Nestled away in the uplands of Bali is the beautiful town of Ubud. The cultural capital of the island, it is renowned for its traditional arts, crafts and dances with incredible temples and shrines dotted here and there.
Surrounded by lots of lush jungle and terraced rice paddies, the quiet little town feels a million miles away from the pounding party scenes of Kuta and Seminyak. Instead of bars and nightclubs, it has a myriad of interesting art galleries, museums and temples lining its streets. Not far away are plenty of picture-perfect waterfalls, canyons and rice terraces to visit.
Thanks to its unique history and culture there are many interesting things to do in Ubud and many people take cooking and yoga classes or watch an epic dance performances. The perfect antidote to the island’s sometimes exhausting nightlife, Ubud offers up an authentic look at Bali’s traditional side.
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16. Museum Puri Lukisan
Full of fascinating artifacts and artworks, the magnificent Museum Puri Lukisan lies in the center of town, just a stone’s throw from the iconic Ubud Palace. Set amidst some gorgeous gardens, its four buildings each focus on a different part of Bali’s rich cultural heritage.
The first private museum opened on the island, its collection has been delighting visitors since 1954. While some rooms cover traditional paintings and carvings, others look at dance costumes, clothing and weaving. Ceremonial objects used in rituals also feature as do religious scripts and sculptures.
Aside from admiring all its astounding artworks, you can stroll around the garden’s pretty pools and fountains. Entrance to the museum also includes a snack, meal or drink at its small cafe.
15. Take A Cooking Class
As Bali is famed for its food, you just have to take a tasty cooking class taught by locals if you have the time. Many also include visits to vibrant markets or village farms where you select fresh ingredients before preparing dishes yourself.
In Ubud, lots of individuals and community collectives run classes, either in a school or at a family’s home. Always good fun, they see you master how to cook a number of authentic Balinese specialties like satay lilit, nasi campur and babi guling.
As you cut, peel, fry and steam, you’ll learn about the exotic ingredients and the isle’s unique culinary heritage. At the end, you’ll all sit down together and enjoy the delicious dishes you’ve just made with your new friends.
14. Hidden Canyon
Quite hard to find but all the more rewarding for it, the Hidden Canyon is located about half an hour’s drive south of town. Hemmed in on all sides by dense foliage, its steep ravines and gorges are super exciting to explore. As you have to climb, jump and clamber about its tough terrain, you can only visit accompanied by a guide.
Also known as Beji Guwang, the secluded site has long been considered to be sacred by Hindus as the water flowing through it is used for important religious ceremonies. It certainly looks out of this world as wave-like rock formations line its three shady canyons and crystal-clear streams. In total, it usually takes an hour or two to traverse their rocky reaches depending on how confidently you wade through their waters and climb the slippery surfaces.
One of the best things we did in Ubud, we really couldn’t recommend the Hidden Canyon experience enough. Besides all the stunning scenery and nature, adventuring about beneath its thirty-meter-high cliffs was unforgettable. As the terrific Tegenungan Waterfall lies right next to it, you can easily visit both at the same time.
13. Pura Tirta Empul (Tampaksiring)
Speaking of holy water, bathing in Pura Tirta Empul’s purification pools is another quintessential Bali experience. For more than a thousand years now, worshippers have come to immerse themselves in the Hindu temple’s sacred springs.
Surrounded by seemingly endless rice terraces and coffee plantations, the charming old temple was founded back in 962. Dedicated to Vishnu, its various religious buildings, carvings and statues were built around the spring which is still used today.
Visitors can take part in the cleansing rituals alongside locals as long as they wear the same sarong and sash that they do. As well as being a relaxing and restorative experience, it provides an authentic look into the isle’s spiritual side. The famous temple’s tranquil compound also contains some lovely architecture with dance performances sometimes taking place too.
