This year I got a unique chance to stay in Bali and experience this beautiful island for three months. I came with certain expectations and plans, very little of which came true (check out my post What Bali is Really Like? here). I ended up surrendering to the circumstances and the island unfolded itself showing me the sides that I had no idea existed.
As a person who only stayed on the island for a few months, who speaks no local language and had little access to the community, I have almost no right to call my experiences as truly “local”. I did my best, however, to experience Bali and understand it from different perspectives. In my interpretation, the term “like a local” is extended, and pretty much implies anyone who has an open mind to see all the faces of this island as they are.
This post is based purely on my personal experience and keep in mind that we were moving around with a one-year-old toddler. I hope my recommendations will come to use regardless of your family status and travel companionship.
This post is quite long, as I decided to put all my experiences and tips in a comprehensive guide – many of my readers were asking for it. Save it and use it – here is a list of content for your convenience.
Where to eat in Ubud
Before you follow my advice about places to eat in Ubud, I need to give you a word of warning. Food is my life and profession (I run an Online Healthy Cooking School, with a special focus on traditional cooking methods). I have a soft spot for local, traditional and, whenever possible, healthy food. At the same time, our family has Indian taste buds, so we really appreciate strong flavors and use of spices. Long story short – my reviews, like anybody else’s, are biased!
Authentic traditional cuisine
During your stay you will see a lot of places called “local warungs”, but you will never see any locals there. Most of them serve food adapted to a tourist taste, but still give a general idea about the local cuisine and their location is usually convenient for a quick bite. This list will share with you some places beyond these types of warungs.
Kedai Bubuh – $
This is the real secret spot, which I almost feel sad to give away, as right now tourists are rare guests here. If you want to try a truly traditional local cuisine without fancy surroundings, skip all the “local warungs” crowded with foreigners – this is the absolute best place to go.
You will not find this place reviewed on TripAdvisor, as it serves the local crowd. Try as many dishes as you can, and make sure not to miss out on their coconut pepes, steamed cassava cake and a local drink es daluman.
Night markets – $
At around 5 PM you will see a lot of street food stalls popping up around the town, and vegetable markets transforming into food courts. Usually, meals there consist of rice and various toppings (vegetables, chicken, fish, etc.), that are all served together on one plate. Some stalls will be selling sweets and deep-fried foods. You will see a lot of locals enjoying their meals around. One of the most popular is Sayan market and night Giyanar market (though a little out of town).
I’m an adventurous eater and while I tried all I could, I should admit that street foods are not necessarily the tastiest and most representative of home cuisine. The only market meal I truly enjoyed was breakfast served at the morning Ubud market (go there between 6 and 8 am).
That said, I know one “secret” local spot for probably the best street meal in town, but I will not be listing it here. If you really want to know it drop me a message and I will share the location 😉
Kayun – $$$
The organic restaurant Kayun belongs to one of the Rajas and serves royal Balinese cuisine in a gorgeous setting. Pay special attention to their (healthy) drinks menu, they are probably the best I tried in Bali. This restaurant also hosts a wood carving workshop and gallery, with some art pieces hitting the price as high as $40,000.
Balinese Home Cooking – $$
This small restaurant is still on a rather touristy side. It serves a similar menu to all other Warungs, but if I was to recommend one of the “typical” warungs – it would be this one. It delivers a decent idea of what food to expect on the island (though limited) and can be a good option for adventurous eaters. The warung is based in a traditional family compound.
Restaurants in Ubud with the best view
There are plenty of beautiful restaurants a bit outside of Ubud that give you dining options with endless views of rice fields, rivers and jungle, many of them are towards the high end or are a part of hotels. Here are a few recommendations that are more central, but keep in mind that I recommend them for the view, not necessarily for the food.
Murni’s Warung – $$$
Murni’s Warung is quite a famous establishment in Ubud. It is said to be the first restaurant in Ubud that started in the 80’s with a couple of tables and now grew to include a hotel and a spa. The Warung is spread over 4 levels, facing a river and a jungle on the opposite side from the famous casual fine dining restaurant “Bridges” (here you would not need to pay fine dining prices though). I can’t comment on the food, it offers a rather “typical” warung menu with significantly higher prices, but the gorgeous setting (especially if you opt for lower levels) might be worth a visit.
