Your guide to Bali's regional 'hoods

July 20, 2015 narellecraig
Bali island guide: Ubud

Bali may be island of the Gods, but which holiday god is for you? Surfing, shopping, yoga, foodie, cocktails, chilling, music, beaches or jungle – there’s something and somewhere for every passion across this island paradise, so follow your bliss with this neighbourhood guide to get the most out of your next Bali vay-cay.

Bali island guide:  Seminyak

Seminyak sees beautiful sunsets, designer restaurants and hotels – such as The Samaya (pictured) – and endless designer shopping options

Seminyak & Petitinget:  The social and shopping hub

Seminyak still remains the upmarket, sophisticated hub of touristic Bali with the biggest concentration of cool bars, world-class restaurants, stunning private villas & fancy resorts, and shopping on the island.

People love Seminyak for its sophisticated combination of hip cafes, designer boutiques, and swanky beach clubs. It combines the privacy and tranquillity of designer-villa-with-private-pool living, with the buzz of its surrounding social scene. Alas, the luxe villas and international, five-star hotels such as the W Hotel, the Samaya or Double Six (which Seminyak was originally known for), are now being joined by mid-range, value hotels with rooms at affordable prices.  Great for the masses, but not great for the traffic.   People don’t love Seminyak these days, for it’s (at times) painful traffic, increased crowds, and close-to-home prices.  But on the flip side, you can walk everywhere anyway.

Bali island guide: Seminyak

Visit MamaSan for luxe interiors with some of the best dishes on the island

You can watch the sunset from Potato Head, Woo Bar or Double Six rooftop; grab a bite at hundreds of food havens around ranging from Sisterfields cafe to Sarong or Sardine, or hot new tables such as Republik45, Bambu or burger fave BO$$ MAN; dance the night away at La Favela or Jenja; and shop till your heart contents at, well, any part of the ‘hood. For shopping, check out our favourite ten stores in Bali or meander along our recommended shopping paths of Jalan Petitinget, Seminyak, or Cendana.

Check out our detailed recommendations on where to stay, eat, drink, shop and chill in our in-depth guide to Seminyak and Petitinget.

Bali island guide:  Ubud

Ubud’s beautiful surrounds remain amongst the most popular experiences in Bali

Ubud:  Art, culture, yoga and rice paddies

The hills are alive with the sound of meditation, yoga and … development. Ubud town centre today may resemble Seminyak (or Byron Bay in summer at least) more than we’d all love but Bali’s cultural and artistic home is still a special place to experience. This inland region of Bali is world-famous for good reason, and it is easy to avoid the crowds and commercialism with a bit of research and (exhale) patience.

People love visiting Ubud for its picture-postcard beauty of rice paddies, palm trees and luscious green vegetation, along with it’s range of cultural and soulful activities. The surrounding Ubud region offers unlimited, peaceful options for accommodation, retreats, healing, yoga, meditation, adventure, dining, culture and exploration. Not to mention the sacred Agung River which is known for its energy, good vibes and healing properties.

Uma Cucina

Uma Cunina offers mouth-watering Italian food in a divine setting

Ubud has something for every one and budget. Luxe your experience at five star, designer addresses such as Komenko, Ubud Hanging Gardens or the Four Seasons (try their anti-gravity yoga or amazing chakra healing treatments), not forgetting wellness retreats such as Como Shamhbala (sigh) or Fivelements (design drool).  For a fraction of the price but not the experience, enjoy some of Ubud’s favourite digs at Honeymoon Guest House or Alaya.  Or book in for a One World yoga retreat.

Eat out at some of Ubud’s most famous restaurants, for all budgets: try the Uma Cina (stay overnight at Uma Ubud if you deserve a treat), try Will Meyrick’s newish Hujan Locale, Fair Warung or local faves Alchemy, The Elephant or Taco Casa.

Bali island guide:   Ubud

Yoga in Ubud, especially here at Como Shamhbala, is the ultimate relaxation

There’s an infinite list of things things to see and do in Ubud but a few include: stretch & exhale at Yoga Barn (or any of the hundres of yoga schools around), a cooking class at the Casa Luna, visit the surrounding Tegalalang rice paddies area, go white water rafting or dawn volcano climbing, jump into a village/rice-trek bike ride, visit the Bali Safari and Marine Park, or dive into healings at the water temple or seven chakra waterfalls.

Watch out for our in-depth Ubud guide coming soon.

Bali island guide:  Nusa Dua

Nusa Dua has some of the most beautiful beaches in Bali

Nusa Dua:  White-beached, five star living

This resort-hub hood on Bali’s south east coast is home to some of the biggest and most impressive hotel complexes on the island. People love Nusa Dua for its resort-living benefits, kids clubs, stunning white beaches and never-ending, water sport activities.  Now, add its easy access to surrounding areas of neighbouring Ungasan and Jimbaran. Ironically, or not, people who don’t love Nusa Dua will likely have an inherent aversion to resort-hotel holidays!

