10 Things To Do In Yogyakarta
Most people have heard of Jakarta right, but Yogyakarta?
Yogyakarta lies in Southern Central Java, Indonesia and is the capital of Javanese fine art and culture.
Locals know it by its shortened name of Jogja.
We travelled from Bali ( Java’s Easterly neighbouring island ) by car, ferry and train to reach Yogyakarta and explore its amazing sights.
Unlike Bali, which is predominately Hindu, Java is a Muslim island and so completely different to Bali in so many ways.
To be honest we liked Java much more than Bali, but you can read why here.
But what are our recommendations for things-to-do-in-Yogakarta ?
1. Visit Borobudur, The World Biggest Buddhist Temple
One of the main reasons we came to Yogyakarta was to visit Borobudur temple for the very special festival of Waisak day which is a Buddhist celebration of Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment.
The celebration lasts two days with festivities all through the night.
We arrived at Borobudur in the afternoon and planned on staying until early morning so that we could see the numerous ceremonies and the enormous lantern launch which was amazing.
The temple itself is made up of nine stacked platforms which you can climb along with the masses of other tourist there.
It does get busy, in fact it’s the single most visited attraction in the whole of Indonesia with 80% of those visitors from Indonesia itself.
As we explored the temple it became obvious that Annabel seemed to be very popular with the Indonesians who loved taking their photo’s with her at every opportunity which did hamper our visit a bit but they were all lovely people and very kind.
The temple itself is an amazing structure and once you get away from the crowds and view it from a distance the beauty of it shows itself.
We’ve read that it is supposed to be beautiful at sunrise but we didn’t get the chance to see it then as we left at 2am, exhausted.
We loved our visit especially with the celebrations of Waisak day going on but be aware that it does get very busy and the crowds on the main temple are a bit overwhelming in places.
Try to go at a quiet time of the day, maybe the early morning to avoid the crowds.
We hired a car with driver for our visit there and he waited until 2am to pick us up which was very handy for us to get back to the homestay.
2. Meeting Locals
Yogyakarta must be one of the friendliest places we’ve spent time in.
The local people were so welcoming and warm hearted, ready to help at every turn.
We did find that we got stopped for lots of photo and selfie opportunities with groups of local people with Annabel being very popular due to her fair skin and hair.
Meeting new people is always an amazing feeling wherever we go in the world but some places you just feel the warmth of people to be more open and welcoming than other places.
Coming to Yogyakarta from Bali was a breath of fresh air as we didn’t feel the Balinese to be quite so friendly in our experience.
Just walk the streets of Jogja and you’ll meet people. You don’t really need to try at all.
People are ready and eager to try their English skills out on you at every opportunity.
There is nothing better than meeting local people. It’s partly why we travel.
Whether it’s meeting someone on the street or getting invited to someones home, it’s alway a joy and an honour to share time with people and to make new friends.
3. Go To the Beach
I know, not strictly in Yogyakarta but not too far South of the city and easily doable in a day trip you can visit some amazing beaches.
We hoped to snorkel at a beach but it was far to rough but the surf was brilliant to watch.
There are some lovely beaches and some not so nice beaches so do some research about where you want to visit.
We hired a car and driver through our homestay for a day out and we had a lovely time.
The beaches we visited had some massive surf so not ideal for swimming but surfing is very popular .
We’re not big beachy people but we enjoyed spending time just watching the surf with its huge waves.
We didn’t really research what beaches were best, we just took the homestay’s recommendations, but if we did it again we would read up first.
4. Watch The Sun Set At Prambanan Temple
Just outside of the city lies one of the largest Hindu temples in South East Asia.
Prambanan is a huge site and feels a lot more open and not so crowded as Borobudur but still sees huge numbers of visitors.
The towering temples cannot fail to impress as you walk down the wide promenade toward the centre of the site.
We found it much more imposing and atmospheric than Borobudur and easier to just wander around.
With a picturesque backdrop of the smoking Marapi volcano your camera will be on overtime capturing beautiful images.
The highlight though was watching the sun set behind the temple complex producing wonderful lights and shadows.
The site stays open past sunset so be sure to see it in a different light or even darkness as the lighting around the temple shines the towers up.
Our favourite temple of Yogyakarta.
We were there most of the day and it’s just mesmerising in its beauty and craftsmanship.
Seeing the sunset over the site is magical.
You can catch a local bus out to the temple which lies just beyond the airport outside of the main city.
5. See The Ramayana Ballet
You can combine a visit to Prambanan Temple with seeing the ballet as the show is staged just behind the temple complex with the temple towers as a backdrop to the ballet.
We timed it so that we got to the temple in the afternoon to explore and then watch the sun set over the complex before heading to the ballet for the evening performance.
The show gets booked out so make sure you book in advance as lots of groups come to watch the dance performance.
We got good seats with a fantastic view of the open air stage with the temples behind.
