Bali offers a huge choice of sights and attractions, from glittering temples to ancient wonders. And – at just 5632km² in size – the island is easy to explore on day trips from any of the beach resorts south of the capital Denpasar.
The most compelling attractions in Bali, include the following…
Bali offers an amazing array of temples and shrines…
Bali’s largest and most venerated temple, Pura Besakih, sits at 1000m above sea level on the southern slopes of Mount Agung, Bali's highest and holiest mountain.
Alternatively known as the Mother Temple, Besakih is named after the dragon god believed to inhabit the mountain, which is considered sacred.
The temple complex consists of around 22 multi-tiered temples and numerous shrines that sit on parallel ridges that cover an area of around 3km. The three main temples are dedicated to Shiva, Brahma and Wisnu, and are surrounded by another 18 separate sanctuaries belonging to different regencies and caste groups.
Stepped terraces and flights of stairs ascend through a number of courtyards and brick gateways to the largest and central sanctuary of Pura Penataran Agung. The symbolic centre of this sanctuary is the lotus throne or padmasana.
The site has been used as a Hindu place of worship since the 13th century, and the stones that form the base of Pura Penataran Agung are at least 2000 years old.
Touring Besakih – It’s best to arrange a visit to the temple with an organised tour, as on-site guides and touts can often be intrusive.
If you plan to visit on your own, you can still tour the site without a guide; should you decided to use one, make sure you agree a price beforehand: Rp20,000 to Rp30,000 should be sufficient.
To avoid tour buses and hustling touts try to arrive before 9am. Note: Wear comfortable walking shoes to better cope with the countless stairs and passageways.
Location: 40km from Klungklung in east Bali.
Admission: Rp10,000; Hours: Daily 7am-6pm.
Note: Visitors must generally wear a sash and sarong to enter, both of which can be purchased or rented for a small donation at the entrance.
Discover Bali's most important temple after Pura Besakih. The temple (also known as Pura Ulun Danu, Pura Batur or Pura Bat) is dedicated to the goddess of the lake, Ida Bhatari Dewi Danu.
The temple was originally constructed on the edge of the caldera at the foot of Mt Batur, an active volcano. A violent eruption in 1926 destroyed both the village and most of the temple – the 11-tiered meru dedicated to Dewi Danu survived.
The village and temple were later reconstructed at the highest and oldest rim on the caldera.
Visit the nine different temples and some of the 285 shrines and pavilions that are dedicated to the gods and goddesses of water, agriculture, holy springs and art, among other deities.
Don’t miss the principal temple of Penataran Agung Batur: its most dominant shrines include the 11-tiered meru, situated in the inner and most sacred courtyard, and the three 9-tiered merus dedicated to Mount Batur, Mount Abang and Ida Batara Dalem Waturenggong, the god king of the Gelgel dynasty who ruled from 1460 to 1550.
Location: Kintamani; Admission: Rp10,000 (includes sarong & sash) ; Hours: Daily 7am-5pm.
This picturesque water temple, a classical Hindu thatch-roofed meru (multiroofed shrine), sits at 1200m above sea level on a tiny island surrounded by the shimmering waters of Lake Bratan.
Stroll through manicured gardens and past an impressive stupa to reach the lakeside temple.
The 11-story pelinggih meru, which was built in 1663, is dedicated for Shiva and his consort Parvathi and is used for ceremonial offerings to the Balinese water, lake and river goddess, Dewi Danu.
Stroll through manicured gardens and past an impressive stupa to reach the lakeside temple. Or arrange to paddle across the lake at sunrise for an unforgettable sight.
Note: Bali's other major water temple is Pura Ulun Danu Batur.
Location: Bedugul; Admission: Rp6000 (includes sarong & sash);
Hours: Daily 7am-5pm.
Note: Lake Bratan is known as the Lake of Holy Mountain due to the fertility of this area.
With its multi-roofed meru shrines and pavilions, intricately carved wooden gates, ponds and grassy courtyards all surrounded by a moat, Pura Taman Ayun is considered one of the most beautiful temples in Bali.
The temple was built in 1634 by the Raja of Mengwi, I Gusti Agung Putu, and was the main temple of the Mengwi kingdom until 1891. It was renovated in 1937.
Stroll across a bridge and through a richly ornamented gate and into the outer courtyard of the temple, then follow a paved walkway past a square pond with a fountain at its centre to a stunning collection of 50 shrines and pavilions that sit among the well-tended grounds.
Pura Taman Ayun is located in a beautiful park near the village of Mengwi in the south of Bali, around 8km southwest of Ubud and 18km from Denpasar.
