Sandalwood incense scents the humid air as we cycle under curving arcs of bamboo decorations interwoven with frangipani and palm leaf.
The 12-foot-tall flowered decorations wave like flags at every street corner of every village we pedal through.
Villagers are heading to their local temples.
Women in rainbow-hued skirts and white lace blouses gracefully balance baskets of fruit and flower offerings on their heads.
Men, resplendent in loose white tunics, ride by on scooters.
Spoiler alert! 15 Fabulous things to do in Bali
5) Monkey around in the Monkey Forest
6) Visit some of the top beaches in Bali
7) Explore Bali’s abandoned airplanes
8) Hop on a bicycle for a ride
11) Browse an Ubud art gallery or museum
12) Party at a Seminyak beach club
13) Stroll through the Tegalalang rice terrace
14) Savor a seafood dinner at a Jimbaran Beach restaurant
We’re a bit off the tourist track, bicycling from our hotel, the Soori Bali, on Bali’s southwest coast.
And we feel so lucky we happen to be visiting Bali during the lavish Galungan festival. Because experiencing this festival is one of the best things to do in Bali!
If you hesitate to visit Bali because you think it’s become too touristy, hesitate no further.
The “island of the Gods” is still very special.
We discovered many fun things to do and beautiful places to visit in Bali on our six-week visit.
Fun things to do in Bali
Bali and its friendly people have fascinated visitors ever since European artists first made this once-remote tropical island world-famous in the 1930’s.
What to do in Bali today?
Sporty types come for its epic surfing and scuba-diving.
Luxury devotees are lured by its five-star resorts and awesome spas – can you say “indulgence”?
The Kuta Beach area, shunned by many as over-crowded and noisy, is sought out by others for its miles-long beach and throbbing nightlife.
Yoga fans find mantra heaven gazing out over Bali’s terraced rice paddies.
And then there’s Bali’s traditional village life, art, dance and festivals.
The island’s unique culture valuing balance, beauty and harmony is a chief attraction.
When we return to Bali (and we will!), it’s the Balinese culture that will lure us back.
(Oh, and we can’t lie, the fabulous luxury resorts too are a huge draw too…)
Ready now to explore in detail 15 of the best things to do in Bali?
1) Experience a Bali festival
Let’s start with one of our favorite experiences – enjoying the Galungan festival.
Galungan is one of the most important religious Bali ceremonies for Balinese Hindus. It celebrates the triumph of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma).
Spirits of ancestors are believed to return to earth to visit their former homes, and people say prayers, make offerings and perform rituals to welcome them back.
The 10-day celebration takes place every 210 days according to the Balinese pawukon calendar, so there may sometimes be two festivals in one solar year.
On the 10th day, Kuningan, the spirits are believed to rise back to heaven.
Preparations before Galungan traditionally include slaughtering pigs for communal feasts.
It’s a big holiday for families (schools are closed and employees are supposed to get time off).
When we bicycled through the secluded village during Galungan, children were everywhere.
And everyone greeted us with face-splitting smiles and a cheerful “Good morning!”
If you visit during the Galungan festival, soak it all up!
Other festivals in Bali?
Here are some other top Bali festivals:
Nusa Dua Fiesta:
This week-long Bali festival, held annually since 1996, is usually scheduled for September or October. Art exhibitions, cultural performances and sporting events take place in different venues throughout the luxury beach resort of Nusa Dua.
Bali Arts Festival:
The Bali Arts Festival is a major annual cultural event that kicks off with a grand parade, starting the second Saturday of June and continuing for a month through to mid-July.
Daily performances include shadow puppetry shows, art viewings and traditional Bali dances. The Taman Werdhi Budaya Arts Center in Denpasar is the main venue.
Bali Spirit Festival:
Interested in a week of yoga, meditation, dance and mind-body healing practices?
Then check out the Bali Spirit Festival, one of the largest yoga festivals in Asia, held in Ubud each year, usually in spring.
2) Enjoy the Bali culture
Don’t worry, though, if your visit doesn’t coincide with one of Bali’s festivals.
Beautiful Balinese traditions – infused by beliefs that spirits inhabit the sacred mountains, trees, animals and all living things – are embedded in daily life.
You encounter temples everywhere.
