25 Things to do in Yogyakarta
I have a confession to make.
I had never heard of, let alone considered visiting, Yogyakarta prior to being invited there by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. However, from the moment I arrived and realised all of the many things to do in Yogyakarta, there was something that drew me to the place and I was surprised that it hadn’t been on my radar until that point.
Yogyakarta (pronounced ‘Jogjakarta’, and affectionately known as Jogja) is a city located on the Indonesian island of Java. While it’s not as famous as its other Indonesian counterparts such as Bali, it is a place that deserves to be explored. Culture, heritage and art run prevalent here, with a funky vibe flowing through its core. I must warn you though, once you’ve been drawn in, you’ll never be able to forget it. In fact, there’s so many unforgettable things to do in Yogyakarta, you will find it hard to walk away without having done them all!
Here’s 25 things you must do in Yogyakarta (in no particular order):
1. Get your adrenaline rush with a Jeep tour
Merapi Lava Tour by Pratik from Sadak_Chap
If you are somewhat of an adrenaline junkie, like myself, then you will love the thrill of speeding through rivers and the mountainside. Make sure you have waterproof gear though, as the jeeps were known to leak! You also visit both Merapi Volcano and Sisa Hartaku (see below) on the Lava Tour, so you can cross a few things off the list in one hit!
The adrenaline junkies post-joyride
2. Visit Borobudur temple
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Built in the 9th century, it is nine levels high and covers 2,500m2. There are three zones, each covered with stone carvings depicting different teachings of Buddha.
The 72 bell-shaped stupas are the most eye-catching, with each one containing a statue of the Buddah, and representing eternity. If you are into the details, it’s easy to pass the time studying the many carvings, searching for each of the 504 Buddha statues or simply enjoying the majestic views of the green valley below. It’s quite spectacular, and if you are lucky enough to capture it at sunrise, you may leave a better person than when you entered.
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3. Strip back to nature – rice paddy processing
Pentingsari Village is a remote village, surrounded by luscious tropical forest and rice paddies. Here, you can have a go at cultivating the ground on the back of a buffalo and even have a go at planting the rice. It was actually harder than I thought! If you love the feeling of mud between your toes, you are in for a treat. If mud isn’t your thing, you can wander between the buildings and trees, and forget about the world you left behind.
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4. Visit the House of Memory in Sisa Hartaku
It may have been due to the storm that hit when we were there, but this place is an eerie reminder that nature can sometimes be a force to be reckoned with. An open-aired museum, the House of Memory has a collection of items destroyed by the 2010 volcanic eruption of Merapi Volcano. Sadly, 353 people lost their lives in that event as they had stayed in their homes instead of evacuating. Melted glass, twisted metal bikes and even a clock that stopped at the time of the eruption sit silently in mourning for the lives lost in the devastating event.
5. See a volcano
Mount Merapi is the most active volcano in Indonesia, with its last eruption occurring in 2014. It is also quite the tourist attraction, offering sweeping views of the landscape. Visiting Mt Merapi is easy enough with a Lava Tour from Yoes Adventure Kaliurang or by hiring a driver. Unfortunately for us, it was storming when we went there, however if you are blessed by the weather gods, you may get a shot like this.
Volcano at sunrise by Larissa Dening
6. Wander through Kotagede
Kotagede is a maze of traditional Indonesian houses, painted in eye-catching colours such as green, pink and aqua (my favourite was the aqua!). Wandering through the narrow streets, you will come across friendly neighbours, happy to stop you for a chat and a photo and fall in love with the fine details of the doors, local art, windows and alleys. Oh, and it’s the perfect place for a spontaneous photo opp.
Kotagede and its pretty facades – and a couple of travel bloggers!
7. Visit Legi Market
Legi Market, hands down, would have to be the best local market I’ve visited. There was a really cool atmosphere here, and better yet, stunning light for any budding photographers. The aisles are closely packed and filled with a range of items, including Batik fabric, cooking utensils, local produce and the largest variety of prawn crackers I’ve ever come across. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a ‘grazer’ when it comes to markets, so sampling the food here was a tasty experience.
