Yogyakarta is a very special city. One of my favourite cities in Indonesia. I really like how most people are very friendly and welcoming. I remember, probably a year ago, where I was clueless about where I was and a middle-aged guy came and asked me where I wanted to go. He told me where I needed to go and said farewell with the kindest sentence a stranger can say. “Take care and enjoy your day!”.
I often enjoy my days sitting at a cafe in South part of Yogyakarta, working on the travel business, and sometimes overhear random conversation tourists have. Most conversations are about things that want to do in Yogyakarta. Often, I jump in to their conversation and give suggestions, but most of the time I keep quiet.
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Realizing that I haven’t written a guide on things to do in Yogyakarta (hey I’ve written about things to do in Jakarta, check it out!), here are some suggestions that I give when I do jump into a random conversation with tourists in Yogyakarta. I am sure that there are actually many other things that you can do in Yogyakarta, but this list surely will help you find out what Yogyakarta has to offer. I hope you enjoy it! Please note that this list starts with the essential things to do in the city. Then I share ideas you might want to try. Oh, and if a list of things is not quite what you’re after, I’ve created eight different itineraries you can follow when you come to Yogyakarta.
3 of the Best Things to do in Yogya
1. Visit the temples (Borobudur, Prambanan and Ratu Boko)
Though Borobudur temple is not located in Yogyakarta, the temple however is one of the biggest reasons why people visit Yogyakarta. It takes 45 minutes to visit the temple from Yogyakarta. If you do visit Borobudur try to take a sunrise tour (or the sunset!). It’s really worth it for the view. Besides Borobudur, the other big famous temple that you need to visit is Prambanan temple, which is a Hindu temple. Below are the two most popular ways to visit Borobudur.
Most Popular Way to Visit:
Watch sunrise overlooking Borobudur from afar and then visit the temple, also known as Sunrise From Setumbu Hill (or Barede Hill): find out more.
You can also watch sunrise from the top of Borobudur Temple. This is known as Sunrise Borobudur via Manohara: find out more.
2. Visit Goa Jomblang
Goa Jomblang cave is one of the tourism highlights of Yogyakarta. The cave is located in Gunung Kidul, an hour to 90 minutes drive from Yogyakarta. To reach enter Goa Jomblang you are lowered 60 meters over the edge of a cliff into the sinkhole. At the bottom of the sinkhole is a hidden forest from where you enter a system of caves. The highlight of the trip is Grubug Cave. There is a hole in the roof of the cave and every morning the light filters through like a natural spotlight (if the weather permits). Find out more about Goa Jomblang and how to get there in this article.
Most Popular Way to Visit:
Take a private car rental to Gua Jomblng Cave. Can be combined with other activities, such as visiting Prambanan, join Pindul Cave Tubing, visit Srigetuk Waterfall or short trekking at Nglanggeran: Find out more.
3. Hike Merapi Volcano
There are a lot of volcanos around Yogyakarta to climb. The most famous (and dangerous since it is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia) to climb is Merapi. It’s a tough trek. You can read more about my experience hiking this volcano here. Other than Merapi, there are Merbabu and Lawu. You can read my Lawu climb journey here.
Most Popular Way to Visit:
Overnight hike so you can watch sunrise from the peak of Merapi. You can join a shared tour: Find out more.
Fun Ideas for Things to do in Yogyakarta
4. Visit Timang Beach
I love the beaches around Gunung Kidul. They are a nice place to relax and are only 90 minutes drive from Yogyakarta. You can enjoy the view, relax and eat tasty, reasonably priced, fresh seafood. At some of the beaches you can even swim such as Ngrenehan Beach or Nglambor Beach! Check out my interesting beaches and cave guide for the gunung kidul regency. One of the most popular beaches to visit at the moment is Timang Beach. It’s more of a photo spot, but you can buy cheap lobster nearby, which is great.
Most Popular Way to Visit:
Arrange a car rental to visit Timang Beach and see the Gondola of Timang Beach: Find out more.
