Justin and I first came to Bali in 2006. We spent a few days in Ubud in central Bali, and then traveled East to Manggis. We immediately fell in love with all that Bali offers; from the balmy tropical weather, to the incredible food, exquisite local aesthetic, and verdant natural environment. But more than anything, we fell in love with the open-minded and inclusive nature of the locals, the gentle beauty of their daily spiritual practices, and the overwhelming sense that you are immersed in a creative, rich and self-assured culture.
Generally, we like to travel to new places, to seek out new experiences, and see as much of the world as we can. Bali is the exception. Over the years we have kept coming back for more, time and time again. Recently, when trying to figure out where we wanted to put down some roots, it was almost as though Bali smiled at us with open arms. We have since taken the plunge and embarked on the wild adventure of building ourselves a dream home here. You can see our design inspiration here, and the first photos of our land here, if you'd like to follow the project.
Anyway, I’m often asked for my tips and recommendations for where to find the best food, drinks, shopping, and things to do. So, I wanted to share a roundup of my all-time favorites for anyone lucky enough to be visiting the 'Island of the Gods'.
Bali is one of those destinations that has a lot to offer all different types of travelers; from yogis to adventure seekers, gourmets, shopaholics, sun worshipers, surfers, luxury lovers, spiritual questers, backpackers, young families, and fashionistas alike. I can’t speak to every demographic, but if you follow me on Instagram and like the look of what I get up to in Bali, then this guide is for you!
For the last couple of years, we’ve stayed in this villa in the Umalas, and our new home is being built in Berawa, so we tend to hang out in the neighboring villages of Seminyak and Canggu, in South Bali, and that’s where you'll find most of my recommendations.
I feel as though Justin and I have really explored food all over the world, and I honestly don’t know a single place on earth that has more (reasonably priced) world-class restaurants in such a small area, than Bali. It is paradise for foodies.
My Top 5 Favorite Restaurants in Bali
*These restaurants are all located in Seminyak, and would probably all classify as fine dining. Having said that, they don't feel stuffy, they're good value by international standards, and they have relaxed dress codes... I'm almost always wearing Havaianas!
Mamasan – this is my all-time favorite restaurant on the island. It serves delicious Asian-fusion food, including the best dumplings in Bali, and mouth-watering curries, along with a funky interior and great cocktails. Kick start your meal with a Limoncello Martini or ‘Spirituality’.
Bambu – this is my favorite high-end Indonesian restaurant. The menu is exciting because it offers regional food from across the country, including dishes from Sumatra, West Timor, and Java, and the setting and service are incredibly romantic. This is perfect for a date or special occasion. Dinner only. *No website. Their address is: Jalan Petitenget No. 198, and their phone is: +62 3618469797.
La Lucciola – this restaurant has been around for decades and is still one of the best in Bali. The menu is loosely Italian and features plenty of seafood (I highly recommend the fish pie and seafood risotto, when they’re on the menu), but you really come here for the view from the open-air Juglo. I like to sit upstairs overlooking the sea, for a long, leisurely lunch, and then walk across the road for a treatment at Bodyworks. *No website. Their address is: Petitenget Beach, and their phone is: +62 361730838
Metis – set in beautiful grounds, Metis serves excellent Asian/French fusion cuisine. Early on Friday nights they offer complimentary canapes outside in their garden, a lovely place to while away the sunset with a cocktail. If you have a sweet tooth, their dessert souffles are incredible.
Sarong – this is another dinner-only spot, and reservations are a must. The menu is a melting pot of dishes from all over Asia, and the interior is opulent and luxurious.
Other Favorites - Great Food & Good Vibes
- Da Maria – hip interior, great cocktails, and excellent pasta and pizza.
- Chandi – forever underrated. Asian fusion; perfect for lunch during a day of shopping on Seminyak’s main drag.
- Saigon Street – innovative Vietnamese.
- Arsana - refined, authentic Indonesian.
Quality Cheap Eats
- Xich Lo. Warung - authentic Vietnamese street food in a rustic setting overlooking beautiful rice paddies. *No website. Their address is: Kerobokan Kelod, and their phone is: +62 81236594939
- Warung Eny's - small, bustling family-run eatery serving authentic Indonesian dishes. *No website. Their address is: Jalan Petitenget No. 97, and their phone is: +62 3614736892.
- Echo Beach House - choose your 'catch of the day' from the fridge and watch the chef grill it for you on the outdoor barbecue. Sit outside on picnic style tables, and watch the waves crash against the sea wall just meters away.
- The Samadi Organic Sunday Market is a small and perfectly curated organic farmer’s market, that takes place every Sunday from 9am-2pm. There are a few handpicked fruit and vegetable vendors, an excellent fishmonger (selling her Dad’s catch of the day), a baker selling the most incredible sourdough (schooled at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, no less), and a variety of other producers selling homemade dips, salsas, spreads… and the most moreish chocolate and zucchini brownies. I adore this market. It’s definitely worth a visit, and you can also stop for coffee and breakfast in the market café – if you can find yourself a seat!
- The Jimbaran Traditional Fish Market is the best place to buy seafood (more on Jimbaran below).
- Monsieur Spoon is an excellent bakery with multiple locations. It's our go-to for bread and croissants.
- Bali Buda is the best health food store with multiple locations.
- The Go Jek app is the best resource for ordering take away and home delivery meals. Most restaurants will sell you take away through the app, which picks up and delivers your order for less than $1. It’s a great service and one that we use regularly.
- Canggu Station is the best grocery store for expat needs. *No website. Their address is: Jalan Pantai Berawa No.8, and their phone is: +62 811 3804 855.
Years ago I might have recommended Potato Head or Ku Da Ta, but these days they feel a bit passé to me. I'm currently loving Finns Beach Club and La Laguna, and both of these spots are totally kid friendly (without feeling too kid friendly).
I think Finns is best when you have a daybed, so make sure you either arrive really early or phone ahead to book one. The place fills quickly these days, and all the day beds get nabbed early!
There is a 200% import duty on alcohol coming into Bali, so alcohol can get very expensive. My tips:
- Everyone entering Bali is entitled to bring in 1L of alcohol. Make sure to use this allowance on either your favorite spirit or wine. If you exceed the limit, you’re likely to have the excess liquor confiscated at the airport, which isn’t the best way to kick start your vacation in paradise. We usually bring in three bottles of Champagne between the two of us.
- The local beer is Bintang, which is the cheapest drink on the island at around $1 a bottle. There is also a local San Miguel Brewery, so this is another good option at around $1.50 a pop.
- If, like me, you’re not a beer drinker, things get a little trickier. I’d suggest focusing on cocktails, rather than wine. The cocktails served at all the restaurants I have recommended are truly world-class and never get boring. If you’re hell bent on having wine, you just have to accept that the choice is limited and overpriced. C’est la vie.
- A word of warning; in addition to being expensive, wine is also often not stored properly in Bali. So, if you’re buying wine to have back at your villa, make sure it’s been stored in a cool place and not in direct, blazing sunlight. We’ve bought dozens of bottles of oxidized wine that was rendered undrinkable; it gets boring real fast.
- You’ve also got the option of drinking local wine. I’ve blind tasted all of them (literally every single one of them) and the two best options are the Hatten Aga White (a dry white blend) and the Two Islands Pinot Grigio. It's easy to be a wine snob, but it's not very productive in Bali, so I just throw in some ice cubes and enjoy drinking my perfectly palatable vino in paradise.
- For mixing cocktails at home, we buy Gilbey’s Gin and Vodka, which are distilled locally.
- Bintang Supermarket in Seminyak is one of the better places to shop for liquor.
Yoga & Fitness
We’re members of Finns Recreation Club, which has the best gym, personal training, fitness classes and sports facilities on the island. It’s also a beautiful club, equipped with multiple bars, restaurants, a kids club, bowling alley, tennis courts, water park, trampoline center, day spa, and Tony & Guy hair salon. If you’re in Bali for an extended stay, this is the fitness club to join.
- There are a lot of different options for yoga in Bali. My two favorites are Samadi and Desa Seni.
- Bodyworks is a bit of an institution in Bali, employing around 200 people and having been open for over 20 years. This is my go-to spot for a mani/pedi (they do a quality gel manicure), simple seaweed deep cleansing facial (that uses all French skincare and will only set you back around USD$20), super relaxing hair mask, massage, or waxing. The staff are efficient and well trained, they use good quality products, and the environment is lovely with lots of breezy, open-air areas.
- Amo Spa is the place to go for a more intense, high tech facial (think microdermabrasion and oxygen treatments), and gets extra points for serving cocktails to order. A word of caution: if you attempt to juggle cocktails during a pedicure, you might find yourself, like Justin, with an iPhone in the foot spa!
- If you’re in Bali for a little longer and looking for a medical spa, I’d suggest Cocoon. The facilities are excellent, as are the doctors on hand for consults and treatments. I’ve had the Dermapen treatment twice and was really happy with their service and the results.
Activities, Day Trips, and Overnights
This is probably Bali's most famous temple and, despite it's popularity with tourists, it's still a place of active worship for locals. Set on a rock formation in the sea, it's breathtakingly beautiful. I've visited the site many times, and it was particularly colorful on this occasion during the holy festival of Galungan.
A couple of years ago we splurged and stayed at the Four Seasons Resort in Jimbaran Bay for a few nights. It was absolutely divine. If you can stretch the budget, I’d highly recommend it. Having said that, you can hang out in Jimbaran, and have an equally brilliant time, without staying in expensive digs. We go for day trips regularly and simply enjoy hanging out on the stunning white sand beach.