12. Satria Coffee Plantation
As picturesque coffee plantations cover much of Bali’s highlands, many visitors take tours to see just how the sweet-tasting beans are produced. One of the best is Satria on Ubud’s southern outskirts as you get to explore the lush green gardens before sampling some of their tasty coffees.
A very popular plantation to visit, its engaging tours take you around the stubby coffee trees hugging its hillside. On the way, you’ll learn how the beans are harvested, roasted and turned into coffee.
Afterwards, you can try twelve different coffees and teas, ranging from vanilla and lemongrass to its distinctive-tasting civet one. This is produced by the adorable little luwak animal which has actually eaten and partially digested the best beans before they’re turned into coffee… If any take your fancy, you can pick up some to take home from their gift shop.
11. Neka Art Museum
Another awesome art gallery to check out is Neka, just a short walk or drive northwest of the center. At its scenic site, you can see both ancient pieces and more modern works by local Balinese artists.
Established in 1982, the museum’s grounds are designed to look like a traditional family compound with a series of elegant halls and pavilions dotted around its open garden. Their airy galleries display not just classical paintings and carvings but contemporary Indonesian art too. Works by local talents are also on show with arts workshops often held here too.
Probably the best art museum we visited in Bali, its collection also encompasses historical daggers forged centuries-ago by royal blacksmiths. With its marvelous architecture and manicured gardens being just as good, you definitely won’t regret seeing its extraordinary artwork.
10. Saraswati Temple
Tucked away in between Ubud Palace and the Puri Lukisan Museum is the serene Saraswati Temple. An artistic and architectural gem, it has loads of ornately-carved buildings and beautiful lotus ponds to amble around.
Also known as the Water Palace due to its wonderful water features, the Hindu temple is dedicated to Sarasvati – the goddess of learning, literature and art. Accessed via a stone bridge across the lotus ponds, its shrines are coated in spectacular sculptures of mythological figures. Their rather demonic faces and features really are fascinating to view and photograph from up close.
Due to its beauty, the temple is one of Ubud’s standout sights with exciting dance performances also taking place here at night when everything is magically lit up. Although it can get quite crowded with people taking selfies, it was still one of our favorite temples.
9. Campuhan Ridge Walk
In contrast, the Campuhan Ridge Walk is a very quiet and calm place to visit that boasts some of the town’s best views and scenery. Just along the road from the temple, it meanders its way through the ravines and rice paddies west of Ubud.
Stretching roughly two kilometers in total atop the ridge, the paved path provides sweeping views over its surroundings. Starting at the ancient temple of Pura Gunung Lebah, it passes lots of sublime lily ponds and rice fields. Bordering it are a couple of cafes to stop off at and a swing overlooking the river below.
Sunrise and sunset are the most memorable times to hike along the path as everything is bathed in soft light, perfect for photos. While the dense undergrowth on either side can sometimes obscure its vistas, the ridge walk is a very pleasant way to see some more of the town.
8. Traditional Art Market
Loads of fun to explore, Ubud’s Traditional Art Market is crammed full of colourful carvings, clothing, paintings, sculptures and more. Delightfully displayed, its stands and stalls can be found right in the center of town alongside Ubud Palace.
Lining the market’s narrow lanes are scores of shops, all absolutely packed with handmade artworks, accessories and souvenirs. The perfect spot to pick up gifts, its friendly vendors sell everything from silk scarves and sarongs to wooden plates and woven baskets. Another part also has fresh fruit and vegetables for locals and tourists alike to buy.
Before purchasing any beautifully-crafted Balinese bags and jewellery pieces, make sure to haggle a bit and bring the price down. Its lively yet laidback atmosphere also makes it a great place to wander around and snap some photos of all the action going on.
7. Practice Yoga
As Bali ais renowned around the world for their relaxing yoga retreats, taking a class is one of the most popular things to do in Ubud. Tons of studios are scattered about with Ashtanga, Bikram and Vinyasa among others all being offered as options.
