Out of all the cities in Bali, I consider Ubud to be far and away the best. It may not have the coastline that the other popular tourist cities have but I’m not much of a beach person anyway. Ubud is the only city I went to in Bali that has an infrastructure that is accommodating to travelers while also maintaining a sense of authenticity. By that, I mean it isn’t a city entirely set up just to accommodate tourists. I swear Seminyak and Kuta were just vegan cafe after vegan cafe and fancy poolside clubs by the beach. That isn’t necessarily a terrible thing but if you want to experience a more authentic side of Bali, Ubud is a good middle ground between touristic and local.
I spent most of my time in Bali living in Ubud and these are among my favorite places to go, from tourist destinations to favorite cafes to just overall awesome places.
Campuhan Ridge Walk
At sunrise, this place is as serene as it gets in Bali. Surrounded by the endless greens of the Balinese jungle, this easy hike is a perfect way to start the day. If you’re blessed with early morning cotton candy skies to go with the brisk air, this is 100% worth waking up early for.
You can go any time during the day but it does get hot and it will likely be much more crowded. The early bird gets the picture-perfect Instagram shots, ya feel?
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
Just a few minutes north of Ubud, these famed rice terraces are one of the most popular attractions in all of Bali. Pop a squat at one of the cafes early in the morning, have a coffee, and then stroll down to the terraces themselves and try not to fall in the mud. Trust me, it is a lot harder than it looks. I don’t understand how girls show up here in long flowy dresses and uncomfortable shoes. Just once, I wish I was around for when one of them would inevitably fall in the paddies and turn that flowing white dress into an Oreo.
This is one of my favorite spots to chill out in all of Bali. It’s got an infinity pool overlooking the immense Balinese jungle. It is tucked away in the winding forests of Ubud, meaning that it might be the quietest and most serene infinity pool you will find in all of Bali. Sure, there will be other people there, but for the most part, it is solitude compared to the beachside infinity pools you’ll find in Seminyak, Kuta, or Canggu.
It costs about $10 USD to get in but you get to hang out all day and it is well worth it. Bring a book, some work to do, or nothing at all. It’s a great place for whatever you want to do. Jungle Fish also has got some amazing food and drinks. It’s a perfect all-day hang out spot.
The Green School
For an eye-opening look at an innovative and non-traditional schooling system, The Green School is a great place to check out. Everything about this school is unique, from its external appearance to its internal curriculum. The whole school is made of bamboo and some of the structures will leave you awestruck.
The curriculum is also one of the world’s most unique. It is adapted from an experimental Scandinavian education system, one that strays from tradition. Students are more free to pursue their interests and learn independently as opposed to following a strict curriculum. It isn’t the typical tourist attraction but I do think it is worth visiting just to get a varying perspective on traditional education systems.
Despite being called Yoga Barn, this place is closer to a palace than a barn. As you can probably guess, this is where people go for yoga but it offers much more than that. Other classes here include meditation, sound healing, and some strange things that sound too hipster to be true.
The grounds of this place are actually amazing. Whether you are a beginner or an avid yogi, you need to go to some sort of class here.
Folk Pool and Gardens
An oasis in the middle of Ubud’s busiest tourist road, Folk is one of the best spots in town to hang out. You might not notice it right away since it is tucked away in a little alleyway but you’ll be glad you found it. The pool with a swim-up bar is a perfect place to laze away the hot Balinese days. Great food and great drinks will keep you here all day.
An architectural and culinary masterpiece, Clear Cafe mixes intricate design with delicious food. I could have come here every day just to try a different weird drink made of ingredients I have never heard of.
Take off your shoes, walk through the circular Hobbiton-style door and try not to fall into the infinity Koi fish pond. As far as design goes, it is very eclectic. You’ve got portraits of world leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi hanging on the wall and then a staircase that looks like fresh dreadlocks ripped off the heads of the unwitting Australian bogans. There’s a fire pole in the corner of the second floor that you supposedly can slide down as an alternative to the winding dreadlock staircase but I never tested it out myself. All this makes for an interesting dining experience but regardless of how you feel about the aesthetic, the organic and locally-sourced food is well worth the stop.
Sacred Monkey Forest
This is a must-do while you are in Bali. It might actually be one of Bali’s most popular attractions. Get there early, or not, depending on how you feel about being outnumbered by hordes of monkeys. The monkeys here are pretty friendly and won’t be aggressive as long as you follow all of the rules. Don’t show your bare teeth, even if it is just for smiling. Don’t approach the little baby monkeys, no matter how cute they are. Those mommas are scary protective.
Even if you aren’t much of a monkey person, the sanctuary is a very cool place to walk through. There is a lot of natural beauty here and even a small walkway where you can stroll through the canopies of the jungle. Right across from it is one of my favorite restaurants in Ubud, Habitat Cafe. It’s a perfect spot for brunch or brekkie before or after hitting up the monkey forest. You’ll probably see plenty of monkeys from here if you choose to sit outside.
While Ubud Palace isn’t anything too grandiose or spectacular, it is the hub of all of Ubud’s cultural events. While I was here, I was able to see a cremation ceremony which was extraordinary to witness and experience. They built a massive ornamental bull and an intricate, 7-layer temple looking thing and paraded both through town before setting fire to the bull. It was a sight to see and was absolutely one of the coolest cultural experiences I have had in South East Asia.
Another thing we got to witness up here was the parade of Ogoh-Ogoh’s during the Nyepi Festival. Nyepi is the Balinese day of silence and reflection where you aren’t allowed to leave your house, use electricity, or entertain yourself in any way, tourists included. However, there are a bunch of festivities leading up to that, kind of like when the rest of the world gets completely hammered on New Year’s Eve and takes an (involuntary) day of rest and (hungover) reflection the following day.
The Ogoh-Ogoh festival is a bit less trashy. In fact, it’s pretty cool. Each village creates a big figure, usually a monster or a demon and those are meant to represent their inner demons or struggles. Each town in Bali has its own parade but in Ubud and the surrounding villages, you can catch part of the show at Ubud Palace. They eventually burn those Ogoh-Ogohs to symbolize abandoning their past struggles and demons and moving towards the new year. It’s pretty dope.
This is a place that takes only a couple of minutes to see but it is one of the cooler temples you will find in Ubud. One thing no one told me about Bali is the abundance of temples, although most are small and are more like little shrines. The highlight of Ubud’s Water Palace is the little walkway in between lotus ponds leading up the temple. It makes for a magical scene and is particularly great for photographs. Make sure the Starbucks is just out of frame, though.
This is possibly the trendiest road in all of Ubud as far as restaurants and boutiques go. Despite being full of organic restaurants, organic boutiques, organic gelato stands, organic crepes, etc. there are plenty of local gems that you will also find here. Believe it or not, the Balinese people don’t only eat gluten-free vegan organic acai bowls. In fact, I don’t think any of them do. Local warungs serving cheap and delicious food are plentiful.
The cave at Goa Gajah is the main attraction and to be honest, it did not particularly amaze me, except for seeing the three biggest spiders I have ever seen in my life within a 10-foot radius. Don’t let that deter you, though. The grounds and gardens of Goa Gajah are beautiful and serene. Taking a relaxing stroll and admiring the lily ponds, small waterfalls, creeks, and the lush greenery are well worth having to wear a sarong in the Balinese heat.