Ubud: Review, Guide & Must Know

Alexis
Modified on January 1, 2024

Ubud is one of the most popular destination in Bali. Here is a review and guide to help you decide if you should include it in your itinerary.

Where is Ubud in Bali?

Ubud is located in the central-eastern part of Bali, inland, which means it does not have direct access to the sea.

It takes about 1 hour to reach Ubud from the capital of Bali, Denpasar, and approximately 1.5 hours from the Bali International Airport.

Unlike many cities in South Bali, Ubud is surrounded by rural areas, often consisting of rice fields and/or jungle.

Ubud is also slightly higher in elevation than the rest of Bali, although its altitude of 200m does not radically change the climate. However, as you travel north and gain altitude, the temperature naturally tends to drop.

The historical role of Ubud in Bali

If Ubud is so popular these days, it's not by chance.

The city is primarily a historical city where many Balinese princes and lords have ruled.

Originally, Ubud is known as a spiritual site since the 8th century when a Javanese priest named Rsi Markendya founded the Gunung Lebah temple, which later became a well-known Hindu pilgrimage site.

From the 1940s and especially in the 1960s, Ubud became the number 1 artistic center in Bali, attracting numerous painters, writers, and artists, both Indonesian and foreign.

Today, people visit Ubud for all these reasons: religious reasons due to the temples that remain, historical reasons with the palaces of Ubud's princes, and for the ubiquitous art and nature in Ubud.

What does Ubud look like today?

Ubud is a city in constant evolution, and the descriptions one can sometimes read on the internet don't always match reality.

Many still think of Ubud as a small village lost in the middle of the jungle, but that's not exactly the case!

Ubud's city center is lively and commercial

Ubud and its surroundings are home to 70,000 inhabitants, and the area attracts around 3 million tourists per year.

Naturally, its city center is very commercial and lively, far from the small village some might imagine.

The city center is full of restaurants, designer boutiques, art shops, and everything you can find in any city in Bali: warungs, minimarts, markets, to name the most obvious.

Ubud street

Ubud is relatively spread out

What people also overlook before going to Ubud is that this city is much more spread out than they think.

Unlike beach resorts like Canggu or Seminyak, which are very concentrated in specific areas, Ubud is quite large, even though its hyper-center consists of only a few streets.

Your experience of Ubud can be completely different depending on whether you stay in the hyper-touristic center, in an area where more locals reside, or if you are in a slightly more secluded place amidst rice fields.

The surroundings of Ubud remain very green

Even though Ubud has spread over the years, the surroundings of Ubud are still very green, with numerous rice fields, forests, rivers... plenty of nature.

In essence, to visualise Ubud correctly, think of it as a tourist city with a very touristy and active center, quieter residential areas around this center, and nature in an even larger radius.

But even in the heart of the center, greenery remains, which is far from the case in all Balinese cities.

What are the highlights of Ubud?

Ubud has many strengths and advantages that put it on almost every traveler's list passing through Bali. Here are the main ones.

Ubud is a true cultural and artistic center of Bali

Ubud is a major cultural center of Balinese life and, more importantly, an important historical and religious site.

Many people visit Ubud to learn more about the history of Bali and its Hinduism, and it's indeed a very good place to do so.

Art, whether Balinese or from elsewhere, is also omnipresent in Ubud. Many artists from all over Indonesia move to Ubud to promote their art. There are also many foreign artists established in Ubud.

If you are more into cultural and artistic discovery than beach and relaxation, Ubud is clearly a destination not to be missed when you visit Bali.

There are tons of nice and affordable hotels and villas in Ubud

If Ubud is so popular among tourists but also expatriates and digital nomads, it's largely because its accommodation offer is quite exceptional. You can find everything: from the most modest guesthouses to luxury resorts and villas in the middle of the jungle. There is truly something for every taste.

