Explore the cultural heart of Bali with a day trip to Ubud, where ancient sites, lush landscapes, and rich traditions await. Begin your adventure at the historic Goa Gajah and the sacred Pura Tirta Empul, followed by a scenic lunch overlooking the Tegalalang Rice Terraces. The afternoon brings you to lively Ubud with visits to the Monkey Forest and the bustling local market before ending the day with a traditional evening dance performance at Ubud Palace.

Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali, offers myriad experiences that can fill an entire day with adventure, relaxation, and cultural immersion. It's a one-hour drive from the south coast (Denpasar and Sanur area), making it an accessible day trip. Start your day early to beat the traffic, which can add an hour, and enjoy the cooler temperatures, making it more enjoyable to stroll around the temples. 

Morning: Historical & Spiritual Beginnings

Goa Gajah

Bathing temple figures at Goa Gajah

Start your day early with a visit to Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, which dates to the ninth century. Located just outside central Ubud, this archaeological site includes a relic-filled courtyard, rock-wall carvings, a central meditational cave, bathing pools, and fountains. It's a serene place to reflect and admire the ancient Balinese art and architecture.

Pura Tirta Empul

The source spring of the holy water at Pura Tirta Empul

Next, head to Pura Tirta Empul, a water temple famous for its holy spring water. Built around a bubbling spring, this temple is a significant spiritual site where locals and travelers visit for ritual purification. Visitors can join the locals for the purification experience; a temple guide will explain the process and provide sarongs for the ritual. Bathing in the holy waters amid the temple's large, decorative pools and elaborate Balinese sculptures is a unique way to experience Balinese culture.

Lunch: Tegalalang Rice Terraces

Relish the green views over the Tegalalang Rice Terraces

By late morning, make your way to the stunning Tegalalang Rice Terraces. These terraced rice paddies showcase the innovative subak (traditional Balinese cooperative irrigation system) at work. Most of the views of the terraced rice paddies are now part of private restaurants and resorts, so the best way to see some of them is to visit one of the restaurants. Here are three recommended places to consider.

D'Alas Warung

D'Alas Warung offers a genuine Balinese dining experience in a rustic setting surrounded by lush greenery. The restaurant features traditional pavilions with views of the rice fields and a small, serene pool that enhances the relaxing atmosphere. The menu focuses on local dishes made from fresh, organic ingredients. Prices are reasonable, with meals typically ranging from $8 to $15.

Tis Cafe

Tis Cafe is in the center of the Tegalala Rice Terraces and provides sweeping vistas. Its elevated patio offers a spectacular vantage point for coffee or a meal. The café serves international and Indonesian cuisine, catering to various tastes, and an infinity pool to cool off in the middle of the hot day. Meal prices at Tis Cafe are generally moderate, ranging from $10 to $20 per person, making it an excellent spot for a relaxed lunch or a refreshing beverage. (There's a minimum per person requirement to use the pool.)

Cretya Ubud

Cretya Ubud is an upscale venue part of a wellness resort, focusing on healthy, gourmet meals prepared with organic ingredients. The highlight here is the multi-tier infinity pool overlooking the rice terraces, providing a beautiful backdrop for diners. Cretya Ubud is perfect for those seeking a luxurious meal in a wellness-oriented environment. Dining here is pricier, with meals ranging from $15 to $25, reflecting the upscale setting and focus on health and wellness.

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Afternoon: Ubud's Vibrant Center

Monkey Forest

Delight in the playful antics of the local monkeys in Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest

After lunch, drive back to the center of Ubud and visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. This forest is a natural habitat of the long-tailed macaques. Walking through the leafy paths, visitors can observe the monkeys in their natural environment, along with ancient temples covered in moss and draped in banyan tree roots. This is great for kids hoping to see the local animals in the wild. 

Ubud Central Market

Peruse the wares of a market, possibly selecting a souvenir or two

Next, explore the Ubud Central Market, opposite the royal Ubud Palace. It's vibrant with color and bursting with various handicrafts, art, and textiles. This market is the ideal place for picking up souvenirs. Remember to bargain to get the best deals.  

If you're peckish, head to Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka for some famous babi guling, a Balinese-style roasted pork dish that is a must-try for any visitor. This local delicacy is known for its savory and spicy flavors, crisp skin, and tender meat.

Evening: Culinary Delights & Cultural Performance

Ubud Palace Dance Performance

Traditional dance Legong and Barong

Finish your day with a traditional dance performance at Puri Saren Agung (Ubud Palace). The palace hosts nightly performances of Balinese dance, where local dancers in elaborate costumes and makeup perform against the backdrop of the historic palace. It's a mesmerizing, and culturally impactful way to end your day in Ubud.


A day trip to Ubud encapsulates Bali's beauty, culture, and spirit. From the spiritual cleansing at Tirta Empul to the natural beauty of the rice fields, the lively encounters at the Monkey Forest and local markets, and the rich taste of traditional cuisine, Ubud promises a day filled with memorable experiences. Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a camera, and prepare for a day packed with memorable activities.

Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Apr 22, 2024