Denpasar is the largest city in Bali and usually avoided by foreign travelers who can easily get to the beach areas, temples and Ubud without passing through it. Attractions include a museum, with dance costumes, shadow puppets and ikat, some temples, some gardens and a turtle and dragon statues. Denpasar means “next to the market” and fittingly the market in town is the largest and busiest in Bali. Other Denpasar is crowed, congested and noisy—things which travelers do not take long flights to experience.
Although it may not be as popular as tourist centers like Kuta, Ubud and Legian that doesn’t mean, Denpasar is completely without charm It is by far the largest city in Bali but still manages to retain a small town ambience despite heavy traffic congestion on its roads. The city is generally made up of tightly knit villages complete with historic Hindu temples surrounded by communal family compounds. It offers the most accessible way to see real, uncompromising Balinese life. Denpasar is also Bali’s best spot for shopping and features everything from lively street markets, vast department stores and more than its fair share of trendy boutiques. Expect the cheapest prices in Bali for almost everything as most stores cater to locals.
Designated as Bali’s capital city since 1958, replacing the former capital of Singaraja in the north, the city of Denpasar has since then grown rapidly in population and economy. Today the city acts as the major hub that connects the many tourists’ destinations within Bali Island. Denpasar is also the site where the Bali Arts Festival is held annually. Denpasar is filled with temples and palaces. In the eastern part of the city is the popular laid back beach of Sanur. Although is a center for government and businesses, Denpasar is not smothered with tall buildings or modern architectures. Instead, many of the government offices, banks, businesses offices, shopping malls, and others are located in buildings with traditional Balinese touches.
Sights in Denpasar
As is true with any place in Bali, Denpasar is also dotted with Hindu Temples. Among some of the renowned one the Pura Agung Jagatnata (adjacent to the Bali Museum), Pura Maospahit, and Puri Pemecutan. Around Denpasar’s main square — Puputan Square — are the office of the Governor, the Bali Museum, and Bali’s first hotel, the Bali Hotel, where Hollywood film stars lik Charlie Chaplin and rich heiresses such as Barbara Hutton once stayed. Also around here are major banks. While other government offices can be found at Renon. Puputan Square itself is a historic landmark. In 1906, when Dutch forces landed on Sanur and moved to the city, the King of Badung, his Queen, children and the entire court wearing all white clothing and armed only with the keris, fiercely confronted the oncoming bullets. The royal house was entirely wiped out, except for one young prince, whose descendent was later installed as the Cokorda or King of Pemecutan.
The huge Bajra Sandhi Monument erected at the Puputan Square commemorates the Puputans (suicidal fight to the death) of the Balinese in their struggle against Dutch colonialism. In 1908 the Raja of Klungkung together with his court chose death over surrender and shame. Inside the monument are dioramas, displays and objects depicting the history of the Balinese struggle against colonialism
The Provincial Museum (Museum Negeri Provinsi Bali), also known simply as the Bali Museum, is Bali’s flagship museum, features information on almost all things related in Bali through a vast array of cultural and historic artifacts from across the island. The museum is housed in four traditional pavilions set around a walled compound, right in the heart of town. Weaponry, utensils, precious jewelry, Balinese textiles, religious artifacts, traditional costumes and masks, and artworks are among some of the objects displayed in the museum. Taman Werdhi Budaya (in the eastern suburbs of Denpasar), or Bali Art’s Center, is Bali’s foremost cultural centre. It comprises a large exhibition space, art museum, concert hall and amphitheatre and an adjoining school for the performing arts. There are permanent displays of Balinese art covering all styles made famous in nearby Ubud, woodcarvings and traditional costumes. Visitors can experience dance and music performances in two open-air amphitheaters with modern lighting. Dances are also regularly staged for the public, including works integrating modern Balinese choreography. The unique Kecak performance staged every night at 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm.
