diversity of fish. Why not also find out more about the many species found in the waters with a visit to the Ecocenter aquarium in Poroszlô.


Can we swim during our boating holiday?

A canal boat holiday just isn’t the same if you can’t enjoy some fun in the water as well as on it! In Hungary, you can swim at the riverside beaches and in the swimming pools, some of which are equipped with water slides. Hungary is famous for its thermal hot pools and there are many on offer (such as those of Tiszaújváros, Tiszafüred, and Sárospatak) in close proximity to our cruising routes.

Alternatively, you can always choose to take a dip directly from your boat into the river - however pay attention to the areas with currents and always watch over your children.


Our top five tips

  • Throughout your boating holiday in Hungary you will be cruising near protected national parks. The natural landscapes are of remarkable beauty and the surrounding flora and fauna are 100% intact. To keep this looking so wonderful please be respectful of the nature that surrounds you.

  • The Tisza river is incredibly rich in both flora and fauna. Fishermen, bird watchers, nature lovers will all enjoy exploring the area so don't forget to bring your binoculars and cameras.

  • If you moor in the middle of nature be prepared and remember to bring your mosquito repellent cream to avoid any chance of discomfort! For quiet nights, all cabin portholes on your Nicols boat are fitted with mosquito nets!

  • The navigation in Hungary allows the discovery of the local gastronomic and oenological treasures: if you appreciate the local wine (in particular the famous wine of Tokaj) do not forget however that the captain of the boat should not drive while intoxicated. In Hungary, there is zero tolerance for alcohol consumption when in control of both car or boat. The river police can carry out checks and will not hesitate to give you a ticket if the alcohol test of the captain on board is positive.

  • Internet access in Hungary is generally good with the 4G network covering 99.9% of the country. As is always the case with navigation, you may occasionally find yourself and your boat in an area where coverage is less good (hilly area, or under trees etc) but you should find that after travelling a little further you will once again be in an area covered by 4G.

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