Bali is known worldwide as an island paradise, famous for its batiks, woodcarving and traditional dances. Ubud is the artistic center of it all.
First popularized in the 1920s and 30s, foreign and domestic artists have flocked to Ubud for decades. German painter and musician Walter Spies came in 1927 and his influence is still visible today. Margaret Mead made her home nearby in 1936, using the serene beauty of the area as a background for her research and writing. Many artists, writers and sculptors continue to visit (and live in) Ubud and every year, the city hosts the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.
Museums, palaces and craft markets can be found in the center of town and are perfect excuses to wander the streets in the evening hours. Most stay open until 9pm, but check with each to make sure it will be open when you arrive.
Along the main thoroughfare, Jalan Raya Ubud, you will find the Museum Puri Lukisan. Established in 1953 by the local prince and a Dutch painter, the museum was created to collect the work of area artists; both felt that too much of the island's art was being held in private collections. Today the museum houses a wide variety of Balinese art from the 20th century.
Don't miss the fresh market just down the road from the museum. It's open every morning at the corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and the unforgettably named Jalan Monkey Forest. Fresh fruits, local crafts and all kinds of snacks and sundries are available.
Head out along Jalan Monkey Forest and you will find several shops that feature locally-made art; in some shops you can watch the artist at work, a ploy to entice buyers. Shops to look for include Macan Tidur, Nikini Art, and the Kuno Kuno Textile Gallery.
Over on Jalan Sanggingan, you can find Museum Neka, a beautiful arrangement of six traditional-style buildings that feature the works of Balinese, Javanese, and Bali-residing foreigners.
South of Ubud, the Agung Rai Museum of Art (on Jalan Pengosekan) features an impressive array of art by painters and craftspeople from around Indonesia, including foreigners who have made their homes in Bali. Be sure to check out what the current offering of workshops and cultural performances.
For more information:
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival: http://www.ubudwritersfestival.com
Museum Puri Lukisan: http://www.mpl-ubud.com
Agung Rai Museum of Art: http://www.armamuseum.com