Many of the family-friendly resorts here are like their own whole country, their impressive grounds and designer villas stretch on for hours – such as The Mulia or Laguna, and the newly opened Ritz Carlton.   They all offer everything you can imagine right at your fingertips – endless hotel pools, private beaches, water activities, weekend brunches, kids clubs, spas, conference facilities, private butlers…the works.

Bali island guide:  Nusa Dua

Luxe resort living in Nusa Dua comes with designer beaches, accommodation, bars, spas and kids clubs!

A few fun things to do around Nusa Dua include: experience the stunning, sandy Gerber Beach; anything that gets you wet – jet skiing, snorkelling or SUP’ing; weekend brunch or designer dining at The Mulia’s incredible restaurants, visit Bali’s new Nikki Beach Club; treatments galore; shopping at the John Hardy boutique in The Mulia or the infinite day trips to the Bukit, Ubud or surrounds.  These, and quick shopping or dining trips even into Seminyak, are easier than ever thanks to the new toll road.

Bali island guide:  Canggu

Surf breaks, chillaxed vibes and hip new haunts are making Canggu a popular part of town

Canggu: Chillaxed, surfer cool

The cool kid on the Bali block is the ‘hood just north of Seminyak, once a sleepy region of endless rice paddies but now fast becoming home to many new hip cafes, restaurants and beach clubs – largely to entertain its hipster, expat community. Canggu (pronounced ‘Chun-gu’) runs along the beach from Brawa right up to Seseh, but it’s likely best-known as home to the famous Echo Beach surf spot.

Originally known for its surf breaks and culture that still dominates the chilled-out vibe of the ‘Gu, today merges the best of old and new Bali, with its relaxed-cool drinking and dining scene living side by side to local warungs, beanbag beach bars and picturesque rice paddies that are still actively farmed daily.

Bali island guide:  Canggu

Where the ocean meets rice paddies in Canggu

Things to do in the ‘Gu include: eat at Betelnut or Milk and Madu cafés; visit Bungalow Living for homeware delights galore or Goldust for a facial unlike any other; spend a Sunday afternoon/evening at Echo Beach House for their seafood BBQ; visit Deus ex Macina’s Taco & Tattoo Tuesday sessions or legendary Old Man’s for a quiet beer and to enjoy the view (either of the surf break or beautiful people); take the kiddies to Splash water park, Bounce trampoline park or The Garden kids club; get into the vintage retro vibe at the new La Laguna beach bar; or exhale with a beautiful yoga class at Desa Seni or Samadi.

People don’t love Canggu for its sometimes painful traffic driving into Seminyak, the increasingly trend of muns (‘man-buns’) and facial hair dominating the guys (kidding – of course we love it!), or the number of beautiful models around always doing photo shoots. Actually, just make that beautiful people full stop – they’re everywhere.  But stay in Canggu when you want to get away from the masses but still be amongst the cool crowd.

Bali island guide:  Kuta Beach

The five-star Sheraton Kuta Beach Bali offers the best location in Kuta, with complimentary daily sunsets

Bang for your buck: Kuta & Legian

It’s busy, social, and value-for-money, so Kuta and Legian offer a whole lot of infinite options for everyone under the sun.  As South Bali’s original touristic centres, they still offer more cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and socialising than Seminyak and are all at far more reasonable prices.

Kuta is still largely the land of hotel and resort living, mixed with shopping and bars beyond belief, which offer excellent value for tourists. Legian offers the same but with slightly higher prices and a good mix of private villas or villa complexes. Both areas offer character-filled beach bars, lounges and warungs with some fancier restaurants and bars – so you can enjoy the full scene of options that Bali is famous for.

Bali island guide:  Kuta Beach

Beachwalk Bali Shopping Centre is almost beach-front, and offers everything you need or want under one roof

Kuta Beach has undergone a recent development spree with some fancy neighbours moving in to help jazz up this once-tired hood. You can stay at the five star Sheraton Bali and enjoy their prime beach-front location for brilliant prices. The new Four Points by Sheraton hotel has just opened, bringing designer digs with affordable prices to the middle of the all the action. Jamie Oliver’s first Indonesian restaurant Eleven has just opened in Kuta Beach, near Hard Rock.   The most important: don’t miss Beachwalk Shopping centre for the beauty of al fresco shopping with beach views, as well their fabulous stores from Roxy, Top Shop to Zara.

And surfing at Kuta Reef is still one of the most popular breaks on the island.  But if you’re learning, these beaches are the best so visit our friends at Bali Surf School to share your first-wave smiles with some of the coolest teachers on the island.

