If Jakarta is the capital city; Bali a spiritual town then Yogyakarta is the soul of Indonesia. Unlike Bali or Jakarta, the life in Yogyakarta is a bit laidback. No hurried moments here. The people are warm & friendly and the food has stories. A cultural and historical experience awaits you as we give our top amazing things to do in Yogyakarta.
Table of Contents
- 0.1 What to do in Yogyakarta or Jogja
- 0.2 Visit Borobudur temple
- 0.3 Sunset in Prambanan Temple
- 0.4 Watch the Ramayana Ballet Show in Prambanan Temple
- 0.5 Visit Candi Pawon
- 0.6 Visit Candi Plaosan
- 0.7 The Sultan Palace or The Kraton
- 0.8 Taman Sari Water Castle
- 0.9 Attend a Batik workshop
- 0.10 Make Silver jewelry in Kota Gede
- 0.11 Leather Puppet
- 0.12 Watch Wayang Kulit Show
- 0.13 Make some jaggery
- 0.14 Have Kopi Luwak
- 0.15 Visit a café
- 0.16 Experience adventures of Merapi
- 0.17 Visit Jomblang caves
- 0.18 Take a food tour
- 0.19 Have local dish Gudeg and Sego Pecel
- 0.20 Fun activities near Southern Square
- 0.21 Visit Bird market
- 0.22 Shopping in Malioboro
- 0.23 Getting there
- 0.24 Local Food to try
- 0.25 Restaurants in Yogyakarta
- 0.27 Accommodation in Yogyakarta
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What to do in Yogyakarta or Jogja
Yogyakarta, pronounced locally as ‘Jogjakarta’, or ‘Jog-ja’ in short, is the hub of fine Javanese arts and culture. The culture is as rich as they were centuries ago. Yogyakarta is also well known for its traditional methods of producing hand-made Batik crafts, puppets, masks, silver jewelry and of course coffee!
Here is a complete guide to Yogyakarta with our recommendations.
Visit Borobudur temple
“Who built it, how and when, we have no idea” said my guide Yanni with a mischievous smile. The period of construction is estimated by comparing carved reliefs on the temple’s hidden foot and the inscriptions used in royal charters during the 8th and 9th centuries. A cultural masterpiece built without any mortar, Borobudur temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. However, the temple also became a target by extremists which destroyed parts of the temple. We could also see several Buddha heads missing from the premises.
From then onwards, tight security is in place before you enter this UNESCO world heritage site.
Tip: You need to decide when you want to visit the temple. Sunrise at Borobudur is one of the best things to see in Yogyakarta but it is extremely crowded at that hour. Tickets prices are also high. During daytime, tickets are lesser priced, it’s less crowded but you miss the beauty of the first rays falling on the temple.
Sunsets are also beautiful with almost no people.
Sunset in Prambanan Temple
If Borobudur is morning beauty then Prambanan Temple is an evening charm. Less than an hour’s drive from Yogyakarta, you will get to witness the most beautiful Hindu temple in Indonesia. Dedicated to Trimurti, that is Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, this temple is characterized by its tall and pointed architecture. It is a large complex of individual temples. The temple walls are sculptured with interesting details. Take a good rest after temple hopping, and catch the gorgeous sunset in Prambanan temple.
Tip: If you plan to visit both Borobudur and Prambanan temples, which you should, then I suggest you buy the combo temple ticket to save on admission. Both temples take around 1-2 hours each to fully soak in. You can opt to visit them both on a one single day (Keep in mind the commuting time between them) or spread over two days. I highly recommend the latter.
Watch the Ramayana Ballet Show in Prambanan Temple
After catching the sunset in Prambanan temple, your experience is not considered complete if you don’t watch the Ramayana Ballet Show. A short distance from the temple, the show starts at 19:30 in an outdoor theater stage. The star filled sky, the temple of Prambanan bathed in yellow light and ballet dance with traditional Javanese music make a perfect evening.
Tip: If you are not familiar with Ramayana, I suggest you read the story which is provided to you at the entrance.