8. Learn Bahasa
Bahasa is an interesting, melodic language and doing a class at Desa Bahasa is a fun way to get down the basics. Not only will you be entertained by the zestful enthusiasm of your teacher (I want whatever he’s on…), but if you can master a few phrases the locals will love you. They also offer homestays here, for a truly authentic local experience.
9. Make your own pottery
Whilst Patrick Swayze’s character was not around to help my fingers glide through the soft, wet clay, making my own bowl on a turner was a lot of fun and very therapeutic. You can have a go at making a clay keepsake at Klipoh Village. If getting your hands dirty isn’t your thing, you can admire the local pottery and watch how they make them from start to finish.
10. Check out waterfalls
Yogyakarta boasts some stunning waterfalls worthy of an Instagram snap. The best way to visit them is to hire a driver to take you, and you should consider visiting Air Terjun Perawan (also known as the Virgin Falls), Sidoharjo and Sri Gethuk. Be prepared for an easy, picturesque trek through a little nature along the way.
Air Terjun Perawan by Larissa Dening
Our introduction to Yogyakarta started with a whole heap of food, and it never ended! The art of cooking and eating is taken seriously here, with an array of different exotic flavours in the mix. Sadly, for me, I’m not a huge fan of spicy food or seafood, so I often had to settle for rice and crackers. Thankfully, prawn crackers seem to be in their own food category, and are served in an abundance of amounts and flavours at each meal.
They also like sweet food here, which is something I can relate to. In saying that, some dishes just DID NOT work, including a dessert dish called Es Teler that could only be described as a nasty combination of random textures such as avocado, coconut and jackfruit, and tasting like the fermented juice you find at the bottom of a food scrap pile (check out my reaction in the video!). However, if that’s your kind of thing, enjoy!
12. Try jamu
Jamu is a traditional herbal medicine, often with turmeric as its base ingredient. There’s different types of jamu each with its own medicinal properties. Made from a mixture of herbs, spices, honey and even eggs, these drinks offer different benefits such as curing a cold, assisting fertility, enhancing libido and even tightening your ‘lady parts’ (just in case they were feeling a little loose). Spoiler alert: it was not delicious!
13. Make and admire Batik
Freshly-printed Batik by Michael from Time Travel Turtle
Yogyakarta is famous for its Batik. Batik is fabric with intricate designs made from wax drawings on a cloth prior to dying it. When the cloth is dyed and the wax is removed, the dyed fabric is left with the complex designs drawn in the wax. Wander through the streets of Kota Gede and you’ll see locals wearing the printed fabric with a casual sense of style. You can even have a go at making batik yourself, however it looks easier than it actually is!
Locals in batik by Jonathon from Easternsuns
14. Check out the street art
I was pleasantly surprised at the random street art I stumbled upon in Yogyakarta. If you are a fan, keep your eyes peeled for colourful works, often depicting historical or social messages.
15. Visit a royal cemetery
As macabre as sounds, the royal cemetery of the Mataram Kingdom is worth a visit. Within the bowels of Kota Gede is a beautiful stone wall, which encloses the graveyard of important historical figures, such as Sultan Hadiwijaya and Panembahan Senopati. Unfortunately for us, the graveyard was closed (public opening hours are: Monday 10:00am – 12:00pm & Friday 1:30pm – 4:00pm), but you can still wander through the grounds and admire the Hindu architecture and ruins. You might be lucky and spot kingdom guards guarding the graveyard, wearing the traditional Javanese dress. Yogyakarta’s oldest mosque, the Kotagede Mosque, is also found here.
16. Take a becak ride through the streets
A becak (also known as a bike taxi or trishaw) is a popular form of transport for tourists, a fun way to explore Yogya and the one of the many interesting things to do in Yogyakarta. Sit back and enjoy coasting through the narrow streets while someone else does the hard work. You will either feel like royalty, or incredibly fat and lazy (especially when the driver has to push the becak up a hill).