Bali island guide:  Jimbaran

Jimbaran offers quieter, five star beaches, dining and beach bars – such as Sundara at the Four Seasons (pictured)

Jimbaran

With calmer, crystal blue waters, Jimbaran Bay is one of Bali’s best and safest beaches with spectacular sunset spots to boot.   The sandy-beach fronting postcode just south of the airport is home to some big, beautiful resorts such as the Four Seasons, the Intercontinental and Ayana as well as many gorgeous villa complexes.

People love Jimbaran for its beautiful beach outlook, its much slower pace than its northern neighbours of Kuta and Seminyak, and the freshest of fresh, seafood dining options right on the beachfront.  Throw in surfing and all things beach-related, with a family friendly vibe, and you’ve got the lot.

Bali island guide:  JImbaran

The open-air, beach restaurants offer fresh seafood caught that day

Some fun things to do in Jimbaran include: a seafood BBQ at the beach restaurants (with sand under your feet, as the fishing boats come in); dine or sip a sundowner at the Four Seasons’ Sundara restaurant and bar; visit the iconic Rock Bar at Ayana resort for a designer cocktail or two (but beware: queuing is often part of the pre-sunset routine, so pop in after sundown and walk straight through); high tea or cocktails at the beautiful Balique vintage café restaurant; shop at Warisan or Kian Interiors; re-energise and indulge in some spa therapy at Bamboo Spa by L’Occitane, or the RIMBA Rooftop Spa by Thermes Marins Bali, voted world’s best spa by Condé Nast Traveller readers; or design your very own ceramic centrepiece (with or without taking the kids) at Jenggala Ceramics.   Jimbaran’s waves are perfect for beginners, try Balangan Wave Surf School or Rip Curl School of Surf to give you a hand getting up on that board.

People don’t love Jimbaran because it’s not hectic or cluttered with designer cafes or restaurants.

Bali island guide:  Umalas

Picturesque Nook cafe in Umalas overlooks rice paddies and is only minutes from Petitinget

Umalas:  Simple and sweet

Oh, Umalas. You’re a little gem. Semi-undiscovered, at least for another year at best, this inland hood just north of Seminyak/Kerobokan combines cute little cafes, stylish (but not too trendy) restaurants and designer villas with hoardes of local businesses, warungs, families and rice farms in between. Thank god, this (for now) is one neighbourhood without big, sprawling hotels.

People love Umalas because it’s charming, quaint and stylish – but in no way, OTT. It’s close to Kerobokan, Petitinget and Canggu (on bikes) and you can stroll around and see more greenery than building works. And there’s lovely character in the cafes, restaurants and shops that have popped up in the area – without the glitz and glamour.

Bali island guide:  Umalas

Ethnic Villas offer top-of-the range, luxe villas for stays, weddings or events

Monsieur Spoon has moved in, or eat at at some of these favourites:  Cous Cous, Nook or Habitual Quench & Feed.  Try cute little villas such as Umalas Retreats or home stays  for gorgeous decor with great prices, or splurge for a special event or holiday at the luxe Ethnic Villas.

Bali island guide:  The Bukit

Finn’s (pictured) and Karma beach clubs are a popular day trip if you’re not staying local

The Bukit:  Where luxe meets local

Aaaah, now we’re talking. The Bukit Pensinsula covers the bottom balloon of Bali (south of the airport – from Jimbaran to the west, and Nusa Dua to the east). The Bukit is often referred to as Uluwatu, which is technically the bottom area only, but the region is rightly loved for its many, legendary surf breaks – endless sets with offshore winds through the season – stunning beauty and pristine, white-sand beaches.

The Bukit used to be a surfers’ paradise, but it’s (too) quickly becoming known as ‘Millionaire’s Row’ for it’s prime, cliff-top five star resorts – such as Bulgari, Banyan Tree – that are more European inspired and take ‘luxury in Bali’ to a new level.

Bali island guide:  The Bukit

El Kabron is a tapas-style restaurant in Bingin, with a stunning cliff-top location

Cheers to the Bukit for bringing many drool-worthy villas and resorts, now with a pumping beach club scene, to this spectacular location. It’s worth a day trip to hang out on the white-sand beaches and cliff-top restaurants, before watching the most spectacular sunsets of anywhere in Bali.

The Bukit consists of many ‘hoods, all white-beached with crystal clear waters and each worthy of researching further.  Uluwatu is famous for its surf break and people travel down just for a sunset session at Single Fin (Blue’s Point), to stay in the local home-stays, we love staying or just doing yoga at Uluwatu Surf Villas, check out Tirtha for your vows or special events, or for a total splurge, check into luxe villas such as The Edge.  Other surfing breaks include Bingin, Balangan, Padang Padang or Dreamland – and many digs such as Mu Bali, La Joya or Mick’s Place are worth a stay.

