The mention of Bali evokes images of white sand beaches and clear blue water. It’s true: This tiny island is a tropical paradise. But it’s not just for travelers looking to plop their lounge chair in the sand and drift away to the sound of lapping waves. There are myriad different things to do in Bali.
Bali has something for everyone, from culture seekers and nature lovers to adventure addicts (and yes, even those beach loungers). There are volcanoes, forests, museums, ancient temples, beachside bungalows, high class restaurants, markets, and more.
Whatever your definition of paradise entails, you can likely find it on this tiny Indonesian island. Here are some of our top picks for Bali’s can’t-miss attractions and activities…
1. Visit the Ubud Art Market
Ubud is the cultural epicenter of Bali, and it’s the perfect place to explore the vibrant arts and crafts that are created here. Locally known as Pasar Seni Ubud, the Ubud Art Market is located directly across from the Puri Saren Royal Ubud Palace.
Peruse colorful aisles of silk scarves, handmade bags, statues, baskets, kites, and more. Chat with the vendors and you’ll discover that most of them are from neighboring villages.
There is so much creativity to explore here, and the options can be overwhelming. But the experience of shopping and haggling with the local artists will expose you to the friendly nature and abundant talent of the Balinese people. It’s also the perfect place to pick up some unique souvenirs.
2. Learn the Legong Dance
The intricate hand movements and footwork might look a little intimidating at first. But learning this traditional Balinese dance can be a unique and enjoyable experience, even if you have two left feet.
Legong dance originated as royal entertainment in the 19th century. The performances tell traditional stories, like the tale of the King of Lasem. A series of romances and acts of heroism make this a drama fit for primetime, but they’re told beautifully through the more intimate nature of dance.
Participants in Discover Corps’ Island of Inspiration tour of Bali will have a chance to try their hands and feet at Legong.
Song and dance is a coveted aspect of Balinese culture, combining their passion for the arts with their deep respect for history. Whether you’re learning or simply watching Legong (or other traditional Balinese dances), you’ll feel more intimately connected to the local culture after this experience.
3. Explore sacred temples
There are over 10,000 temples in Bali, so you don’t have to wander far to stumble upon them during your visit. But their abundance doesn’t detract from the impressive aesthetic and cultural significance of these sacred places.
Pura Besakih is considered “The Mother Temple.” It’s a sprawling complex that’s comprised of over 23 separate temples. The eruption of the Gunung Agung volcano in 1963 nearly wiped this place out. But perhaps it was protected by its holy nature, as the lava flow missed it by mere yards. Pura Besakih is located in East Bali and is accessible from Ubud.
Tanah Lot is another one of Bali’s most recognizable landmarks. The temple is perched on an outcropping of rocks in the water, surrounded by the azure ocean. Centuries of crashing waves once threatened the temple’s structure, but preservation efforts have ensured that it will remain intact for all to enjoy. The waves make it unreachable at high tide, so plan your visit accordingly.
Other popular temples to explore include Pura Gunung Kawi, Tirta Empul, and Goa Gajah. Temples in Bali vary widely in size and scope, so some preliminary research on how to best tour the sacred sites is recommended.
4. Photograph the Tegallalang rice paddies
The sprawling green terraces of rice paddies are another iconic sight in Bali.
To balance out the time you spend indoors, touring the temples, a visit to Bali’s ice paddies is a must. The traditional Balinese irrigation system was passed down from the 8th century by a holy man named Rsi Markandeya, making them an ancient piece of both culture and agricultural infrastructure.
The Tegallalang rice paddies are a unique Balinese attraction, which you can explore by foot and enjoy the endless sea of green. They can be reached by a 20-minute drive from Ubud.
5. Splurge on seafood in Jimbaran
Once upon a time, Jimbaran was a sleepy fishing town. Today it’s the site of some of the most luxurious resorts in Bali.
But you don’t have to be staying at the most expensive accommodations to enjoy the fresh seafood that’s available here. A dinner paired with a sunset over the water is the Balinese scene of your dreams. Whether you’re on a romantic getaway or just looking for a nice meal for your family, Jimbaran is a stunning beach location for dining and relaxing.
Of course, the stunning view makes this a popular spot for both sunset and dinner, so if you’re trying to combine the two, arrive early to snag a table.
6. Surf at Kuta Beach
Excellent waves and welcoming locals make Bali one of the most popular destinations in all of Asia to hang-ten. It’s also a great place for beginners to learn how to pop up on a board for the first time!
Every adventurous traveler to Bali must get in on the surfing action, and Kuta Beach offers the perfect place to do it.
The silky sand and soft tide draw in everyone from experienced surfers to beginners and mere on-lookers. The proximity to the popular nightlife of Legian makes Kuta Beach an excellent destination for visiting surfers.
7. Watch the sunset from Mount Bakur
Mount Bakur is a 1700-meter, active volcano. The words “active volcano” might not sound particularly welcoming, but Mount Bakur is home to the most popular trek in Bali. (It hasn’t errupted since 1880.)
The sunrise climb is particularly popular for beginning trekkers. The easy route and the rewarding view make this well-worth an early morning rise. The hike to the summit is often done in the dark, in order to beat the rising sun. So you’ll need headlamps and flashlights to safely make it to the top!
It only takes about 2-3 hours to reach the top of Mount Bakur, where you’ll greet the day with the heart-melting glow of sun climbing above the horizon. –Britany Robinson
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, The Daily Dot and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes.