The sound of gamelan music, flashes of color from batik fabrics, and the bustling energy of the Kraton markets combine to make Yogyakarta (or "Yogya") Java's cultural highlight. And with day trips like Borobudur within easy reach, it's an unmissable stop during any Indonesian vacation.
Above all, Yogyakarta is a cultural capital. It's easily the best place to catch gamelan music, traditional dance, or Wayang puppet shows.
Yogya dates back centuries, and was once a royal capital. It's easy to step back in time at Taman Sari, a palace filled with bathing pools, or the center of the Kraton - still the residence of Yogyakarta's sultan.
At the center of Yogyakarta, you'll find the Kraton, a walled market with over 25,000 residents. The museum is a highlight, but don't miss the silver workshops and batik sellers as well.
Just 30 miles from central Yogya, this ancient complex of buddhas, bell-shaped towers, and temples is one of the world's greatest religious sites.
Indonesia's distinctive fabric printing technique, Batik is an art form and Yogyakarta has some of its masters. Sign up for courses at workshops like Winotosastro and take home a unique self-painted t-shirt.
The UNESCO world heritage site of Prambanan is one of the largest and most visited Hindu temples in all of Southeast Asia. This 9th century Hindu temple compound was built in several different groupings including Vahana, Apit, and Kelir. However, the main temples remain dedicated to the Hindu gods of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Prambanan also relates the epic Indian story of Ramayana, whereby a prince must rescue his wife from the demon king. The complex consists of 240 temples and is a protected archaeological park in Indonesia due to its historical and religious significance.
The Kraton complex is the official residence of the Sultan of Yogyakarta and also acts as a cultural center displaying and supporting the cultural traditions of the Javanese. The original structure was built in the mid 18th century in the traditional Javanese style with lots of exposed wood and religious motifs, as well as traces of Dutch, Portugese, and Chinese architectural influences. There is also a museum within the Kraton complex where you can view the Sultan's luxuries and the history of his monarchy. During the week there are several puppet and dance performances. These are free with the entrance ticket and give visitors a greater appreciation of local traditions.
Stop by Pasar Beringhario, the largest traditional marketplace in Yogyakarta, and pick up some traditional handicrafts for souvenirs to take home. The marketplace also sells fresh local produce and everyday household items for those looking to try their hand at making local dishes in an authentic way. Pasar Beringharjo is located on the main Malioboro thoroughfare, close to many other attractions and restaurants. Make sure to haggle before agreeing on the price! The art of haggling is a welcomed and encouraged local practice.
It's rare that you get to view art in the original space in which it was created. The Museum Affandi does just that, giving you a glimpse into the famous Indonesian artist's home as well as several galleries showing some of his best works and those of his children. These works include his early impressionist paintings, as well as his pure expressionist pieces like "Mother" and "Kartika Affandi." The artist also designed the buildings and decor himself, further enriching your trip to the museum even if you have no prior knowledge of Affandi's work.
Just 1.5 to 2 hours drive from Yogyakarta lies a nature lover's paradise, with many outdoor activities and breathtaking vistas littered throughout Kalibiru National Park. From trekking paths to rock climbing, hanging bridges to stunning tropical sunsets--the possibilities are endless. The flying fox zipline is also a unique experience for adventure enthusiasts, a fast-paced tour through the park which ends at a tree top platform overlooking Lake Sermo. Travelers should take note however that the park and its tree top photo-ops are very busy on the weekends, so it is advised that you visit Kalibiru National Park on weekdays.
The best time to visit Yogyakarta is when the weather is dry, between April and October.
Adisucipto International Airport (JOG) offers excellent regional connections and is five miles east of the city. Expect a taxi to your hotel to cost around Rp150,000.
Every day, trains from Jakarta run into Yogya's Tugu Station. The journey takes around eight hours and costs Rp400,000 (on the most comfortable, fastest routes).
From Jakarta, take Highway 1, then follow Highway 4 to Bandung, before taking Highway 3 all the way to Yogyakarta.
Joglosemar buses run between Yogya and Semarang (Rp25,000), while Sumber Alam run buses from Jakarta, which take around 16 hours for about Rp180,000.
High-end accommodation in Yogyakarta includes some exceptional luxury hotels, like the Royal Ambarrukmo Yogyakarta and the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta.
Kraton - Yogyakarta's hub, the Kraton is home to the city's sultan, as well as thousands of silver and batik artisans. It's a must-visit for all tourists.
Kota Gede - famous for its silver artisans, Kota Gede also contains the fascinating remains of the city's 16th-century royal palace and is full of beautiful traditional joglo houses.
Sosrowijayan - popular with tourists, Sosrowijayan is known for its batik workshops and laid-back street life.
Trans Jogja buses run all over Yogyakarta and offer air conditioning (which can be a big advantage). Tickets are bought at bus stops and cost Rp3,600 each.
Metered taxis charge a meter drop of Rp6,000, then around Rp5,000 per mile. You can get around even more cheaply if you take trishaws (becaks), which can be hailed almost everywhere.
Car rental options in Yogya include Jogja Rent Car and Avis, and daily rates will be around Rp200,000 per day.
Yogya's markets are the place to hunt for bargain batik fabrics or jewelry, and you can find plenty of options along Malioboro. For western-style chain stores, try Galeria Mall, while Saptohoedojo Art Gallery is a great place to pick up art and craft souvenirs.
Supermarkets include Giant Express and Hero, where 12 eggs will cost you around Rp15,000.
Try the jackfruit curries at Gudeg Permata or Gudeg Yu Narni Tugu, enjoy gamelan performances and gourmet food at Gadjah Wong or order spicy Javanese ribs at Iga Sapi Bali. Prices vary, but a good meal will cost about Rp50-70,000.