Always set in peaceful spots, the yoga centers and wellness resorts have countless classes for you to choose from. Their expert instructors put on both soothing sessions and challenging ones for all ages and abilities. Massages, meditation times and other cleansing therapeutic practices are usually also available.
The tranquil feel and scenic settings of the studios make a yoga class the ideal way to unwind after days spent sightseeing and trying out some adventurous outdoor activities. Particularly highly rated ones in Ubud include Intuitive Flow, The Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive.
6. Tegenungan Waterfall
One of the most stunning natural sights to see not all that far away is the 25-metre-high Tegenungan Waterfall. Located half an hour’s drive south of town, it has phenomenal views and jungle scenery to enjoy while a small swimmable pool lies at its foot.
Unlike most of the island’s other waterfalls, Tegunungan isn’t situated in the highlands or particularly mountainous territory. Hidden amidst the jungle (rather like the canyons nearby), its plunging waters look absolutely incredible with the rugged rocks and verdant foliage all around them.
Aside from photographing the falls and climbing up to the various viewpoints overlooking them, you can also splash around in the shallow pool below. As we heard that it gets very crowded, we visited early in the morning when there were fewer people around. We were very lucky that recent rain made the volume of the teeming waterfall even more powerful and impressive.
5. Watch a Traditional Performance
As Ubud has long been an important center for the arts, it’s almost impossible not to watch at least one traditional performance when in town. Each night, thrilling dance and puppet shows are put on at a number of venues in the center.
Utterly captivating, they involve mesmerizing groups of colorfully-clad performers dancing, chanting and acting out parts of the Ramayana or other revered stories from centuries gone by. With fire also often featuring, the shows stand out delightfully against their shadowy temple settings and the night sky.
Saraswati Temple, Pura Dalem and Peliatan Palace all host scintillating performances as do dozens of other venues in Ubud. Watching the Barong, Tek Tok and Legong dances really is an unforgettable experience. We loved the Kecak one we saw as the costumes, music, fire and story all made for an intoxicating ambience.
4. Go Cycling
A wonderful way to see more of Ubud and its idyllic environs is to cycle around its gently rolling rice paddies and expansive coffee plantations. Besides renting a bike, you can also take tours which stop by local villages, farms and nature sights.
A very popular route is to head up to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, some ten kilometers north of town. Along the way, you enjoy fine views and can visit several small temples and villages dotted about the countryside. In contrast to its gentle landscapes, the area directly west of Ubud is characterized by dramatic gorges and sweeping valleys. Although they look irresistible, their hills make cycling a bit of a challenge if you don’t have an e-bike!
As many hotels and resorts provide guests with complimentary bikes to use, cycling is also a great way to get around the center. It can be hard-going though as the traffic is quite congested and most drivers don’t pay any heed to cyclists.
3. Elephant Cave
Along with the Tegalalang Rice Terrace and Sacred Monkey Forest, the Elephant Cave is undoubtedly one of both Ubud and Bali’s top attractions. Famed for its ancient carvings, it can be found just a ten minute drive southeast of the center.
Also known as Goa Gajah, the large temple complex was crafted sometime back in the ninth-century. Amidst its gorgeous green grounds are a charming courtyard, ritual bathing pool and some fabulous fountains and statues to admire.
The highlight though is of course all the menacing faces and figures around its rather ominous cave mouth entrance. Although they are now quite worn from the passing of time and the elements, they still make for fantastic photos. To learn more about the temple’s history, you can always hire a guide with sarongs being handed out freely at the entrance to visitors.
2. Sacred Monkey Forest
If you want to immerse yourself in nature and see some wildlife too, then the Sacred Monkey Forest is the place to go. Looking almost like an Indiana Jones set, its atmospheric, overgrown temples are now home to hundreds of mischievous macaques.
