Yogyakarta is one of the most famous cities in Java and also one of the most interesting. It is known across Indonesia as the cultural capital of the country and it is also a university town that has a reputation for attracting artists and intellectuals who flock here to enjoy the arts scene and the cafe culture. The city is also notable in Indonesia as it is technically a sultanate and the royal family has been a fixture of the city since the 1700s. As a result, many of Yogyakarta’s attractions relate to the royals, but, true to its learned roots, you will also find a wealth of museums here as well as workshops and handicraft shops.
Yogyakarta is also known for its famous surroundings, as it sits at the base of Mount Merapi and is close to iconic sights in Java such as Borobudur and Prambanan temples. Many people combine a trip to Yogyakarta with a visit to these sites, but if you only have time to take in the main part of the city then you can still enjoy a range of eateries, cafes, ancient monuments, and shopping venues.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Yogyakarta:
1. Relax on Indrayanti Beach
Many visitors to Yogyakarta won’t realize that it is actually located close to the Indian Ocean and actually the southern side of the city stretches along the coastline and consists of Indrayanti Beach.
The strip of golden sand here is clean and inviting and you will also find a range of small Indonesian cafes and stalls set up along the coastline where you can get some simple noodle dishes as well as cool drinks and coconuts.
2. Take a trip to the Sono-Budoyo Museum
Yogyakarta is a city covered in museums, and one of the best of these is the Sono-Budoyo Museum which has a collection of Javanese art on display.
If you want to know more about art from the region you can take a tour of the museum and visit galleries dedicated to Indonesian puppets, masks, weaponry, and textiles.
The museum faces a courtyard which is covered in Hindu architecture and you will find ornate carvings and statues aplenty.
One of the highlights of the museum is the puppet shows that also take place here.
3. Explore the Kraton
The Kraton Kasultanan Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat is probably the most famous attraction in Yogyakarta and is simply another name for the Royal Palace.
The sultan and his family still reside here, although you can visit the Kraton Museum where you can learn more about the royal family as well as get an insight into traditional Javanese art and culture.
If possible try to time your visit so that you are in the area around 9 am, as there are cultural shows held here every day.
4. Go rafting on the Progo River
If you want to get out and about in Yogyakarta then take a trip to the pretty Progo River and rent a kayak and go rafting down the rapids.
This is a somewhat unusual spot in Yogyakarta as it allows you to get out of the city without taking you too far away from the main action.
The big highlight of drifting down the rapids is the chance to take in the lush flora and fauna from the vantage point of the water all while getting your adrenalin pumping.
If you make it to the Progo River you can also combine a visit with the neighboring Elo River at the same time.
5. Try some Gudeg
Yogyakarta is known for its famous food and the most famous of these is Gudeg.
This basically consists of jackfruit which is boiled with coconut milk to form a kind of curry.
It is served with rice and is not to be missed if you are in the city, and some of the best known places to find it include Bale Raos, Ibu Ageng, and Gudeg Pawon which is located on Janturan Street.
If you want to try a wider range of typical treats from Yogyakarta then you can also take a food tour and these have become increasingly popular in recent years, with several companies to choose from.
6. Visit the animals at Gembira Loka Zoo
If you want to see some flora and fauna in Yogyakarta then a visit to the Gembira Loka Zoo is a good choice.
The zoo is located to the south east of the city and you will find a large array of reptiles and birds here and there is obviously an emphasis on indigenous Indonesian species.
The zoo has a calm and serene atmosphere and you can walk around and take in the tropical scenery as well as visit the different animal enclosures.
7. Join a workshop
Yogyakarta is known as the arts and crafts capital of Indonesia and if you want to get hands on then the best way to do this is to sign up for a handicraft workshop.
Just some of the choices include a leather workshop where you will be taught how to fashion items like a purse from leather, or you can learn Indonesia’s most famous textile technique called ‘batik’. This involves making a pattern on fabric with wax before dying the fabric a range of colors, and you can also buy colorful batik pieces all over the city.
The best place to sign up for a batik course is in the neighborhood that surrounds the Kraton or Royal Palace.
8. Explore Wediombo Beach
Wediombo Beach means Wide Sand Beach which tells you everything you need to know about what to expect on a visit here.
The soft golden sand sprawls for miles along the coastline and locals flock here to enjoy the delights of the sea, including fishing.
The waters in this part of Yogyakarta are full of a range of different species although one of these native to the area is the Panjo fish.
The beach is located at the base of a set of rolling hills and one of the best things to do here is climb up the cliffs and then take in the beautiful views over the water.
9. Walk between the Beringin Trees
The Beringin Trees are another of Yogyakarta’s most famous spots, and the area is cloaked in local myth and legend.
The site, as the name suggests, is made up of two large trees, and legend has it that if you are able to walk between them with your eyes closed then your wish for the future will come true.
This may sound easy, although it’s amazing how many people don’t manage to walk in a straight line.
People usually rent a blindfold from a local seller which ensures that you can’t cheat, and you can try as many times as you like.
Whether you believe the story or not, it is good fun trying to make it between the trees and this is one of the quirkiest spots in the city.
10. Walk along Jalan Malioboro
Jalan Malioboro is the most famous street in Yogyakarta and as such you can’t miss a trip here when you visit the city.
The street is also usually visited at the same time as the Beringharjo Market, and all along Jalan Malioboro you will find items for sale such as clothes, batik fabrics, jewelry, sandals, and traditional Javanese arts and crafts.
If you want to explore the market then you will need to come here between 9 am and 5 pm, but if you just want to enjoy the most famous artery in the city and its sights and sounds, then try to come after dark when the street really comes alive.
If you are feeling hungry then you can also buy a range of delicious street food along the way.
11. Explore the Affandi Museum
Affandi (who like many Javanese went by only one name) was one of the most famous artists in Indonesian history.
On a visit to Yogyakarta, art lovers should make sure to visit the Affandi Museum, which actually used to be the artist’s former home and studio.
The museum sits to the east of the town center and has a wide range of Affandi’s paintings as well as some of his haunting self portraits.
As this used to be his private home, you will also find a variety of his personal effects including his car which is a colorful Galant from 1967.
12. Check out a local cafe
Unlike many other cities in Indonesia, Yogyakarta has a strong cafe culture and you will find quirky coffee shops and eateries all over town.
One of the main areas in the city to find a wide range of cafes is Jalan Prawirotaman and most of these serve food including both local and international snacks and heavier meals.
Indonesia is known for its coffee, and you will find a range of blends that will let you sample the best beans in the country.
13. Explore Taman Sari
As well as the famous Kraton or Royal Palace, no trip to Yogyakarta is complete without a visit to Taman Sari which is also often referred to as the Taman Sari Water Castle.
The castle is located to the southwest of the Royal Palace and would have been extremely grand in its time and made up of a network of pools, streams, and royal buildings for the enjoyment of the sultan and his family.
Nowadays it has fallen into disrepair and much of the water palace is gently crumbling, although this adds to the experience and you can spend an afternoon wandering around the graceful ruins which date from the 1700s.
You will also find a section of underground tunnels which are not to be missed and you can take a guided tour for a small fee or simply go it alone.
14. Visit Ullen Sentalu Museum
Arguably one of the best museums in Yogyakarta is Ullen Sentalu Museum which is a great place to learn all about Javanese culture.
The museum is an ideal spot to see how the city would have looked in the days of old and you will find photographs of Yogyakarta back in the day, as well as ancient batik, period paintings, and even antique manuscripts and letters.
You can take a tour of the museum with a guide or you can go it alone and enjoy this walk through the history of Yogyakarta.