- Bring a cool box and buy fish at the Jimbaran Fish Market, the best seafood market in Bali, to barbecue back at home. This is my favorite recipe for grilled whole fish.
- There are lots of easy-going warungs on the beach to grab a beer and a bite to eat. For something special we love Cuca Flavor Restaurant and Sundara Beach Club.
If you're familiar with Eat Pray Love, you'll have heard of Ubud, Bali's spiritual, yogic, and artistic heartland. I love Ubud, and we day-trip here regularly.
- We had the best day out white water rafting with GRAHA Adventure Rafting. It's thrilling, the scenery is stunning (you raft through a deep ravine in the jungle), and the guides are a hoot.
- Green School, the world's largest bamboo structure, offers regular tours. I found the experience fascinating, and I'd recommend visiting if you're generally interested in education and unique environmental initiates.
- The Ubud Traditional Art Market is one of my favorite places to shop for local handicrafts. There's a bit of hawking and bargaining to navigate, but nothing too major.
- There's a lot to learn about Indonesian cuisine, and I really enjoyed doing this one-day cooking class. This particular experience was unique because it's hosted in a private family compound and you get to learn all about traditional Balinese home life. It was fascinating to get an insight into the real life of locals.
- Sit upstairs at Hujan Locale for a superb meal of locally sourced, organic 'farm to table' Asian fusion food. The rustic, rural setting is gorgeous too.
- Explore the Tegalalang Rice Terraces, around 20 minutes drive from central Ubud. It was pretty hot when I visited, so I didn't hike up and down too much. Whether you do or not, the view is pretty spectacular.
- I love the Ubud Monkey Forest, but I know many people who don't like it all. Here's what you need to know, to determine whether or not you want to visit... The sanctuary is a nature reserve and Hindu temple, and the grounds are extremely beautiful. The place is also absolutely overrun with monkeys; they are everywhere, including on the street outside the forest, and on top of nearby parked cars! I adore animals, even in slightly intimidating environments, and so I love being able to see so many monkeys up close and personal. However, the monkeys here are extremely confident, and some of them are downright aggressive. Visitors are (unfortunately) encouraged to feed the monkeys, and this is presumably the cause of most of the problems. Every time I visit, I see monkeys jumping on people, and someone inevitably getting bitten. However, this only happens to the people behaving inappropriately, i.e. those people feeding the monkeys. If you want to visit (and it is really quite amazing), then respect the monkeys by not feeding or provoking them, and you shouldn't have any trouble. Also, don't wear a backpack. The monkeys have learned that backpacks often contain food, and they might try to break into your bag :-)
I've been to Lembongan on a day trip to go scuba diving, and I've also visited the island for a couple of nights on another occasion. I'd recommend the latter, if you've got the time. Lembongan is an island of the South Eastern coast of Bali, and you can get there by taking the 30-minute fast boat from Sanur (which is itself a lovely beach).
- There are lots of excellent dive locations around Lembongan. If you're a PADI certified diver, you MUST go to Manta Point and dive with the impressive manta rays. It was one of my favorite dives of all time.
- All of my other recommendations for Lembongan are here. Three or four nights is enough time on the island, unless you want to take things reeaaally slow.
- Bali Safari & Marine Park is an awe inspiring day out for kids. Zoos are contentious for good reasons, and this experience differentiates itself with a strong focus on educating visitors about animal welfare and conservation. The residents are also kept in much larger 'enclosures' that more closely resemble their natural habitats.
- Waterbom is Bali's most popular water park. Apparently it's the #2 best water park in the world on Tripadvisor! Kids love it, and there's a swim up bar for the parents :-)
- For a more sedate experience, there's also the Bali Butterfly Park. It's not huge, but it's beautiful and suitable for people who are interested in gardens and insects. We took Rosie last year and all enjoyed it.
The shopping in Bali is fabulous. The best boutiques are in Seminyak and Canggu, and the trick is to walk and explore. The best market for local crafts is the Ubud Traditional Art Market. Here are some specific stores
- For high-end interior decor and home goods visit Souq and Kim Soo.
- For homewares and accessories I love Bali Zen, Toko Emporium and Rose Avenue.
- Kidsagogo sells the most gorgeous children's (summer) clothing.
- Mister Zimi and Auguste are two womenswear labels worth checking out.
- Saint Tropez makes men's board-shorts in great prints.
- Slam69 has fun swimwear for all ages.
- Periplus Bookshop in Seminyak Square (phone: +62 361 736851) has an impressive range of English-language books and international magazines.
- For anyone wanting to get clothes made locally, the most extensive range of fabrics can be found at Alta Moda.
- Fans Leather sells a great range of quality hides, for anyone game enough to custom make a handbag!