Bali is known for surf, sand and sunshine, but when you need a break from the beach or a more spiritual sojourn, there are thousands of temples to discover in Indonesia’s island paradise. These sacred places or 'puras' (Balinese for temple) are found across the region and continue to be used for daily worship and religious ceremonies by Bali’s predominantly Hindu population. Often tourists aren’t permitted to enter the main worship area or inner sanctum of a temple, however the best temples in Bali are set in stunning surroundings which make them just as beautiful from the outside. Read on to discover a few of our favourites and remember, if you’re planning a visit to connect with Balinese culture, modest clothing is a must.
- Pura Besakih
- Pura Ulun Danu Beratan
- Pura Tanah Lot
- Pura Uluwatu
- Pura Taman Saraswati
- Pura Gunung Kawi
- Pura Lempuyang Luhur
Located in East Bali, a two-hour drive from Ubud, Pura Besakih is the largest and holiest temple in Balinese Hinduism. You can easily while away an entire day exploring this sprawling complex of temples and shrines on the slopes of Mount Agung volcano. Admire the mountain landscape from the stepped terraces; look out over lush rice fields; and be transfixed by the towering meru (multi-tiered, pagoda-like shrines) that reside resplendent in the clouds. The so-called ‘Mother Temple’ has so far escaped damage from the volcano (which erupted as recently as 2019); the lava came close in 1963, missing the complex by just a few feet, and the Balinese people regard the temple’s survival as a miracle. All of this makes it one of the island’s most sacred sites and an essential entry on any list of unmissable temples in Bali.
In North Bali, encircled by mountains on the shores of Lake Beratan, is the iconic Pura Ulun Danu Beratan. This temple is a regular guidebook cover star, and with good reason. The calm waters of the lake, the mountain mist, and the majestic buildings (including an 11-storey meru tower) create a serenely special atmosphere; it’s sometimes called ‘the floating temple’ because it can appear to balance on the water like a boat. Although tourists can’t enter the main complex, the area around the temple is peaceful and picturesque, with the crisp mountain air offering a cool contrast to the humidity of Bali’s beaches.
Perched high on a rock facing the ocean, Pura Tanah Lot is only accessible during low tide, when the waves recede and the path to the temple reveals itself. At high tide, the temple rests in the swirling waves, where it is said to be guarded by the sea snakes that swim nearby, protecting the shrine from evil spirits. Looking out to the temple from the nearby clifftop, you can see why Tanah Lot translates to ‘Land in the Sea’. This clifftop and the view it offers of the rocky island make this one of the best temples in Bali for catching the sunset. Many others will have the same idea, and the camera-toting crowds descend during golden hour, so visit earlier in the day if you want to avoid the masses.
Another impressive clifftop temple, Uluwatu gazes over the blues of the Indian Ocean at the south-western tip of the Bukit Peninsula. It’s close to some brilliant beaches, including great surfing spots, but touring the temple lets you enjoy a bird’s-eye view of those wonderful waves. A popular Kecak dance is performed in the temple grounds at sundown, however it’s the ocean vista which steals the show; look out for turtles swimming below as you walk along the clifftop path around the complex. This temple is also known for its mischievous monkeys, who will make a grab for anything shiny (including mobile phones and glasses), so take care not to become the unwitting victim of a primate pickpocket.
Built in the 19th century and located in the centre of Ubud, Pura Taman Saraswati is famous for its lotus pond and intricately detailed doors. Also known as Ubud Water Palace, it’s dedicated to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, art and wisdom. And wisdom has it that it’s best to visit early before the crowds gather. The temple opens around 7am, when the morning light, cooler temperatures and smaller number of visitors make for a more tranquil visit.
Set on the hillside amid verdant jungle and rice terraces, Pura Gunung Kawi can be quieter than other temples despite being only 30 minutes from Ubud. Its ten shrines are carved into the steep cliff face, each one dedicated to a member of the ancient Balinese royal family – earning Gunung Kawi the alternative title of the ‘Balinese Valley of the Kings’. There might be 300 or so stairs to descend to reach the complex, but the temple more than makes up for the effort (just don’t think about the climb back up).
Regularly named in round-ups of the best temples in Bali, Pura Lempuyang Luhur is undoubtedly beautiful – however, that beauty is both a blessing and a curse. The Gateway of Heaven, which perfectly frames Mount Agung in the distance, is an in-demand Instagram backdrop and attracts long queues of tourists. There’s now a dedicated team at the temple to orchestrate these photoshoots; hand them your phone or camera and they’ll give you three shots at nailing the perfect pose (no more than three – they count). Don’t let this put you off, because away from the Gateway of Heaven, the rest of this seven-temple complex is quieter, and its majestic, mountainous location makes it an awe-inspiring place. It’s one of Indonesia’s oldest temples and the fanfare is justified, so set your alarm and arrive for sunrise for a more peaceful pilgrimage.
Header Image: Jérôme Galland