Set in the eastern half of Bali - the island wedged between Java and Lombok - Ubud is Bali’s cultural hub, set amid terraced rice paddies and renowned for its painters and artisans, classical dancers and musicians. It’s also home to Bali’s best art museums and commercial galleries, as well as its work with spiritual tourism - there are plenty of opportunities for you to try out indigenous or imported healing therapies.
Organic cafes, riverside bungalows and craft shops crowd its central marketplace, while the surrounding countryside is ideal for walks and cycle rides, and there’s easy access to the northern volcanoes.
Ubud’s oldest and most central art collection is the Museum Puri Lukisan, set in prettily landscaped grounds in Central Ubud. Take in Balinese paintings depicting local scenes, woodcarvings and impressive expressionist works from the Ubud area. The intricately carved stone entrance is peppered with green foliage, and beyond here the green paradise continues, with koi ponds, fountains and winding paths - a respite here is one of the best things to do in Ubud.
The tiny village of Campuhan is popular with expats, and it’s just as pleasant for visitors, too, especially with the likes of the Campuhan Ridge walk. Take a lazy walk along the grassy spine that takes in lush foliage, rice fields and old temples hidden in the trees. It’s not a long route - it should take just over an hour or so - but it leads onto the rural outskirts of Campuhan via the Wos Barat and Wos Timor river valleys. Is this one of the most scenic things to do in Ubud? We like to think so. If you’re browsing cheap holidays to Bali, then Camphuan is a great area to base yourself, with yoga houses, a clinic and a wad of accommodation available.
The Neka Art Museum spans a huge collection of traditional and modern Balinese paintings. Its location is a winner, housed in a series of pavilions set high on a hill in Sanggingan (about 2.5km northwest of Ubud central market), which will give you total interior-inspo. The pavilions include exhibits of Balinese painting from the 17th-century to the present day, a photography archive of 1930s and 1940s Bali, and contemporary works by artists from other parts of Indonesia.
Want to know what to do in Ubud where you can let your hair down? Ubud’s best known tourist attraction is the Monkey Forest Sanctuary, where the resident monkeys are playful and almost alarmingly tame - but hold on tight to any food or drink you’ve got on you. The forest sanctuary is nothing special itself, but five minutes into the forest, you’ll reach Pura Dalem Agung Padang Tegal (included with the sanctuary entry fee), the temple of the dead for the Padang Tegal neighbourhood. This is a traditional place of strong magical power and evil spirits; inside the temple you’ll find stone-carved images of the witch-widow Rangda sporting a hideous fanged face, unruly hair and a very long tongue - pretty scary indeed.
Ubud’s other major art museum is the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA), in Pengosekan, on the southern fringes of Ubud. Inside is a slick, fairly modern affair; the upstairs gallery of the large Bale Daja pavilion covers the development of Balinese art, while across the garden, the middle gallery of the Bale Dauh displays works by Bali’’s most famous expats.
The village of Pejeng has an ancient history, as it’s been inhabited since the Bronze Age. Needless to say, it’s a great place for a historic visit; among the religious antiquities there are three interesting old temples - none of which have any fixed opening times, and you’ll need to make a donation to enter each one. Pura Penataran Sasih (the Moon Temple) is home to a 2m-long hourglass-shaped bronze gong, called the Moon of Pejeng - it’s thought to date as far back as 3BC. Nearby Pura Pusering Jagat is famous for its elaborately carved 14th-century stone water jar, while the focus of Pura Kebo Edan (Crazy Buffalo Temple) is the 4m-high fertility statue of the Pejeng Giant, complete with a phallus.
Chipped away from a cliff face amid the rice fields, the 14th-century rock-cut carvings at Yeh Pulu are still a bit of a hidden treasure - all 25 metres of it. While the story of the carvings is uncertain, you can still make out scenes including a man carrying two jars of water, and three stages of a boar hunt. You won’t be sure what’s more mystifying: the meaning of the carvings or the lack of crowds - but, hey, it’s one of the most pleasant, intriguing and pretty baffling sites you can enjoy in Ubud.