They dot the landscape, gracing every village and family compound, with many more shrines to boot.
In tiny hand-made palm baskets, offerings of plumeria blossoms, rice and burning incense (sometimes even a cigarette or two to keep the spirits extra happy) – sprinkled and blessed with holy water – are placed in front of every temple, dwelling and shop each morning.
3) Get thee to Ubud
Located inland in lush rainforest, Ubud is Bali’s cultural heart.
Remember Eat Pray Love? Publicized by the romantic flick starring Julia Roberts, Ubud town now buzzes with activity.
Locals zip by on scooters along Ubud’s narrow, winding cobblestone streets.
International visitors throng its designer boutiques, open-air craft markets, antique shops and art galleries.
They gawk too at the host of yoga, meditation and healing arts options on offer, and like us, stop in at little coffee shops, funky warungs (modest eateries) and charming garden restaurants serving up exquisite Indonesian delicacies.
But as “discovered” as it is, Ubud is still the best place to experience how the Balinese way of life is beautifully expressed in dance and music, in stone carvings and paintings, and in temple feasts and festive ceremonies.
You can’t visit Bali and not spend time in Ubud. It’s one of the best places to go in Bali – perhaps even the best!
4) Watch Balinese dance
Our first evening in Ubud, we happened upon a dance performance that was about to begin at the Ubud Palace.
We quickly bought tickets and sat down.
Under a starlit sky, two young women performed the classic “Legong” dance, accompanied by a gamelan orchestra’s xylophone rhythms.
Wearing gold bodices and elaborate flower-adorned headdresses, they fluttered their fingers, darted their black-rimmed eyes back and forth, and gracefully contorted their bodies, all in perfect stylized sync.
Then a whole cast of actors in glittering costumes and ogre masks, including girls dressed as golden deer, enacted the Hindu “Ramayana” love epic.
We were so enthralled that over the next few evenings, we took in several other performances during our stay in Ubud.
This included the “Barong” lion dance and the “Kecak” (performed at a different venue), where 100 men chanted in a trance-like state and a fire-walker in a horse costume danced barefoot on blazing coconut husks.
Dance performances at Ubud Palace
Shows usually start around 7:30 pm.
Get there early to snag a seat.
The cost is around 100,000 Indonesian rupiahs (about $7 USD).
Many hotels in Bali also offer Bali dance performances.
But the shows in Ubud somehow seem more authentic.
5) Monkey around in the Ubud Monkey Forest
One of the other top things to do in Ubud is to visit Ubud’s Monkey Forest sanctuary.
Here, in a protected forest reserve on the edge of town, over 550 macaque monkeys scamper about three 11th-century holy temples.
The tiny almost-hairless babies suckling from their mothers are especially adorable!
We heard lots of laughter as monkeys jumped up on people who had brought them bananas. (Good idea? Maybe not…)
Shutters clicked continuously as people snapped photos of the long-tailed felons.
6) Visit some of the best beaches in Bali
What about Bali’s beaches?
Nusa Dua beaches:
Some of the best beaches in Bali for swimming are found on the Bukit peninsula in the Nusa Dua area.
A planned five-star resort community, Nusa Dua boasts long stretches of white sand beaches, with clear calm water where you can swim.
Many luxury resorts like the St. Regis, Westin and Melia have beach chairs and umbrellas set up on the beach or on the manicured lawns in front of their resort.
There are also private private beach clubs for smaller boutique hotels like Kayumanis Nusa Dua.
While the Nusa Dua beaches aren’t private, these resorts are pretty exclusive. Hotel chairs and umbrellas are only for hotel guests.
However, Geger Beach in Nusa Dua is public (it’s next to the St. Regis Bali Resort).
You can rent sunbeds there for the day. A handful of local restaurants will also deliver food and drinks to you under your umbrella.
Other Bali beaches:
Of course, there are also beaches in other popular Bali resort areas like Seminyak and Kuta.
In truth, though, these were too crowded or littered for our tastes – the beaches weren’t the reason we visited Bali anyway.
But we did like retreating to a couple of luxurious home-away-from-home villas in Seminyak – the WiFi was super fast and it was great to catch up on emails!
7) Explore the abandoned airplanes in Bali
Okay, so this is definitely one for the list of unique things to do in Bali.
