Yogyakarta Indonesia - Attractions and Things to Do for Culture and Nature Lovers in and around Yogyakarta City
Driving from the airport to Yogyakarta city’s 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 Indonesia (or as the locals pronounce it Jogjakarta or Jogja in short), is ignored many times which is such a shame.
Things to Do in Yogyakarta - Attractions for Culture Lovers
Why should Yogyakarta Indonesia 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 Indonesia – from ancient temples, rice fields and volcanoes to 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.
Yogyakarta Attractions and Top Things to Do 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 hold the status of a special province which is still ruled by the sultan today. Jogja’s rich culture and history make 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 do both of these attractions, we would choose sunrise in Borobudur. Be aware that there will be many people around at sunrise, 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 find a good 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 at a Pottery Village
We always love to visit local artists and on the way back from watching the sunrise at Borobudur Temple, we stopped at Klipoh village, a pottery village that is located just minutes away from the temple. Our driver stop at one of the local workshops and we got a private demonstration and a tour around the small shop. It wasn’t touristy and felt authentic. We were watching for a while while the local artist was operating the pottery wheel with her foot while molding the clay with her hands.
Local Artist Workshops - Batik, Silversmith and Puppets
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 if you want to deepen your knowledge about Indonesian culture.
Go to the Local Markets in Yogyakarta and Visit Malioboro Street
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! Unfortunately, this market might be currently closed. If it is, another alternative to this market could be Pasar Legi at Kotegede.
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.
Catch a Show - Wayang Puppet Theater or Ramayana Ballet
While visiting the Prambanan Temple at sunset, you can also catch the unique Ramayana ballet performance in the evenings. The ballet combines traditional Javanese music, dance and drama. There are other places in Yogyakarta where you can catch a show but in Prambanan the show takes place in the open air with the lightened temple as its backdrop.
Wayang or wajang, is a form of traditional puppet theatre that can be found in parts of Southeast Asia but its origins can be traced to the royal courts of Java and Bali. The word ‘wayang’ actually means shadow or imagination in Javanese and in this traditional puppet show the flat leather or wooden shadow puppet is projected in front of a screen lit from behind. Wayang Kulit is the specific form of shadow puppet show that is unique to some parts of Indonesia including Yogyakarta. The Wayang puppet theatre is recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and after spending some time with one of the local artists, we can attest to the craftsmanship and hard work that goes into making these puppets. You can catch a show at the Sonobudoyo Museum (This is the shorter version of 2 hours, yes 2 hours).
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) - A Must in Yogyakarta
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!
Best Things to Do in Yogyakarta - Attractions for Nature Lovers
Explore Jomblang Cave
If you are looking to explore one of the natural highlights in the area of Yogyakarta, you should take a tour to Goa Jomblang. The huge cave was formed by underground rivers and streams thousands of years ago. Jomblang cave is only a part of a whole underground cave system that is found in the area. You’ll be lowered with a rope to the bottom of the cave and continue exploring the area with the rest of your group. Since the cave is very dark and the ground is muddy and slippery, bring a torchlight and some extra pair of clothes. There’s a limit on the number of groups/visitors that are allowed to visit this attraction so you’d better book a tour in advance.
Hop on a Jeep to Visit Merapi Volcano
Mount Merapi or Gunung Merapi which actually means Fire Mountain in Indonesian, is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia and since 1548 it has erupted on a regular basis. If you are up for an adventure, take one of the many jeep tours that leave Jogja on a daily basis. There are sunrise tours and sunset tours to choose from. The tours usually stop at a few interesting spots where you can check out the magnificent views and the damage caused in the past by the eruptions. Some tours stop at other attractions in the area such as local villages and rice paddies.
Relax at the Beach
Usually, you don’t really think about Yogyakarta as a beach destination. However, in the southern part of the special region of Yogyakarta you can find many charming beaches, located only 1-2 hours away from Jogja. One of the most popular beaches is Indrayanti Beach (also known as Pulang Syawal Beach). It is a picturesque beach with soft sand and a few amenities which is located about 2 hours away from Yogyakarta. Another gorgeous beach is Drini Beach that is known for the small island just off the shore. When the tide is low you can walk to the tiny island and take some pictures of the beach from there. There are many other beaches along the coast to choose from.
Go Hiking at Kalibiru National Park
To escape the hectic streets of Yogyakarta, go trekking at Kalibiru National Park which is located less than an hour away from Yogyakarta. In addition to the 2-7 km long trekking trails, this park has many amazing viewpoints from which you can see the nearby Sermo Reservoir, and on a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of the South Coast or Mount Merapi. There are also many photo spots for which there’s an extra charge. If you are keen on getting your picture taken at one of the photo spots, don’t come during the weekends or you’ll need to wait for a long time.
Take your Picture Taken at Pinus Penggar/Bukit Panguk Kediwung
One of the most popular attractions for both international and domestic tourists is posing at a photo spot with a gorgeous view. You can find these touristy viewpoints or even parks all over Indonesia and around Yogyakarta, two of the most popular ones are Hutan Pinus Penggar and Bukit Panguk Kediwung
Where to Stay in Yogyakarta Indonesia?
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 Indonesia?
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 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 we've found so many cultural attractions in Yogyakarta Indonesia. There are also so many things to do around Yogyakarta City for nature lovers!
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