A guide to Yogyakarta, the historic heart of Java we fell in love with, Indonesia!

When we heading over to Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta and often spelt like this too) from Jakarta we had really no idea what there was to do here. In fact we always just saw it as a kind of pit stop for heading off over to Mt Bromo rather than a destination in its own right. But how wrong we were, there is so much to do and see here, too much for us to do in a single visit! We fell in love with the city, much quieter and reserved than the busy streets of Jakarta, full of history, quirky culture, welcoming locals, amazing food and wonderful Eid celebrations! Here’s Things to do in Yogyakarta / Jogjakarta, the heart and soul of Java!

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Things to do in Yogyakarta

Head down to Alun-Alun Selatan Kraton in the evenings

One of the most surreal but awesome areas of the city at night, close by to the royal palace the street planning gets very confusing and a bit strange! Here there are two huge grass squares with traffic going around the outsides, during the day there isn’t much to see here besides maybe a few kids having a kick around. But at night the Alun-Alun Selatan comes to life! Here you will find one of the most fun but surreal sights we have laid eyes on over our time in Asia! Converted Beetles and Camper vans covered in flashing lights being peddled around the square- The Bling Bling car! It’s not just for children either, everyone comes down here almost every night to take part in this strange tradition of circumnavigating the square whilst blasting out the tunes! This is one of the most fun things to do in Yogyakarta!

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Walk Between the Twin Beringin Trees blindfolded!

Whilst you’re down at Alun-Slun Selatan at night then you have to try another game! Walking between the Beringin trees blindfolded! It is said that those who manage the feat will get their wildest dreams to come true! Well, no luck for us then though we did get the closest out of our group from the hostel! It’s actually quite hard to walk in a straight line with your eyes covered up, one of the guys we were with somehow ended up doing a complete u-turn without realising! It’s one of the more random things to do in Yogyakarta but it is certainly one of the most local!

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Setumbu Hill and viewpoints

Outside of the city there are many amazing viewpoint you can head up to to take in the magnificent landscape of the region. The most popular has to be the Setumbu Hill around an hours drive from the city. This particular viewpoint allows you to see out over to the famous UNESCO listed Borobudur temple and is a great place to take in sunrise. The lush jungle covered mountainside is a great place to take a short hike too and offers some amazing panoramic views. Others that are also worth a visit are Punthuk Mongkrong, Punthuk Sukmojoyo and Purwosari Hill. You will need to rent a scooter out to visit there and there is some walking involved too. 

Stroll down Jalan Malioboro

The main street in Jogja is a must seethings to do in Yogyakarta, its the place to come to get a hold of some great and authentic souvenirs from this wonderful city. Be sure to check out the Beringharjo market for some of the cities famous Batik wear and dive into the noise and atmosphere of this colourful place and grab yourself a bargain! There is also no shortage of amazing street food to try down here too with stalls lining the road, people flogging their wears and the unique peddle powered tuk tuk drivers working hard up and down the road! It really is the heart of the city and where much of the old and new come together. 

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Take in the local culture and everyday street sights 

One of our favourite things about Yogyakarta was the alleyways and little historic streets. The city is a wonderful example of crumbling colonial and ancient architecture with a wealth of local culture. The city in many ways reminded me of an Indonesian version of Hoi An but very much unspoilt by tourism with freindly locals who really embraced visitors to their charming city. It is also a great change of pace from Jakarta and has a much more cosmopolitan feel despite being so packed full of history. A more open of the things to do in Yogyakarta but possibly the most rewarding.

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There is a great merging of tradition and modernity here, you will see little old women carrying their wears on their head, men playing chess on the curb side, tuk tuk drivers taking a nap in between rides, shimmering green and blue petrol sold in the bottle by the roadside and a vast array of amazing graffiti and street art. The city really does feel alive with culture and has great combination of keeping the past alive but moving with the times.

