You’ll often hear repeat visitors to Bali talking about how much Ubud has changed over the past three decades.
What was once a quiet haven for struggling artists and hustling hippies is now a bustling tourist mecca — full of hipsters in yoga pants sipping lattes and gramming from trendy cafes.
Despite the transformation, Ubud is still an utterly charming place. Located in Bali’s lush central foothills, the town offers an intoxicating mix of traditional culture, great shopping, amazing food and a serene setting that will leave you feeling refreshed and revitalised.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Ubud.
Ubud’s history is largely that of a Hindu religious centre, and the known presence of Hindu priests here stretches back to the eighth century. Make time during your stay to visit some of the region’s magnificent temples, including Pura Taman Saraswati in the heart of town, Goa Gajah (also known as the Elephant Cave), and the famous water temple of Tirta Empul. Note that your upper body and shoulders should be covered, as should your legs to below the knee (a sarong is the perfect solution).
Ubud’s famous Monkey Forest is home to three Hindu temples that are believed to have been constructed around the 14th century. Trails through the forest lead to the temples. The forest is also home to three or four groups of protected macaque monkeys, which are endlessly fascinating to watch. However, here’s an important word of advice. Do not take any food into the forest, including the bananas on sale to feed the monkeys. The smell lingers and it can attract unwanted attention. Zip everything up and maintain an appropriate distance from the furry residents.
While the centre of Ubud has its fair share of traffic and noise, it’s not hard to escape the hubbub and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of the surrounding landscape. See ancient temples and terraced rice fields of the deepest emerald green cascading down hillsides. Explore small villages and perhaps enjoy a spot of lunch in a traditional warung (local eatery). You can easily see it all under your own steam or book a guided tour.
Ubud is a hub for handmade Balinese arts and crafts, much of which comes from the surrounding villages. The Ubud Art Market is held daily opposite the Puri Saren Agung palace, however, it’s fairly touristy. The bustling Sukawati Art Market is located about 20 minutes’ drive south of Ubud, while nearby Celuk Village is renowned for fine silver and gold.
For a more contemporary take on Balinese culture, Ubud has four or five fine art galleries to explore. Komaneka Gallery features the work of established and emerging artists.
The town’s retail offering goes well beyond arts and crafts, and wherever you’re staying there’s bound to be a spot of retail therapy within easy reach. For stylish homewares, try Jl. Monkey Forest from the forest all the way up to the main drag of Jl. Raya Ubud. Heading away from the forest, hang a right onto Jl. Dewisita for eclectic gift shops and a couple of antique centres. Jl. Hanoman is the spot to shop for clothing and shoes, while those who yearn for their own Balinese day bed back home should visit the furniture stores along Jl. Raya Andong (heading out of town).
There are some 500 places to eat in and around Ubud, and to be honest, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that isn’t good. If you want to push the boat out, you’re well catered for. Some of the top options include Mozaic Bali (possibly the best restaurant on the island) for traditional Balinese cuisine, the Viceroy Bali’s CasCades — with its fine French and Indonesian degustation menu, and Locavore, which does modern European fare.
The Grill at the Luxe Villas will suit carnivores down to the ground. It offers Australian Black Angus and Wagyu steaks, lamb, veal and free range organic chicken — served in super-stylish surroundings.
For dining options that offer something special but won’t break the bank, Sari Organik does amazing salads and juices using ingredients picked from their organic garden. It’s a ten-minute drive from town, and is set amongst picturesque rice paddies. The Three Monkeys Café on Jl. Monkey Forest also overlooks a small paddy and is a great choice for lunch. Famous Café Wayan & Bakery (just up from the Monkey Forest) serves Balinese, Indonesian and western-style dishes.
If all that fabulous tucker has you hankering to learn the secrets of Balinese cooking, there are cooking classes on offer at just about every Ubud restaurant and hotel. For a more organic experience, look for a class offered in a private home. You’ll help prepare a meal, and then share it with the family. It’s a great way to connect with the locals on a real level.
Good coffee and free Wi-Fi are highly prized by most travellers and thanks to a robust cafe culture, Ubud has both bases covered. Try Seniman in the northern end of town for amazing espressos and cold-brews. They roast their beans just across the road.
The uber-popular Kafe on Jl. Hanoman is always packed and deservedly so. If you can snaffle a table on the balcony out from under one of the pseudo-bohemians permanently ensconced there, you’re doing well.
Ubud has long been a popular destination for yoga buffs and there are stress-busting classes on offer at various studios around town. Yoga Barn is one of the best known outfits.
Ubud is perfectly positioned as a base for exploring more of regional Bali. The Kintamani volcano — also known as Mount Batur — is a popular day trip destination, but be warned: it’s an active volcano (the last eruption occurred in 2000). However, that doesn’t deter the many visitors that flock there, particularly at sunrise.
There are several picturesque waterfalls that are easily doable on a day trip from Ubud. Tegenungan is located to the south (about half-way to the coast) and is popular with locals and visitors alike. It has amenities to match. Air Terjun Tibumana east of Ubud is generally quieter and more tranquil, and just a stone’s throw south from there, the caves and falls at Goa Rang Reng can be explored with a local guide.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Ubud? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.