Location: Jl. I Gusti Ngurah Rai, Mengwi, Badung.
Admission: Rp4100; Hours: Daily 8am-6pm.
Pura Tanah Lot is one of the most visited temples in Bali. Built on a lava rock 200m offshore and especially photogenic at sunset, Tanah Lot is only accessible at low tide.
Built in the 16th century, the temple is one of seven sea temples that were constructed to be in sight of each other and form a chain along the southwest coast of Bali. From Pura Tanah Lot you can see the distant cliff top of Uluwatu to the south, and Pura Rambut Siwi to the west towards Perancak.
By 1980, the temple’s foundations were in danger of crumbling into the sea. A donation from the Japanese government resulted in a renovation of the site. Today, roughly one-third of the ‘rock’ you see is artificial.
For Balinese, Pura Tanah Lot is an important prayer site where followers of the faith pray for the success of their crops and generally anything else associated with agriculture. The temple is associated with the Majapahit priest Nirartha, who refashioned Balinese Hinduism in the 16th century.
To reach the temple, you must first pass through a walkway of souvenir shops down to the sea at low tide. Non-Balinese people are not allowed inside the actual temple.
Watch out for the many black sea snakes that inhabit the rocks and crevices surrounding Tanah Lot. These snakes are believed to be the guardians of the temple and protect the entire area from unseen evil forces.
Tip: Avoid the worst of the crowds and touts by visiting during the morning.
Location: Beraban, around 20km from Denpasar and 45km from Kuta. Admission: Rp10,000, car park Rp5000; Hours: Daily 7am-4:30pm.
Dedicated to the spirits of the sea, Pura Luhur Uluwatu sits on a 70m-high cliff-top with spectacular views overlooking the surf at Uluwatu.
Dating from at least 1025 and constructed in black coral rock, the temple is one of Bali’s sacred directional temples and is the southwest guardian against evil spirits.
According to believers, the site is also the dwelling place of the deity Bhatana Ruda, god of the elements and cosmic forces.
While the temple complex is open to all, only Hindus are allowed to enter the inner temple.
As you admire well-preserved carvings and the unusual arched gateway flanked by statues of Ganesha, look out for smarms of walet birds, who can be seen flying around and perching on the sacred temple.
The cliff-top temple is especially photogenic at sunset when Balinese dancers present a thrilling performance of the kecak dance nightly from 6pm.
Note: Watch out for numerous monkeys who inhabit the temple area and are best known for snatching eyeglasses, bags, cameras and hats from unwary visitors.
Location: Bukit peninsula, around 30 minutes from Kuta. Admission: Rp5000 (includes sarong & sash); Rp50,000 to watch the dance. Hours: Daily 8am-7pm.
Explore one of Bali's oldest and largest ancient monuments.
Ponder the significance of the 10 candis or shrines that sit in 7m-high sheltered niches cut into the cliff face.
Gunung Kawi is believed to have been built in honour of the 11th century king Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his favourite queens; an inscription dates the temple to A.D. 945.
Although there are no bones in the candis, inscriptions (most of them unreadable) thought to be names or titles can be seen above the doors.
This fascinating early Balinese religious site is accessed by descending (then ascending) 300 stone steps, which are cut into the steep slopes of a lush green river valley.
Gunung Kawi is located amidst picturesque rice paddies; and the site is less visited and somewhat more quiet than many others in Bali.
Location: Tampaksirin, around 15km north of Ubud. Admission: Rp6,000; Hours: Daily 7am-5pm.
Examine carvings that honour Dewi Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of art and learning, then catch one of weekly dance performances or simply admire the lotus blossoms in the lily pond from Café Lotus, which sits just in front of the temple.
he picturesque Pura Taman Saraswati was commissioned by the royal family and built at the end of the 19th century.
Inside the main shrine, you may admire giant barong masks, fine carvings and bale houses.
Location: Jalan Raya, Ubud. Admission: Free; Hours: Daily 7am-5pm.
Get an insight into Balinese spiritual life by visiting the sacred springs at Tirta Empul Temple. Watch as Balinese from every corner of the island purify themselves in these holy waters.
Tour the main temple courtyard, which contains shrines and pavilions: one for Brahma, Siva, and Krishna, one for Mt. Batur and one for Indra (Dewi Indra).
The temple was built in the 10th century during the Warmadewa Dynasty on the site of a large natural spring. Two Olympic-size pools are used for communal bathing, while 12 waterspouts pour holy water from the sacred springs.
Legend describes how the god Indra’s army had fallen ill after drinking from the nearby river that had been poisoned by the evil king Mayadanawa. To revive his sick troops, Indra pierced the ground to release a spring of pure and sacred water.