The Elephant – $$$
This vegetarian restaurant is facing a jungle ridge and grants you a unique viewpoint. The food is vegetarian and geared towards Western tourists, with many visitors claiming that they serve one of the best coffee in town.
The Sayan House – $$$
This place is known for great romantic dinners and is often recommended as a perfect sunset watching spot. The food fusion in The Sayan House is quite unique, as it combines Japanese and Latin cuisines. It features a view of the jungle and river.
Layana Warung (Waterfall view) – $$
This must be the only warung around Ubud that has a gorgeous waterfall view. Reviewers often leave complaints about service or food, but it’s your only chance to enjoy a meal or a drink while watching a beautiful Balinese waterfall.
Vegan (healthy) restaurants in Ubud
Ubud is a famous destination for a vegan and health-conscious crowd, as well as yoga practitioners. The town offers the most options for vegan and vegetarian foods that I’ve seen in Asia (except for India of course, where in some regions vegetarian foods are the core of the traditional diet).
I’ll tell you a secret though: any traditional Balinese dish that doesn’t feature meat, fish or eggs, will be vegan by default, as dairy products are not a part of the traditional cuisine. But if you want to try something different, and on a more hip side, pay a visit to these places:
Moksa – $$$
Moksa is not just a restaurant, this place is famous for its permaculture garden, classes and a farmers market (every Tuesday and Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm). The quality of their food is excellent, in fact, we ended up ordering there a cake for our daughter’s first birthday.
Sayuri, Alchemy, Sage – $$$
I listed these three places at once, as they must be the most famous vegan establishment in Ubud, that are very loved among the healthy eaters and vegan travelers (all of them are plant-based). If this is the type of cuisine you enjoy, you can check out their reviews and menus on TripAdvisor to decide if this is what you are looking for.
Restaurants for a special meal / fine dining
Locavore – $$$$$
This must be the most famous fine-dining restaurant in Ubud. It owes its fame to a feature among the 50 best restaurants in Asia 2018. The chefs are actually on a mission to document unique traditional recipes of Bali, which receives special respect from me, as traditional cuisine is the core of Happy Bellyfish, my very own cooking school.
Mozaic – $$$$$
One more famous fine-dining restaurant in Ubud. Alike Locavore, however, it doesn’t focus on the local cuisine that much and features Asian-French fusion, with a lot of fine imported ingredients.
Hujan Locale – $$$$
Less pretentious than the previous two options, Hujan Locale offers creative cuisine, inspired by local ingredients. It is also a great spot just to have a cocktail (on a fancier side), which are excellent.
Koko Bambu – $$$
The speciality of Koko Bambu is all about chocolate (which is ethically grown and sourced by the way), and they even have their very own chocolate factory. On the menu, go straight to the page with chocolate-inspired recipes – yes, they are savoury, too! As I know the wonderful chef of the place personally (she will be featured in my upcoming mini-documentary on chocolate, it will be released on Happy Bellyfish channel), I can guarantee you that all the food is made with a very happy vibe, and you can taste it in the food. An infinity pool and a greenery view is a nice bonus as well.
Ice creams and cakes in Ubud
Tukies coconut shop serves a truly unique ice cream, based on coconut milk. We loved it for its natural flavour, mild sweetness and roasted coconut curlies on top. If it’s ok important for you – this ice cream is also vegan, but is still the creamiest of vegan treats you’d try.
Moksa and Sayuri are famous for their raw vegan desserts, and both are really good.
If you want classic sweet cakes, check out Usha Bakery (don’t be surprised to spot too many Russians there though) or Kakiang bakery (it’s a Japanese bakery). For our taste though, as we have only been consuming mild natural sweeteners for the past few years and I’m a little nuts about healthy cakes, these ones tasted way too sweet.