For some strange reason, the island has a few abandoned airplanes lying around.
And as weird as it may seem, they make for interesting (definitely odd) tourist attractions in Bali.
The most popular airplane lies abandoned in a field on the Bukit Peninsula, near Pandawa Beach on Bali’s south coast. No one knows how this Boeing 737 got there.
Here’s its Google location.
(It’s on private property, but you can climb up on some containers abutting one side of the field for an aerial view.)
8) Go for a bike ride
Bicycling in Bali on the roads can be a bit hair-raising.
The roads weren’t built for both cars and bicycles, and there are few dedicated cycling paths.
But there’s still some great pedaling to be had!
Biking the rice fields:
Spending half a day two-wheeling through the rice paddies around Ubud is popular.
Several companies offer Ubud bike tours, like this easy downhill bike tour from the slopes of Kintamani volcano through the famous rice terraces and on into Ubud.
This best-selling bike tour combines the rice fields with exploring Bali’s rural countryside and the traditional village of Penglipuran.
Cycling Nusa Dua:
A lovely stone beachfront path in Nusa Dua is also perfect for bicycling (you share with pedestrians).
As we cycled along, Nusa Dua reminded us a little of a fancy Hawaii resort area – only more exotic with its stone statues of Garuda sun birds and Hindu gods guarding beach resort entrances.
At sunset, we reached a public park with huge Ramayana stone statues, where locals and tourists alike were strolling and jogging.
The bicycle-and-pedestrian path has recently been extended.
It now stretches from Nusa Dua Beach up to the Tanjung Benoa peninsula – passing the Melia Bali and Club Med Bali.
If you’re staying in Nusa Dua, your hotel can help arrange bikes for you; some hotels even offer free bike rentals for a couple of hours.
9) Go surfing in Bali (or learn how to surf)
Surfing is legendary in Bali; the peak surfing season is May to September.
Some of the top surfing spots on the island are found on the Bukit peninsula on Bali’s southern coast. It was surfers who first discovered this beautiful, arid, teardrop-shaped piece of land (Bukit to its friends).
For big fast surfing waves, head to Uluwatu Beach right under the cliff-hanging Uluwatu Temple, one of Bali’s oldest temples.
Kuta Beach is good for both beginners and experts.
Many surf schools offer lessons, and you can rent boards if you didn’t bring your own. Kuta’s waves are good to surf from March to November.
10) Eat great food in Ubud
Want to bite into some really good food?
The food scene is terrific in Ubud, which is home to some of the best restaurants in Bali.
You’ll be spoiled for choice. Think everything from garden cafés and juice bars to smart hotel restaurants. The gamut of cuisines ranges from French to Mexican to Indonesian (of course!).
If you like your food healthy, many places to eat in Ubud dish up wholesome plates, including vegan, vegetarian and raw food options.
11) Visit an art gallery or museum
Balinese art is beautiful and quite special.
Growing rice on the island traditionally allowed the Balinese plenty of spare time, so painting became part of daily life.
Ubud art galleries:
Ubud, as the cultural hot spot, is the place to browse and buy Balinese paintings.
Ubud art galleries are chock-full of Balinese artworks – original oils and acrylics lean in thick stacks against gallery walls.
We were sorely tempted by an enormous impressionist-style oil painting. But while it could have been rolled in a tube for transport, we don’t have a wall in our house large enough to display it!
Out in the countryside, simple artist-owned stalls sell original art works in a wide range of styles – paintings, drawings, sculpture, wood carvings, even intricately painted eggs and masks hand-carved from bamboo.
Much of it is good and cheaper than in Ubud’s galleries (some original works go for as little as $100 USD).
Neka Art Museum:
Keen on the art, we also spent many enjoyable hours at the Neka Art Museum, just a short distance from the center of Ubud.
It houses more than 400 Indonesian works of art in a cluster of colonial buildings.
The history of Balinese art is laid out here, from traditional “Wayang-style” paintings (based on old-time shadow puppet plays) onward.
Some later styles were inspired by Bali-mad European artists like Walter Spies and Adrien LeMayeur – lured to Bali in the 1900s by the beauty of Bali and its people.
The museum’s collection of ceremonial knives and kris daggers and swords is also interesting.
Visiting the Neka Art Museum
Location: Raya Campuhan Street, Ubud
Hours: Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm; Sundays from noon to 5 pm
Cost: 75,000 Rp (about $5.30 USD)
More information: See the museum’s website
12) Party at a beach club in Seminyak
We confess – we’re not too much into partying.
But we did have fun watching the sun set and noshing on appies at the Potato Head Beach Club. Definitely a scene! (The club attracts international DJs and celebs.)
Several beach clubs in Seminyak offer good times, ocean views, swimming pools and killer cocktails.
You can easily while the day away at one of these – lounging on a sunbed, swimming, eating, drinking and listening to cool tunes.
Seminyak beach clubs get the most ink.
But other fun clubs for spending the day by the beach can also be found in Uluwatu, Jimbaran and Legian.
13) Stroll through the Tegalalang rice fields
One of the most visited tourist attractions in Ubud is the Tegalalang rice terrace – a series of rice fields spreading out on tiered terraces, about a 20 minute drive north of Ubud.
These rice paddies are lush, green and gorgous! Perfect for an early morning stroll and to snap some Insta-worthy photos.
The Jatiluwih rice terraces in Tabanan, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are also stunning, but a little harder to get to.
14) Savor dinner at a Jimbaran seafood restaurant
The long white-sand beach at Jimbaran Bay is the place to head for a seafood dinner at sunset.
A string of at least 30 restaurants have wooden tables and chairs set out in the sand on the beach.
Pick one, plonk yourself down and munch on delicious grilled prawns, calamari, snapper and other just-caught seafood – with your toes in the sand, of course.
You can order lobster too, but that will set you back a few more Indonesian rupiahs than other items.
Don’t fuss too much over which Jimbaran Beach restaurant is better than the other – they all cost roughly the same and have similar menus.
Just be sure to get there at sunset! The sunset views are really quite magical.
15) Indulge in a Balinese massage
Balinese massage uses a combination of thumb and fist pressure, long kneading strokes and gentle stretching to create waves of relaxation.
Massage costs are far less than in North America, and many spas top the pleasure meter with luxurious add-ons.
Take the Sacred River Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan (near Ubud) – one of the best spas in Ubud – where we crossed lotus ponds to reach a private indoor/outdoor spa villa for our couples treatment.
After our feet were gently cleaned and perfumed, we were rubbed with a warm poppy and rose oil scrub.
Then we luxuriated in an outdoor bath strewn with rose petals, while served a soothing rose elixir. A deliciously skilful massage followed.
Talk about 150 minutes of bliss!
And after biking through the Galungan-festive villages from the Soori Bali, we were ready for our “Balinese Beauty Ritual” in the hotel’s candlelit, black marble Soori Spa.
First came the massage. Next we were slathered with a body mask of ginger, cinnamon and rice, then wrapped up like mummies and pampered with facials.
Our skin felt so soft afterward that we acted like honeymooners who couldn’t stop touching each other.
So, do be sure to book a treatment at a Bali spa.
Better still, book two! The spas in Bali are quite decadent.
Most special Bali activities?
Still for us, it was the festivals that really captured our hearts (and the welcoming spirit of the Balinese).
There always seemed to be something to celebrate with a merry feast or the banging of cymbals during a noisy parade or procession.
The festivals truly are one of the most special things to see in Bali.
One day walking to Sayan village near Ubud, we stumbled across preparations for an evening temple festival.
Men huddled in groups over charcoal fires in the ground, chattering away as they grilled bamboo skewers wrapped with shredded pork, ginger and coconut.
They invited us to share some – delicious! Women weaved palm leaf baskets for offerings, which they pinned in shape with bamboo slivers and filled with flower petals.
It was all so peaceful, so happy, so serene that we were hard-pressed to tear ourselves away and return to our own lives.
Now you know what to do in Bali!
Have you visited Bali? What did you enjoy most about Bali? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Where to stay in Bali?
Ahhh, there are so many gorgeous places…
We’ve personally stayed at and reviewed many of the best luxury Bali hotels and resorts.
