Places to Visit and What to do in Yogyakarta
Close to Borobodur, the world famous UNESCO World-Heritage Site, Yogyakarta (commonly called “Jogja”), is a sprawling town in Java and one of the most popular destinations on the island. When we started looking at what to do in Yogyakarta, we quickly realised that the town provides an excellent base from where to explore the nearby attractions and landmarks.
If you’re wondering about what to do in Yogyakarta, you should know that the town not only includes lots of places to visit but makes for a convenient stop on your Indonesia trip as it is very accessible and well-connected by land, train or air. Unlike more remote places in Indonesia, Yogyakarta is a hub for facilities and home to many hotels, restaurants, taxi companies, tour agencies and other tourist services.
In this post, we are including a guide to what to do in Yogyakarta itself, as well as to the places around it which can be easily reached from town.
Places to Visit and What to do in Yogyakarta
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Jogja has its own international airport. Visitors to Yogyakarta typically arrive via the country’s capital Jakarta, located on the same island. The most convenient way to commute between the two is by taking a short flight. Frequent trains and buses also connect the two cities.
Visitors arriving from Bali can also fly to Yogyakarta from Denpasar airport whilst those arriving from Surabaya can fly, or commute via trains and buses.
What to do in Yogyakarta – Where to Go and How
When you’re looking at what to do in Yogyakarta, Borobodur Temple is the attraction which tops the list. By far one of the most popular attractions, Borobodur is a huge Buddhist temple located in a spectacular setting amidst mountains and is also the largest Buddhist structure in the world.
Borobodur is accessible either with private transport, as part of many tours offered in Yogyakarta, and also by public transport, which is surely the cheapest option and the route we opted for.
The bus to Borobodur departs from Jombor terminal and the journey takes about an hour. If Jombor is far from your accommodation, getting there is relatively straightforward by connecting to lines 2 or 5 of the local Trans Jogja buses. The bus shelters can be easily identified as they are raised by about 1 meter from the ground and are often manned by ticketing staff.
There were no foreign tourists on the bus to Borobodur. Everyone seemed to have used a tour, but we found public transport so convenient and easy to use that we could never recommend going there any other way!
The price of the bus ticket from the shelter to Jombor was 3,600 Indonesian Rupiahs (IDR) (€0.23) each, and the cost of the bus from Jombor to Borobodur bus terminal was 25,000 IDR (about €1.58) each. Going back involved doing everything in reverse, so effectively getting to Borobodur cost us 57,200 IDR (about €3.60) each.
Borobodur village is a small typical Indonesian village surrounding the temple. As soon as you descend the bus, you will be welcomed by many ojeks (motor taxis), who will be ready to offer you their best services at a premium price. There’s no need to take an ojek. The temple is located a 20-minute walk away from the bus station – a good way to loosen up your leg muscles after the bus ride!
Five minutes into our walk, it started pouring heavily, so we took shelter at one of the many warungs in the main road leading to the temple, where we tasted gulai, a typical Indonesia dish with meat and a curry-like sauce. The “meat” in the dish was mostly intestines and other innards, but was actually really good!
Considering the horrible weather, we were hoping that the complex would be relatively quiet, but no such luck – brightly-coloured umbrellas were everywhere and it was really difficult to get some pictures without an umbrella or two photobombing it!
Entrance to Borobodur temple costs $25, making it one of the more expensive places to visit around Yogyakarta. If you’re looking at what to do in Yogyakarta and you also intend visiting Prambanan temple, it is more cost-effective to pay for a combined ticket to both temples at a price of $40 for foreign tourists (prices are stated in US dollars for foreigners). The combined tickets can be used on consecutive days only.
When you’re sorting out your plans regarding what to do in Yogyakarta, be sure to include the impressive ancient Prambanan Temple on your itinerary! The massive Hindu complex is made up of several temples set around the main cluster, all of which are slightly different to each other.
The Parambanan Temple is a wonderful example of Hindu architecture – no wonder it attracts a good number of visitors! Although the complex does not attract the same volumes of tourists that Borobodur does, this area can get very busy! Included in the entrance ticket, but often overlooked by visitors are three other temple clusters, a short 10-minute walk from the main area (within the same park boundary).
Whilst all the complex is undergoing sectional restoration works, the best preserved structure of the three antennae temple complexes is the Sewu Candi (Sewu Temple), which is the one furthest from the main area. We were welcomed to the temple complex by two giant statues, leading the way to the main shrine. While the main Parambanan area was full of group tours, Sewu was practically deserted.
For those wanting a more contemporary cultural experience, the western side of the park has been equipped with an open air stage, offering scheduled performances of the Ramayana Ballet. One should not expect a ballet performance typical of the western style, but rather a traditional dance and theatrical representation of the Javanese court culture.
You can get there by private car or by public transport. This temple is a lot closer to Yogyakarta center than Borobudur, and directly connected with line 1A of the TransJogja service. The cost of catching the bus to Prambanan is 3,600 IDR (€0.23) each way.
Pinus Pengger – A recent addition to the list of what to do in Yogyakarta
This relatively new attraction, about an hour out of the main town, is a quirky, cute little forested park including sculptures such as “The Hand” which are great Instagram-worthy, photo-spots, especially at sunset time.
We got there using Grab at a cost of IDR45,000 (about €3), and wrongly assumed that we would again call a Grab or Uber car to collect us and take us back to town, or at least find a taxi. Little did we know by the time we got to go back, that the region was out of the Grab/Uber operating zone and none were available; we were pretty much stuck there!
