The top things to do in Bali – famous tourist attractions – bring sights of romantic honeymoons and exotic escapes. So unique is this island that some travelers think it is an independent country.
But Bali is part of Indonesia: a kaleidoscope of tribal cultures and fascinating history. You won’t believe the different things to do in Indonesia.
Unlike the Muslim majority of the country, most Balinese practice a unique version of Hinduism.
Its religious background certainly set the stage for the development of a contrasting subculture…
As early as the 16th century, the arrival of the Dutch and other colonial powers cemented Bali’s position as a popular tourist destination in the Indonesian archipelago.
With little colonial interference, the Balinese thrived.
Better yet? The island became an example of cultural preservation despite tourism growth throughout the centuries.
Dive into this unique heritage by visiting Bali’s top attractions and some noteworthy off-the-beaten-path sites – as recommended by a traveler who lived nearby.
Bali’s Most Popular Attractions
Ubud: Bali’s cultural center
Many claim Ubud has grown into a fake, hippie town with artsy boutiques, vegetarian restaurants, and Westernized yoga studios.
Dig deeper, though, and you’ll find the cultural epicenter of the island — in addition to unparalleled natural beauty.
Rent a scooter and drive by local artisan shops, Balinese-Hindu temples, and the greenest, most expansive rice paddies you’ve ever seen in your life.
My favorite things to do in Ubud include:
- Admiring Balinese art works at Puri Lukisan Museum
- Getting lost among the Tegalalang Rice Terraces
- Night performance of a traditional ritual at Ubud Palace
- Watch playful monkeys along sacred lands at the Monkey Forest Sanctuary
- Sunset down the Campuhan Ridge Walk or Kajeng Rice Fields Walk
Temple and beach hopping on a scooter
This is one the best things to do in Bali! After catching a glimpse of Bali’s culture, continue your scooter road trip along the coast.
You’ll find several ‘pura-pura’ and beaches — some which are sprinkled outside main tourist areas.
Some of Bali’s most popular beaches include:
- Nusa Dua for five-star golf courses and resorts
- Jimbaran Bay for local markets and white sand beaches
- Seminyak Beach for hip restaurants, pool clubs and bars
When it comes to Bali’s popular temples, the following stand out:
- Tirta Empul, a holy water spring and Hindu temple
- Ulun Danu Bratan, floating by a majestic volcanic lake
- Tanah Lot, amid angry waves, by an equally-spectacular viewpoint
- Ulu Watu, hanging precariously over a cliff, offers panoramic ocean views & surfing beach below
- Mount Kawi, carved into the rock face and nearly swallowed by the surrounding jungle
Learning how to surf in Kuta or Padma Beach
Many purists equal Kuta with everything that’s wrong with the island.
Yet, Kuta beach still tops most “things to do in Bali” lists.
While I agree that the town is a debauchery fest due to its feisty nightlife, its beaches are great to learn how to surf.
Better yet? It’s very close to the airport, making it a good pitstop before or after your trip.
Another alternative is to head to nearby Padma Beach. The shore is more beautiful and its vibe way more chill — filled with friendly locals and expats.
Grab a longboard and ride the long, gentle swells.
Beginners should avoid these beaches before and/or after a storm, as swells are dangerous
Diving with huge manta rays and mola-molas
If you’ve been to Bali before or are planning an extended trip, I highly recommend taking a short ferry ride and spending some time at one of its next-door neighbors. When you think of the top things to do in Bali you certainly won’t see this listed anywhere.
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida are outstanding tourist destinations in their own right.
Nusa Lembongan is better established, with some resorts, local inns, and restaurants that cater tourists.
Nusa Penida, on the other hand, is a diamond in the rough. Wild, untouched, and boasting some of the most unique dive sites in Indonesia.
How come? Well, despite the tropical weather, you can dive with mola-molas and huge manta rays!
Microclimates and strong cold currents make the surrounding seas a perfect feeding ground for these and other formidable creatures.
The best dive sites in the area include:
- Mangrove Point: thrilling drift for both snorkelers and divers. Whale sharks territory, too! Definitely one of Nusa Lembongan’s top attractions
- Manta Point: Nusa Penida’s biggest draw, attracting huge manta rays year-round
- Crystal Bay: main mola-mola territory! Sunfish spotting most likely between August and October
- Blue Corner: gorgeous variety of coral and crazy currents here, so only advanced divers need apply. Marble rays, bamboo and white tip sharks — even schools of dolphins typically spotted as well
I personally based myself at Nusa Lembongan for 3 days, after spending a week in Bali proper.
As most reputable dive shops are located in Nusa Lembongan, it is best to base yourself there if you plan to go diving in Nusa Penida. I personally recommend Dive Concepts.
If you’re seeking a rustic, off-the-beaten-path place though, you should totally stay at Penida!
Other Unique Things to Do in Bali
Looking for off-the-beaten-path attractions in Bali? Head north! These unique things to do will force you to explore parts of the island few tourists ever step foot on.
Secluded yoga retreat off Ubud
One of my most memorable Bali experiences? A 4-day Blooming Lotus Yoga retreat in Ubud.
Ubud Corner 88 Villas, located just a few kilometers off the main town, is a luxurious, yet simple oasis.
Here, I rediscovered myself — and health.
I never thought a strictly (yet delicious!) vegetarian diet, daily meditation, and gentle movements could be so transformative.
The mix of feelings and sense of peace I experienced at this place are hard to describe. You must experience it yourself.
Diving the virgin coasts of Amed, Seraya, and Tulamben
Another unique thing to do in Bali is paying a visit to the unspoiled East Coast.
It’s like South Bali used to be 20 years ago. Or more.
Particularly magical is Amed — a low-key village sprinkled with dormant volcanoes, black sand beaches, and colorful marine life.
I personally stayed on its outskirts at the Puri Wirata Dive Resort and Villas and wow — what a change from Southern Bali!
From there, I easily explored Seraya and Tulamben as well — acclaimed for their world-class diving.
Speaking of which, the diving in East Bali is some of the most unique I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.
Colorful corals, pelagics, and tiny, bizarre creatures — all against a black sand backdrop.
And shipwrecks? Oh, they got those too!
Some can’t miss sites include:
- Lipa Beach: shark fest! They are everywhere: babies, mamas, adults. White, silver tip
- USAT Liberty Wreck: swim inside a sunken warship, alongside huge turtles and bumphead parrotfish
- Jemeluk Beach Underwater Museum: unique sculptures have been sunk here in order to create an interesting artificial reef. Among them? Greek gods, Buddha, Jesus Christ, and even the Virgin Mary!
Unique works at the Don Antonio Blanco Museum
Overseen by most Ubud visitors is the fascinating Don Antonio Blanco Museum.
The former studio of one of Bali’s most successful artists showcases a rare mix of Balinese and Spanish art.
Mr. Blanco emigrated from Spain — and his flamboyant Catalan charisma is eminent in every corner of his creative space.
Beautiful women portraits, litographs, and other masterpieces will sure spice up your trip to Bali.
Stairway to heaven at Pura Lempuyang
Last, but definitely not least, of my recommendations is the towering Pura Lempuyang.
The multi-level complex affords panoramic views of nearby volcanoes; while giving you the feeling of being hugged by the ocean.
It comprises 7 main structures and can be explored properly between 2-3 hours.
Make sure you climb to the very top of the main temple for the best views!