Planning a trip to Bali but unsure where to stay? This holiday-maker haven is full of beautiful beaches to explore, waterfalls to visit and many great food and cultural experiences to be had. Each spot in Bali offers something unique, which means it can be hard deciding where the best places to visit are. To help take the guesswork out of your holiday planning, here’s some insight on the very best places to stay in Bali and a few you should probably avoid too…
Watch: our ‘Bali for first-timers’ video
Arriving into Bali…
The airport has come a very long way from very humble and terrifying beginnings. It received a much-needed face lift, which has made the experience of arriving in Denpasar far less confronting (and a lot less like being processed through the prison system, I swear I had an anxiety attack every time). When you walk out of the safety of the airport and into the arrivals hall you will be greeted by a throng of vocal drivers all vying for your fare. They may follow you, try to grab your bags and repeatedly yell, “Transport! Transport! Where are you going?” If it’s your first time, this is really confronting. Truth is, they’re totally harmless. Just say thank you and keep moving.
Taxi fares from the airport are now capped based on the location of your hotel, this takes the guess-work out of it and helps you avoid scams and is a good way to make your escape. But the best way, by far, is to get a transfer to your hotel. Most offer them and it’s worth it to find a hotel that does. As of our last visit to Bali in February 2017 we were not required to purchase a Visa (but be sure to do a google search before you go and double check the requirements, just to be sure!) You can find more must-know tips here.
Located up in the hills, about an hour away from Kuta, Ubud provides a more leafy, earthy alternative to the beach scene. You’ll find it serving up an abundance of amazing health conscious foods and activities for mind, body and spirit. Think, activated lentil soups, round-the-clock yoga, arts and crafts, Reiki sessions and more. We’re talking gorgeous little cafes with fairy lights, soft music and food so good you’ll think you’re in heaven.
I also love Ubud for its incredible temples, which you can visit by ripping around on a scooter if you feel confident enough. The way to stay here is in a low-key homestay with a pool you can float around in for a few hours each day. You can find a tonne more things to do in Ubud here.
Beware the ravenous monkey temple. The bananas you will inevitably buy will definitely turn any and all monkeys into heat seeking missiles and your bananas (and body) will be the target. Be warned.
Kuta is one of the most well-known spots in Bali. It’s a haven for backpackers and young holidaymakers keen to drink, dance and buy Bintang singlets en masse. It’s home to a huge amount of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, shops and everything your party-loving mind could imagine. If you’re a young whipper-snapper keen to get on the party scene, there’s a good chance this is where you’ll want to base yourself. Quite a few people tend to avoid staying in Kuta itself, with the large nightclubs causing some safety concerns, for various reasons.
If you aren’t a party-goer, it’s probably not advisable to stay in this area. Instead, consider popping in for a night on the town or spend a day exploring Poppies Lane (1 and 2), have a meal and some drinks then get the hell outta dodge. The best thing Kuta offers is some amazing sunsets on the beach. Wander down to the water, find a local selling cold beers out of an Esky, pull up a plastic chair and make yourself at home for the next few hours. It’s unforgettable.
Seminyak is home to a myriad of sprawling beach resorts, gorgeous hotels and cool little boutique spots and homestays too. It’s the perfect spot to still be in the action of Bali, but take a bit of the over-the-top party edge off it. I’d probably recommend it for people who still want to be social, go out to dinner and bars, catch gorgeous beach sunsets and mingle with other travellers, but not get so drunk their shirt gets ripped off in a nightclub each night.
You’ll find this area home to a huge range of boutique shops and really great bars and restaurants too. You’ll probably recognise names like Ku De Ta, Cocoon and Potato Head. It offers a great mix of relaxation and luxury, with fun and excitement too. You’ll also find a good mix of accommodation to suit all budgets, from luxe right through to less. Read about my stay at a private villa in Seminyak, here.
Canggu is the sort-of-new-kid-on-the-block. It’s yet to be tainted by tourists and serves as more a hipster meets surfer escape. We’re talking very cool, low-key beachfront bars with great music playing as the sunsets, sweet little family-run homestays and some amazing food. You’ll find some amazing cafes and restaurants in Canggu, which you can read all about here.