Visit Candi Pawon
Another temple worth visiting is Candi Pawon. The temple was built in 9th century, as were the two larger Buddhist temples nearby, Mendut Temple and Borobudur Temple. The three are believed to share a symbolic connection, as they were built in a perfectly straight line. The exact nature of this connection is unknown, as well as the original purpose of Pawon Temple. There is some evidence of Candi Pawon being once a royal tomb or cremation site, but the identity of the monarch who may have been buried here is still unknown.
Tip: Ask your guide to narrate the story of 3 mice and a cat and show you the tile depicting it. 😀
Visit Candi Plaosan
If you are interested in history and mythology, include this temple in your list of ‘things to do in Yogyakarta’. Candi Plaosan, also known as the ‘Plaosan Complex’, is one of the Buddhist temples located in Bugisan village, about a kilometer from the renowned Hindu Prambanan Temple. The Plaosan complex currently comprises two Buddhist temples, Plaosan Lor and Plaosan Kidul.
Today, only two statues of Bodhisattva seated on each sides of each rooms, flanked by an empty pedestal. Rows of exquisite carvings are found adorning the outer walls, with the majority of them being male. Smaller and less occurring carvings by the windows represent female figures.
Tip: Entrance is free.
The Sultan Palace or The Kraton
This is probably the most famous attraction in Yogyakarta besides the two main temples. In Yogyakarta, the Sultan rules the province as governor. Built in 1757, the Kraton or the Palace serves as a home for the Sultan and his family and they still reside here. The grand complex showcases old Javanese culture and architecture. Bright gold painted ceilings and intricate designs from halls to floors are classic examples of fine luxurious architecture.
There are various halls such as waiting hall, justice hall, eating hall and so on. Guided tour is available upon arrival and guides speak good English. Centrally located, the palace can be reached by taxi, becak, andong or by public bus.
Tip: Try to visit in the morning around 9 am. There are cultural shows held every day. I was lucky to watch one called Klono Topeng. Taking pictures is allowed in most places inside the palace. Camera ticket – IDR 1000
Taman Sari Water Castle
Taman Sari or the Water Castle is located almost within the area. If you take a walking tour of the palace, you can cover this also. The purpose of this water castle was to serve the Sultans as a pleasure park.
Taman Sari interested me more as it is different from other attractions. It has a network of several pools, streams, fountains, interesting ruins, and underground passages of Javanese architecture. The local young generation is seen more here. It deserves to be on your list of top places to visit in Yogyakarta.
Tip: Camera ticket – IDR 2000
Experience a royal touch – Since the city is associated with royal family since early 1700s, many of its attractions relate to the royals. At the same time, because of its intellectual roots, there are plenty of museums, workshops and handicraft shops.
Attend a Batik workshop
Attend a Batik workshop and learn the finer nuances of this craft which is also an art, in its own way. Batik craft is very popular in Indonesia. It is a manual process of painting with hot wax on cloth and then coloring it. I attended one workshop and painted my own piece. 🙂 I am going to write a detailed article on Batik later.
Tip: There are many places conducting Batik workshops but my personal recommendation is Batik Winotosastro, a genuine showroom and workshop.
Make Silver jewelry in Kota Gede
While we are talking about attending workshops, I suggest you attend more than one. 🙂 Half an hour drive from the city of Yogyakarta in an ancient old town you’ll find fine silver arts and handicrafts. Kota Gede is home to numerous silver handicraft shops. And you can witness the actual process of producing their shining craft. Have a contented experience by trying your hands on making your own piece of jewelry.
Tip: Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t come out perfect. 🙂
When you come out of Taman Sari, there are few shops cum workshops in the alleys making leather puppets. In fact, there are many premier shadow puppet artist studios within the walls of the Sultan’s palace. It’s pleasure to see how an artist transforms a buffalo skin into 15 puppets of average size. It takes 3-4 days to make a basic single colored puppet. Not to mention, I attended one session and made a bookmark for myself. 🙂
Tip: If you are keen on learning the art in its entity, many of these workshops have resident-option so that you can stay there for the entire course running into months.