17. Ride a neon flashing beetle
If you are a ‘Belieber’ or a Hello Kitty fanatic, then you may just go giddy over the neon beetles in Southern City Square. Imagine a street lined with beetles adorned with bright, flashing neon lights, often in the shape of the aforementioned Biebs and Hello Kitty, blasting music and carnival sounds. I’m not sure I’d call it a ‘tough lap’, but you can take a ride in one of these crazy jukeboxes on wheels. If only I had my light-up sneakers on me!
18. Take an Andong ride
Forget the horse & carriage ride in Central Park, ride an Andong through the picturesque green villages whilst waving to the locals and you will be left speechless.
19. Connect with the locals
The locals of Jogja are incredibly warm and friendly, and are more than happy to chat and have their photo taken. In fact, at times I felt they were just waiting for a tourist with a camera to walk past and to have their moment in the spotlight (not unlike myself!). You’d be surprised what you can learn from talking to the locals, like when we learnt that bone marrow was the perfect aphrodisiac for making babies!
20. Visit a Hindu temple at Prambanan
UNESCO World Heritage Site, Prambanan, is Indonesia’s largest Hindu temple, also dating back to the 9th century. With the central temple rising 47 metres to the sky and surrounded by other smaller temples, intricate stone reliefs and luscious gardens, the whole complex is a stunning site that will please a history buff and temple addict.
Prambanan by Michael from Time Travel Turtle
21. Learn history through puppets
Paper Moon Puppet Theatre originally began as a fine art studio and presented entertaining puppet performances for children. It has since evolved, and now uses puppetry to often teach about the dark history of Indonesia. The performances have proven to be a great success, and the company have since been featured in festivals and even toured America. The puppets themselves are intriguingly adorable and it’s often easy to forget that they aren’t real people. You can even participate in workshops and make (or at least attempt to make) your very own puppet to take home.
The adorable puppets from Paper Moon Puppet theatre
22. Get a massage
It would be a tragedy to visit Indonesia and not indulge in a massage treatment. For a portion of the price we pay back home, you can have your stresses and tensions kneaded away from $5-$40 (dirt cheap). The massages are so relaxing and you will feel like a new person when you finish.
23. Stay somewhere ‘green’
The eco movement is becoming more and more popular in tourism and the Green Host boutique hotel is at the forefront representing eco-friendly accommodation in Yogyakarta. Not only that, but it has a very funky design and ambience about it. There’s a few boutique eco-friendly hotels in Yogyakarta, so there’s some nice choices for the greenie.
24. Order a Go-Jek
Love Uber? You might just go crazy over Go-Jek. Go-Jek is an Indonesian start-up where you can order a ride via a scooter (don’t worry, all the drivers are registered and provide helmets!). Not only that, but since starting in 2010, they’ve expanded their services to provide food delivery, ticket purchasing, on-call massages and beauty treatments and more! Indonesians love it, and if you try it, you will too!
25. Explore Jomblang Cave
Ok, so technically we haven’t made it to this amazing natural wonder yet, because they only release something like 25 tickets per day to visit it. But, it is something I would be SO keen to get back to Jogja to do next time! Formed by a sinkhole thousands of years ago, the cave houses some incredible vegetation, some 50+ metres below the earth. If you happen to be lucky enough to visit when the sun is overhead (between 10am – 2pm) the sunrays create a heavenly stream of light into the cavern below. If you want to get that awe-inspiring Insta shot, make sure you book a driver and a ticket well in advance.
If you manage to get through all of these and still have time and energy (well first, let me applaud you!), you can get more ideas here. In fact, this list has a whole bunch of adventurous stuff I would be keen to go back and do!
Getting to Yogyakarta
Getting to Yogyakarta is easy with domestic flights from Indonesia’s main airports such as Jakarta and Bali. AirAsia also fly there from Sydney via Kuala Lumpur. If you want to take the ‘scenic route’ you can take a train from Jakarta, with 11 trains running each day (it’s an 8 hour ride though!).
Have you been to Yogyakarta? Can you think of other must-do activities? Share them all below!
This trip was part of the #TripofWonders by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. I’m super flattered to have been part of this trip, but all opinions are still my own.
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