The cultural capital of the country, Yogyakarta lies in central Java beneath the smoky summit of the majestic Mount Merapi. Aside from delving into its rich artistic heritage, you can visit centuries-old temples, explore atmospheric caves and climb active stratovolcanoes. All this provides the perfect snapshot of Indonesia’s staggering diversity.
Still ruled by the Yogyakarta Sultanate, it is renowned for its elegant eighteenth-century royal complex known as the Kraton. Countless other interesting historic tourist attractions and heritage buildings can also be found nearby. As Jogja has long been a center for the Javanese arts, you can watch classical dance and music performances here, shop for batik textiles and try some delicious street food.
Surrounding it too are some beautiful beaches, caves and volcanoes as well as the must-see temple complexes of Prambanan and Borobudur. With so many things to do in Yogyakarta it is one of the most rewarding cities to visit in Indonesia.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Gumuling Well
Quite hard to find but all the more rewarding for it, the circular Gumuling Well is a very unique-looking underground mosque. Located just southwest of the massive Yogyakarta Palace, its unusual setting, shape and architecture make for some fantastic photos.
Once a part of the Taman Sari complex alongside it, the mosque’s maze-like alleys and meandering staircases were also built around the mid-eighteenth-century. Its funky flights of stairs connect in the center of the circular structure while numerous openings overlook them. Thanks to this design, the imam’s voice could be heard clearly throughout the entire site from the mihrab.
After finally figuring out the entrance and making your way along the long underground tunnel to the mosque, you can marvel at all the stunning silhouettes. Not particularly large, its shadowy passages are cool to explore and take creative photos and selfies among.
16. Beringharjo Market
In contrast to the quiet, contemplative mosque, wandering around the must-visit Beringharjo Market promises to be a colourful, chaotic affair. The best place to shop for souvenirs and try local snacks, its endless shops sprawl across a huge area north of the palace.
Lying alongside the bustling Jalan Malioboro – the city’s main street – it was impressively established back in 1758. Literally meaning ‘banyan tree forest’, the market now occupies an exquisite Art Deco building with countless stalls also surrounding it.
In total, a staggering 6,000 vendors are said to be found across its five floors selling everything from bright jewellery and traditional clothes to fresh fruit, vegetables, spices and souvenirs. We loved the frenetic energy about the place and its affordable prices. Besides perusing all its colourful, crammed stands, there are also loads of terrific street food options to try out.
15. Pindul Cave
Although it lies ninety minutes drive southeast of the city, Pindul Cave is definitely well worth visiting if you have the chance. As well as enjoying the stupendous scenery, there are several things to do here including river tubing and cliff diving.
Formed over the millennia through erosion, the dark karst cave has a slow-flowing underground river running through it. Stretching roughly 350 meters in length, the cavernous cave boasts some riveting rock formations with vast colonies of bats also residing amidst its stalactites and stalagmites.
As you float along, your guide will teach you all about its history, and geography and point out particularly pretty parts. Afterwards, you continue further down the river to a small waterfall which you can jump off if you like. As the cave can get seriously crowded, head here early in the morning to have the best experience.
14. Pinus Pengger Forest
On the way back towards Yogyakarta you’ll come across the very picturesque Pinus Pengger Forest. Spread across the rolling hills to the southeast, it has some amazing art installations and viewpoints for visitors to enjoy.
Once a dry and barren place, the site was thankfully restored and opened to the public in 2016. Aside from ambling about amidst its shady pines, there are plenty of interesting art pieces to snap photos next to. Made out of reeds woven tightly together, they form giant tree houses, arches and bridges.
The most eye-catching of them is undoubtedly the outstretched palm of a hand that juts out over the valley below. As it creates such a dramatic scene and the panoramas over Jogja in the distance are so good, it is a very popular spot to take selfies and photos.
13. Kota Gede
Famed for its thriving arts and crafts scene and centuries-old historic sights, exploring Kota Gede is one of the most fascinating things to do in Yogyakarta. Despite having been engulfed ages ago now by the ever-expanding city, it still retains its village-like look, feel and atmosphere.
