On the Radar: Denpasar, Jalan Gajah Mada

Here's where you'll find century-old temples, grand palaces, museums, parks and the best shops in Bali.

Denpasar, the largest city in Bali, is described in a popular guidebook as “such a congested, noisy hellhole it’s hard to imagine anybody staying there on their own free will”. Yes, it may be a little daunting and chaotic, but it’s certainly worth a day trip from Kuta or Seminyak — or even an overnight stay — for a chance to savour a city that is being transformed.

The area around Jalan Gajah Mada is leading the way in the city’s revitalisation. Along with an upgrade of the extraordinary Bali Museum there has been a surge in new restaurants and shops aimed at the burgeoning Balinese middle class.

Wander through the tree-lined streets with examples of Javanese-influenced architecture and you’ll discover a cultural area that will surprise and delight you.

See

You might need a little more than a day to take in the many sights on offer around Jalan Gajah Mada. Here’s where you’ll find century-old temples, grand palaces, museums, parks and the best shops in Bali.

Start your tour in Puputan Square, popular with locals and home to the huge Bajra Sandhi monument and the four-faced Catur Muka statue. This is the centre of the city from which all distances are measured. It’s also the heart of the growing upscale area. Across the square’s park is the under-patronised Bali Museum showcasing prehistoric artefacts as well as rare examples of Balinese performance art and rituals.

There is an impressive array of palaces and temples in the surrounding streets off Jalan Gajah Mada, but the most notable would have to be the 14th-century Maospahit Temple. Constructed largely using red bricks, the temple was partially damaged in the 1917 earthquake. But it has since been restored, following the original design. Surprisingly, this place of historic significance is not often visited by tourists, so there’s a good chance you’ll have the whole temple to yourself.

When you’re in the city, it is also a good idea to pay a visit to the official tourism office to find out about the schedule of cultural events in Denpasar. There are several varied events organised throughout the year, including dance, puppet theatre, art exhibitions and festivals.

Stay

With Kuta, Seminyak and the beach resorts of Sanur just 20 minutes away, it’s an easy day trip to Denpasar. However, the splendid dining options and shopping make a quick one-night stay worthwhile. Luxury accommodation options are limited, but there is a four-star hotel not too far away from Jalan Gajah Mada — the Aston Denpasar Hotel & Convention Center offers modern rooms with spa facilities and a swimming pool.

If you want to be right in the heart of Jalan Gajah Mada (and experience its old-time vibe), stay at the Inna Bali Hotel. Built in 1927, this was once the place to be seen and was the favourite retreat of past president Sukarno.

Shop

Contrary to what you might be told by the staff in the swanky stores in Sanur or Seminyak, the best shopping in Bali is in Denpasar, specifically, within a short stroll of this neighbourhood. Begin your morning at the traditional Badung Central Market and neighbouring Pasar Kumbasari (across the river) for fresh produce, spices, fabrics, tourist trinkets, and arts and crafts.

Along Jalan Gajah Mada you’ll find plenty of small stores selling intricately woven fabrics of all descriptions, while Denpasar’s famous gold shops can be found south on Jalan Hasanudin. A short walk away is Jalan Sulawesi, the place to pick up handicrafts and shoes.

Eat

New restaurants and cafes are opening up in and around Jalan Gajah Mada, but there’s also a great selection of restaurants that has been around for decades.

For authentic Indonesian cuisine it’s only a short walk to Warung Wardani. The nasi campur (rice with various spicy side dishes) is a local favourite. If you fancy some Chinese, you can’t go past Atoom Baru Restaurant, which has been dishing up pigeon and frog, as well as more familiar dishes such as sweet-soy-grilled pork and hakka-stuffed steamed chicken, for more than 70 years.

And finally, to finish off any meal, head to Kopi Bali for a caffeine hit. This place has been producing local coffee since 1935 and is an absolute must for coffee lovers. Order your favourite brew, then buy the beans to take the taste home with you.

Words by Brian Thacker - Published in Voyeur January 2013
Quick Facts 
Time Zone GMT +8
Languages Indonesian, though English is widely spoken
Currency Indonesian Rupiah
Electricity 110/220 volts AC (50 Hz)
Share this article 
facebook Twitter Pinterest Google
Related Articles 
Eat, Pray, Love in Bali with Alana Lowes
The Flying Foodie spoils her body and mind at a unique sanctuary for women in Bali
Treasured Island: Bali
From almost any vantage point along the east-coast of Karangasem, the towering profile of Bali’s largest volcano is visible, looming imperiously over the surrounding rice terraces.
5 Things to See and Do in Bali
Rich with vibrant culture, stunning natural settings and outstanding things to see and do, Bali is a magnificent holiday destination. Discover the tropical paradise’s best drawcards. Bali is fringed....