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We were also lucky enough to be in Yogyakarta during Eid, though this did hold up some of our plans due to many places being closed it did allow us to experience this special time. The noise from the mosques on the morning of Eid was something to behold, starting at the crack of dawn the poor guy had almost lost his voice a few hours later but kept on going. The whole city was on a high and the streets were filled with people dressed in their best and celebrating with their freinds and families. It was wonderful to see the many carnivals and parades both during the day and night over the course of the 3 days of Eid and join in with the celebrations.

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Explore the historic Water Castle (Taman Sari)

One of the coolest things to see in Yogyakarta is the Taman Sari or the Water Castle. It was built by the Sultan back in 1758 as lavish private baths for him and his family as well as functioning as a fortification and workshops. The complex was once much larger than what we see today, consisting of a network of underwater tunnels, lakes, pavilions, island buildings and even a man made sea! Much of the outer grounds where covered when the Kampung Taman of nearby houses was built by residents after the Sultan’s power wained. This has to be the top of our things to do in Yogyakarta!

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Today though the bizarre site is well preserved and a quite stunning sight to behold. The level of elegance and detail brings to mind what I imagine the hanging gardens of Babylon to look like and really is a throw back to a bygone era. One of the focal points of the Water Castle is the Sumur Gumuling or the Underground Mosque that was accessible by underwater tunnels and resembles on of MC Eschers pieces!

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Step back in time at the Kraton (Royal Palace)

Another must do is the Royal Palace and the home of the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The once again lavish grounds are a cultural centre for the city and Java itself. Built in 1755 it is the centre and focal point of the city as well as being a beacon of pride for those who call this beautiful city home. The palace also functions as a museum too holding valuable artifacts from the reign of the Sultan’s and the city as a whole. It also plays host to several important cultural festivals throughout the year including a huge parade on the first day of Eid that we were fortunate enough to be able to watch. One of the really historic things to do in Yogyakarta.

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Outside the city:

Visit the amazing historic temples nearby (Borobudur, Prambanan)

One of the absolute highlights of out time in Yogyakarta was taking scooters an hour outside of the city to the UNESCO listed Borobudur temple. This huge complex is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world and dates from the 9th century. For us it was alongside the likes of Bagan and Angkor Wat in terms of amazement and that sense of Indian Jones type adventure into the lost temples of ancient civilisations. Despite being outside the city its the top of the things to do in Yogyakarta by far!

You can read more about our trip to Borobudur here: The amazing Borobudur Temple

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Head off from here to Bromo and Ijen!

Ok, so not really in the city or really that close by… 15 hours by bus! But Yogyakarta is often a starting point for many heading off on this amazing adventure to climb the volcanos of Bromo and Ijen, easily some of the most memorable days across our 9 months in Asia. From Yogyakarta it is easy to organise these trips either yourself or on a tour. We recommend going it alone especially if you have time as you will have more time to take in these amazing places. You can also combine that with transport from either Bromo or Ijen to Bali easily too making it a great way to see these amazing volcanos and then chill on the beach afterwards!

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We will be publishing posts very soon guiding you through how to organise and experince there amazing volcanos for yourself so keep an eye out for that. However we recommend staying at Ostic House whilst in Yogyakarta, not only is it a wonderful and freindly place, but they are amazing at helping organise anything you want to do in the city as well as the mountains.

A guide to Yogyakarta, the historic heart of Java we fell in love with, Indonesia, Things to do in Yogyakarta, Things to do in Jogjakarta, What to do in Yogyakarta, yogyakarta indonesia, Alun-Alun Selatan Kraton, bling bling cars, tuk tuk, Walk Between the Twin Beringin Trees blindfolded, Setumbu Hill, Punthuk Mongkrong, Punthuk Sukmojoyo, Purwosari Hill, Jalan Malioboro, Beringharjo market, Water Castle, Taman Sari, Sumur Gumuling, Underground Mosque, Royal Palace, Borobudur, Prambanan, Mt Bromo, Mt Ijen, Bali, transport, getting to Mt Bromo from Yogyakarta, Mt Bromo tour Yogyakarta, Mt Ijen tour Yogyakarta, Getting to Bali from Yogyakarta,

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.