Denpasar is located five miles north of Kuta and is the administrative capital of the island. It is by far the largest town in Bali but still manages to retain a small town ambience despite heavy traffic congestion on its roads. It is a functional place that doesn’t really have the range of tourist friendly amenities found in Kuta or even nearby Sanur Beach.
What it lacks in nightlife and western dining it makes up for in authentic and accessible Balinese culture and great shopping opportunities. There is an excellent museum, art galleries, evocative monuments, historic temples and cultural venues showcasing traditional dance and drama.
Away from the major commercial roads, Denpasar 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 chaotic 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. Very few western visitors to Bali base themselves in Denpasar but it does have plenty of interesting sights and attractions to make for a rewarding day trip from South Bali’s beach resorts. Make the most of your time in Denpasar with our top pick sights and attractions.
The Bali museum
This is Bali’s flagship museum and features a vast array of cultural and historic artifacts from across the island. It is housed in four traditional pavilions set around a walled compound, right in the heart of town. The central pavilion is given over to early Balinese history with Bronze Age exhibits including weaponry, utensils and precious jewelry.
As you walk through each pavilion you will find beautiful examples of Balinese textiles, religious artifacts and traditional costumes and masks found in some of Bali’s epic dance dramas. There is also a charming collection of old ‘wayang kulit’ leather puppets. The smallest pavilion has some interesting documents and grainy black and white photographs relating to Dutch colonial times.
Taman Budaya Cultural Centre
Located in the eastern suburbs, Bali’s foremost cultural centre 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.
There are weekly ‘wayang kulit’ shadow puppet plays and dance performances. From mid June each year it hosts an arts festival which is one of the largest in Indonesia. It is a month long celebration of visual art, dance and music, attracting huge crowds each day.
Bali’s most atmospheric markets are to be found in the heart of Denpasar and are typically chaotic and noisy. Badung Market is the largest and open 24 hours a day. It is a dimly lit warren of overflowing stalls selling cheap home wares, textiles and ornamental woodcarvings. Prices are very low and goods range from cheap tourist tat to high quality hand crafted furnishings.
Just across the river is Kumbasari Market which offers slightly more salubrious surroundings with dozens of handicrafts and clothes stalls. Here you will also find a good range of snack stalls and cheap Indonesian cafes.
Perhaps the most colourful market of all is the compact open air Pasar Burungor ‘bird market’ You will be greeted by a chorus of birdsong and exotic colours as stalls are stacked high with caged birds of paradise, chickens and water fow.
Denpasar’s main green oasis is found right in the centre at Puputan Square. This marks the spot of one of Bali’s most bloody episodes in history. In 1906 the king of Badung, as Denpasar was then known, and the entire royal court committed ritual suicide rather than surrender to advancing Dutch troops. It is thought that up to 2,000 Balinese lost their lives that day. A large intricately carved bronze statue commemorates this event and it also functions as a vibrant rendezvous spot for locals with food stalls, buskers and occasional open air puppet shows in the evening.
Dance dramas in Denpasar
There are daily traditional dance shows held in the Kesiman district of Denpasar at two seperate dance stages. Catur Eka Budhi stage has morning performances of the moving ‘Barong’ dragon dance starting at 09:30. A further 200 metres south is the attractive Uma Dewi Stage which puts on evening shows of the spectacular ‘kecak’ monkey dance at 18:30. The latter also has weekend yoga and Balinese dance classes.