Get the Bali travel guides
See these books and guides on Bali, available on Amazon. (As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)
If you visit Bali
How to get to Bali:
Cathay Pacific, EVA Air and other airlines fly to Denpasar, Bali, via Hong Kong or Taipei (flights from North America are as low as $900 USD). We flew on EVA Air and were quite impressed with the airline.
Getting to Ubud:
Most resorts arrange airport transfers, and luxury hotels around Ubud offer complimentary shuttle service to Ubud town.
Exploring Bali off-the-beaten-path:
Next time we go, there are other places to visit in bali that we’d like to explore – some of Bali’s hidden gems, like Lovina on the north coast and Amed on the northeast coast.
When to go:
The best time to visit Bali is the dry season from April to October.
More Asia travel inspiration!
Yangon (Myanmar) | Check out these 25 fun facts about Yangon. (The Shwedagon Pagoda isn’t the biggest in Myanmar.)
Thailand | From gilded temples to postcard-perfect beaches, there are many beautiful and exotic places to visit in Thailand.
Osaka (Japan) | Is Osaka worth visiting? What you’ll miss if you don’t go.
Sri Lanka | Climb the UNESCO rock temple of Sigiriya. Snooze under waving palms on a beach. Roam the fort city of Galle. For an epic Sri Lanka holiday, see our two-week Sri Lanka itinerary.
Our top travel tips and resources
Here are our favorite travel resources:
Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)
Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).
Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out GetYourGuide and Viator.
Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.
Travel insurance: World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, with coverage for more than 150 activities, as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
Vaccines and meds: We follow CDC travel guidelines to see what medications and vaccines are needed for trips. You can get vaccines at your pharmacy, travel medical clinic or doctor’s office.
Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)
Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.
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Photo credits: 2, 7 to 13, 16, 17, 23, 29, 30, 31 and 37 to 39 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase
About the authors
Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.
Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!
Wednesday 1st of May 2019
A very nice post about Bali with good recommendations for future visitors. If you return and make it the north coast, consider staying at The Damai, or at the far west end, consider a few days in the West Bali National Park at Plataran Menjangan. You were very near our home when you were at Soori – an excellent choice to see the remote luxury Bali can offer away from the crowds that can often fill Kuta, Seminyak or Ubud.
Janice and George
Wednesday 1st of May 2019
Hi James, Ahhh, so you live in a beautiful area of Bali :-). Lucky you! Thanks for the tips. At Plataran Menjangan, we understand that you see deer there as well as monkeys. Sounds delightful...
Wednesday 10th of February 2016
I can't say I'm a fan of the beaches either or the Westernization of Ubud, but this is a great piece that highlights the best of what Bali has to offer and I still loved it. I was completely taken by the cultural warmth, spirituality and natural beauty. On another note, congratulations on winning Silver at NATJA! I'm a big fan of your writing, so well deserved!
Janice and George
Wednesday 10th of February 2016
Thanks so much! We're thrilled to win Silver for the "Best Independent Travel Blog" - still can't quite believe it :-).
Thursday 4th of February 2016
I'm taking my wife to Bali for our anniversary this year and one of the things I am looking forward to the most is the spa experience! Thanks for sharing your things to do list!
Janice and George
Thursday 4th of February 2016
Bali has excellent spas! You're in for a treat :-). Enjoy your anniversary trip...
Tuesday 26th of January 2016
Beautiful, great photos as always. I'd love to see Bali and Ubud would interest me. No interest in Kuta beach and the over-the-top tourist stuff. I was actually curious in the mountains up north as well as some of the beaches on the north coast which seem quite off the tourist track. Ever been?
Beautiful post. Frank (bbqboy)
Janice and George
Tuesday 26th of January 2016
No, we haven't been up to the north coast - but we'd love to visit Lovina and more off-the-beaten-path spots in Bali next time :-).
Tuesday 26th of January 2016
Lovely post! It looks so lush and green there! I think I'd be a bit afraid of the monkeys, but I'd definitely enjoy a Balinese massage and some time on the beach. Glad you enjoyed your time in Bali.
Janice and George
Tuesday 26th of January 2016
You don't have to be afraid of the monkeys :-). There are staff who wander about the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and if they see anyone getting scared because a monkey has climbed up them, they'll shoo off the offending monkey. And so long as you don't take any fruit or wear any earrings or jewelry inside, you're okay.