5. Watch the Ramayana Ballet
The Ramayana Ballet is a dance and theatre performance held on an outdoor stage against the backdrop of Prambanan Temple (it will be indoor during the rainy season). The play is based on an ancient Hindu love story and follows the tale of King Rama and Princess Shinta. Over 200 dancers and actors perform in this epic. Recommended for people who enjoy performances and want to see a real spectacle, with Javanese dancing and eye catching costumes.
Most Popular Way to Visit:
Join a shared tour or book a ticket to the performance: Find out more.
6. Merapi Lava Tour
The Merapi Lava Tour is an off road adventure on the slopes of Merapi Volcano with a serious backstory. The tour is held around the region most affected by the last volcanic explosion. During the tour you are driven around on a 4×4 jeep through a beautiful landscape. You will also visit some of the villages that were abandoned following the last eruption. This is definitely one of the interesting things to do in Yogyakarta when you are visiting the city. You can also add a visit to the Lost World Castle or Museum Gunungapi Merapi or Ullen Sentalu Museum.
Most Popular Way to Visit:
Arrange a car rental and join the Merapi Lava Tour. Can easily combine it with a visit to Ullen Sentalu Museum: Find out more.
7. Relax in a Boutique Hotel
Every great holiday starts with a nice place to stay. And there are plenty of beautiful places to stay around Yogyakarta. Top of the list has to be Phoenix Hotel, a grand colonial era building that hosted the office of Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia. If you have an active Instagram account you’ll fall in love with the funky decor at Lokal Hotel and YATS Colony. Meanwhile Greenhost Boutique Hotel is a top choice for people who enjoy the arts scene (they are always hosting exhibitions, running fashion shows and showcasing local artists).
8. Kalibiru National Park Viewpoint
Kalibiru National Park is one of those places that was made famous through Instagram. The park became popular because it’s such a beautiful viewpoint. There was one photo point. Now there are dozens, with everything from the original simple wooden platform halfway up a tree to heart shaped viewpoints. If you want to collect some nice Instagram photos come here in the evening or early morning. You could also do some fun outdoor activities like zip lining. It’s a nice place to visit, but busy on the weekend. Other similar places that are interesting to visit: Hutan Pinus (pine forest) Sendangsari, Kebun Bunga Matahari (sunflower field) in Kulon Progo, and Kebun Teh Nglinggo (tea plantation).
9. Ullen Sentalu Museum
This is my favourite museum around Yogyakarta (one of the best in Indonesia). It’s a nice way to learn about Javanese culture. The exhibitions at the museum cover different aspects of Javanese culture. You’ll see old photographs of Yogya, beautiful examples of batik, old paintings and even things like letters. The site is well maintained and everything is really well organised. A tour guide will guide you around the museum and you’re not aloud to use your camera on the tour, which is a good way to make sure you pay attention to the exhibits. You can find an article I wrote about my experience visiting the Ullen Sentalu Museum here.
10. Explore the Kraton (Royal Palace)
The Kraton Kasultanan Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, better known as Kraton, is basically the royal palace. It is where the king and his family stay. I have never explored the Kraton museum, but from what I heard from my best friend it is a great place to visit and learn more about Javanese culture (directly from people who keep the traditions alive every single day). There are two entrances to the Kraton, one is from Tepas Keprajuritan and the other is Tepas Pariwisata. There is a Javanese cultural show that you can enjoy almost every day (every day there is a different performance) either at 9 or 10 am.
Besides exploring the Kraton, do not forget to wander around Taman sari (Taman sari water castle). Though it needs improved maintenance, it is a great place just to wander around. Visit early, explore and loose yourself around the villages little alleys, the mosque and underground tunnels. Sometimes you will find local guides who explain this and that. These guys will not do any harm, if you don’t need them just say and they will stop following you. Otherwise if you are keen to have a local guide explain the areas history, then agree on a price before the ‘guide service’ begin.