As it was once the capital of the Mataram Sultanate, numerous ruins can be found dotted about the neighborhood. These include not just the royal palace and great mosque but a marketplace, moat, cemetery and city walls too.
Lining its narrow alleys are tons of traditional buildings to admire, many showcasing some gorgeous Javanese architecture. Some of these merchants’ homes are fronted by wonderful wooden paneling while others house silversmith workshops. Passersby can observe the talented artisans at work and pick up some of their handmade rings, necklaces and sculptures that often feature fine floral motifs.
12. Parangkusumo Sand Dunes
After the hustle and bustle of the city center, the Parangkusumo sand dunes are a scenic and serene spot to slow down, relax and unwind. Located an hour’s drive directly south, it also has some exciting sandboarding and jeep rides to try.
One of the largest dunes in Southeast Asia, its ever-changing sands create lots of swirling shapes and striking silhouettes. Due to all its arresting beauty and unusual landscapes, many couples come here to take pre-wedding photoshoots.
Once you’ve snapped some photos and strolled about its sands, you can have a go at sandboarding down its dunes. A fun experience, it makes the scenery all around you even more epic. We really liked its dramatic, desolate look and lounging on the nearby beach afterwards.
11. Timang Beach
If you’re after some even more spectacular coastal scenery, then you can’t beat Timang Beach. Much harder to reach, its wonderful white sands and remarkably rugged isle lie a little over two hours drive further along Java’s Indian Ocean coastline.
Despite the time and distance involved, its astounding views and rock formations make it well worth the effort. While the small beach already looks awesome, the main attraction is the incredibly craggy Panjang Island just offshore.
Pulverized by relentless rough waves, it can only be accessed via a swaying, unstable rope bridge or an exhilarating gondola ride above the frothy sea. Locals literally haul you across in a rickety-looking contraption that provides spellbinding views the whole way. After all the excitement, you can sit by the beach, enjoy some seafood and watch others attempt the unusual crossing.
10. Yogyakarta Fortress Museum
Right in the centre of the city is the colossal Yogyakarta Fortress which is now preserved as a history museum. Constructed back in colonial times, its complex contains numerous artifacts and exhibits on Indonesia’s struggle for independence.
Also known as Fort Vredeburg, its walls, watchtowers and barracks were erected around 1870 after an earthquake had destroyed an earlier one. Square in shape, the fortress was originally surrounded by a moat though most of it has now been filled in.
Other than exploring the grounds and admiring delightful Dutch colonial architecture, there are lots of cool old coins, uniforms, weapons and photographs to examine inside. Particularly impressive are its dozens of detailed dioramas depicting key events from the city’s past. These cover the country’s occupation by the Dutch and its eventual independence hundreds of years later.
9. Yogyakarta Palace
Just a short walk south is another interesting historic sight: the enormous, ornate Yogyakarta Palace. Also called the Kraton, from this complex the sultan and his family ruled over the city and its surroundings for centuries.
Still home to the Javanese monarchy, the palace was completed in 1755 for Hamengkubuwono I, the first Sultan of Yogyakarta. Spread across a massive area, it encompasses grand gates, pavilions and guardian statues. Everything is lavishly decorated with golden ceilings lying above prettily patterned tile floors, elaborately-crafted pillars and railings.
An outstanding example of traditional Javanese architecture, the palace continues to hold important ceremonies and cultural events. Along with the museum, its old artifacts and dance performances provide an invaluable look into the local area’s rich history, culture and heritage.
8. Ramayana Ballet
A scintillating show like no other, the Ramayana Ballet is performed at the phenomenal Prambanan temple, on the city’s northeastern limits. One of India’s most famous Sanskrit epics, its mesmerizing music, costumes, sets and scenes make for a memorable night out.
Featuring a thrilling mix of classical Javanese and Balinese dances, the timeless tale is acted out at the Trimurti open-air theater along the complex’s western side. Whirling around, the colorfully-clad dancers relate the life of Rama and his travels across the Indian subcontinent. With all the temple’s soaring towers creating a lovely background, its illuminated stage and sets look even more special.