Sprawling across a vast area just south of the center, the sanctuary contains three Hindu temples, all built around 1350. Now covered in moss, vines and the roots of banyan trees, its shrines and statues make for quite the sight. Jumping between the ruins are plenty of primates with aroundabout 1,250 Balinese long-tailed macaques now thought to inhabit the forest.
Seeing the monkeys amongst all the temples and trees is an amazing experience as they come right up to you asking for food. Be careful though as they can bite and steal whatever they see – your wallet, phone, bag etc. While we enjoyed meeting them, we were just as taken with all the enchanting architecture of the temples that almost appeared as if out of the Jungle Book.
1. Tegalalang Rice Terrace
Also not to be missed is the Tegalalang Rice Terrace which conjures up some of the most romantic images of Indonesia. Easily reached in about twenty minutes from Ubud, its cascading series of rice fields, vibrant colors and giant swings make it the highlight of many people’s time in town.
Unimaginably beautiful, its steeped terraces are meticulously maintained to ensure all the shoots are properly irrigated. Known as ‘subak’, the traditional technique has now been used by the Balinese for well over a thousand years. While the rice paddies already look pretty with the towering palms rising amidst them, you can also swing out over the emerald-green valley for an even better view.
Although all its lovely landscapes are now overrun by Instagrammers, there is a reason why so many people visit. A photographer’s dream, its spectacular scenery can still be enjoyed in peace and quiet during early mornings or at overlooked little cafes lining the valley’s rim.
Where to Stay in Ubud
As the center of town is crowded and the traffic is terrible, you’re best off staying on the outskirts of Ubud. If you hire a motorbike, the world’s your oyster as countless cool hotels and relaxing resorts lie nearby. Located in some of the most spectacular settings imaginable, their jungle views, pools and villas guarantee a luxurious stay.
One of the best has to be the four-star Purana Suite which is situated just south of the centre, near the Sacred Monkey Forest. As well as spacious modern rooms, guests enjoy delicious breakfasts on their private balconies and access to the pool. Very tastefully designed, it has an excellent restaurant and massage services to try. Their friendly and welcoming staff all go out of their way to ensure you have a memorable stay.
Just a bit closer to the center is the outstanding Alamdini Resort which also rates very highly among guests. Surrounded by jungle, the three-star hotel has sizeable comfy rooms to stay in and an infinity pool, restaurant and peaceful outdoor areas to make use of. While its breakfasts, staff and facilities are all brilliant, the highlight is undoubtedly its immaculate green gardens.
How to get there
The main point of entry for most visitors to Bali is Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar. The second-busiest airport in Indonesia, it lies around an hour’s drive south of Ubud by taxi or car. Many hotels also provide transfer services with public buses and shuttle vans running there.
As most ride-hailing apps aren’t allowed in Ubud, the only way to get around is by overpriced local taxis. You can, however, always rent a motorbike for a couple of days or hire a private driver which is not prohibitively expensive.
Many tourist attractions in Ubud’s center are accessible on foot or by bike. As the town is quite hilly and the traffic is chaotic, this can be more challenging than it sounds.
Best Time to Visit Ubud
Set in the central foothills of Bali amidst lush rice fields and rainforest, Ubud sees by far the most visitors from April through October. This coincides with the dry season when the days are sunny and warm and nights refreshing and cool.
During this period, temperatures average 29 to 31°C (84 to 88°F) with big events like its food and jazz festivals also attracting people to town. April to June are quieter and cheaper with July and August seeing prices rise as people pour in for the summer holidays.
As the heat and crowds can make exploring the centre a chore, it’s best to head out either earlier or later in the day. Popular photo spots and its Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary may still be packed though.
September and October are also pleasant weatherwise with there being fewer crowds. They are both among the best months to see its beautiful rice terraces with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival also taking place then.
After this, the rainy season kicks in and most people stay away from November til March. An exception is December when some do head here for the Christmas holidays. All its torrential downpours do make sightseeing and outdoor activities a bit challenging, however.