You’ll often hear repeat visitors to Bali talking about how much Ubud has changed over the past two 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 absolutely 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.
Enjoy this Ubud travel guide.
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.
There are hundreds of small temples to visit around the town and the surrounding villages. Entry is usually free and with any luck you’ll have the place all to yourself. A small donation towards the upkeep of the temple is always appreciated.
Note that for both men and women, legs should be covered to below the knee (a sarong is the perfect solution) as should the upper body and shoulders.
The Monkey Forest is a fun spot for a history lesson. It’s 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.
From fine dining restaurants to humble traditional warungs, the culinary scene in Ubud is diverse and delicious.
There are some 500 places to eat in and around town, 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.
Luxe Barbeque & 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, and also offers cooking classes.
Wherever you’re staying around Ubud, it’s bound to be an easy amble into town for a spot of retail therapy.
For homewares and knickknacks, 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 excellent antique centres.
Jl. Hanoman is the spot to shop for clothing and shoes. Those who yearn for their own Balinese day bed back home should visit the furniture stores along Jl. Raya Andong (heading out of town).
If your life depends on regular restorative cappuccinos and free Wi-Fi, you’re well catered for in Ubud.
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 prized table on the balcony out from under one of the pseudo-bohemians permanently ensconced there, you’re doing well!
Over on Jl. Monkey Forest, the shabby-chic Art Café will satisfy the most passionate coffee connoisseurs.
Ubud is a popular destination with yoga buffs and there are stress-busting classes on offer at studios across town. The Yoga Barn is one of the best known options.
When you’re done souvenir shopping, café-grazing and cat-stretching, seek out Ubud’s cultural side.
You can connect with the traditional Balinese way of life, and see some of the stunning landscapes that are within close proximity of town, by joining Bali Eco Tours on a half-day guided bike tour. It’s a reasonably early start for the drive up to the Kintamani volcano for breakfast, before you hop on your bike for the mainly downhill run back to Ubud. You’ll make a stop along the way at a family compound to learn more about how the locals live. A delicious buffet lunch is also included and you’ll be safely back in your villa’s plunge pool by mid afternoon.
Five tours we love
Prepare and share a meal with a local family during this fabulous four-hour experience. You’ll visit a traditional family compound outside Ubud and help to prepare a meal of traditional dishes. Take a tour of the garden and discover exotic fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Rise early and watch the sun rise from the top of Mount Batur volcano on this guided trek. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with one of Bali’s most sacred mountains.
Immerse yourself in some of Bali’s most tranquil scenery on this full-day guided tour. See ancient temples and terraced rice fields, and enjoy lunch in a jungle restaurant. Your guide will lead you on a short trek into the heart of the lush landscape.
Take on Bali’s Ayung River during this unforgettable white-water rafting trip. Experienced guides will provide an insight into the river’s ecology and ensure your complete safety throughout this amazing adventure.
Ubud is famous as an arts and crafts centre, and this tour is the perfect opportunity to pick up some great souvenirs. The tour includes a visit to Celuk Village to shop for fine silver. You’ll also see a performance of traditional Barong dance.
Do you have any tips to add to our Ubud travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
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.