Booking.com

Ubud has several must do activities in Bali

If Ubud is so praised, it's also because it has several very popular activities right within its borders. Among the most popular:

  • The Monkey Forest: the famous monkey forest, which is at the heart of Ubud
  • The Pura Taman Saraswati temple
  • Goa Gaja: the elephant cave temple
  • Many museums: Blanco Museum, Puri Lukisan Museum, Agung Rai Museum of Art, and many more
  • The traditional Tek Tok dances
  • The Campuhan Ridge Walk: an ideal hiking or running trail for a sunset walk

In short, there is a lot to do in Ubud or its immediate surroundings. And that's not counting shopping and restaurants that are likely to keep you busy for a while!

campuhan ridge ubud
The Campuhan Ridge in Ubud. Not a bad place for a jog!

The restaurant offer in Ubud is very diverse

If you are a foodie, you will love Ubud. It's simple; there is almost everything in terms of restaurants.

Balinese restaurants in the surrounding areas often serve the must try bebek goreng, a local specialty that is crispy and delicious fried duck.

As Ubud has remained very Balinese, meaning that other Indonesian regions are less present than in the south of the island, you will find plenty of restaurants serving Balinese specialties: babi guling, ayam betutu, and other Balinese-style nasi campur often cooked with pork.

Vegetarians and vegans are also in paradise in Bali. There are vegan-friendly restaurants everywhere, serving dishes that are all delicious. Even though I am not vegan, I sometimes eat in some of them and am surprised.

Western and worldwide restaurants are also numerous for those who struggle with Indonesian food or veganism: Italian pizzas, Indian, steak, tacos... there is really something for every taste.

Even in terms of coffee, Ubud is likely to surprise you. Good coffee is almost everywhere, although this is the case in almost all Bali.

The rice fields around Ubud are highly renowned

Another major strength of Ubud is that it is located in an area surrounded by rice fields.

If you want to see the most iconic (but also touristy) ones, just go to Tegallalang, a few kilometers from Ubud, and let yourself be amazed by the terrace rice fields.

This is also a good excuse to take photos on one of the swings nearby.

Outside of the classic Tegalalang rice fields, you can come across very beautiful rice fields (especially if you are there when the rice is already a certain height), in almost all directions around Ubud.

Just get lost a little, and you will find beautiful rice fields without any tourists.

ricefield tegallalang
The terrace rice fields of Tegallalang

You are closer to North Bali when you stay in Ubud

One of the significant advantages of Ubud is being a stopover point between South and North Bali.

Driving from the South to the North usually takes 3-5 hours depending on your destination and the traffic of the day. Ubud is therefore the ideal stopping point.

The city brings you considerably closer to many central island activities: waterfalls, Mount Batur ascent, snorkeling in Amed, or visiting Pura Lempuyang are much closer from Ubud than from Canggu or, worse, Uluwatu.

Ubud is a paradise for yoga enthusiasts

One of the other reasons why many people go to Ubud is that it is a true sanctuary for yoga enthusiasts.

Yoga and meditation retreats or simple yoga classes are everywhere in Ubud. The city even has several instruction centers for those who want to become yoga teachers.

Why all the yoga ended up in Ubud? No idea. Yoga is not a traditional Balinese practice at all. Some do it, of course, but in similar or even smaller proportions than in the West.

So, no need to say "namaste" to every Balinese you meet, it's not a part of the local culture and they might not necessarily be into it!

Who frequents Ubud?

It is sometimes interesting to know who you will be cohabiting with when you go to a new city. Here are those you are most likely to encounter in Ubud.

Many Balinese locals live near Ubud

Balinese locals are very numerous in Ubud. Unlike the cities in the South of Bali, Ubud has remained very Hindu in its culture and architecture.

The villages around Ubud have often remained very Balinese and traditional, with quite few people from other ethnicities coming from other islands. Many of Ubud's workforce comes from the surrounding villages and Gianyar.

Many tourists stop in Ubud

Without surprise, as the city is touristy, do not expect to be the only tourist during your visit to Ubud, that is unlikely to happen.

The city center can be overrun by tourists during the high season, and it is not impossible to get stuck in traffic, although it is still much less frequent than in the south of Bali.

Expats who love yoga often live in Ubud

Many zen and yoga enthusiasts live in Ubud, especially among expatriates.

