There's no denying that Ubud is a touristy place, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Most of Ubud's well-known spots are famous for a reason. From its gorgeous rice paddies to cultural performances to outstanding art museums, Ubud offers plenty of reasons to take a break from the beach and spend some time in Bali's central foothills. Let's take a look at the top five things to do in Ubud, all of which can be enjoyed either solo or with family.
The map above features all the locations mentioned in this article minus Ubud's art spaces. Learn about locations and operating hours here.
1. Traverse The Ubud Monkey Forest
The monkey forest is perhaps Ubud's most well-known tourist attraction, and for good reason. Covering around 27 acres, the sanctuary maintains a unique balance of nature, wildlife and traditional Balinese culture. The forest, in fact, has long been considered a sacred spot by the locals.
Before my visit to the monkey forest, I only had a vague idea of what it was, and I pictured something like an open-air zoo built mainly for tourists. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the monkey forest, is well, an actual forest! Even without all the monkeys to grab your attention (or possibly your stuff), the forest itself is huge with plenty of gorgeous scenic spots to explore.
One of the reasons that the forest is regarded as sacred is because of the big role that monkeys play in Hindu mythology, particularly the classic epic known as the Ramayana. At one point in the tale, the monkey king Sugriva and his massive army of monkeys, including Hanuman, assist Rama and his brother in a great war against the demon king. Not only do sculptures throughout the island depict this scene, but so do some well-known Balinese performances, including one on this list.
If you've done a lot of traveling around Asia, you've probably seen plenty of macaque monkeys before and know the drill. If this is your first time being in such an environment, remember to keep all small belongings and especially any food covered and zipped up in your bag. I wasn't worried about a monkey walking off with my DSLR, but if you have a smaller pocket camera then you should definitely keep an eye on it.
You're always going to come across a few horror stories when reading about touristy spots with loads of monkeys, but during my visit none of the monkeys were bothering me or anybody else.
You should expect to spend around an hour here, if not more. The forest offers plenty of shade, so this would be a nice spot to come on a hot afternoon.
2. Visit Ubud's Temples & Palaces
Central Ubud may not be home to the most famous or elaborate temples of Bali, although important temples like Pura Tirta Empul can be found somewhat close by. Without having to stray too far from the city center, though, Ubud does contain a few noteworthy temples and even a palace worth checking out.
The iconic lotus pond of Saraswati Temple
Dedicated to the Hindu goddess of the arts, this temple dates back to the 1950's. It was built by none other than I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, one of Ubud and Bali's most revered painters and architects.
Saraswati may be the most well-known of Ubud's temples, mainly due to its beautiful lotus pond. As most visitors only view it from the outside, though, don't expect to spend much more than 20 minutes here. Some stay longer to enjoy the cafe overlooking the pond.
The Ubud Palace, also referred to as Puri Saren, was home to Ubud's royal family and dates back to the 19th century. The current walls and gate are newer, and were designed by achritect and painter I Gusti Nyoman Lemped, also responsible for the Saraswati Temple.
Located in the center of Ubud at a major intersection, the Ubud Palace is hard to miss. After seeing it in the day time, you can also return in the evening to see a Kecak performance, should there be one going on that day.
Pura Gunung Lebah
This elegant temple is often closed to visitors, but considering the open-air nature of Balinese temples, plenty of details can still be appreciated from the outside. Pura Gunung Lebah is located right by where two branches of the Wos river meet. Such places, in fact, are considered by the Balinese to be especially sacred and auspicious. This temple is also located right by the entrance to the next item on the list, the Campuhan Ridge.
3. Walk Across the Campuhan Ridge
The Campuhan Ridge is a fantastic little trail that offers some excellent hilltop views of the surrounding area. It's an easy walk suitable for anyone, regardless of fitness level. It's also impossible to get lost, as there are no separate paths besides the main trail. The hardest part will be finding it in the first place, as even with a SIM card and map app it can be a little tricky.
Assuming you're coming from the very center of town, to get to the ridge you'll first want to head toward the spa called Warwick Iba. There you should see a sign which says “Going to the Hill.” You'll then encounter Pura Gunung Lebah temple mentioned above, followed by some more signs which will point you in the right direction.
The walk should take around 20 minutes one-way. Just bear in mind that you'll have to walk back the way you came to make it back to the center of town.
I made the mistake of leaving a little too late in the early evening. After having dinner on the other side, everything had turned pitch black by the time I was done. I didn't have a choice then but to take a taxi back to the center of town, so I'd recommend trying the Campuhan Ridge walk in the morning or afternoon.
Had it still been light out, I really would not have minded walking across it twice. The views are excellent and despite being so well-known, Campuhan doesn't seem to get too crowded. It's no wonder why many consider this to be one of the top things to do in Ubud.
4. Experience Ubud's Art Museums
Ubud is the best place to visit in Bali if you're at all interested in Balinese art. The town is home to no less than four major art museums and there are even more smaller art galleries to explore.
If you have limited time in Ubud and could only make it to one museum, I'd recommend the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) as the one you can't miss. Not only will you learn a lot about Balinese art and culture, but the compound also includes a luscious garden and quiet restaurant. Allow yourself an entire morning or afternoon, as it can be a little too easy to lose track of time there.