Fancy resorts such as Karma Kandara with Karma Beach club, Semara Uluwatu with Finn’s Beach Club and Alila Uluwatu are all spectacular places to stay in style.  Or go for the day and enjoyer their beach clubs.    Finish with a sunset session, pool club experience and dinner at the stunning El Kabron.

Bali island guide:  East Bali

East Bali offers stunning vistas of Mt Agung, black sand beaches and less crowds than the rest of Bali

East Bali:  The quiet achiever

Bali’s Road Less Travelled. We’d love to say the East is an undiscovered part of Bali but it’s no longer true. It is, however, far (far!) less crazy hectic than South Bali and it’s also crazy beautiful.  It’s also considered the closest to ‘real’ Bali you’ll get where you still get some tourist trimmings.

The East Bali includes Keramas, a popular surf break – now home to the stylin’ Komune Beach Club and Resort – right through Karangasem, Candidasa and up past Amed in the far north east.  The region is popular for its remote beaches, diving, legendary cooking classes and surf breaks.

Bali island guide:  East Bali

Komune Resort at Keramas offers night surfing as well as its beach-front beach club, infinity pool, health hub, yoga and surfing fun

So what do you get here? A more authentic Bali experience, as much as you can.  Black sand beaches. Sunrises instead of sunsets. Beach walks without a crowd. Bintangs for IDR 20,000. Endless, palm-tree lined (volcanic sand) beaches. The island’s best diving and snorkelling. A constant panorama of Mount Batur or Agung on the horizon. Views of Nusa Lembongan.  Night surfing.  One thing we don’t support is visiting the captive dolphins held in a chlorinated pool at Wake Resort, just for tourist dollars.

Check out our list of the top things to know about East Bali here.

Bali island guide:  Nusa Lembongan

Nusa Lembongan is a different island vibe to Bali, with loads of activities for the whole family

Nusa Lembongan:  The island, wet-water-park

Once a surfers secret island getaway, Lembongan has since hit the big time with luxury villas and a good few designer beach bars and cafes. Only a thirty minute boat ride from Sanur off Bali’s east coast, this island hot-spot is a personal fave for its laid-back charm amidst its million dollar location.

At high-tide on Lembongan you could be anywhere in Europe, looking out at cranking surf breaks Laccerations or Shipwrecks. Snorkel, swim or SUP your way through the crystal clear waters in time for a fresh seafood catch to accompany your rocket salad.    At low tide, it’s #respect time as you can watch first-hand the island’s second-biggest industry – seaweed farming – at work.

Bali island guide:  Nusa Lembongan

Batu Karang is a popular, cliff-front resort overlooking the island and sunset

What to do in Lembongan?  Get wet – in any form.  Aside from the private villa or resort pools, Nusa Lembongan is all about the ocean so swim, snorkel, kayak, dive, SUP, banana boat… When you’ve dried off, sip a cocktail at The Deck bar, stay upstairs at the island’s most prestigious resort Batu Karang (these ex-Noosa folks know a thing or two about good living), Dream Beach Huts or Villa Voyage for a total splurge (Farah Khan’s holiday home, need we say more?). Eat at Sandy Bay Beach Club, Hai Tide Bar & Grill, the newly opened Lembongan Beach Club, or Warung Pantai at Dream Beach (at least til the sun goes down).

Bali island guide:  Gili T

The Gili islands offer paradise moments in every direction

The Gili’s:  Paradise island trifecta

Whether partying (Gili T), honeymooning (Gili Meno) or chillaxing (Gili Air) is on your agenda, the beautiful Gili Islands just off Lombok have a paradise plan for everyone.   Crystal clear waters lapping onto the white sand beaches have made this piece of paradise a popular choice for travellers for decades, and now the development is catching up. All islands offer boat-trips, snorkelling and water-based activities galore.   All three islands are carless so transportation is a brightly coloured, horse and buggy affair.

Bali Island guide:  Gili T

Swing into the sunset on Gili T

Which island to stay depends on your fancy.  Gili T (Trawagnan) is the biggest and the party island.   Stay at either of Ombak’s two locations, the inland-based Villa Ottallia, budget-friendly Le Pirate or Kokomo for high-end digs.  You can glamp it up with Le Cocoteraie or chill at the beach club Pearl of Trawangan.  Eat at Scallywags, Echo Beachhouse or enjoy some balance at Soraya Yoga.  Sunset at Ombak and their most-photographed sunset swing is a must.  But really, most people go for the endless beach bars, full moon parties and a course or two of magic mushrooms.  We love Karma on Gili Meno and Scallywags is a popular choice on Gili Air.

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