Yogyakarta is known for its rich culture, diverse list of attractions, and, of course, being the main access point to the famous Borobudur Temple. While most tourists travel to Yogyakarta to see Borobudur, many fall in love with the city and wish they could have stayed longer. This travel guide to Yogyakarta includes everything you need to know about the city, the best things to do in Yogyakarta, how long your itinerary should be, and the best time to visit.
This is a guest post by Victoria, a travel blogger and travel journalist from Germany. She loves to explore both well-known and off-the-beaten-path destinations and can usually be found traveling somewhere around Southeast Asia. Her blog focuses on budget travel, destination guides and advice on how to become a blogger.
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Where is Yogyakarta?
The city of Yogyakarta is located in Central Java, around 260 miles southeast of Jakarta. It sits in the Special Region of Yogyakarta, which is a regional autonomous part of Indonesia. Yogyakarta is the only royal city in the country that is still ruled by a monarchy and is known for its arts scene and cultural heritage.
Yogyakarta is a fantastic place for those wanting to experience a unique side of Indonesia that has mostly been spared by the crowds of tourists that can be found in other hotspots like Bali or Lombok. Come here for delicious street food, incredible architecture, and a lively atmosphere.
Travel guide to Yogyakarta: Things you should know before you go
- Yogyakarta is home to just over 400,000 people, making it a small to medium-sized city. Due to its large number of universities, Yogyakarta has a very sizeable student population, so it is very young and vibrant.
- While alcohol is difficult to find in this predominantly Muslim part of Indonesia, Yogyakarta actually comes alive most nights with people eating, hanging out, and socializing in the streets, even well after midnight.
- The primary spoken language in Yogyakarta is Bahasa Indonesia, although many locals speak a decent English level. In and around Malioboro Street, you will have no trouble communicating in English.
- Yogyakarta is known to be very affordable and a great place to travel on a budget. You can find a traditional Indonesian meal for as little as $1, and a basic hotel room won’t cost more than $20 per night.
How to get to Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta has an international airport served by several large airlines, including Air Asia and Garuda Indonesia. The airport is 20 minutes by car or 30 minutes by bus from the city center. Taking the bus from the airport to the city center is very affordable and highly recommended.
Another great way to get to Yogyakarta is by train. The train network in this area of Indonesia is very easy to use and reliable. There are direct routes available to Jakarta, and the train journey is very scenic. A ticket from Jakarta to Yogyakarta only costs around $20, even for executive class seats. If you’re not too pressed on the time, you should consider taking the train to Yogyakarta instead of flying.
Where to stay in Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is not a large city, and most tourist attractions are located very close to each other. If you’re only spending a few days in Yogyakarta, you should look for a place to stay near Malioboro Street, the city’s busiest area. Here you’ll find great street food, shopping opportunities, and attractions like Fort Vredeburg, the Royal Palace, and the Beringharjo Market, all within walking distance. Malioboro Street has a great selection of hotels and hostels for all budgets and is the perfect place to set up your base in Yogyakarta.
How to get around in Yogyakarta
Knowing how to get around in a new city will make your trip a lot better and should be included in any travel guide to Yogyakarta.
Since most of the points of interest in Yogyakarta sit so close together, you won’t have to move around a lot. Like in many Southeast Asian countries, ride-sharing apps like Grab can quickly get from one place to another. They’re affordable and rarely cost more than a few dollars. Unlike taxis, there is a low risk of overpaying or scams.
Yogyakarta also has an excellent bus system that can take you to essential spots around town. The Trans Jogja buses cost less than $0,50 per ride and are easy and convenient to use. This is the preferred form of transport for locals, and you’ll rarely see tourists using them.
For a unique experience, hire a tuk-tuk to take you around Yogyakarta. These are either motorized or operated with bicycles. There are always a large number of tuk-tuks waiting for a business close to Malioboro Street.
If you’re planning on taking a day-trip to places like Borobudur, Prambanan, or the nearby beaches, you should consider either renting a scooter or hiring a driver. Keep in mind that Indonesian traffic is very tricky to navigate, so don’t drive in Indonesia if you’re not very experienced. A driver is very affordable in Yogyakarta and only costs around $20 for a day. This is the best way to get around if you value comfort and want to see as much as possible.
Yogyakarta itinerary: How long should you stay?