So, you are very likely to meet vegans, yogis, and frankly speaking, quite a few Western bohemians and hippies among expatriates living in Ubud.

I'm exaggerating a bit, of course, but there are more of them than elsewhere in Bali.

Those who prefer a quieter Bali often opt for Ubud

Bali is not always a very calm island, but the surroundings of Ubud have many practical aspects: the calm of nature and the proximity to a reasonably-sized city to not be totally isolated from the world either.

So there are also many families in Ubud, quite a few retirees, and more and more digital nomads.

If the South of the island is sometimes too bustling, and the remote villages in the heart of Bali often too remote for the average person, Ubud is a good compromise for many people.

Who usually like Ubud?

ubud street

Should you go to Ubud? Generally speaking, I would say yes, especially if you are in one of the following situations.

If you want to learn more about Balinese culture, Ubud is a must-visit

Balinese culture and its Hindu religion are somewhat everywhere in Bali, but its access is particularly facilitated in Ubud, which has somehow organised and marketed itself to become the cultural hub of Bali.

So if you do not plan to visit Denpasar, spend time in local villages, or visit 15 temples, you can learn a lot in a short time by passing through Ubud.

And if you are an art lover, there is no question, yes, you should go to Ubud!

Digital nomads often appreciate Ubud

There are two major hotspots for digital nomads in Bali: Canggu and Ubud.

Ubud has many advantages for nomads:

  • Plenty of nice cafes
  • Good internet connections
  • Fairly quiet
  • An environment conducive to work (it's not a party every night)
  • Few traffic jams

In short, I perfectly understand digital nomads who settle in Ubud for a few months or longer.

After all, it's true that it's less wild than Canggu and there's no sea...

Yoga enthusiasts won't find an equivalent elsewhere in Bali

Finding a place to do yoga in Bali is quite easy no matter where you are on the island, except for really remote places.

But there is no place in Bali, and probably very few in the world in general, that concentrates as many yoga places and retreats as Ubud.

There are so many that I pity those who have to make a choice.

Vegetarians and vegans will be in paradise in Ubud

Just like yoga centers, vegetarian and vegan restaurants are really everywhere in Ubud.

If you have this lifestyle, there are generally very few places where you can have as many choices in Bali.

Who might dislike Ubud?

Ubud is certainly nice, but not perfect for everyone. Here's what you'd better know.

Those seeking absolute tranquility, avoid the center of Ubud

If you imagine Ubud as a small village perched in the jungle, you'll need to come back down to earth or prepare for a big disappointment!

The center of Ubud is very touristy and therefore commercial, modern, and regularly crowded. If this is not your cup of tea, do not book a hotel in the center and you should be fine.

But beware, if you are far from the center, you will need transportation as distances can quickly become long in Ubud.

If you're looking to party, you're in the wrong place

Conversely, if you're looking to party, Ubud is not exactly the ideal place.

Sure, you can still have a beer and even dance in a bar, a restaurant, or even attend a concert. It's not completely dead either.

But there are no nightclubs per se, nor beach clubs with your feet in the sand similar to what you can find in the South.

That being said, you also have these somewhat strange alcohol-free yogi parties in the middle of the jungle near Ubud where people dance with a blissful smile... Probably an overdose of meditation.

If you're allergic to bohemians, hippies, vegans, and yogis, avoid Ubud expats

Yes, Ubud is a bit hippie and a bit bohemian, at least on the expats side. It's amusing for some, irritating for others... Whatever you think, there are some interesting characters in the Ubud expat community.

If that can reassure you, many locals in Ubud also have an artistic or artisan soul, but they seem much less inclined to be eccentric.

Conclusion

Ubud is an almost mandatory stop for most people holidaying in Bali.

The city is a real haven for artists, restaurants of all kinds, green landscapes and colorful characters.

Ubud is also an important place in Balinese culture, and a city that has retained a certain authenticity deeply rooted in Balinese traditions.

Being located in the center of the island, you are always on the way to something, and it is a perfect stop between South and North Bali, or even between West and East.

For (future) expatriates, Ubud is also undoubtedly one of the areas to explore attentively.

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