The spring was called Tirta Empul, and has been considered the holiest in Bali ever since. A temple was built around the springs and special bathing-pools constructed for devotees.
Location: Jl. Raya Penelokan, Tampaksirin, around 15km north of Ubud. Admission: Rp6,000; Hours: Daily 8am-6pm.
Stroll around a series of elegant and well-preserved pavilions in the heart of Ubud and later enjoy an evening dance performance, held in the palace courtyard.
Ubud Palace and Puri Saren Agung share the same space in the heart of Ubud, and from the late 19th century to the mid-1940s, this was the seat for the local ruler. In fact, some royal descendants still live here.
If you wish, you can even stay in one of the six very basic rooms for around US$50 a night; but there are no facilities on the grounds.
Location: Jalan Raya, Ubud. Admission: Free; Hours: Daily 7am-5pm.
Explore the grotto of elaborate stone carvings from the 9th century, with a ceremonial bathing pool nearby.
Ponder the impressive entranceway, a dramatic carved facade of what appears to be menacing creatures and demons, then enter into a small underground cave.
Inside, you can see fragmentary lingam and yoni statues including a statue of Ganesha as well as several small ledges possibly used by priests to meditate on or even sleep.
The primary carving at the entrance was once thought to be an elephant, hence the name Elephant Cave.
Stroll around the bathing pool decorated by six semi-clad female figures holding urns pouring water. Women bathe on one side and men on the other. The pools appear to have been built to ward off evil spirits; large, carved guards stand around pools near the entrance.
A small pathway leads to a waterfall, rice fields and some Buddhist stupa fragments.
The site is mentioned in the Javanese poem Desawarnana written in 1365.
Location: Bedulu Village, Blahbatu, around 18km northeast
Admission: Rp6000 (includes sarong rental); Hours: Daily 7am-5:30pm.
Theatre and dance is an integral part of Balinese culture. Weddings, birthdays and religious festivals are all occasions for dramatic dance performances that are inextricably linked with the Balinese religion and are often related to the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana.
Some of the most enchanting Balinese dances include…
Barong — The barong or lion dance is a classic dance depicting the conflict between good and evil through the actions of Barong, a mystical long-tailed creature.
Legong Keraton — The legong keraton is a classical dance of grace and femininity performed by young girls in colourful costume.
Kebyar Duduk — In the kebyar duduk a solo dancer interprets every nuance of the music in powerful facial expressions and movement
Kecak — Although the frenetic kecak or monkey dance was probably first performed in 1930, its origins go back much further. The chorus originates from the ancient ritual of ‘sanghyang’ or trance dance.
During the sanghyang or trance-like state, it is believed that a person communicates with God or the ancestors.
In this mesmeric dance, up to 100 bare-chested men sit cross-legged in tight concentric circles, swaying in unison and repeatedly chanting the phrase ke chak ke chak, as Balinese dancers weave in and around them using powerful facial expressions and movement to illustrating an ancient tale.
Gamelan — The haunting sounds of a Balinese gamelan orchestra is typically performed to accompany the barong and legong dances. Often up to 30 musicians play an array of instruments including native metal gongs, drums, chimes, cymbals and xylophones.
Take the challenging 5-hour climb to the summit of Gunung Agung (3142m), Bali’s holiest mountain and the highest point on the island. For an easier hike, try the lava slopes of nearby Gunung Batur (1717m).
Bali’s most active volcano sits at the heart of two concentric calderas and offers superb panoramic views. The large southeast caldera is known as Lake Batur, home of the picturesque Pura Ulan Danu, one of Bali’s most important temples.
Note: Both Gunung Batur and Gunung Agung are active volcanoes, with eruptions as recent as 1997.
To see and photograph emerald-green rice terraces dating back more than 2000 years, head to the river gorge north of Tegallalang village in central Bali and Sayan near Ubud. Other photogenic sites include Pupuan, Jatiluwih, Tabanan and Tirtagangga.
Bali’s centre for music, dance and fine arts offers the perfect opportunity to learn more about Balinese culture. Wander narrow streets crammed with arts and crafts shops, museums and art galleries.
Browse market stalls, trinket stores and chic boutiques then cool-off with a cold drink at an open-air café and restaurant – try the beautifully sited Café Lotus, which sits in front of the Pura Saraswati temple and water garden.
In the evening enjoy a dance performance in the dramatic setting of the elegant Puri Saren Agung (Royal Palace).
Read more about Ubud…
Latest update: Bali Attractions: 22 May, 2023