The Agung Rai Museum of Art
In addition to ARMA, the Neka Museum and Puri Lukisan are also excellent. For those looking for something a little different from typical Balinese art, you may want to check out the Blanco Renaissance Museum.
Considering the fact that Ubud was designated as an artistic and cultural haven by the local government in the 1930's, no visit to the area is complete without a taste of its rich creative heritage. Have a look at this feature on the art of Ubud to learn more, and also to see the locations and operating hours of Ubud's best art spaces.
5. Watch a Kecak Performance
This list both begins and ends with monkeys. Bali is home to a wide variety of traditional dances and performances, but perhaps none is more popular with visitors than the Kecak Dance, also referred to as the 'Balinese monkey chant.'
The modern incarnation of the performance only goes back to the 1930's and was largely developed by Ubud-based German painter Walter Spies. The story it's based around, however, is the Ramayana, an Indian epic which is estimated to be over 2,000 years old.
As mentioned above, the story of the Ramayana is very long one, but a lot of the major scenes involve the main hero, Rama, cooperating with Hanuman and his army of monkey's. The story has had a significant influence over not just Bali but also Java, which was a Hindu island for many years.
In Bali, the precursor to the modern Kecak performance was supposedly a more low-key trance-inducing ritual. Thanks to Walter Spies' tweaks and alterations, though, the number of participants increased to around 150, becoming the exciting spectacle that visitors to the island know and love today.
The main characteristic of the Kecak Dance is the intense chanting of 'cak cak cak' by the large chorus of men seated in a circle around the center stage. It really does evoke the image of a large army of monkeys. Whether or not one is even familiar with the Ramayana story, the effect is certainly hypnotic.
One of the most popular places to see a Kecak dance is the seaside temple of Uluwatu, but there are plenty of options in Ubud as well. Just keep in mind that one particular location will only stage performances once or twice a week. Simply walk around central Ubud, though, and you'll find plenty of people advertising the performances taking place at their temple or performance space that evening.
I first went all the way to a village called Junjungan, about a 15-minute minute drive north of central Ubud, where they stage what's considered to be the best Kecak Dance in the region every Monday night. I arrived, however, to find out that a special village ceremony was taking place instead, and that the Kecak performance wouldn't be happening again until the following week.
Luckily, I was able to find one happening in central Ubud at a temple called Pura Dalem Taman Kaja. It's just to the northeast of Ubud Palace on Jl. Sri Wedari. The show was fantastic and it's clear why a Kecak performance is considered to be one of the best things to do in Ubud at night.
Typically, seeing a Kecak Dance costs Rp. 75,000 and most performances start at 7pm. Though there is plenty of info online, word of mouth is often the best way to find out where and when to witness a performance.
Ubud is probably the most visited town in Bali that doesn't have a beach. The city center features all sorts of accommodation options for different budgets, especially along Monkey Forest Road and nearby side streets.
Many people tire quickly of the city center, however, with its constant traffic and noise. Therefore, more and more visitors these days are looking for places to stay just a little bit out of town, such as in Pejeng or Bedulu. All of the locations mentioned in this article, though, are located in what would be considered as central Ubud, so choosing where to stay should also have a large part to do with how you plan to get around the city.
I stayed at a place called Kenari House which I would highly recommend. It's located in between the town center and the eastern suburb of Bedulu, home to the Goa Gajah caves. It's within walking distance of all the locations mentioned in this article, though you may want to take a taxi back.
Kenari House features private rooms inside of a family compound, so you can enjoy your privacy while also getting a glimpse of local Balinese family life. You can also eat a delicious breakfast each morning while looking out at a fantastic view of the local rice paddies.
Ubud, like most of Bali, lacks much of any type of public transport. To many visitors' dismay, ridesharing services are also banned on this part of the island. While you can technically use the apps, there's a high chance your driver will be very late or won't show up at all out of fear of getting caught by the local taxi mafia.
Therefore, for distances too far to walk, your options for getting around this part of Bali will either be renting your own motorbike or hiring a driver. Many people do fine on a motorbike, but accidents are also very common amongst tourists. It's not unusual to see people walking around with casts or crutches due to accidents, though most of the serious accidents seem to happen in the Kuta area rather than Ubud.
Regular taxis are greatly overpriced due to the lack of competition. Though not cheap, the best option may be hiring a private driver for the day, which you can arrange for roughly $40 USD a day. You can then ask him to take you to some of spots you want to visit in central Ubud before heading on to other parts of the island.
If you're based in a hotel on or near Monkey Forest road, you can easily reach all the places mentioned in this article on foot.
Bali only has one airport, which is located in the capital and largest city of Denpasar. The best way to reach your accommodation in Ubud from the airport would be via taxi, which can be arranged for around Rp. 300,000 or even a little bit less. Your hotel or host will likely be able to send a driver to meet you at the airport, which can save some of the hassle of trying to negotiate after a long flight. Expect the drive to take roughly an hour.
If you're coming to Ubud from another part of Bali, you might want to look into a private tour company such as Perama Tour to arrange a shuttle bus for you.
The most common way to reach Bali is by plane. The Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar is very well connected. You can find direct flights from all over Indonesia, in addition to plenty of international cities throughout Asia and even Europe.