Accommodation, Shopping and in Denpasar
As capital of Bali Province, there is a wide range of accommodation in Denpasar: from starred hotels to modest inns. Here a few of them: 1) Adi Yasa Hotel, Address: Jl Nakula 23, Tel. +62 361 222679; 2) Genesis Hotel and Spa, Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai 888, Tel. +62 361 722071; 3) Merta Sari Hotel, Address: Jl Hasanudin 24, Tel. +62 361 222428; 4) Nakula Familiar Inn Address: Jl Nakula 4, Tel. +62 361 226446; 5) Taman Suci Hotel, Tel. Jl Imam Bonjol 4, Tel. +62 361 485254, E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; 7) Tirta Lestari Hotel, Jl Nangka 62, Tel. +62 361 229882
Some of the best shopping places of Bali are in Denpasar. Here are some spots you may want to try: 1) Badung Central Market on Jalan Gajah Mada is best visited in the early morning. The ground level is devoted to fresh foodstuffs, dried food and spices are on the second level and handicrafts can be found on the top level. 2) Duta Silk is a fabulous silk emporium located at Block 1, Komplex Duta Permai (next to Matahari Department store) on Jalan Dewi Sartika. Gold stores with globally competitive jewellry prices abound in Jalan Hasanuddin and Jalan Sulawesi. 3) The myriad of small stores selling fabrics and local works in Jalan Gajah Mada and Jalan Thamrin will keep happy even the most jaded of world shoppers. 5) There are several shopping malls in Denpasar, the most notable being Ramayana on Jalan Diponegoro, Matahari Duta Plaza on Jalan Dewi Sartika and Robinsons opposite Matahari. These malls have a huge range of stores selling everything from clothing to arts and crafts as well as more everyday shops such as pharmacies.
Denpasar is a melting pot of different cultures from all over Indonesia. There are few places where the results of the government transmigration policy are more evident than here. For that reason it is a wonderful place to eat with restaurants specialising in different regional and ethnic Indonesian cuisines. Sometimes this can all seem a bit inaccessible and hard to find for visitors, so do not be shy to ask your driver or at your hotel. Here are some of the dining places you can try in Denpasar: 1) Kereneng Night Market (Pasar Malam Kereneng), Jl Hayam Wuruk/Jl Kamboja, This market starts up at sunset eveyday and is open until dawn. All manner of Indonesian food served from dozens of stalls. It is rough and ready, but the food is excellent and 100 percent authentic; 2) Ayam Taliwang, Jl Teuku Umar, Tel. +62 0361 228789; 3) Bali Bakery, Jl Hayam Wuruk 181, Tanjung Bungkak, Tel. +62 361 243147, E mail: email@example.com; 4) Kak Man, Jl Teuku Umar 135; 5) Atoom Bara, Jl Gajah Mada 106-108, Tel. +62 361 222788; 6) Warung Nasi Bali, Jl Hayam Wuruk 69A, Tel. +62 361 223889; 7) Warung Wardani, Jl Yudistira 2, Tel. +62 361 224398.
Kuta Beach (between the airport and Denpasar) is the closest place in Bali to airport and one of the best places in Bali if you like to party but one the worst if you don’t like irritating hawkers that hiss like snakes and won’t leave you alone, tacky souvenir stands with some of the cheesiest stuff you will ever see, gridlock traffic, massage parlors and tattoo places. There may have been a time when Kuta was a nice, charming place but that time is long passed, still it sometimes it is hard to avoid stopping there.
Kuta Beach has been described as Australia’s Tijuana. It is more or less the closest place an Australian can go to get out of Australia. There are a lot of drunk Australian young running around at night and Australian families on beach vacation roaming around in the day. Cantering to them are rowdy pubs, cheap motorbike rentals, and malls with designer clothes, cheap watches and jewelry and satay. Bail is the main travel destination for Australian visiting Asia. A good portion of them seem to be in Kuta.
Kuta’s beach is popular with surfers; the current can be a little strong for swimmers. The surfing in the area is great. For the best surfing and body boarding waves take a boat to the outside of the reefs. Here you can find consistent and well-formed waves that range in height from eight to 15 feet. The army of women masseuses that have numbers of their rice-paddy-style hats and other hawkers that work the beach are restricted to the upper beach and barred from working the lower beach.
Orientation and Transportation in Kuta
The Kuta area consists of four main areas: 1) Kuta itself, with its wide choice of budget accommodation, restaurants, bars and activities; 2) Tuban, an area between Kuta and the airport with shopping malls and more upscale hotels; 3) Legian, north of Kuta, nicer and less sleazy than Kuta but with less of everything; and 4) Seminyak-Kerobokan, a quieter area with a large expatriate community. All four places merge together and it is often difficult to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. The main road that connects them is almost always a mess. As one moves away from Kuta it gets progressively quieter and quieter.
Jalan Legian is the main road. It runs more less parallel to the beach, but a few hundred meters away, from Kuta through Legian, Seminyak and Keroboken. Jl Legian averages about 500 meters from te beach. Between Jl Legian and the beach is a maze of small back streets with small hotels and guest houses, souvenir shops, bars and other tourist-related businesses.