The show tells the story Prince Rama through drama, dance and music and has about 200 performers in amazing traditional costumes.
Large screens give an English translation of the main story line.
The ballet is a great experience in a stunning location.
We found the performance a bit slow in places but the fire dance is very exciting.
People in the audience can get quite noisy. It’s not like being in a theatre where everyone is quiet. People will talk all the way through the performance, so come with an open mind.
After the show you can catch one of the shuttle busses back into the city.
Just go to the transportation desk and tell them where you are staying.
6. Merapi Volcano
Mount Merapi or Gunung Merapi is situated North of Yogyakarta city and is Indonesia’s most active volcano and is considered one of the worlds most dangerous volcanos.
It can be seen from the city and you get a good view of it from Prambanan Temple but we wanted to get a little closer.
We hired a car and driver to take us to the foothills of the volcano so that we could walk.
You can trek to the very top of Merapi but we decided just to walk around the lower foothills as Merapi is still very active with a continuous plume of steam rising from its cone.
We found a trail leading upward and started walking.
The views of the volcano are not great from the trail as most of it is forested lower down.
We saw the remnants of houses etc from the huge 2010 eruption that claimed over 300 lives in the area.
Since then the government declared a safe zone around the volcano where no-one is supposed to live but there are still locals living in the shadow of Merapi as their livelihood and all they have are there.
You can go on jeep tours around Merapi and we saw lots of four wheel drive vehicles speeding around.
To be honest the views from further away are more satisfying.
Located in one of the villages not far from the volcano is the Ullen Sentalu Museum which showcases Javanese culture and art along with relics from the royal houses of Java.
It’s located in a lovely quiet area surrounded by nature and forest and is a nice side trip if you are near Merapi volcano.
Merapi Volcano is impressive but you lose that when you get up too close to the volcano itself.
You can get the best views from the surrounding villages.
Unless you want to climb the volcano or go on one of the many Lava tours by jeep then getting too close doesn’t really have any advantage.
In May of 2018 Mount Merapi volcano erupted again with surrounding villages being evacuated.
This is why it’s considered to be one of the most dangerous mega volcanos in the world and is classed as a Decade Volcano which warrants continuous monitoring due to its constant activity.
7. Tour The Sultans Palace And Water Castle
The Sultans Palace or Keraton Ngayogyakarta is the residence of the present Sultan of Yogyakarta.
Part of the palace has been set aside and made into a museum with the Sultan living in a residence within the complex.
The palace is open to the public in the mornings to walk around and take in the wonderful architecture and finery with large open squares.
The Tamansari Water Castle is only about a 15 minute walk away from the Sultans Palace and is known as the Sultans garden where he would come to relax, rest, meditate or defend the royal family.
Some of the building have become homes for local residents while the Mosque, bathing place and the tunnels can be visited by tourists.
We really enjoyed our visit of both the Sultans Palace and the Water Castle.
When you enter the Sultans Palace a guide will escort you around giving you information on the exhibits and some history.
The Water Palace doesn’t have any information so you may ned to read up about it before your visit so you have some background.
8. Imogiri Pine Forest
Located South of the city is the beautiful Imogiri Pine Forest.
We combined a day out at the beach and the pine forrest which is best visited in the morning for the early light.
It’s very popular so get there early for less crowds.
Timber boardwalks take you into the forest area where towering pine trees reach upward to the sky.
It’s an unusual area for Indonesia and would be more reminiscent of somewhere in Europe.
It can get quite cool as it’s quite high up, hence the pine trees that only grow in this particular area at this height.
There are some really good lookout platforms high up in the trees that can be accessed by climbing wooden ladders which are a bit hair raising if you don’t like heights much but give really great views over the landscape beyond.
We loved the Imogiri pine forest as it’s just different to everything else you see in this part of the world and is very photogenic.
It’s also a great place to just chill out, climb trees and have a fun time.
9. Eat Dessert
Yogyakarta as with many Indonesian towns and cities are foodie paradises and we enjoyed just trying different things.
In one of the shopping malls near where we stayed, Annabel wanted to try Patbingsoo a Korean dessert made with red beans and shaved ice.
There are loads of topping to choose from but she chose strawberry cheesecake.
Not Indonesian in any way but it was nice to try something new and different and it was yummy to boot.
10. Try A Sweet Martabak
Another food item.
Just down the street from where we stayed a food stall set up every evening selling the most delicious looking sweet Martabak.
We just had to try it.
Martabak is a thick spongey pancake stuffed with your choice of fillings and covered in melted butter.
Yep so it’s not at all good for your arteries with tons of butter, condensed milk, more butter and lots of sweet filling but it is delicious.
We chose a chocolate filling but you can have Toblerone, Oreo, Snickers, Banana and tons more.
It’s very rich with all the butter but a must try.
Just amazing but be warned you will feel sick if you eat too much of it.