11. Join a Workshop (Batik, silver, pottery and leather)
I have only ever done a leather workshop in Yogyakarta and it was awesome. You’ll learn how to make your own leather stuff (it can be a purse, a small sling bag, an iPad case and many more) and at the end of the course, you’ll be able to bring home your creation. There is nothing better than a friend complimenting you on your bag/wallet when you created it.
There are plenty of Batik course in Kraton area, around the small alleys around Taman Sari. Silver courses can be found around Kota Gede (you can made your own silver ring!), and the pottery courses are available around Kasongan area. You need to make a reservation before the workshop day.
Most Popular Workshops:
12. Borobudur Sunrise Instagram Points
Setumbu Hill was the original viewpoint for Borobudur, but more are popping up all the time. The photo above is of Watu Kendil viewpoint. If you’re looking for something different to visit you can try Punthuk Mongkrong, Punthuk Sukmojoyo, Purwosari Hill, Barede Hill and the Chicken Church (which is an abandoned church that is shaped like a chicken. No really there is such a thing). You’ll need to arrange a car rental or drive by scooter to get to these points as there are no shared tours to these places.
13. Hang out at Alun-Alun Selatan Kraton!
If you are stuck for things to do in the evening I would recommend visiting alun-alun selatan Kraton. You’ll be surprised how busy this place can be at night (just like me, I was surprised too!). You will mostly find Indonesian tourists and locals around alun-alun selatan. They will be busy trying to do the twins Beringin tree challenge (see no. 14), enjoy the night breezy weather, eat various local food or ride a super blink ‘car’.
You’ll either giggle or be shocked when you see the bling-bling cars. They are peddle cars and are about the same size as a smart car or VW Beetle. The cars are equipped with hundreds of bright lights and loud music! Cars even come equipped with a small TV. A few nights ago, my friends and I cycled in one of these cars while listening to Katy Perry. It costs you 50,000 IDR for one loop (small car for 4 people).
14. Walk Between the Twin Beringin Trees
There are plenty of different myths about the beringin trees challenge. Some say that if you can pass between the two trees with your eyes closed then whatever you ask for is going to come true. Others says that people who succeed in passing between the two beringin trees able to refuse reinforcements / any bad things that is being addressed to him or her.
I failed this challenge on my first attempt. I succeeded on my second. I was quite surprised how hard it is to walk in a straight line with your eyes close. You can rent a scarf to cover your eyes for 5,000 IDR or you can bring your own if you want.
15. Explore Imogiri Royal Tombs
The Imogiri Royal Cementery (Pajimatan Girirejo Imogiri) is located on the outskirts of Yogyakarta. It is a place for spiritual tourism: meditation and pilgrimage. The complex is a great place to enjoy scenery and also learn about the history of the Mataram kingdom and its culture. You will have the chance to wear the traditional outfit as well. Learn more here.
16. Enjoy sunset at Parangtritis Beach (you can do paragliding from January-February/March)
Parangtritis Beach is around 25 km from the city center. The beach is always busy with locals during the evening and on weekends. You can have a picnic, ride an ATV (all-terrain vehicle), enjoy the sunset, photograph the scenery, swim at the small swimming pool or go paragliding here (only available between January and February). One more activity that most people miss out on is sand-boarding at Gumuk Pasir, read about it here.
17. Try the Famous Chocolate Monggo
While in Yogya you can visit the Monggo chocolate factory! A visit to Chocolate Monggo factory in KotaGede, is a great thing to do. You can also find the Monggo showroom there. They are also available at some minimarkets scattered around the city. Other outlet is attached to Lotus Mio, a restaurant in Tirtodipuran street. Monggo chocolate has been around since 2005.
18. Manggunan Fruit Garden
Manggunan Fruit Garden is a viewpoint outside of Yogyakarta. The view looks out over a deep valley with a river. It can be a really nice place to watch sunrise, because in the early morning the mist hangs low over the river and covers the valley. It makes it look like you’re above the clouds, which in a sense you are, but you don’t need to do any climbing to get there.
