Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Despite the traffic and ever-expanding sprawl, Bali’s capital Denpasar remains a rather pleasant city. Downtown Denpasar centres on a grassy square, Alun-alun Puputan, and only has a few major shopping streets in its core. Department stores and air-conditioned malls are mushrooming in southern districts. Modern Denpasar is epitomized by Jalan Teuku Umar, a neon-lit strip crammed with restaurants and shopping centres. The central neighbourhoods are bereft of modern life. Most tourists whizz in for the day and tour the Bali Museum and neighbouring state temple. But it's the relative dearth of tourists – and accompanying hoopla – that's most appealing here.
Sunday is a particularly good day to visit as traffic is light and many main streets are closed in a car-free initiative that sees joggers and cyclists reclaim the city.
Visitors will notice that Denpasar has a marked influence from its sizeable immigrant communities. Javanese Muslims, Sasaks from Lombok and Chinese-Indonesians, constitute a large minority of the city’s population of around 900,000.
Until the early 20th century, control of the city – then known as Badung, like the regency it governed – was divided among several rajas, most notably those at the courts of Pemecutan (southwest Denpasar) and Kesiman (east Denpasar). Supremacy was wrested from them, however, by the insatiably expansionist Dutch.
On the pretext of alleged piracy in Sanur, the colonizers marched on the raja on September 20, 1906, and massacred the local court. After Indonesia won independence in 1949, the island’s administrative capital was moved to Badung from the north-coast town Singaraja and the city was renamed Denpasar.
Almost 50 years later Denpasar’s status was upgraded again when, in 1992, it became a self-governing municipality. Since 2000 the city has continued to sprawl in every direction, and its southern suburbs now merge into the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak district, forming a huge conurbation.
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With very few overnight visitors, it’s lucky that the best things to do in Denpasar are all within walking distance from one another, making it ideal for a day trip.
This great repository of Balinese culture provides an excellent introduction to the island – past and present – and is housed in an appealing compound divided into traditional courtyards.
The two-storey Gedung Timur at the back of the entrance courtyard features archaeological finds downstairs, including a massive second-century BC stone sarcophagus, and an upstairs gallery with traditional paintings and woodcarvings.
Through the gateway left of the entrance courtyard, the Gedung Buleleng holds fine Balinese textiles, including the rare Kain geringsing, a complicated fabric created through the intricate dyeing and weaving technique ikat.
Built to resemble the long, low structure of an eighteenth-century Karangasem-style palace, the Gedung Karangasem introduces Balinese spiritual and ceremonial life and details the religious ceremonies of Balinese Hinduism.
The modern state temple Pura Agung Jagatnatha is set in a garden of pomegranate, hibiscus and frangipani trees. Founded in 1953, it is dedicated to the supreme god, Sanghyang Widi Wasa.
Carvings of lotus flowers and frogs adorn the tiny stone bridge that spans the moat around the temple’s central gallery (access at festival times only) and scenes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata decorate the gallery’s outer wall.
The temple’s focal point is the looming five-tiered padmasana tower in the inner courtyard. Built from blocks of white coral, it is carved with demons’ heads and the bottom level displays the face and hands of Bhoma, the son of the earth, whose job is to repel evil spirits from the temple.
In the southeast corner of the outer compound stands the kulkul tower, its split wooden bell still used to summon locals to festivals, meetings and temple-cleaning duties.
Marooned in the suburbs of east Denpasar, the Taman Werdhi Budaya Arts Centre was designed in 1973 by one of Indonesia’s most renowned architects, Ida Bagus Tugur.
It consists of a number of performance spaces and is the location of the spectacular annual Bali Arts Festival (usually between mid-June and mid-July) which features a wide array of special exhibitions, competitions and shows.
Outside festival times, the reason to visit Taman Werdhi Budaya Arts Centre is for the small museum on the history of Balinese arts.
On show is an overview of Balinese painting, including the classical wayang style plus works from the Ubud, Batuan and Young Artists styles and modern works, as well as a small display of woodcarving, masks, dance costume, shadow puppets and jewellery.
Among the offices in the government administrative district, Renon, on the southeastern edge of the city, is the huge grey lava-stone Bajra Sandhi (“Balinese People’s Struggle”) monument, at the heart of the Lapangan Puputan Margarana (Renon Square) park.
Designed by Taman Budaya’s architect, Ida Bagus Tugur, to resemble a priest’s bell, the monument’s structure also symbolizes the date of Indonesia’s Declaration of Independence – August 17, 1945 – with its eight entrances, seventeen corners and height of 45m.
The upper floor contains a series of 33 dioramas illustrating edited episodes from Balinese history. Climb the spiral stairs and you’re rewarded with a panoramic view across Denpasar’s rooftops.
On Sundays the park is car-free. This is a particularly good day for cycling, walking or jogging with the locals who visit in droves. To avoid the crowds, go during the week.
The vast majority of visitors to Denpasar will only visit the island's capital as part of a tour or day trip, so the accommodation here isn't the best. There are a number of decent chain hotels and some homestays, but travellers tend to land in Bali and then head south for somewhere to stay.
