Bali may be one of the world’s most sought-after beach destinations, but there are many more attractions to enjoy beyond the surf and sand. The town of Ubud, one of Bali’s hottest tourist spots, is also the island’s cultural heart. Here are our top 10 things to do in Ubud.
1. Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA)
This robust collection of fine Indonesian art and culture was founded in 1996 by a passionate, self-proclaimed “collector, protector and developer of the Arts,” Mr. Agung Rai. Housing traditional and modern artworks, a visit promises cultural enjoyment and profound appreciation of Balinese and Indonesian art. The compound also has a hotel and three restaurants.
If you can muster getting up before sunrise, take the Golden Hour tour. Lead by Agung Rai himself, the group gathers before dawn breaks for a journey through incredible stillness and silence, through breathtaking scenery and ancient sites, as Bali awakens.
2. Ubud Royal Palace
Puri Saren Ubud, the Ubud Royal Palace, remains a private residence as well as one of Bali’s popular tourist attractions. The sections of the Palace that are open to the public showcase important artifacts, impressive architecture, traditional performances and provide a glimpse into the Balinese high court of 200 years ago.
There are no guided tours here, nor is there any printed literature to assist you, so if you’re looking for deeper insights on history and architecture, consider hiring a private local guide.
3. Ubud Monkey Forest
What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys? A protected forest full of them! Another big tourist draw, the Ubud Monkey Forest has more than just economic significance to the people of its village, it is important in their spiritual lives. Mingle with more than 700 monkeys at the sanctuary, which is also home to 186 tree species. Learn about the impressive conservation efforts and enjoy more simian antics than you could shake a banana at.
Remove any jewellery and easily accessible valuables, as the monkeys are prone to grabbing and pulling. Please also beware of bites!
4. Traditional Healers
Even if you didn’t come to Bali to pray or love (hopefully you came to eat), the ancient art of Balinese healing might intrigue you. The ancient medicine people practice deep-seated healing rituals that combine spiritual communications, homeopathic medicines and mindful intuition. Known as Bali Usada, it is a cultural cornerstone, with healers specializing in different ailments, some believed to be brought on by ancestral spirits.
While there are many documented instances of healing, take your visit with a grain of salt and always follow proper respect and customs to the healer; wear clothes that cover the body, with women donning a headscarf, do not touch the healer unless directed to do so and never near their head or gesture to their feet.
5. Bali Cooking Class
A dash of adventure, a sprinkle of fun, a pinch of awakening. Healthy and delicious, learn about the multi-faceted and mouthwatering cuisine of Bali. From Indonesian dishes like Nasi Goreng and skewered sate, sate yourself on what you’ve created after the lesson. Once you’re home, you’ll be able to conjure fond travel memories when you can cook authentic recipes at home.
Look for classes that begin with a trip to the market to learn how to pick the freshest ingredients in addition to a hands-on tutorial.
6. Tegalalang Rice Terrace
The stunning, verdant tiers of the Tegalalang Rice Terrace could be described as the stairway to heaven. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jatiwulh is often overlooked by the tourist trail, giving it an even more paradisiacal atmosphere of lush serenity. These rice paddies are over 19,500 hectares and part of the island’s incredible ancient irrigation system and among its most iconic features.
To really enjoy the scenery, wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water to keep hydrated.
7. Rent a bicycle
The best way to get around Bali is on a bicycle, and there is no shortage of rental places that are into “wheeling” and dealing. Bikes are usually rented by the day, others by the hour or the week. Similarly, a popular transportation method is hiring a local driver. Not all of them are guides as well so if you’re looking for a narrative to go with the changing scenery in the car, be sure to ask the driver beforehand if guide services are offered.
Some of the more adventurous will prefer a motorbike, which are as abundant as push bikes, but please note that they may not come with a helmet, far less, instructions, so exercise caution and common sense about your abilities.
8. Walk Campuhan Ridge
This beautiful walk is a must for visitors to Ubud. All fitness levels will be able to enjoy a brisk hike or leisurely stroll along this famous Balinese path past breathtaking nature. You’ll likely wish to opt for the slower pace so you can stop at various points to make your friends green with envy-inducing photos of the incredibly green landscapes.
Start early, around 7 am, when temperatures are cooler and the crowds are fewer.
9. Day trip with a local fisherman
Starting with a traditional offering to the goddess of the ocean for a bountiful and safe fishing trip, set sail with local fishermen for a day of reeling in fish and reeling over the idyllic views of white sands and shimmering blue sea. Most trips can be arranged at the seashore and take place on a jigging boat that can range from rustic to contemporary.
Find a fisherman who will cook what you catch for lunch, or clean and fillet it so you can enjoy an unforgettably fresh fish dinner—but if you don’t catch anything, blame Mother Nature and not your hired guide!
10. Balinese dance performance
Although nowadays these are more often for tourists’ enjoyment, Balinese traditional dances were originally performance for the gods. Combining graceful movements with fabled storytelling, if you are looking for a taste of ancient tradition, catching a show makes for a lovely evening.
Expert tip: These dances still hold sacred religious and cultural meanings, so bear this in mind when watching the performers, who command reverence as they revere the deities.
These are just some of the cultural, historical and unforgettable things to do in Ubud.