Sights and Activities in Kuta Beach
There are not really any sites per say in Kuta. The main attractions are the beaches, restaurants, bars and shops. There are several amusement areas, including a go-kart track, water slides and something called bali jumping, which combines bungee jumping with jumping on a trampoline. For sites around Bali, there are many tourist agencies in Kuta that arrange trips to spots around the island.
The Bali Bombing in 2002 took place on Jalan Legian, the busiest street in Kuta’s business and entertainment district. The memorial for the Bali Bombing consists of a wall of granite and limestone with the names of the victims and an altar and flags for the 22 nations from which the victims came from. Unveiled a year after the bombing, the memorial is on a 140 square meter plot of land across the street from the Sari Club, where the bomb that killed the most people exploded. Paddy’s Pub, another place where a bomb was set off, reopened under the name Paddy’s Reloaded. There is more of police and military presence and men with guns doing rounds in the area than there was before the bombing.
Accommodation, Entertainment and Restaurants at Kuta Beach
Kuta has places to stay that cater all tastes and budget; five star hotels, clean “losmen” or home stays. The nicer places have more privacy, beach front locations and swimming pools not far from the hustle and bustle of the town centre. If you're a backpacker looking for cheap accommodation in Kuta, just go to Poppies Lane Alley, where there are many low-budget inns and restaurants Warungs offering cheap food are within a two minute walk on Poppies Lane 1, so no need to get sucked into a beachside restaurant and high prices.
There are also various foreign and local restaurants offering international and local foods. There are many souvenir shops along Kuta that offering you many kind of Balinese souvenir, starting from clothes, paintings, handicrafts, wooden crafts, etc.
There are literally hundreds of places to stay and eat and drink in the Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Keroboken areas. The bar and club scene often begins early with a variety of happy hour deals beginning around 6:00pm. The competition is pretty fierce and some of the deals are quite good. Popular night spots on Kuta include the Hard Rock Café, De Ja Vu, the Bali Globe, Paddy’s Café and many more.
Transportation in Kuta
Moving around Kuta is easy. You can go around on foot to most places in Kuta. Many people rent motorbike or motorcycle, on which they roam around all of Bali island. Some get lost of You can rent bicycles and can roam around with these too but often the bikes are not very durable. Buses (bemos (minibuses) and dokars (horse and carriages) provide transport within the city. Bemos and motorcycle taxis provide transport to Kuta. Motorcycle taxis are not recommended, due to high road crash risk. There are plenty of taxis that can take you to Kuta beach. You can rent these by the meter or by the hour. Drivers may overcharge, particularly when the meter is off. Agree on fare before departing when using an unmetered taxi. Bali Taksi Company is a division of Bluebird taxis. Their drivers use meters and do not overcharge.
According to ASIRT: “ Traffic is congested. Traffic jams are common near lunch and dinner hours. Parking is available in city center and is generally easy to find near the beach. Sidewalks are often in poor condition. Many sidewalks are built over sewer lines; manhole covers may be missing, loose or broken. Use caution when walking, especially at night. Ngurah Rai Airport (also known as Bali International Airport) is 2.5 kilometers north of Kuta.” [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT): PDF, 2008]
Seminyak (3 kilometers north of central of Kuta) is trendy alternative to Kuta that has become popular with the affluent, wine-drinking crowd and is regarded as the perfect place to relax and socialize. The town has an active nightlife scene. There are a number of trendy bars and restaurants. A bar known as the Ku De Ta attracts the expatriate community at sunset.
Among the hotels here are the Oberoi, which resembles a traditional Balinese village and was designed bu the same Australia architect, Peter Muller, who designed the Amandari Resort near Ubud. Many of the people here rent luxury villas that have their own in-house cooks and servants. Nicer ones that have ocean views and five bedrooms go for around $1,500 a night. Cheaper ones go for $300 a night and have their own pool. The cost can be divided by six or seven people. Masseuses and yoga instructors are provided by request. There are also people to organize tours around the island, and surfing and scuba trips.
The first villas were built in the 1970s by trust fund kids that wanted to stay in some places nicer than the guesthouses in Kuta and the bamboo bungalows of Ubud. They built traditional open-air Balinese-style villas with thatched roofs and rented them to friends when they weren’t there. Over the years more and villas were built and an industry was born. Most of the villas are handled by local agents. Bali Villas (balivillas.com) handles villas for the entire island.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020