Java is the administrative center of Indonesia, but other than that it is not particularly famous. Most visitors to Indonesia, especially those on a first time trip, head to Bali or move on to the island of Lombok, with very few taking the time to tour around Java for any length of time.
This is a shame however, as Java has a huge amount to recommend it, and you can visit some of the top highlights in Indonesia in the form of stunning temples or active volcanoes. Other options here include trekking through jungle to secluded caves and waterfalls, or you can get out on the water and explore the islands off the coast. In short, Java offers you a whole host of attractions, so whatever kind of holiday you are looking for you will doubtless find something to suit you here.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Java:
1. Travel to the city of Surabaya
Surabaya has the claim to fame of being the second largest city in Indonesia, although strangely it is not often visited by tourists.
It is also a historically significant part of the country and one of the best reasons to come here is to walk through the old part of the city and take in all the traditional buildings, many of which date from the Dutch colonial period.
There are a clutch of museums where you can learn more about Surabaya’s history and as this is one of the main travel hubs in Indonesia it is easy to plan a stop-off here from another part of the country.
2. Admire Borobudur Temple
Borobudur Temple is one of the most famous attractions in Indonesia and consists of a large Buddhist temple complex in Central Java.
It is easy to visit Borobudur from the neighboring city of Yogyakarta on a day trip, and the temple is an impressive relic of a different time, having been built in the 9th century.
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has an amazing 72 sculpted figures of Buddha.
Borobudur is also the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and you can climb all over the structure, including up to the central platform which affords you amazing views over the rest of the complex.
It is particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset so try to time your visit to make the most of the natural light show here.
3. Have a beach holiday in Anyer
The pretty seaside town of Anyer is located in Banten and is known for its gorgeous beach that faces the towering Mount Krakatau.
Anyer Beach is the quintessential seaside experience in Indonesia, and as well as turquoise seas you can also expect a wealth of water sports options like jet skiing and parasailing.
You can stroll along the beach until you get to the old lighthouse of Cikoneng and you can even go diving here.
Due to the high mineral content in the water from the volcanic lands that surround the city, underwater life thrives here, so any budding marine biologists won’t be disappointed.
4. Go shopping in Bandung
The city of Bandung is known on the domestic market as one of the top shopping destinations in Indonesia, although many tourists never make the trip here.
Bandung is conveniently close to Jakarta which means that it is easy to visit, and you will find a huge array of factory outlets selling the latest fashions.
Bandung is also particularly well known for its denim products so if you want a new pair of jeans then there are styles here to suit all kinds of tastes and budgets.
5. Marvel at Candi Prambanan
Candi Prambanan is often thought of as similar to neighboring Borobudur although there are marked differences between these two temple complexes.
Though both date from the 9th century, Candi Prambanan is a Hindu Temple and Borobudur is Buddhist.
Along with Borobudur Candi Prambanan is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can walk around the pretty compounds here and explore the winding alleyways and shrines dotted all over the complex.
6. Enjoy the beach at Batu Karas
When people think of beaches they tend to think of Bali as having the monopoly on the best sands and waves.
Bali does indeed have some of the best beaches in Indonesia, but Java is also no slouch, and Batu Karas is one of the best of its kind.
If you make the trip here you will be rewarded with miles of rolling golden sand that is often deserted.
Unlike many other beaches in Indonesia, Batu Karas has some good surfing and you can also swim here, or just sunbathe if you are looking for a relaxing beach holiday.
7. Visit the waterfalls of Baturaden
Located in Purwokerto in Java, the waterfalls of Baturaden look more like something that you would find in the Amazon.
The trek out to the waterfalls is slightly long and arduous, but you will be rewarded along the hike with gorgeous vistas across the lush scenery which ends in the culmination of the mighty falls that drop through the forest canopy into limpid pools below.
There is a selection of different cataracts here but one of the prettiest and best known is Curug Belot, so make sure to make the trip out here if you are in the area.
8. Climb Mount Ijen
Indonesia is known for its majestic mountains, but one of the most impressive is the graceful Mount Ijen which is not as famous as others but well worth a visit.
The big draw here is that the largest acidic crater lake in the world sits at the top of the mountain and if you come here under the cover of darkness you will be able to observe blue flames erupting out of the lake.