There are clusters of cheap hostels and guesthouses to the south of the Interactive Art Museum Bali, located off of the Jl. Tukad Badung, which runs north to south through the city centre.
To the east of the city, where Denpasar hits the oceanfront, are the pick of the hotels. Big chains, fancy high-rise hotels and plenty of midrange options.
Check the best accommodation in Denpasar.
There are few tourist-oriented restaurants in Denpasar, so this is a good chance to sample Bali’s cheap, authentic neighbourhood places to eat. Note that smaller restaurants generally shut by 7pm. Renon is the eating destination for middle-class locals and expats, but it’s a fair haul from the hotels in the city centre.
Babi Guling Candra While this simple warung isn't much to look at, it's one of the last places in Denpasar to sample babi guling, Bali's renowned suckling pig. Rice is topped with pork slices and served (quickly) with sate lilit, crispy pork skin, soup and veggies.
Bhineka Jaya Kopi Bali At this modest-looking outlet of Indonesia’s Butterfly Globe Brand, you can sample a cappuccino or Bali coffee, then choose which grade of island beans to take home.
River Walk Pasars Badung and Kumbasari Two bustling markets by day are transformed into a pasar malam (night market) on both sides of the river. At dusk the illuminated bridge and shops transform the usual food stalls into a new adventure. Supercheap soups, noodle and rice dishes and cold beer are the norm here.
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The best way to get around Denpasar is by taxi or using ride-hail apps, Gojek/Grab.
Metered taxis and app-taxis circulate around the city. Blue Bird's Bali Taxis and Gojek/Grab are all reliable.
Trans Sarbagita buses (which were meant to be a mass rapid transit system to alleviate traffic, but it didn’t turn out that way) run from Denpasar, though it’s not a very reliable or punctual service.
There are two routes in Denpasar. Corridor 1: Ngurah Rai Stadium to GWK Cultural Park via Jl. Surapati, Udayana University, and Jimbaran. Corridor 2: Batubulan to Nusa Dua via Sanur, Kuta Central Parking, airport and Jimbaran.
Very few tourists bother to take bemos within the city because their routes are mega-complicated, they don't depart until they're full. This can mean hours of waiting time (except in the mornings when demand is high).
Prices are unregulated causing foreigners to pay up to ten times the normal fee. In the long run, it could work out cheaper and certainly a lot easier to order an app-based motorcycle or car taxi.
Countless tour agents offer car, motorbike and bicycle rentals. They are not for the faint-hearted.
Denpasar is not primarily a tourist destination. Most visitors will either only spend a night here or, more likely, visit during a day trip from Ubud, Seminyak, or Sanur. That said, if you’re staying over because you arrived to the nearby airport late, both the Bali Museum and Pura Jagatnatha Temple will keep you busy for a day here.
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The best time to visit Denpasar is during the dry season, which runs from April to October. During this time, the weather is generally sunny and dry, with low humidity and minimal rainfall.
The peak tourist season in Bali is mid-June to mid-September; plus the Christmas–New Year period. Prices for accommodations and activities may be higher during this time. Therefore, if you are looking to avoid the crowds and save some money, you may want to consider visiting Denpasar during the shoulder season, which is from April to mid-June and mid-September to October.
It's worth noting that Bali's weather can be unpredictable and even during the dry season, you may experience some rainfall. However, these showers are usually brief and don't last long, so they're unlikely to impact your plans too much.
Additionally, Denpasar hosts several cultural festivals throughout the year, which can spike prices. Good events to attend include the anniversary of Denpasar City (27 February); the Bali Art Festival (mid-June to mid-July); and the Denpasar Festival (end of December).
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.
As Bali’s capital city, getting to Denpasar in Bali is straightforward. There’s no shortage of international and domestic flights to Bali’s only airport, Ngurah Rai International Airport – officially referred to as Denpasar (DPS) – 13km south of Denpasar.
You can take a prepaid taxi from Ngurah Rai International Airport to Denpasar.
Bemos from outside Denpasar arrive at one of three terminals on the edge of town. As most Balinese prefer motorbikes, frequencies on all these routes are falling due to low demand.
Batubulan Batubulan terminal, on the far-flung northeast fringes in Batubulan village (7am–1pm only), runs services to Ubud, and points in central and eastern Bali.
Tegal Located off Jl. Imam Bonjol on Gang Imbora, Tegal Harum, in the southwest corner (6am–5pm only), Tegal covers routes south of Denpasar, including Kuta, Legian, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua and Uluwatu and Sanur.
Ubung Ubung (Jalan HOS Cokroaminoto, northwest of the city on the main road to Tabanan) runs transport to north and west Bali, Gilimanuk, Negara, Singarja and Tabanan.
Denpasar’s main bus terminal is Mengwi (Jl. Mengwi, Mengwitani, 17km northwest of Denpasar). Most buses to and from Java stop here. To get to/from Mengwi terminal, take a Trans Sarbagita Mengwi-Ubang bus which leaves 5–6 times/day.
Plan your trip to Bali with the Rough Guide to Bali and Lombok.