Bali: what to see and do. Relaxation, beaches, yoga and surfing on a lush, chilled-out tropical island

Ubud Bali, Vitality Detox Retreat
Ubud Bali, Vitality Detox Retreat

Spiritual nirvana, surfer’s paradise, cultural haven: Bali has long been known for its tropical climate and stunning beaches, but in recent times its lush tropical interior has also attracted its fair share of the attention. With miles of coastline, kaleidoscopic waters and chilled-out vibes, it’s easy to see why people flock to this beach paradise.

Dreamland beach, Bali. photo Bali Tourism Board 620
Dreamland beach, Bali. Feature image via Ultimate Bali.

For those after peace and quiet, idyllic spots like Balian beach in the west and Amed in the east are good contenders. If it’s something more lively you’re looking for, then there’s plenty of that on offer in hotspots such as Seminyak and Kuta in the south.

The south also has some of the island’s best beaches, although they are also the busiest. Beaches in the north and west are less well-trodden and a little harder to reach, but there is some excellent diving and snorkelling on offer if you make the journey.

What to do
Bali rice field terraces Flickr Christopher Chan. 620
Make time to visit Bali’s rice field terraces

Bali is a small island, so wherever you choose to stay you’ll be able to take day trips to plenty of places of interest. A visit to the interior’s rice paddies and volcanoes is a must and some of the latter offer good opportunities for climbing, particularly Mount Agung.

Yoga is hugely popular in Bali, particularly in Ubud, and there are lots of meditation and spiritual centres around too.

If you’ve got enough time, visit the nearby island of Nusa Lembongan or one of the Gili Islands slightly further afield. Both can be reached by boat, although if you visit the Gilis you’ll need to stay at least one night.

Where to stay
Aerial-Views-of-Hanging-Gardens-Ubud-Bali-Indonesia 620
Aerial view of the Hanging Gardens Ubud

Bali has hundreds of five-star hotels, as well as lots of cheaper options. In Seminyak, The Legian is a good choice if you’re after a traditional hotel, while One Eleven provides a luxurious adults-only private villa experience.

For those wanting to get away from it all, the forest hideaway setting of the Hanging Gardens Ubud, about 30 minutes from Ubud, is a perfect choice.

Where to eat

The island is home to some world-class eateries: The Solata, fronted by Michelin-starred chef Ezio Gritti, in Seminyak and Mozaic in Ubud are among the most revered. But don’t miss out on the experience of eating with the locals at a night market or warung. Nasi Ayam Kedewatan and Warung Teges are two popular options in Ubud.

One eleven Villa 620
A luxurious villa at One Eleven
Getting around

It’s possible to rent a car, but traffic and road conditions can be challenging. Finding your way around can also be difficult due to a lack of signposting. It’s far simpler to take taxis or hire a private driver for longer distances – ask your hotel for info. For short jaunts along beach roads there are also shared taxis, but make sure you negotiate the price before you get in.

When to go

The best time to visit Bali is during the dry months between May and September. July and August are busiest, but outside these peak months you can find good deals and accommodation is easier to secure. November to April is rainy season, although this can still be a pleasant time to visit as it often only rains for short bursts in the afternoon.

Bali. Mount Batur active volcano. Flickr Hadi Zaher 620
Active volcano Mount Batur, one of the island’s many mountains
 Three things we like
  • Unlike some other South East Asian destinations, where locals are a rare sight on the beach, in Bali the beach is a big part of local life and you’ll see a lot of Balinese families making a day of it there, as well as putting out their daily offerings to the gods.
  • Be sure to try gado gado, a local specialty that combines tempeh, tofu, egg, salad and peanut sauce.
  • Massages on the beach. From local women setting up covered massage tables on the sand to posh hotels with spas that overlook the beach, Bali is fantastic place to spa and relax.
Bali. Inonesia. Unsplash Patrick Schoepflin
Visit one of the many temples on the island
 Something we don’t like

During rainy season beaches in the south-west turn into rubbish dumps, with winds blowing plastic bags and other detritus into shore. Beaches on the eastern side of the island are better picks at this time of year.

Don’t miss

Bike tours are a great way to explore the island and visit local homes and farms. Helpfully, many are specially designed to ensure most of the journey is downhill.

The wreck of a US cargo ship sunk in WWII is just 50m from the shore in Tulamben, and while it’s a popular dive site, it’s also possible to just swim out with a snorkel and have a look.

The Balinese have developed a number of unique dance styles and catching a show is a must for travellers. Kecak, a male dance where dancers chant and imitate monkeys, and Legong, which features women carrying out intricate hand movements, are among the most popular.

High50 insider tips
  • The monkeys in Bali’s monkey forests are very cute but be careful what you carry with you as they can be quite mischievous and especially love to grab plastic bags from visitors.
  • Many areas of Bali have a confusing array of alleys and backstreets (which they call gangs) with similar names and finding an address can be tricky if you don’t set off with directions from the nearest main road.
  • Traffic is a problem in built-up areas of Bali, particularly given the lack of traffic lights and give way/stop signs. On some roads turning across traffic into a side street can therefore take a very long time. It’s often worth walking a couple of blocks to a road where you can hop in a cab heading in the right direction to save time.
Bali. Unique Balinese dance. Flickr Patrik M Loeff 620
Unique and graceful Balinese dancing
Travelling with family

If you’re travelling with children, the popular resort of Sanur is a good choice as it offers loads of activities and plenty of food and accommodation options, but without the raucous party vibe of places like Kuta. There’s also a kite festival that is held each July just a couple of kilometres away.

Need to know
  • Flying time is about 16-18 hours, depending on connections. Because there are no direct flights from the UK to Denpasar, you’ll have to make at least one connection to get there.
  • The airport is about 10km from Seminyak. A taxi stand sells fixed price taxis to all areas just outside the arrivals hall.
  • Bali uses two-pin round electricity sockets.
  • Time difference is eight hours ahead (GMT +8) all year round.
  • The currency is the Indonesian Rupiah.
  • You don’t need a visa to visit Bali if you’re a British national and your trip is less than 30 days, so long as your visit is only for tourism purposes.
  • Rabies is a problem in Bali and while cases among tourists are rare, it’s wise to avoid stray dogs and consider vaccination against the fatal disease.
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