The reason for this is that the sulfuric acid rises to the surface and ignites, and this is turn glows blue thanks to the light of the moon, resulting in one of the prettiest natural phenomena in Indonesia.
9. Shop for Batik in Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is known for its beautiful batik which is made by dripping wax onto a piece of fabric and then applying a range of dyes to make a pattern.
You can buy batik all over the city, or you can also go on a factory tour to learn how this textile technique was pioneered in Indonesia.
If you want to get hands-on then you can even take a batik making class and fashion your own piece of fabric which you can keep as a souvenir of your trip to Yogyakarta.
10. Climb Mount Bromo
One of the highlights of a trip to Java is the chance to visit Mount Bromo.
The mountain is also one of Indonesia many active volcanoes and it is named after the Hindu god named Brahma and considered sacred.
The volcano is mostly dormant, although it does sometimes still erupt, but when it is lightly smoking you can still climb to the summit and watch the stunning sunset over the lip of the crater.
The views stretch out over the gorgeous Tengger Massif below, which is a mountain chain that includes Mount Bromo, and this is also one of the less strenuous volcano treks in Indonesia.
You can take a car much of the way to the summit, and most people start around 3 am or 4 am to catch the sunrise here.
11. Go for a walk in Bogor
Bogor is a city that sits outside of Jakarta and it often gets ignored by those passing through the capital city.
This is a shame however as Bogor is like a smaller and simpler version of Jakarta filled with a wealth of historic artifacts.
One of these is the large botanical garden which would have started life in the 1800s under the former Dutch governor, and you can easily spend an afternoon admiring the flora and fauna here.
12. Enjoy the seaside at Pangandaran
Pangandaran sits between Jakarta and Yogyakarta as is a city nestled close to the sea, which is perfect if you want some sun and sand.
There is a long strip of beach here and, as you would expect, the fresh seafood is one of the big draws in the area.
If you come here in the evening then you can dine at one of the seaside stalls that sells barbecued fresh fish simply cooked over hot coals and there is also a wider national park here if you want to eschew the beach and go trekking instead.
13. Visit Sewu Temple
Sewu Temple is often rather usurped in Java by both Borobudur and Candi Prambanan, although it is only 10 minutes away from the latter on foot.
The temple is not as well preserved as others in the area which means that it crumbles gracefully in front of you, and this is actually one of its great charms.
It is also covered in alleys and hidden corners to explore and there are some 200 temples here.
Make sure to check out the ornate carvings that will allow you to imagine the complex as it would have been in its glory days.
14. Visit Timang Beach
Located in the Gunung Kidul area is Timang Beach which sits around an hour away from the city of Yogyakarta.
The beach is the perfect place to go if you want to get out of the city and enjoy a day at the seaside, and you will find a huge number of little stalls lining the beach that serve local snacks like fresh coconuts and noodles.
This is one of the best loved beaches in the area and gets busy at the weekends, and one of the reasons for this is the seafood restaurants nearby where you can get fresh crab, shrimp, and even lobster.
15. Hike up the Dieng Plateau
A great attraction in Java is the Dieng Plateau which sits at an altitude of 2,100 meters.
The main reason why many people come to the Dieng Plateau is to go on a pilgrimage to the Buddhist temples that are dotted along the way.
As you hike up the plateau you will get to walk by limpid pools filed with spring water as well as some billowing hot springs.
The views from the top of the plateau are truly breathtaking and you should try and time a visit to coincide with the sunset when the light is at its best.
16. Take a trip to Malang
Malang is known across Java for its serene and laid back atmosphere and in some ways it harks back to another time in Indonesia.
The city is also located between the sweeping Mount Semeru and Mount Bromo and as a result you can take in the spectacular views as you soak up the scenery.
Malang is also famous as it is covered in little temples and shrines and the best thing to do on a visit here is to take a motorized trishaw around town and see which areas take your fancy.
Much of the area around Malang is made up of jade hued paddy fields, so if you want to get out into nature then make sure to stop off here and explore.
17. Visit Mount Merapi
One of the most famous and feared volcanoes in Indonesia is Mount Merapi and if you don’t like trekking it is still worth coming here as this is one of the easier mountain hikes in Java.
