Yogyakarta is located on Java, Indonesia’s largest island. This Yogyakarta Travel Guide is designed to help you plan your own trip to visit this awesome city. Highlighted are some of the best things to see and do in and around Yogyakarta. It also gives advice including culture, transport, food and accommodation!
Also known as Jogjakarta or often Jogja, Yogyakarta is a great place to visit to experience its culture, food and history. Located in central Java its a great place to spend a few days before moving onto to other areas, such as the volcanoes in the east. Java has its own culture, traditions and cuisine, which means its well worth a visit. Its definitely very different from Indonesia’s most famous tourist island, Bali. Pronounced ‘Jog-Jar-car-ta’ the Yogyakarta Special Region is home to Indonesia’s only Monarchy, the Yogyakarta Sultanate.
This Yogyakarta Travel Guide covers not just the city itself but the huge temples nearby that attract so many visitors to the region. They are part of what makes visiting this city so special. When I visited I did so for the temples, but fell in love with the rest of the city too.
Yogyakarta Travel Guide – What to see and do
Along with the next entry this temple is one of the main reasons why people visit the Yogyakarta region. Borobudur is in fact the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and was originally constructed in the 9th century. It was then abandoned for many years until being ‘rediscovered’ and restored by the colonial powers in the region. Borobudur had in fact for centuries been beneath jungle and volcanic ash until the British found it during their brief control of the region in the early 1800’s. It was the Dutch who then restored it during their colonial control over Indonesia.
Nowadays you can visit the temple and enjoy it’s structures and design. You can see the Buddhist stories that cover the temple, in form of stone carvings. And you can get some great views over the surrounding region. Many people visit this temple for sunrise but it’s a great place to visit any time of day, I found mid morning was great! Be warned though there is little shade, it will get very hot in the midday sun!
This Hindu temple was also constructed in the 9th century. At that time Java was home to several kingdoms and was divided between Buddhist and Hindus. It’s in fact theorised that this was the Hindu response to the construction of Borobudur. It’s the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and one of the biggest in the South East Asia region. As with Borobudur it was abandoned for centuries until the Colonial Dutch restored it. The temple feature carvings and statues of Hindu Gods and tell tales of Hindu legends.
Many people choose to visit Prambanan as part of a combined tour with Borobudur. I would recommend this, it makes for a great day of temple exploration and a morning at one and the afternoon at the other is a good balance. Check with your accommodation to find out which tour operator they recommend. There are so many different options offered in the city!
The Sultans Palace (Kraton)
The centre of Yogyakarta contains a walled city, the Kraton. This is home to the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The centrepiece here is the Sultans Palace. Constructed in 1755-56 it has been home to the Yogyakarta Sultanate since. You can admire the Palace’s architecture and decorations, which really showcase Javanese design and culture. Often there is a Javanese shadow puppet show being performed too which you can watch. Next door is the Sultans Brothers residence, take note there are different entrances and the Palace is much more of interest than the residence!
Outside the palace you can explore the rest of the Kraton. There is a large green space (Alun-alun Utara) on the Northern side that is busy at night, locals meet here. Watch out for them trying to walk between the tree’s blindfolded. Those that manage it are said to have a ‘pure heart’. Join in if you like! Its a fun game to watch and the locals seem to love it. There are also the city walls and gates that you can check out.
The Water Castle (Taman Sari)
Located within the Kraton ground is Taman Sari, also known as the ‘Water Castle’. Constructed back in the 1700’s, this used to be the Sultanates bathing house and garden. The complex has suffered much damage including from earthquakes so only part of it now remains for tourists to visit, The rest has been occupied by local residents! You can go in and take a look around, the pools and surrounding buildings are well preserved.
Leaving the pool area can get a bit confusing, try to go towards the Mosque. Ask someone working there for directions, don’t ask any locals as they might try to be your ‘guide’ for payment. You enter the Mosque through underground tunnels. Inside there is a central area which has a platform and is open to the sky.
One of the things that really impressed me about this city is the amount of great Street Art on show. I had to include this as part of this Yogyakarta Travel Guide as it really is impressive! It really is everywhere in the city, keep an eye open and you will see loads of it about. Its very diverse too, you will see everything from traditional Javanese culture to modern superhero’s and more. To help you out though some of the best places to look for it are as follows:
- As you go from Taman Sari’s water Castle to the Mosque.
- Along the street: Jalan Mangunnegaran Kulon.
- Along the streets off of Jalan Sastrowijayan named Gang I and Gang II.
- The Kampung Code Riverside (around the Gondolayu Bridge area).
Alun-Alun Selatan (Main Square) at Night
Not to be confused with the previous mentioned Alun-alun Utara, this square is found on the south side of the palace. It comes alive at night in the most interesting of ways. Essentially, locals hire decorated pedal cars and go round and round the square. Blasting out music as they go of course. I had to include it on this Yogyakarta Travel Guide as it really is a fun thing to experience! If not a little surreal too. Personally I think it’s a great way to see the locals enjoying themselves and see how they socialise. The cars have all kinds of designs, Hello Kitty is rather popular though. I believe it closes only on Monday, however check with your accommodation to confirm.