Watch Wayang Kulit Show
While you make a leather puppet, why not watch its popular show as well? Wayang is the Javanese word for a theatrical performance with shadow puppets. The puppets are made of leather. This show is different from other puppet shows as here we see only the shadows, not the puppets. Accompanied by a Javanese music orchestra as a background, the Hindu epic based performances are a thing to watch. Some of the performances start at 9 PM & last until sunrise nine hours later.
Wayang Kulit Shadow Puppet show is recognized by the UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Don’t miss this unique Indonesian art form while in Yogyakarta.
Tip: The entry ticket for a 2 hour show is IDR 20,000.
Make some jaggery
When I travel, I always try to soak in local culture and traditions. That means trying out my hands at various activities. My guide knew that, and took me to an old couple who make coconut jaggery. An old house, old couple and old tradition. An aroma of fresh jaggery being cooked over smoky logs filled my nostrils. The lady of the house offered me to taste some with tea. I ended up buying 2 Kgs of it.
Tip: Coconut jaggery is less sweet than the normal one. Buy some, it’ll help those locals financially.
Have Kopi Luwak
Coming to Indonesia and not trying Kopi Luwak, world’s most expensive coffee? Well, even if you don’t want it, what’s harm in learning the process? It is one of the most amazing things to do in Yogyakarta. When I went to Mary’s retail shop-cum-factory, she showed me around and offered me coffee. Traditionally each sip of Kopi Luwak is had with a little piece of jaggery and has a way of having it.
Visit a café
Yogyakarta is known as the cultural capital across Indonesia. It is also a university town and attracts thousands of artists and intellectuals who flock here to enjoy the arts scene. How could then cafe culture be left behind? There are plenty of cafes to cater to your taste and mood.
Experience adventures of Merapi
If you love even a bit of adventure, there are plenty of activities waiting for you. Sandboarding, ATV riding, jeep safaris, and volcano tours, etc. I have written a detailed post about adventures in Merapi. Also, while you’re here, don’t forget to visit Sisa Hartaku Mini Museum showcasing a small house and its contents that were destroyed by the volcanic eruption.
There is another museum called Mount Merapi Museum or Museum Gunung Api Merapi which is much larger indoor Museum in Kaliurang. It has replica of Merapi and simulation of volcanic clouds distribution; an information gallery displaying volcanic observation tools, volcanic eruption types etc.
Tip: If you take Merapi Lava Jeep Tour, visit to Sisa Hartaku Mini Museum is included in it.
Visit Jomblang caves
When we talk about adventure, how could we leave visiting Jomblang caves behind? Goa (गुफा or cave) Jomblang is one of the natural wonders of Yogyakarta. The caves are located in Semanu, Gunung Kidul Regency and is a 90-minute drive from the center of Yogyakarta. The caves were formed over thousands years ago by rainwater and underground rivers that eroded the karst rock.
The caves consist of three parts. First is a large huge sinkhole that was formed by geological process when the soil and all vegetation on it crumbled. The vegetation still exist because of water from Kalisuci river at the bottom of the cave. But it is completely different from the vegetation above ground. The other two parts of the cave are a long tunnel and the central cave.
Try rappelling at Jomblang cave, it can lift up your adrenaline and be one of the best experiences (prices given below).
Tip: Only 75 people a day are allowed to visit, so start early. 7:30 AM is a good time to start from Yogyakarta. Entry Price is IDR 500K per person which includes insurance, helmets, boots, life jacket, harness, guide, and lunch.
There are full day Merapi tours from Yogyakarta which include visit to Mount Merapi Museum, Lava Jeep tour, Jomblang cave and hotel pick-up & drop.
Take a food tour
Yogyakarta is known for its famous food and is indeed a heaven for culinary lovers. If you are a foodie or love trying out local dishes, I suggest you take a food tour. These tours have become increasingly popular in recent years with several companies to choose from. These tours are a good way to try a wider range of typical treats from Yogyakarta.
