Fall in love with Ubud culture (and the heart of Bali)

In ASIA, CULTURE by Janice and George22 Comments

Ubud the cultural heart of Bali

It was our first evening in Ubud.

Under a starlit sky in the crumbling Ubud Palace, two beautiful teenage girls danced the classic “Legong” to the xylophone clangs of a Balinese gamelan orchestra. Wearing gold bodices and elaborate flower-adorned headdresses, they fluttered their fingers, darted their black-rimmed eyes back and forth, and gracefully contorted their bodies, all in perfect stylized sync.

Other dancers in glittering costumes and ogre masks then enthralled us with the Hindu “Ramayana” epic, a love story, woven through much of Balinese art and dance.

Ubud culture - Bali

A Balinese dancer performs at the Four Seasons Sayan in Ubud

Ubud culture - Ubud Palace

Walking by the Ubud Palace at sunset

Ubud culture

Some places in this world are destinations where you go to see a temple or watch a performance or visit some particular cultural attraction. But in Bali, and Ubud in particular, art, dance and culture are intertwined with everyday life.

You encounter temples everywhere (including in Ubud’s must-see Sacred Forest Monkey Sanctuary).

Temples dot the landscape, gracing every village and family compound, with many more shrines to boot.

In tiny hand-made palm baskets, offerings of plumeria blossoms, rice and burning incense (sometimes even a cigarette or two to keep the spirits extra happy) – sprinkled and blessed with holy water – are placed in front of every temple, dwelling and shop each morning.

ubud culture

A basket of flower blossoms for temple offerings

Ubud culture

A woman carryies an offering of fruit atop her head in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali

A young girl makes a palm weaving for a temple offering

A young girl makes a palm weaving for a temple offering

As pretty as a painting

Art museums abound.

One excellent show-case of Balinese painting is the Neka Art Museum, just a short distance from the town center. Traditional “Wayang-style” paintings (based on old-time shadow puppet plays), works by Indonesian, Balinese and Bali-obsessed European artists (some credited with inspiring artistic renewal in Bali) and many current Balinese artistic styles are displayed.

Bali arts and crafts - photo Bali Tourist Board

Bali arts and crafts – photo Bali Tourist Board

Dance the night away

And dances like the “Legong” and “Ramayana,” the “Barong” and the trance-like “Kecac” fire dance are performed every evening at different temples and open-air sites, captivating everyone who watches these intricate and mystical performances.

The trance-like Kecack fire dance

The trance-like Kecack fire dance – photo Bali Tourist Board

Two Balinese dancers

Two Balinese dancers

Read our magazine article on Ubud culture

See “Art, Dance and Temples in Ubud, Bali,” published last month in TravelAge West magazine. 

Janice and George Signature


  1. Very nice post. I really like the photos. Ubud Bali is one of the great destinations while on holiday in Bali – very nice. This year we plan to go to Bali again, but we will seek to enjoy Nusa Dua Bali. Hopefully it can be a pleasant trip. Thanks for the post.

  2. We’re planning a last minute trip to Ubud right now and your blog posts are so helpful! Do you have any recommendations for places to stay?

    1. Author

      We loved staying at Kayumanis Ubud, Ayung Resort Ubud and the Four Seasons Sayan. All have rooms with private pools (and Ayung and Four Seasons have rooms with no pools). These resorts also have complimentary shuttle transportation into Ubud town. Have a wonderful trip!

  3. Ubud was a favourite destination when my girlfriend and I toured Indonesia for a month, second only to Nusa Lembongan. It was the first spot we stopped where we felt like we were really getting immersed into a new culture, and exploring the areas around Ubud on scooters was amazing! Great post :)

  4. I understand your affection for Ubud because I share it! Balinese dance is completely entrancing too. Love your photos of the dancers.

  5. Great photos of Ubud and the Balinese dancers! It really is the cultural center of Bali and so different than many of the other islands in Indonesia. Although we found Bali quite chaotic, we will probably be back again someday. :)

  6. I’ve read so many great blog posts about Bali (this being one of them) that I want so much to visit it myself. The spirit of Balinese people seems really unique. These dances happen in Ubud just like every night?

    1. Author

      Yes, there are probably five or so different dances performed by different groups at different venues every night in Ubud. You can get a schedule of the nightly Balinese dance performances from your hotel concierge.

  7. Gorgeous! I’ve heard so many fantastic things about Bali and Ubud especially. I think I need to go there sooner rather than later.

  8. Bali has always been so high on my list of places to visit. After seeing your photos I definitely need to get there sooner than later. It feels like a place where life is art and art is life – totally interchangeable.

  9. Wow looks great! I’m going to Ubud in a month and I can’t wait!

  10. Great read, I loved Ubud the moment I first stayed there in 1995 and will be returning for my fourth visit in August. The Balinese are such humble, spiritual people and their culture very strong indeed. I will never forget my stay in Ubud.

    1. Author

      The Balinese people are so lovely! When asked what we liked best about Bali our answer is: the culture and the people. And Ubud is where the culture really shines and is expressed best (at least for tourists).

  11. Beautiful photos! I visited Ubud way back in 1993 – loved Ubud because of the culture and the people. I loved their ritual of setting out the offerings each morning.

    I traveled all around Bali and a few other islands in Indonesia – I have fond memories of Ubud :)

  12. Agness

    I’m not surprised that you enjoyed Ubud so much because I fell in love with it at first sight! The temples and religious atmosphere there is just amazing. The local performances and ladies dancing in the street were the highlight of my stay there over 2 months ago.

    1. Author

      The dance performances were a real highlight for us too – we took in several. The first night in Ubud, we were going out for dinner when we stumbled across the Ubud Palace, where the “Legong” was starting in 5 minutes. We nixed our dinner plans (ate later) and took in the show, and from then on we were hooked on the dances.

    1. Author

      Ubud was probably our favorite place in Bali – because the Balinese culture is so strong. Yes, it is magical (and you’d probably really like visiting Ubud).

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