Having had such an immense impact on the life, culture and religion of the region for many millennia, the action-packed epic is certainly not to be missed out on. With betrayals, betrothals and battles all going on, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the riveting scenes!
7. Jomblang Cave
If you want an exciting adventure yourself, head to the ginormous Jomblang Cave. Although it lies an hour and a half drive to the southeast, rappelling down into its deep, dark, gaping abyss really is an unforgettable feeling that needs to be experienced.
Formed thousands of years ago, the cavernous sinkhole was only revealed once its roof finally caved in. Hidden away amongst karst hills and verdant forests, it plunges to a considerable sixty meters in depth with layers of mud coating its floor far, far below.
After hiking to the cave entrance, you’re kitted out in harnesses, helmets and headlamps. You’re then dangled over the precipitous edge and slowly lowered down in pairs. At the bottom, you can ogle up at its staggering size and the ‘Light of Heaven’ pouring in above. This dazzling shaft of light creates some fabulous photo opportunities and also helps you find your way about the atmospheric cave.
6. Taman Sari
Another of the city’s unmissable attractions is the sprawling Taman Sari complex right in its historic heart. Once home to the sultan’s harem, the pleasure garden’s pretty pools, courtyards and countless tunnels are fun to explore.
Also erected around the mid-eighteenth-century, it consists of four distinct areas featuring pavilions, pools and an artificial lake. Legend has it that the sultan would look out over the bathing concubines from its tall tower before selecting one to see that evening.
Well-preserved yet slightly weathered, the Water Castle exhibits elegant architecture with concealed tunnels and rooms surrounding the pools. Quite photogenic in places, it was again one of our favorite stops largely thanks to our guide who explained more about its history and the stories swirling about Taman Sari.
5. Ullen Sentalu Museum
At the foot of the mighty Mount Merapi is yet another site that offers up a captivating look at Java’s incredible art and culture. In the rather isolated Ullen Sentalu Museum, you can see age-old artifacts and relics from the island’s royal houses.
First opened to the public in 1997, its beautiful collection of buildings and sculptures lie amidst lush gardens and groves of pines on the mountain slope. On show inside is everything from old paintings and photographs to fine clothes, musical instruments and more. These examine not just the colonial period but the Yogyakarta Sultanate and other Javanese kingdoms too.
Arguably the best-presented museum in Indonesia, the tours are just as engaging and informative. Along with its pleasant ambience and attractive architecture, this makes Ullen Sentalu a must-visit if you have the time.
4. Climb Merapi Volcano
Looming above both the museum and the city is of course the massive Merapi Volcano. Visible for countless kilometers around, its smoking summit is very popular to hike due to its stunning scenery and views.
Literally meaning ‘Fiery Mountain’, Indonesia’s most active volcano last erupted in March 2023 when lava spewed forth from its crater. A plume of smoke also rose over a hundred metres up into the sky above. Towering 2,910 metres in total, its rugged slopes are now protected as part of a national park.
Many people climb up the iconic volcano or take exhilarating jeep rides about its forests, lava fields and even through flowing rivers. Numerous myths and beliefs are attached to the mount which is also thought to be responsible for the abandonment of the temples at Prambanan.
3. Malioboro Road
Humming with life at any time of day, Malioboro Road is the city’s most famous street. Running north to south, it is a bargain shopping paradise with lots of hotels and restaurants also located nearby.
Stretching over two kilometers in length, the busy road is lined by hundreds of shops and street stalls with various cafes and fast food options also dotted here and there. Aside from perusing almost endless batik shops, there is the Malioboro Mall and Beringharjo Market to stop by too.
In the evening, the area gets even more crowded with food stands popping up and street performers putting on shows. Although the lively atmosphere is intoxicating, we were a bit disappointed as most of the shops seemingly sold almost the same souvenirs and patterned clothing. In the end, we much preferred the vibrant market just off it.
2. Visit Prambanan
Quite similar in design to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the intricately-decorated temples at Prambanan count among the city’s main attractions. Lying just half an hour’s drive to the northeast of the center, their complex contains all kinds of artistic and architectural treasures.