You can find Malioboro Street running through the city to the north or the Kraton. Located along it are many shops and stalls. Its busy all day and all evening, it really is the cities ‘main street’ as such. There are big markets off of it too that you can visit. Beringharjo Market is one of the most popular here. Batik is really popular in the city, you will see loads of it on offer. Its a style of cloth, very popular in Indonesia and Java in particular.
Yogyakarta Travel Guide – General Advice
In this segment of this Yogyakarta Travel Guide we will look at some general advice regarding the city.
Most people fly into Java via Jakarta, which has somewhat of a negative reputation amongst travellers. Whether this is fair or not is a debate for a different time. However you can also fly into Yogyakarta’s Adisucipto International Airport which isn’t that far from the city. Notably Air Asia fly’s here from Singapore and Kula Lumpur. There are also domestic flights, including to and from Denpasar on Bali.
Java has a good rail network, and train travel is a good option to move onward from Yogyakarta. Many travellers make Mount Bromo their next stop and you can take a train direct from here to Probolinggo, which acts as a gateway to the Volcano. The train leave’s from the main station ‘Tugu Station’ in the morning and takes over 8 hours. You could also choose to stop in Solo, Malang or Surabaya if you want to see more of Java’s cities.
The locals will be first to tell you to use Grab to order taxi’s. Its South East Asia’s most popular taxi app and will save you money compared to standard taxi’s. So this Yogyakarta Travel Guide definitely recommends you download it to your phone before you travel! Inside the city you can walk around the Kraton no problem. I actually think this is the best way to see the city, you can view interesting buildings and spot the aforementioned street art. The weather will get very hot though so use sunscreen and don’t stay out in the afternoon sun for too long. Additionally wear a hat if you can. Protecting yourself from the sun is important. Renting a scooter is popular too, if you can ride.
If you want an authentic taste of Javanese cuisine then Yogyakarta is a great place for it. Jalan Wijilan has multiple ‘Gudeg’ style restaurants which offer Javanese food for very cheap prices. Gudeg itself is jack fruit soaked in palm sugar and coconut milk with spices to flavour. What these restaurants offer is generally rice and then you choose your extra portions. So as well Gudeg itself you can get tofu, tempeh, eggs and various meats. If you are unfamiliar with tempeh it is a traditional soy product that originates from Indonesia. Checking these places out is definitely highlight of this Yogyakarta Travel Guide, they offer a true local Javanese experience.
As well as this food you can find several restaurants in the city. Its always good to ask your accommodation for their own recommendations. There are a couple of good ones located at the North side of Alun-alun Utara. You can find some western restaurants in the city too, if you don’t want Asian food. Look for some dotted along Jalan Tirtodipura in particular. Some locals actually call it ‘foreigner street’ due to the restaurants along there!
Culture and Religion
Indonesia is a Muslim country and Java a Muslim island. This will be the majority religion of those you meet, though there are some who follow other religions. Hinduism and Christianity in particular, bearing in mind other Indonesian islands follow different religions. For example Bali is Hindu and Flores Catholic. I recommended you dress to cover your shoulders and to at least below the knee (male) and to the ankle (female) to avoid any cultural misunderstanding with the local populace. Plus temples will require this for entry anyway.
It is worth noting however that Java has developed it’s own unique culture in particular thanks to how its Hindu and Buddhist past has shaped it. Earlier in this Yogyakarta Travel Guide I mentioned Borobudur and
Prambanan as huge temples. This gives an indication of how important these religions were in the region in the past. Nowadays traditions and practises from pre-Islam times are blended into local customs.
In terms of ethnicity ‘Javanese’ is the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, of over 100 million. They have their own language, though people will usually speak Bahasa Indonesia as well. Those in the tourist trade will speak English too, and possibly Dutch given the colonial ties.
Where to stay
Most of the backpackers accommodation and hotels are located around Jalan Sastrowijayan and in Gangs I and II. This is up off of Malioboro Street. It can get very busy around here and you will likely get asked a lot by ‘tour guides’ and so forth if you want to enlist their services. However my number 1 recommended place to stay for this Yogyakarta Travel Guide is Snooze Guesthouse. Its located inside the Kratons city walls in a quite residential area. The guesthouse has excellent staff and also makes fantastic breakfasts every day. The locals here won’t hassle you and it has a much more pleasant feel to it.
This brings this Yogyakarta Travel Guide to an end! Its a great city and I hope you have the opportunity to visit yourself. Thanks for reading!
If you are planning to explore more of Indonesia then looks out for more articles from me in the future!
The featured image for this post is a street art painting of a traditional Javanese Shadow Puppet. I choose it for this Yogyakarta Travel Guide as it’s a good representation of the cultural side of the city.