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While Bali is famous mostly for its beaches, there’s a lot more to the Island of the Gods than just sun and sand. For those willing to get out of their beach chair for a couple of days, there’s a totally different side to the island waiting to be explored. One of the most popular places in Bali outside of the touristy beach areas is Ubud, a town considered to be the cultural heart of the island. The name comes from the Balinese word for medicine (ubad), as it was once an important source of medicinal herbs and plants. Whereas Kuta is known for its beaches and wild nightlife, Ubud is a place for art, yoga, and nature. If you get sick of persistent touts and drunken surfer dudes, take a few days to explore Ubud and its surroundings. Just minutes away from terraced rice fields, rivers, and some of Bali’s best temples, there’s enough to do in Ubud to warrant staying a few days. Here’s a brief rundown of what you should experience when visiting this cultural Balinese town:
Sick of seeing bros in Bintang beer tank tops? Fed up with crappy music in the beachside bars? Get up to Ubud and soak up the local culture, and you’ll finally feel like you’re really in Bali. Sure, the town has gotten quite touristy in recent years – thanks a lot, “Eat, Pray, Love” – but Ubud has managed to retain a lot of its cultural identity. Walk up the street, and chances are you’ll see a procession of Balinese women headed to the temple. Ceremonies are a common occurrence, so don’t be surprised if you encounter one while here. Should you want to enter the temple, make sure you do so with a local and dress appropriately. Otherwise, just sit on the side of the road and watch it from afar.
Art lovers will enjoy Ubud, as there are a handful of museums scattered across the town. Puri Lukisan is located just a few steps from the palace, and it’s full of great Balinese paintings, woodcarvings, and more. There are also workshops here from time to time, so check the schedule if interested.
Another great choice is the Blanco Museum – home to the works of Italian painter Don Antonio Blanco. His art is dedicated to the female form, so you can probably imagine what kind of paintings you’ll see here. The building itself is quite impressive, and there are great views available from the restaurant on site.
The most popular attraction in Ubud is definitely the Monkey Forest. Escape the crowded streets and enjoy a stroll through the cool shade of the forest, but watch out for those naughty monkeys! The forest is home to hundreds of crab-eating macaques, who are also known as Balinese long-tail monkeys. They’re friendly and used to people for the most part; just don’t be aggressive and keep a tight grip on things like sunglasses – they’re known to snatch loose items from time to time.
The town is centered around its traditional palace, which is partially open to visitors and free to enter. There’s not a whole lot to see here, but it’s worth at least 15-20 minutes to check out the traditional Balinese architecture and statues. Every evening, you can catch a cultural performance here starting at 7:30. Tickets are widely available – just grab them from one of the many vendors who hang out on the street.
Right across the street, you’ll find the Ubud market. If you want to see the actual local side of the market, it’s best to arrive there early in the morning before the hordes of tourists show up. Later on in the day, the entire place becomes a bazaar of knick-knacks and various junk that will surely end up on a dusty shelf should you actually buy it. That being said, you can find some cool paintings, batik shirts, and other uniquely Balinese things here. Just be sure to bargain!
About 10 km outside of town, you’ll find the Taggelang terraced rice fields – a postcard-worthy image if ever there was one. Entrepreneurial locals have set up a few cafes, restaurants, and shops here, so you can enjoy the views with a cold drink or a plate of nasi goreng. Why not eat rice while looking at it? You can even go for a stroll amongst the fields if you’re so inclined.
Bali is far from pedestrian-friendly, but there’s a great place for a walk in Ubud. The Campuhan ridge walk is located just off the main street across the street from the Blanco Museum, and it’s the perfect spot for a sunset stroll. Enjoy a moment of peace and quiet at one of the few spots not full of motorbikes whizzing by.
Eventually, you’ll end up at Karsa Cafe and Spa, where you can get a massage or just enjoy a coconut from the comfort of a little shack overlooking the rice paddies. If you’re looking for a place to relax and waste away a couple of hours, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Bali is full of options when it comes to getting pampered, and some of the best ones can be found in Ubud. There are tons of spas in and out of town offering a wide variety of treatments. Options abound for all budgets, whether you’re looking for a cheap massage or a couples package lasting half the day. Bali Botanica Spa comes highly recommended, as we enjoyed an awesome 3-hour treatment plus a wine tasting at the nearby Bridges restaurant for a very reasonable price.
In addition to spas, Ubud is also home to countless yoga studios. Whether you’re a first-timer or a serious yogi, you’ll find something here. It’s easy to just drop in for a class to give it a try, or you can sign up for week-long retreats or take part in one of the many festivals that come to town throughout the year. One of the most well-known spots is the Yoga Barn, which has classes for all levels and an excellent restaurant as well.
Nights in Ubud are very much centered around the many cultural performances that can be found throughout the town. A great place to take one in is Cafe Lotus, where you can dig in to an epic seafood feast while watching a performance of Balinese dance such as barong or legong.
One of the best things to do in Ubud is simply eat and drink your way through the town’s many amazing options. You could easily spend an entire week here bouncing around to different restaurants, cafes, and bars. There are healthy options like Alchemy, which has a terrific salad bar and tons of juices, and then there are spots like Ibu Oka for the famous babi guling (roast suckling pig) and a cold beer. While Ubud is definitely not a party town, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a glass of wine or a cocktail and enjoy a night out. Depending on the night, you can catch a movie, some live music, or a comedy show.
As you can see, Ubud has a lot to offer those who make it up there and stay a few days. Although many simply drop by on a day trip from places like Kuta or Seminyak, it’s best to spend at least a couple of days there to really soak it all in and enjoy the vibe of this artistic, cultural, beautiful Balinese town.