I’d recommend this spot as being perfect for the chilled out traveller. If you love to visit a place and just keep it real, but still have some great meals and sunset drinks, this is the spot for you. It’s great for surfers, you’ll find a tonne rolling the streets on scooters and running by, boards tucked under their arms. My tip on the way to experience it best is to immerse yourself in this low-key vibe, think homestays, lazy days and plenty of beach time!
My opinion of Nusa Dua has changed based on my last trip! My first visit to Nusa Dua left me feeling a bit underwhelmed as I felt isolated from the real soul of Bali. We were staying in a huge resort which was lovely but just felt like any big resort. I never really felt like I was in Bali, I felt like I could be anywhere in the world. So, on our last visit, I decided I want to go back try it again. This time we stayed in a resort that allowed us easier access to the streets and incorporated more elements of Balinese culture into its grounds, like restaurants serving authentic food, a beachfront bar serving cold Bintangs as well as beachfront BBQ and a few street stalls set up too. You can read my full review of where we stayed here.
I think Nusa Dua is great for certain types of travellers. If you’re looking to get hands-on with Bali and have one of those real cultural experiences, Nusa Dua probably isn’t right for you. It isn’t the place to barter with vendors, try street food and visit different cocktail lounges and bars. That said, it’s an absolutely perfect destination for anyone looking for some real rest and relaxation. If you want to go somewhere beautiful, spend your days unwinding by the pool, escaping from it all, then you cannot go past Nusa Dua. Just be sure you eat at least one meal at my favourite restaurant, Bumbu Bali. This place is definitely in my top 5 favourite restaurants in the world. Based on the great service, relaxed and beautiful restaurant but most importantly, the incredible food – it is just that good. Sometimes I think I go back to Bali just to eat here.
Uluwatu is a fantastic spot to stay along the stunning, jagged coastline of the Bukit Peninsula. A stay here takes you away from the throng of tourists living la vida loca in the main areas of Kuta and Seminyak. The best thing about this area is, of course, the views. It’s the place where you want to choose a seriously gorgeous resort with an outstanding infinity pool and spend all day, erryday getting your chill on. Eat, swim, sleep, repeat.
Aside from all this, you’ll find plenty of cool cafes and bars tucked into cliff-faces, some great day spas and amazing viewpoints offering views of the water unlike any other. It’s a haven for surfers, which means you can perch up high and watch them paddle out, catching wave after wave. I’d recommend Uluwatu is a great spot for just about anyone, provided you didn’t have your heart set on getting wasted each night. If that sounds like you, pack up and get back to Kuta or Seminyak, bro! Read our ultimate guide to Bali’s Bukit Peninsula here.
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do is get off the mainland and onto one of the islands. While Nusa Lembongan used to be a quiet haven, it has quickly been unearthed by savvy travellers as a serene, gorgeous place to visit and it now offers some fantastic accommodation, great restaurants and bars and a chilled out vibe to boot.
You’ll find it an awesome location for water sports, things like parasailing, snorkelling and scuba diving. Not only this, it’s the best spot to hire a scooter and rip around the island like a modern adventurer should (helmets required!). I love visiting Nusa Lembongan for more of an island feel, an escape with great food and beautiful water to swim in. You’ll have to catch the boat over, but it’s well worth the trip.
Famed for its sunsets and seafood, Jimabaran Bay is a must-try dinner spot for visitors. Choosing a restaurant is the tough bit and everyone in Bali knows someone who runs one of them. Once you’ve chosen a restaurant, you can contact them and arrange for them to pick you up from your hotel, drive you to Jimbaran, then drive you back to your hotel again after dinner. Seriously, it’s ridiculous.
So far I haven’t really mentioned accommodation here and that’s because I don’t really recommend it as a great spot to stay. It can feel like you’re removed from the world and, honestly, feels a bit random for some reason. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it’s just one of those places that is great to visit for a delicious meal and sunset, but then time to jump in a cab and head off again.
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.