The second-largest Hindu temple site in all Southeast Asia, they were built by the Mataram Kingdom sometime in the ninth-century. Covered in fine carvings, its largest buildings are dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma; the three main Hindu deities. Adorned with bas-reliefs from the Ramayana, their elaborate spires reach 47 meters at their highest point.
We couldn’t believe the level of detail etched in its old rocks and spent way longer than we intended wandering around the complex. Whether you make it here for the sunrise or the ballet in the evening, the temples are definitely not to be missed when in Jogja.
1. Explore Borobudur
Only outdoing them is the immense temple of Borobudur which is impressively the largest Buddhist structure on Earth. One of the country’s most important landmarks, its innumerable statues and stupas lie roughly an hour’s drive northwest of town.
Consisting of nine stacked platforms topped by a central dome, the humongous pyramid-like temple is thought to have been erected about a century earlier than Prambanan. Eventually abandoned, it lay hidden beneath layers of ash and jungle until it was rediscovered in the early 1800s.
Since then, tourists have flocked to the majestic monument, with many heading to the top in time for its stupendous sunrises. Studding its old stones are 72 beautiful bell-shaped stupas and hundreds of Buddha statues to admire. Intricate bas-reliefs also depict the life of Prince Siddharta, the birth of the Buddha and the law of karma.
With so much to see, we’d again recommend hiring a guide so you can understand and appreciate all the meanings behind the magnificent artwork. The highlight of our time in Yogyakarta, the sprawling site also offers up phenomenal views over the picturesque mountains and countryside all around.
Where to Stay in Yogyakarta
As Malioboro Road is the bustling centre of life in town, you’re better off staying in the much quieter alleys lining the city’s main street. Many top-class hotels and accommodation options are located at the end towards the train station. This is within easy walking distance of most of the main sights and innumerable shops and eateries.
Also conveniently located is the excellent Ayaartta Hotel Malioboro, just fifteen minutes walk west of the palace. As well as comfy, artsy rooms, the Dutch Colonial-style hotel has a pool, spa and cafe for guests to enjoy. Buffet breakfasts are also provided while the staff are very friendly and welcoming.
Another great option is the Adhisthana Hotel in the Prawirotaman part of town known for its hip cafes and restaurants. Besides its lovely rustic country-style decor, there is a cool bar, terrace and pool for guests to hang out at. Very highly-rated, the three-star hotel has a cozy feel, combining both traditional Javanese and modern architectural elements.
How to get there
The first point of entry for many people is the busy Yogyakarta International Airport, around an hour’s drive southwest of the city. It connects you to many of Indonesia’s major cities and several overseas too. Also nearby is Adisucipto International Airport, though this has fewer flights and destinations.
Jogja is also well-connected to the rest of Java by train, it takes four hours to reach Surabaya and six to Bandung. Long distance buses also transport locals and tourists alike to many of the other main cities on the island.
Once you arrive, much of the compact center is easy enough to explore on foot. Otherwise, you can always hail a taxi, cycle rickshaw or book a ride using the Grab or Go-Jek ride-sharing apps. Plenty of buses also make their way about its bustling streets.
Best Time to Visit Yogyakarta
Set in south-central Java, Yogyakarta has a tropical monsoon climate with very distinct wet and dry seasons. Temperatures stay around 31 or 32°C (88 to 89°F) the whole year round with the humidity also being high.
As November through to April sees an incredible amount of rain tip down, most people stay away during this period. The sole exception is December due to the Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve celebrations. When the month of Ramadan falls, the days are quieter but the evenings are very lively as everyone breaks their fast.
More visitors start to return to the city in May and June as less rain falls, making sightseeing more pleasant again with the Sekaten Festival also taking place. Peak season though is both July and August when the city is packed and prices are highest.
These dry months are perfect for strolling about its palaces and temples or heading to all its nearby beaches. All kinds of interesting events such as the Jogja Arts Weeks and Gamelan Festival are also held then.
If you want to avoid the crowds, September and October are better times to visit. As they are quieter and cheaper, you can tour Borobudur and Prambanan without jostling for space.