Best spas in Ubud
Bali is famous for its spas and massages, and for a good reason: what is considered to be a luxury in most other places in the world is truly affordable in Ubud, and the quality is excellent. For me, spas in Bali had another huge advantage, that I could not find anywhere else. Many places use all natural products, literally only the things you can eat (like spices, fruits, etc.), and most make their beauty products themselves. Here are a few spas that we tested and I can recommend:
Karsa has the most beautiful natural set up among all the spas we’ve visited. Its gorgeous grounds are adorned with lotus ponds and surrounded with rice fields. The massage is very good, the staff is extremely professional, though (as always) each personal experience will depend on who exactly will do it for you. Karsa Spa is recommended for other beauty treatments as well (like natural facials, floral bath, and body wraps). The prices are very affordable and are lower than the most luxury spa, even though the experience is no less.
It’s a very famous place in Penestanan village that offers inexpensive massages and treatments. The spa itself is very natural (almost too natural) and a little rustic. In other words, don’t expect it to be ultra polished, but it is green, open and airy, which is a big plus. Regardless, the massage I received there was probably the best among all I tried in Bali.
Bamboo Bali Spa
I can’t speak for massage in this spa, as I’ve never tried it myself, though it did have raving reviews on TripAdvisor. I’m including this recommendation for their manicures and pedicures. The reason is: it was the only place I found that was using a highly reputable brand of non-toxic nail polish – and it was a rare find, in case it’s something that’s important for you too. (As many people have asked already – they use ZOYA nail polish, one of the longest lasting non-toxic brands)
Co-working spaces in Ubud
There are a few co-workings in Ubud, but my favourite of all was The Onion Collective. It’s a community co-working, with a very friendly and pleasant vibe. I can also recommend Hustlers Villa for their weekly events and business lunches, if it’s something you are interested in.
Best walks in and around Ubud
There are many short “hidden” walks in and around Ubud, many of them through the rice fields, but they might be hard to navigate without a guide or at least a local acquaintance. Here are three walks that you can easily take on your own:
Campuhan ridge walk (40 mins)
This must be the most famous of all the walks. It’s rather short, starts at the edge of Ubud city and ends at Karsa Spa (in case you fancy a massage afterward, but make sure to book it in advance). The road is paved and there are multiple warungs and coffee shops on the way, as well as small “pockets” of the ridge and river field view.
Sari Organic walk (1 hour)
This walk starts very close to Campuhan Ridge. You just need to reach Sari Organic restaurant and find the path that leads through the rice fields (or ask around). The walk is rather easy and takes you through the fields, with not many developments on the sides.
Tegallalang terraces walks (up to 3 hours)
Most people who come to Tegallalang rice terraces just take a picture from the top and leave. In exceptional cases they also go all the way down and take a picture from a different perspective. However, if you cross the first hill, there are multiple paths behind that you can explore, with literally no people around. Beware though, it’s quite easy to get lost. We did get lost and ended up walking up and down for almost three hours (with a sleeping baby in a sling), until some kind locals cam o rescue.
Waterfalls close to Ubud
Unfortunately, most of the spectacular waterfalls are at least a 1-hour drive away from Ubud, or even more, and many of them require a hike as well. The only close by waterfall is Tegenungan Waterfall , it’s a 20 minutes drive. I need to admit that it’s indeed full of crowds and is definitely not a serene wild spot. So if you have a bit more time at hand and transport, do explore other waterfalls. If you can’t afford to get too far away from town and you still decide to visit Tegenungan, try to do so as early as possible and don’t forget to take a bath in the natural holy water pool at the premises, behind a small temple.
Traditional dance and culture in Ubud
A visit to Ubud is not complete without watching a dance show (or a few of them!). Ubud is considered to be the center of arts of Bali, where it receives strong support from the local king and is undoubtedly the best place to enjoy some fine pieces of music and art.
Here, below I’m attaching a schedule for dance shows. If you have to pick just one or two, I can strongly recommend Peliatan for Legong dance (probably the best dance group in Bali). Also, try to visit one of the unique pieces in the ARMA museum. The Ubud Palace is often recommended to be avoided because of the bus tourists crowds, but I believe that the quality of dance is good as well.
This is pretty much a sum up of places and things in Ubud that I’d recommend based on my personal experience. If you have some favourites on which I missed out, please, share them in the comments, so that everyone can enjoy what we enjoyed as well 🙂