Yogyakarta has a lot to offer, and you could easily stay here for a week if you plan on doing a lot of day-trips. A 3- or 4-day Yogyakarta itinerary is an excellent place to start for those who are short on time but still want to see as much as possible of what Yogyakarta has to offer.
Expect to spend at least one or two days in the city and then one day to see Borobudur and Prambanan. Another excellent day trip from Yogyakarta is to the coast and the many unique sights along the way. You should spend an absolute minimum of two days in Yogyakarta. However, 3 or 4 would be ideal for making your Yogyakarta itinerary more manageable.
Best time to visit Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta has a tropical monsoon climate with a distinct wet and dry season. June to September have predominantly dry weather and are some of the best months to visit the area. Although Yogyakarta can be very hot during this time, the skies will almost always be blue, and it’s a great time for sightseeing and exploring.
From November to March, the monsoon season causes Indonesia to experience a lot of rain. Temperatures stay constant throughout the year, although the dry season can feel a lot hotter.
Top 11 Things to do in Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta has a wide variety of activities to add to your itinerary. Luckily, Yogyakarta is very affordable, so most of them on this list won’t break the bank. Even if you’re traveling on a budget, you can find plenty of things to do in Yogyakarta.
See Borobudur at Sunrise
If you’re only going to see one place in this travel guide to Yogyakarta, then it should be Borobudur. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest Buddhist temple globally and is visited by millions of tourists every year.
The best way to experience its beauty is to see Borobudur at sunrise – a magical experience. The temple is just under an hour outside of the city, making it a great day trip from Yogyakarta. You can hire a guide to take you around the temple or a driver who will make your travel time between Yogyakarta and Borobudur a lot more comfortable.
Visit the Taman Sari Water Palace
Yogyakarta’s water palace dates back to the 18th century and is one of the most beautiful spots in the entire city. Add Taman Sari to your Yogyakarta itinerary if you enjoy intricate architecture and history.
Admire the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of Yogyakarta is still home to the royal family, which means it is only open during the day’s precise times. Come here to admire historical artifacts and imagine what life here was like 200 years ago.
Explore Malioboro Street
Malioboro Street is the heart of Yogyakarta and the best place for shopping, street food, and sightseeing. In the evenings, this street comes alive with university students, little markets, and street performers.
Go off-roading at Mount Merapi
Mount Merapi is an active volcano that sits just outside of the city of Yogyakarta. While there are occasional minor eruptions, the volcano is safe to visit for tourists. The best way to explore the incredible scenery that surrounds the large mountain is by jeep. There are plenty of jeep tours to choose from, which will take you to the volcano and the nearby rivers.
Visit the historic Fort Vredeburg
Fort Vredeburg is a former colonial Dutch fort on Malioboro Street in the center of Yogyakarta. The inside has been transformed into a museum and is a great place to learn more about Yoygakarta’s incredible history and political significance.
See the sunset at Prambanan
Prambanan Temple might not be as well-known as the famous Borobudur, but it is just as beautiful. Many tour companies take you to Borobudur for sunrise and then Prambanan for sunset, which is an excellent option for those who are short on time. Prambanan should be at the top of your list for your Yogyakarta itinerary.
Enjoy Yogyakarta’s beaches
Yogyakarta might not be on the coast, but it is just a few hours’ drive from incredible beaches, perfect for a day trip. Most are still undiscovered by the tourist crowds, and you’ll rarely have to share the beach with more than a few people. Some of the best ones include Wediombo Beach, Jungwok Beach, and Greweng Beach.
Experience Alun Alun Square
If you’re looking for Yogyakarta’s version of nightlife, then Alun Alun Square is the place to go. In the evenings, this is a fantastic spot for street food and live music as well as the famous neon cars, which you can drive around for only a few dollars. This is an excellent activity for all ages and one of the most fun things to do in this travel guide to Yogyakarta.
Go cave tubing at Goa Pindul
Goa Pindul is a cave system located about an hour outside of Yogyakarta. Inside there is an underground lazy river which is perfect for tubing. If the short ride through the caves wasn’t enough for you there are additional tours available to explore the country-side via the many rivers.
Visit the Chicken Church
In the middle of the Indonesian jungle close to Borobudur, you’ll find a giant church shaped like a chicken. This unusual piece of architecture is a great place to visit after Borobudur, and you can even climb to the very top of the chicken crown for some of the best views of the surrounding area.