Yogyakarta Attractions- Best things to do for Culture Lovers
Driving from the airport to Yogyakarta’s city center, around us endless cars, motorbikes and the local tuk tuks / rickshaws, our driver was making his way through this maze of vehicles while we were busy looking around at the colorful streets where so many walls and stores were covered by spectacular works of art. It was our first visit to Indonesia and we felt a bit overwhelmed at first, but soon enough we fell in love with all of the attractions Yogyakarta had to offer us, it is, after all, the cultural hub of Java.
This was the common answer to our first destination on our Indonesia itinerary. Many people have only heard about Jakarta or Bali but somehow Yogyakarta (or as the locals pronounce it Jogjakarta or Jogja in short), is ignored many times which is such a shame.
Why should Yogyakarta be on your Itinerary?
Easy to get to – the airport (domestic and international flights) is about 10 km from the city center.
There are so many attractions in Yogyakarta – from ancient temples, rice fields, volcanoes and culture and art – Yogyakarta and the surrounding area, has it all.
Easy to get to know and get around – relatively small (about 400,000+ residents) with many cheap transportation options.
Jogja is well known as the cultural soul of Indonesia.
Top Things to Do in Yogyakarta for Culture Lovers
For many years Yogyakarta has been a hub for culture and art as well as a leader in education since so many universities are located in its vicinity. Yogyakarta and the surrounding area actually hold the status of a special province which is still ruled by the sultan today. Jogja’s rich culture and history makes it the perfect place for culture lovers. So here are our top attractions and things to do for your Yogyakarta itinerary:
Visit the Buddhist and Hindu Temples: Borobudur and Prambanan
For most people who come to Yogyakarta, visiting Borobudur and Prambanan is at the top of the list of things to do in Yogyakarta. They come here to watch the sunrise in Borobudur (set your alarm clocks for 4 am guys) and watch the sunset in Prambanan. Both of these temples are worth your visit but if you don’t have enough time to both of these attractions, we would choose sunrise in Borobudur. Be aware that there will be many people around at that time, so if you prefer to visit the temples without the crowd, come at a different time.
Helpful Tip: You can get a combo ticket for both temples but only if you purchase the regular ticket and not the Borobudur sunrise ticket which is more expensive. Since this is probably the most popular attraction in Yogyakarta, there will be many people around during the Borobudur sunrise – so come early to get your spot and for fewer people in your shot, don’t choose the top floor but the one below it. Also stay around after sunrise because there are better chances of getting some solo shots with beautiful light among the other photo-hungry tourists who fight their way to find the perfect selfie spot.
Stop by One or a Couple of the Artist Workshops in Yogyakarta
Batik is one craft that is unique to the area as well as silver jewelry. There are many options to choose from so ask for recommendations for lesser known or less touristy workshops. You can also try your Batik skills in one of these workshops if you like. Another great option is to see how the leather puppets that are used in the local puppet shows are made; it is a very long process that takes a lot of skill and patience. Attending or even just learning about these unique Indonesian traditions are really great attractions to put on your list of things to do in the area.
Go to the Local Markets
Whether you’re into doing some shopping or just taking great pictures, Yogyakarta’s markets are definitely worth a visit and should be on your list of Yogyakarta attractions. If you are looking for a Yogyakarta shopping experience, head straight to Malioboro street. This street is packed with endless stands of clothes, bags, accessories and more. There are also many shops where you can find beautiful batik clothes and garments. Just next to Malioboro street you can find the Traditional Market Beringharjo. It is in fact a large compound with a few floors where you’ll find many clothes, souvenirs as well as fruit and veggie stands. We arrived there early but most of the stands were still close, so don’t come before 9 am if you want to experience the hectic market vibes.
Another great market for which you’ll have to get up early is the Prawirotaman II market which is just next door to the Greenhost hotel. It is a small market but it was one of our favorite markets in Indonesia. We wandered around the different stalls, some of them with beautiful straw baskets full of fruits and veggies, everyone was so friendly and what is so unique about this market is that the outer walls are painted with gorgeous street art, so you’ll have a great opportunity for some really unique shots. For us it was one of the top attractions in Yogyakarta!
Discover Taman Sari Water Castle and Sumur Gumuling
Taman Sari complex used to be the sultan’s royal garden as well as a meditation bathing and resting area. If you have a couple of hours, visit this beautiful complex for some photogenic Instagram photo ops, however, come early as possible otherwise, it is swarmed by tourists (opens at 9 am). After you finish exploring the compound, visit the underground mosque, Sumur Gumuling, which is uniquely built and worth a visit if you are in area. It is very close to Taman Sari but you can easily get lost in the narrow graffitied alleys, so ask the locals for guidance. Both of these are a great addition to your Yogyakarta attractions.
Go on a Graffiti Treasure Hunt
There are so many charming corners and alleys all over Jogja that are just covered with intricate and beautiful street art so your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to find some of the most charming Yogyakarta street art. Believe us, you’re going to enjoy this item on your list of things to do in Yogyakarta. If you are staying in Prawirotaman area (and you should), you’ll find many colorful murals and graffiti all around. Looking for interesting graffiti is always one of our favorite attractions in any destination we explore.
Helpful Tip: Start with Prawirotaman and Prawirotaman II streets, cross the busiest street in the neighborhood, Jl Parangtritis, and stroll along Sartono street, Tirtodipuran street and the adjacent streets to find some local master pieces.
Take a Joy Ride in a Becak (Local Rickshaw)
Not purely a cultural experience but it was so much fun! Everywhere you go, you’ll see these little bicycles with a (very small) seat for two in the front. Some are motorized and some not, but they are a great option for exploring Yogyakarta’s main attractions. In every street corner, near the main attractions, or just among the dozens of motorbikes, the becak drivers will ask if they can take you somewhere, and though initially we were a bit reluctant (do we have a good enough insurance?), we quickly learned to appreciate these unique little local tuk tuks. One of the best things to do to feel like a local and challenge your nerves!
Where to Stay in Yogyakarta?
We stayed at the Eco hotel Greenhost Boutique Hotel which is located in the best area to stay at in Jogja, in our eyes. The hotel itself is lovely with a rooftop herb garden and a friendly staff (did we mention their awesome breakfasts?). At the end of the street you’ll find a charming traditional market (only in the early hours of the morning) and in the adjacent street, Prawirotaman, there are many great coffee shops and restaurants. The tiny streets of this neighborhood are also dotted by some Yogyakarta’s best street art (a top Yogyakarta attraction on our list).
Helpful Tip: There is a mosque close to the hotel, which means we woke up almost every morning to the sound of the muezzin’s chanting. If you are sensitive to noise, check around your hotel on google maps to make sure there aren’t any mosques close by (or bring earplugs).
Where to Eat in Yogyakarta?
Well, to be honest we stayed around our hotel most nights so our recommendations are mainly for places around Prawirotaman street:
Warung Heru – great Indonesian cuisine in a kind of Western setting.
SateBar 81 – Our favorite restaurant in the area. Everything here is extremely delicious, with great service and live music on some nights (Closed on Mondays).
Move On – This cute little place serves a mixture of American, European and Indonesian food as well as great ice cream and coffee. Enjoy the modern interior design and the excellent vibes.
Yam Yam – for some Thai flavors check out this cute restaurant that also serves a mean seared Tuna salad.
We really loved our time in Jogja and hope you’d love it too! Cultural attractions are always at the top of out list of things to do wherever we visit, and Yogyakarta has so much to offer in terms of culture and art. If your are heading to Bali, don’t forget to check our guide for the best things to do in Ubud! and if you are looking for a different adventure, check out the orangutans of Borneo.