Have local dish Gudeg and Sego Pecel
The most famous of local culinary is Gudeg. Together with coconut milk, palm sugar and spices (salt, pepper, garlic etc.), the raw jackfruit is cooked in a clay pot. It’s a kind of curry and the stewing process takes hours. But, the end result is worth the long cooking process. Infused with the sugar and spices, the dish is deliciously sweet. It is served with rice.
Another must-try dish on your list should be Sego Pecel. Just as the name suggest, Sego Pecel is sego (Javanese for rice) served with Pecel which is nothing but a dish made of various vegetables (Spinach, green bean and bean sprouts). Pecel looks like a salad but the vegetables are cooked and is served with spicy peanut sauce. The other accompaniments are prawn crackers and fried Tempeh.
Tip: Both these dishes are perfect food for vegetarians and I have mentioned below the best restaurants to have them.
Fun activities near Southern Square
Southern Square or Alun Alun is a place for an evening hangout with family and friends. Located at the back yard of Sultan Palace, this place is cloaked in local myth and legend. The city square was built to make the back side of the palace to look a lot like the front yard.
Walk between the Beringin Trees – An interesting myth is of walking pass the twin Banyan (called Beringin locally) trees planted on the city square, blindfolded. The game is known as Masangin, which stands for “masuk dua beringin” (entering two banyan trees).
The legend has it that if you are able to walk between them with your eyes closed then your wish will come true. Many people try and this may sound easy but it’s not! I was amazed to see how many people don’t manage to walk in a straight line, including me! I failed miserably. 🙂
Whether you believe the story or not, it is good fun trying to make it between the trees and this is one of the quirkiest spots in the city.
People usually rent a blindfold from a local seller which ensures that you can’t cheat, and you can try as many times as you like.
Another tourist attraction is to ride an Adong Adong, a fluorescent lit pedal bike in the shape of a VW beetle. Complete the ride by taking one round of the square and thank me later. Yes, loud music of popular songs comes free with it.
While you enjoy the square, don’t forget to have boiled corn and ice cream. No one leaves without having them. 😀
Visit Bird market
Do you love unusual markets? Then do visit Yogyakarta’s one of the most famous attractions Pasar Pasty or the local bird market. Birds are big business in Indonesia and people adopt them as pets or enter them in singing competitions. Yes, you read it right! Pasar Pasty is one of the main places to buy them. The market has plethora of our feathered friends including pigeons, owls, ravens, and lot more.
Shopping in Malioboro
Walk down the famous Malioboro Street for local shopping. All along Jalan Malioboro you will find items for sale such as clothes, bags, batik fabrics, jewelry, footwear, Javanese coffee, and traditional souvenir items. Above all, the best way to end your trip by getting the best deals here.
Also, don’t forget to try some street food. You can’t miss a trip here when you visit the city.
Tip: If you are planning to explore the market then I suggest you come here during daytime. But if you just want to enjoy the sound and smell of the most famous street in the city, come after dark when the street comes alive.
By Air: Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta has international direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Also there are regular flights from Denpasar Bali, Jakarta, Makasar, Balikpapan and other towns in Indonesia. It takes just an hour from Bali to Yogyakarta. Garuda Airlines has direct flights on Mumbai-Bali sector thrice a week.
By Train: There are two train railway stations in Yogyakarta with services from Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Malang and Solo.
By Bus: Yogyakarta can be reached by bus from Sumatra Island, Bali Island, and most of the large or small cities in Java.
Local Food to try
Try Gudeg and Sego Pecel, both vegetarian dishes.
Restaurants in Yogyakarta
My personal recommendation for restaurants in Yogyakarta would be the following.
3. Bale Raos Kraton
5. Gudeg Pawon
7. Rama Shinta Garden Resto
4. Manohara (in Borobudur complex)
6. The House of Raminten
8. Pesta Perak
Accommodation in Yogyakarta
Several hotels and resorts at Yogyakarta catering to all kind of budgets are available. My personal choice for hotels in Yogyakarta would be
The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta
Hyatt Regency Yogyakarta.
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