19. Visit the Museums
There are a lot of museums in Yogyakarta! You can check out the full list here. For sure I haven’t had the chance to visit all of them, but here are some of my personal favorites. Museum Tembi/Rumah Budaya Tembi at Jl. Parangtritis Km 8,4, Bantul, Museum Affandi at Jalan Laksda Adisucipto Nomor 167 and Museum Batik Yogyakarta at Jl. Dr. Sutomo, Yogyakarta.
20. Stroll around Jalan Malioboro
Visiting Yogyakarta without stroll around Malioboro is like going to Paris without checking out the Eiffel Tower. Stroll around Malioboro, shop there or go to Beringharjo market, open from 9 am until 5 pm. There are plenty of Batik (trousers, t-shirt, dresses, bangles and etc), sandals, blangkon (traditional central Javanese headdress worn by men and made of batik fabric) and much more to buy. A lot of tourists prefer to walk around Malioboro in the evening or at night.
Malioboro is one of the best streets to sample cheap local food. There are plenty of Angkringan/Sego Kucing sellers around the street. Sego Kucing translated as cat rice, consists of a small portion of rice with toppings, usually spicy sauce (sambal), dried fish, and tempeh, wrapped in banana leaves. Nothing to do with having cat as an ingredient! If you prefer restaurant food, turn right to Sosrowijayan Street and there are plenty restaurants there that you can try! (if you are thinking to have a late night drink try Oxen Free).
21. Try the Flying Fox
There are always new tourism attractions popping up in Yogyakarta. The top attraction for 2017 promises to be the Flying Fox at the Ecotourism Green Village in Gunung Kidul. At 625 meters the Flying Fox will be the longest in South East Asia (and an unforgettable adrenalin ride).
22. Eat Like a Local
Food! If you are wondering about what is authentic Yogyakarta cuisine, you should definitely give Gudeg a try. Gudeg is made from young unripe jackfruit boiled for several hours with palm sugar, and coconut milk. It is served with steamed rice and chicken in coconut milk (opor ayam) or telur pindang (boiled egg) and with tofu (tahu) or tempeh (tempe) plus sambal goreng krecek. It is delicious! Please do give it a try.
Famous places to buy Gudeg include Ibu Ageng or Bale Raos. One of my favourite places is Gudeg Pawon on Janturan Street, but it only opens at 10-12pm (or Gudeg Permata). Other than that, feel free to try other fantastic food in Yogyakarta, here are my favourite dishes to eat (not all are traditional). Another suggestion would be taking one of the evening food tours (you can find out more about the food tours here).
23. Umbul Ponggok
Umbul Ponggok is a ‘whacky’ place to visit if you want to take some fun photos. It’s a water park with massive pools all setup for underwater photography. You can pose underwater sitting on a chair and playing a games console with your friend, cycle underwater on your scooter and sit in a tent. The site is in Ponggok village outside of Yogya (it is in Klaten city). It’s cheap and popular with teenagers (and your kids would probably like it as well). You’ll need to rent a car or drive your scooter to visit.
There are (still) plenty of other things to do in Yogya. For example: spend some time at a cafe in Yogyakarta (some of my favourite: Lotus Mio, Tujuan, Tanamera, Gudang Kopi and many more), go to the bird market (Pasty), watch the drag queen show Raminten Cabaret, watch the leather puppet show every night (8-10pm) at Sonobudoyo museum (Trikora street No. 6), cycle on an old fashion bike at Kulon Progo, visit the Sunflower Garden Samas Beach, check out the Langse Cave, visit Kedung Pedut Waterfall or Gedad Waterfall or Curug Pulosari, join a walking tour such as Kota Gede Walking Tour and much more!
To help you arrange your trip to Yogyakarta I’ve created a helpful shortlist of the best hotels. You can find them below. Just pick the article that suits your travel needs.
Booked Your Accommodation? Here are the Best Hotels in Yogya for Every Budget
P.S. Need help arranging your Yogyakarta holidays? Save yourself some time! Here’s a list of Shared and Private tours.