Yogyakarta is the capital city of the Yogyakarta Special Region in Central Java, Indonesia and also can be known interchangeably as Jogjakarta or Jogja. If someone asked me where is one place to go in Java I would say it is here as there are many things to do and also to see here.
Wedged strategically between two powerhouse of ancient temples – Prambanan the magnificent Hindu temple and Borobudur the renown Buddhist temple, this place holds more wonders than just that. You can explore the main streets and narrow alleys for hidden treasures of bygone days, taste the best Javanese food and soak yourself in history, art and culture.
Unsurprisingly, it is one of the major tourist hubs in Indonesia, due to its uniqueness and all the tourist attractions, sightseeing places and many things to do all packed into one.
Here are our top 10 things to do in Yogyakarta:
Be awed by the magnificent Prambanan Temple
Candi Prambanan (temple) or also known as Candi Rara Jonggrang, is a well known ancient Hindu Temple in Indonesia. It is built during the 9th century for Trimurti as an expression that God is the Creator (Brahma), Preserver (Vishnu) and also the Destroyer (Shiva). The temple compound lies just 18km east of Yogyakarta and can be easily reached with the Transjogja public bus, which is by far the cheapest and best option to visit Prambanan. It is one of the Indonesia UNESCO World Heritage Site, being one of the largest Hindu temple architecture in Southeast Asia.
Unearth the secrets of Sewu Temple
Located just 10-15 minutes walk from Prambanan temple, is definitely worth a visit if you want to be greeted with temple ruins that are eerily captivating. The place, a good respite from the crowds in Prambanan, seems to hold many secrets in its many hidden and dark corners. The name Sewu means thousand, despite that it only has 249 temples, due to the legend of Loro Jonggrang. Partially restored, it seems more authentic and self-exploration allows your imagination to run while you do your own interpretation of the place, its structures and carvings.
Admire the reconstructed puzzle of Sambisari Temple
By no means in any way stand out from the shadows of the above temple, it is still a good stopover when you are making your way to Prambanan. Sambisari temple used to be buried five metres underground for hundred of years until the first slab of stone was discovered in 1966. This temple that took more than 20 years to excavate and reconstructs seems to stand as a bold testament of many archeologists best effort in restoring the glory of the past.
Shop at Jalan Malioboro and Pasar Beringharjo
Yogyakarta is almost a shopping haven too after the likes of Bandung, with a lot of cheap things to buy. At the streets of Malioboro and at the Beringharjo market, you will find lots of stalls line up selling anything you can think of from clothes to bags to rattan products and silver jewelry, food and anything you thought you might find in Indonesia. The best places to stay in Yogyakarta are also situated around here, find hotel deals at Malioboro Street *.
Try one of the best Indonesian food – Gudeg
Gudeg is the most famous dish in Yogyakarta, even making it a moniker City of Gudeg. This unique Indonesian dish is a stew made from young jackfruit (nangka) with palm sugar, coconut milk, meat, garlic, and spices. The special taste came from the slow melding of flavors and textures to the right perfection. Get a taste of Gudeg at the longest standing establishment – Gudeg Yu Djum.
Hike the ruins to Mount Merapi (Volcano)
Even if you are not a serious hiker or climber, you should try the short hike towards Mount Merapi and find yourself amidst the leftovers of houses and such after the recent volcano eruption in 2010. You will find yourself humbled by the immensity of nature’s wrath and how people respond to it bravely. If you reach the place of Mbah Maridjan, you will learn how a keeper of spirits stood by his duty even when the volcano erupted. There are tours that take you to Mt Merapi for a hiking day trip from Yogakarta.
Sneak into Water Castle (Taman Sari)
Use a back way from the other side of the castle and try to sneak your way in through rundown defense walls and scattered village houses. Once you got in, you will find yourself in mazes of underground water holes, secret chambers and gardens and pools. This castle is a huge complex that used to be a former royal garden of Sultanate of Yogyakarta used for various functions including bathing place. You heard me right, bathing place, which personally I find the most intriguing, with a calm blue pool surrounded strikingly by pink buildings.
Enjoy the sights and stories at Kraton Yogyakarta
A well-maintained palace from the days of Sultans of Yogyakarta, you will find unique architecture and heirlooms of the days of glory here. All travelers will be accompanied by a local guide who amazingly can speak all kinds of language, and though you may wary of a guide idea, you will definitely find it enjoyable as you listen to myths, rituals, stories and even humor as you go along the palace grounds. Indeed, a must visit to understand the deep rich history and culture of Jogja.