The volcano is still active and erupted in spectacular fashion in 2010 so you can only trek here when it is deemed safe by the authorities to do so.
The best way to visit Mount Merapi is as part of a tour from neighboring Yogyakarta and there are a number of tours that you can take that will explain the history of the mountain and its status as a sacred spot in Indonesia.
18. Spelunk in Goa Jomblang
Another great day trip from Yogyakarta is a visit to Goa Jomblang in the Gunung Kidul area.
This famous cave is located about an hour outside the city and you will travel some 60 meters down the side of the cliff into the cavern.
This then leads to a cave system which is encircled by forests and the main cave to visit here is called Grubug Cave.
There is a hole in the top of the rock formation that lets the sunlight stream in and this is a fantastic experience for anyone who likes spelunking.
19. Stop off in Solo
The city of Solo is not an obvious choice for a stop-off at first glance, but it is a great option for anyone looking for a more authentic slice of Indonesia.
Some of the highlights here include the traditional touches like the central market which has been running since the Dutch colonial period, and you can also travel to Borobudur and Candi Prambanadan from Solo.
Another popular day trip takes you from the center of the city to neighboring Mount Lawu, so if you do decide to come here, you certainly won’t be strapped for things to do and see.
20. Visit Kalibiru National Park
Some visitors to Kalibiru National Park may recognize the scenery, as it has been made famous on Instagram in recent years thanks to its picturesque views.
One of the biggest draws in the park is its viewpoints which allow you to see for miles and you can climb up into the trees and enjoy the sights from rustic wooden viewing platforms.
Many people try to come here in the morning or evenings when the light is at its most beautiful and there are also a range of other activities available in the park such as zip lining
21. Go diving at the Karimunjawa Islands
If you want some of the best waters in Java then consider taking a trip to the Karimunjawa Archipelago.
Here you will find 27 different tropical islands off the coast of Semarang, many of which are uninhabited.
As you would expect, beautiful beaches abound here and this is a great spot if you want to try snorkeling or diving thanks to the high visibility.
One of the best ways to visit the islands is to rent a boat and island hop around, and if you are looking for a beachside paradise in Java then don’t leave Karimunjawa off the itinerary.
22. Eat your way around Bandung
Many people don’t realize that Bandung has a great food scene, so if you happen to be in the area then make sure to take full advantage of it.
Some of the local specialties include keradok which is similar to the famous Indonesian salad called gado-gado.
Keradok is made from a mix of bean sprouts, beans, cabbage, and cucumber which is then covered in a spicy peanut sauce and topped with basil.
Also don’t miss the gepuk which is a spicy curry made with fried beef, and for dessert make your way to Amanda Brownies which is famous in Bandung for its steamed sweet chocolate cakes.
23. Take a trip to the city of Semarang
Many visitors to Java tend to head to the big hitters like Jakarta and Yogyakarta, and very few ever make it to Semarang in Central Java.
Many people pass through Semarang on their way to the Karimunjawa Islands, although it is a shame to miss the city completely and you will find a range of interesting museums here as well as some interesting temples and other buildings.
Many of these date from the Dutch colonials, and you can also book tickets for a cultural show at Taman Budaya Raden Saleh to learn more about the history of the area.
24. Enjoy the colors at the Rainbow Village
Technically part of Semarang but also a small village in its own right is Kampung Pelangi which means Rainbow Village in Indonesian.
This is a fairly new attraction which popped up in recent years when the locals, wanting to draw more tourists to the area, had the idea of painting the village in a variety of bright hues.
No part of the village is untouched and it looks like something out of a fairytale, but the villagers’ plans have obviously worked and people now flock here to take pictures of this colorful spectacle.
25. Go surfing at Pelabuhan Ratu
Pelabuhan Ratu in West Java attracts visitors from Bogor, Bandung, and Jakarta, and you will find rolling waves here that surprisingly lend themselves well to surfing.
Due to the pounding surf, swimming is not recommended, but there is a long central beach that looks out over the Indian Ocean.
As you follow the coastline however you will find different bays and inlets and some of the best places to find waves include Sunset Beach, Karang Sari Beach, and Cimaja Beach.