Denpasar is the gateway to the beaches of Bali, but it’s worth lingering to explore its museums and markets – and to sample the spectacular Balinese food served in the city’s cafes and restaurants – before drifting south to Kuta, Seminyak or the beaches of the Bukit Peninsula, with sunscreen and surfboard in hand.
Taxis and buses zip from the airport to downtown Denpasar and the resorts and hill towns of Bali. You’ll also find plenty of crowded but colourful bemos (shared minibuses) speeding around the main centres. Regular boat and air services provide easy access to the surrounding islands of the Indonesian archipelago.
Nowhere offers a better introduction to the rich history of Bali than the sprawling Museum Negeri Propinsi Bali in the centre of Denpasar. Here, in lush gardens, you’ll find pavilions recreating the glory of ancient Balinese architecture, filled with displays on Balinese culture and crafts. Living culture is on offer next door at the Pura Jagatnatha temple, which is thronged by devotees for the full moon and new moon.
Denpasar is where Bali comes to shop, and Pasar Badung is the biggest market in the country. Traders and shoppers throng the passageways, haggling for temple offerings, spices, flowers, baskets and every imaginable kind of tropical fruit. Seek out fine Balinese batiks close by at the emporia on Jalan Sulawesi.
Locals rave about Denpasar’s warungs – family-owned restaurants specialising in Balinese delicacies, each with their own family recipe for sambal (chilli, shallot and lemongrass relish). Look out for restaurants serving babi guling, Bali’s famous roast suckling pig.
With the coast right on the doorstep, there’s no excuse for not zipping down to the golden sands of Kuta or the jewel-like beaches scattered around the Bukit Peninsula. Jimbaran is famous for its sunset seafood dinners, and the surf breaks spectacularly around Kuta, Ulu Watu and Canggu.
Denpasar was once a medieval capital, and traces of its early life persist in hidden corners. Just blocks from the Balinese museum, Pura Maospahit offers a window back to the 14th century, when Denpasar was capital of the independent Hindu kingdom of Badung. You can see more royal relics at the Satria Palace, including the kris daggers used by islanders to resist the Dutch colonial occupation. If you need a break from the city crush, the beaches and mangrove forests of Sanur are just 20 minutes from downtown Denpasar.
Eating at family-run warung restaurants is one of the great pleasures of visiting Denpasar. Warung Satria has been a favourite of generations of travellers for its excellent seafood sate. For more deliciously authentic Balinese food, seek out the food stalls that set up around the Pasar Badung market. Elsewhere in Denpasar, you’ll find dishes from across Indonesia, from grilled ayam (chicken) and mie goreng (fried noodles) to martabak (stuffed pancakes). Perhaps the best dining experience close to Denpasar is the nightly seafood feast served up at tables laid out on the sand at Jimbaran, against a backdrop of rolling surf.