Join the local myth and try your luck crossing between two trees
After Kraton, walk further south to the Southern Park (alun-alun) where you will find two huge banyan trees side by side in the middle of the square. Local myth has it that if you manage to walk between the trees while blindfolded, you will get what you wish for. There are many entrepreneurial Indonesians hanging around here to sell you this service by lending you a black cloth to blindfold, then they will proceed to ‘help you’ to walk from the end of the park to cross between the trees by shouting “left! right!” But even with their help or not, you will find it almost impossible to walk straight in between the trees and many had failed. Therefore, the myth persists and continues to draw many people to come and try their luck!
Chill out at a cafeAt the end of a long day walking and exploring Yogyakarta, you can have your evening chilling out at one of the many cafes, there are many to choose from at Jalan Prawirotaman (road) . Here you will find a good atmosphere to just sit for a long time and probably catch up on that email or with friends. Food choices among the cafes are a mix of local and international of main meals and snacks. Drinks may range from local sweet drinks to lassi and of course coffee. Get to one of the cafes here to mingle with people or just sit at a corner all tuck in by yourself.
Bonus number 11:
Venture out to the serene Borobudur
Technically not in Yogyakarta but many will definitely do this day trip (only 1 hour drive from Yogyakarta to Borobudur) or few days trip out of Jogja just for a visit to Borobudur (a good choice if you have the time). You may also join the many tours to Borobudur and Prambanan temples in a day. Yes, it is worth the trip and it is even better if you can stay the night at Manohara Resort * and catch the temple at the dawn of light (if you pay for the sunrise tour) or at least be the first to go in when it opens at 8am. This is how to best enjoy it, when it is at its most quiet, with just a trickle of travelers like you who appreciate the silence and marvels at the beauty with respect. This 9th-century temple is an Indonesia UNESCO Heritage site and one of the largest Buddhist temple in the world, consisting of six square platforms with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha status. Thousands of Buddhists do their pilgrimage here in Borobudur during Waisak day.
Best Accommodations in Yogyakarta
Booking.com is my favourite site to book a place when I am planning my trip. The main reason is that most of the bookings can be cancelled right up to the trip, allowing flexibility. In Yogyakarta, staying in the city center would help to save time in visiting all the must-visit places, but if you are looking for also some relaxation, just a little off center to north or south are some great choices. Here are a few of the best accommodations that we recommend to stay in Yogyakarta:
- Luxury (from 150 USD)
- Rosseno Villa
For those who want tranquillity and privacy, this villa lies just 15 minutes south of the city center surrounded by rice fields. It comes not only with a private pool, but also all meals provided and an all-day use of a car and driver! Well worth the splurge here. Check out the latest prices on Booking.com *
- Phoenix Hotel – McGallery by Sofitel
Run by the well known Sofitel, this hotel is for those who wants their luxury in the center of Yogyakarta. The hotel’s interior comes with a blend of grand Asian and European decor, with the rooms terraces overlooking a courtyard and pool. Check out the latest prices on Booking.com *
- Mid-range (50 – 150 USD)
- Novotel Yogyakarta
For those who seek a well known brand and comfort, this hotel is located strategically to visit the tourist attractions. You can expect clean modern rooms with wide range of delicious breakfast. It also comes with a pool. Definitely value for money. Check out the latest prices on Booking.com *
- Dusun Jogja Village Inn
For those looking for a nature getaway and some tranquility, this hotel is like an oasis in the middle of the city. Surrounded by tropical gardens of palm trees around a beautiful pool. It is also well located, just south to the main attractions area. Check out the latest prices on Booking.com *
- Budget (below 50 USD)
- Griya Wijilan
Just nestled next to the Keraton Palace, this small and Javanese designed boutique hotel is for those who knows a good deal. The location is hard to beat! There is also nice terrace and garden for those who hang to rest in between the hustle and bustle. Check out the latest prices on Booking.com *
- Rumah Mertua Boutique Hotel
For those looking for a boutique hotel, combining comfort with budget, this hotel comes wih Javanese decorated rooms and a pool surrounded by romantic gardens. It is located 20 minutes drive north from the city center in a tranquil setting. Check out the latest prices on Booking.com *
Versi Bahasa Indonesia – 10 Tempat Wisata yang Wajib Dikunjungi di Yogyakarta