If you are considering putting Pinus Pengger on your list of what to do in Yogyakarta, we strongly recommend using your own hired car or motorbike to get there, because finding transport back was a difficult adventure! After much asking around, a group of men said they would find us a driver, who refused to take us down to town for less than 400,000 IDR (about €25), almost ten times the proper cost, which was far too expensive for us to consider (they knew we had very little options!).
Finally, we decided to bite the bullet and started walking down knowing that making it back to Yogyakarta on foot would take the best part of 5 hours. A motorbike driver offered us a lift to the nearest town from where he said we could take a bus.
Yes, Nikki and I were squashed together on this one motorbike together with the driver, but three adults on a scooter is a pretty common sight in Asia! I was pressed firmly against the driver’s back whilst Nikki was about to fall off the other end, with his legs swinging about trying to maintain balance.
We didn’t fall off and made it safely, but when we got to the village, we were told that no buses would be passing that way. So we set off walking again, until again, we were stopped by two guys who offered to take us down to Yogyakarta, using two motorbikes this time. The drive took about 45 minutes.
When we arrived in the city one of the drivers demanded that we pay 10 times what was originally agreed, toying about with the ‘you don’t understand our language’ scam. Little did he know that we had typed in the agreed sum on Nikki’s phone when agreeing upon the price with his colleague, and we were very sure of what had been agreed upon!
After much confrontation, we did eventually pay double the agreed price, but it was still worth it. We were both tired of arguing, and we got back to the city in time for dinner!
Entrance to the park cost 5,000 IDR (€0.31) per person.
The Taman Sari (Water Castle) and Underground Mosque
Sometimes referred to as the water castle, this former royal garden is located within the Kraton district, which is the actual royal palace. It is divided into four separate areas, the most interesting of which was the bathing area, we thought.
It is hard to miss the bathing area as it is the first section you will come across after entry. This area consists of two large pools of water, separated by a 3-story watchtower. Further into the surrounding gardens, it is easy to lose your way to the other highlight of the complex, the underground mosque.
Located at the western side (right upon entry) of the complex, it may be hard to find your way to this structure, yet the locals (who actually live in the complex) will be happy to indicate the correct way. A guard at the entrance will relieve you of a portion of your original entry ticket (you had better hold on to it tightly) and allow access to a steep staircase, leading to a set of tunnels.
After a few meters, the tunnels lead to a circular corridor, which in turn surrounds a central courtyard. An intricate but extremely interesting set of steps lead to a similar corridor on the upper floor of this very particular mosque.
The entrance fee to the complex is 15,000 IDR (€0.95) per person.
Ride a pedal car at Alun-Alun Selatan
What to do in Yogyakarta at night? Rent a ride at Alun-Alun of course! This large square come to life at night when dozens of neon-lit pedal cars featuring “Hello Kitty” and “Doraemon” characters, blaring out loud karaoke music (“Despacito” when we were there), are driven around the square by mostly locals.
We personally couldn’t really figure out the fun factor in renting the pedal cars given the loudness of the music, but locals seemed to really enjoy the experience! They were very entertaining to watch!
What to do in Yogyakarta – Places of Interest Away from the city
When you’re thinking about what to do in Yogyakarta, beaches might not be on your list of places to visit, but they should, especially considering that the South Java sea is only 1-2 hours’ drive away from the city.
Many of the beaches do not include tourist facilities so be sure to bring enough food, water and anything else you might need on your day trip. Timang Beach and Wediombo beach are especially popular and whereas the former offers breath-taking views and a gondola ride to the cliff rock close by, the latter has clean waters and some good waves which it is why is a popular surfing spot.
Jeep tours to this volcano from Yogyakarta are popular, being an interesting way to access the volcano. It is best to negotiate a price per jeep. The more people in the jeep, the cheaper it is per individual. The jeep will also stop you at a museum commemorating the recent eruption, which provides a good insight into the devastating effect of the event.
You will also have the opportunity to visit a bunker in which people sought shelter during the eruption. You can get to the museum using public transport but you need a jeep to take you to the surrounding attractions. A jeep tour usually costs anywhere between 300,000 IDR (€18.80) – 600,000 IDR (€37.70) per jeep depending on the package you choose.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also trek to the peak!
What to do in Yogyakarta – Where to stay
Our accommodation of choice in Yogyakarta was a relatively new budget hotel called Puri Langenarjan. Although small, the room was great value for money, with a nice attached bathroom and the Indonesian breakfast served every morning was excellent! The location is within the Kraton area and a few meters away from Alun-Alun.
What to do in Yogyakarta when hungry – Places to eat within the city
This is the main shopping street in Yogyakarta and is surrounded by lots of hotels, restaurants and bars. The area is home to several street-side night restaurants called Lesehan, which are more like stalls set up to a side of the road with long low tables and cushions.
They serve a variety of local food such as the usual nasi goreng, mi goreng, ayam goreng, at affordable prices, which make for a fun and informal local dining experience.
This little warung just a few metres away from the Alun-Alun Selatan was our go-to place for dinner since it was very close to our hotel. Good portions of very fresh local food were prepared and served by a lovely family. The mi rebus (boiled noodles which is actually a soup) was especially tasty and filling, Michelle thought!
The very popular restaurant serves Indonesian dishes as well as a variety of international dishes which we enjoyed sampling when we needed a change from warungs and we were craving some wine.
Although a lot more expensive than the local warungs, ViaVia’s dishes were well worth the cost. Besides the items on the menu, daily “specials” are available.
We hope you find our list of what to do in Yogyakarta useful! Be sure to check out our other articles about Indonesia!