Our taxi turned into a tiny street just off the Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street) and came to an almost immediate halt. So, Max rolled down the window and stuck his head outside to check for the source of the hold-up. Sounds of motorcycle honks, car engines, and loud chatter flooded the vehicle. 

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We found ourselves smack in the middle of a day market. Dozens of locals were now forced to make their way around our taxi to get to the stalls along the street that were selling everything from fruits and veggies to freshly caught fish that was still breathlessly twitching inside the buckets. 

Things to do in Yogyakarta, Java: Enjoy the pop up market on Jalan Poncowican
Pop up street market on Jalan Poncowinatan, Yogyakarta

There was no point in trying to drive through the commotion. So we grabbed our backpacks, paid the driver and made our way to our hotel on foot located just a few hundred meters away.

This market, along with many other neat little pockets of culture made us feel that despite being a major tourist destination in Indonesia, Yogyakarta or as it’s often referred to by the locals, Jogjakarta still manages to maintain its authenticity and appeal.

What to do in Yogyakarta - go buy fruit from fruit stall like this in
Buying my daily dose of fruit at a stall on Jalan Poncowinatan, Yogyakarta

Renowned for being the getaway to the world-famous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, Yogyakarta draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors on a yearly basis. They arrive in the city, fork out $100+ for an organized Yogyakarta Borobudur tour and depart content that they have ticked a box on their bucket list. 

But Yogyakarta deserves a better visit! There are so many things to do in Yogyakarta that it’s worth planning a few extra days to explore.

Best Time to Visit Yogyakarta

The dry season from May to October is when most people come to explore all the things to do in Yogyakarta. However, we don’t think you should discount planning your Yogyakarta itinerary during the rainy season (April to November). 

Yogyakarta tour should include a stop at street art like this
Max & Oksana in Yogyakarta

Sure, you will avoid the rainfall but that also means you will be greeted by crowds at most Yogyakarta attractions. During the rainy season, temperatures mirror those of the dry season and it often only rains for a short period in the afternoon. But our favourite part – the city tends to get a little quieter and you will have fewer tourists to share a Yogyakarta tour with.

Yogyakarta attractions in downtown
Downtown Yogyakarta

Regardless of the time of year, you visit temperatures will hover around 28 degrees Celsius (83 degrees Fahrenheit) in the afternoon and humidity is just a part of everyday life.

Top Things to Do in Yogyakarta 

Prambanan and Borobudur 

Fortunately, the biggest drawcards of the region, Prambanan and Borobudur, do live up to their hype. But the best way to explore both Yogyakarta attractions is at your own pace! 

We took a “sunset tour” to Prambanan and despite only paying 75,000 IRP (great deal) for the return ride to the temple, we regretted it almost immediately. With only 3 hours to explore one of the top things to do in Yogyakarta, we felt rushed and constrained by the minivan departure time. 

Top places to visit in Yogyakarta are Prambanan Temples
Prambanan Temple at sunset

We had enough time to explore both Candi Sewu (large Buddhist temple complex meaning “one thousand temples” located just one kilometer north of Prambanan) and Prambanan at sunset. But not enough time to enjoy either one of the temples once the crowds subsided. Alongside the rest of the crowds, we rushed out of the temple grounds to catch our rides back to our Yogyakarta hotels.

What to do in Yogyakarta: Visit Candi Sewu, the lesser known temple just a few kms away from Prambanan. Java, Indonesia
Candi Sewu, the lesser-known temple just a few kms away from Prambanan

Having learned from our mistake at Prambanan, we chose to rent a scooter and make our own DIY Yogyakarta Borobudur tour and explore at our own pace. 

Arriving just in time for sunrise, we shared a magical sunrise with hundreds of other tourists. Luckily this time, we had the luxury of time. So, we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the temple shortly after the sunrise crowds departed.

Yogyakarta Borobudur tour at sunrise
Borobudur Temple at sunrise. It was after the crowds departed that we were finally able to take this magical shot

We do understand that everyone may not have the same luxury of time that we had. So if you are looking for a tour we would suggest one of the following:

We like the full day Borobudur Sunrise and Prambanan private tour because a local tour guide picks you up from your hotel in the wee hours of the morning and drives you to Borobudur for sunrise than to Prambanan. Since Prambanan is about an hour and a half from Borobudur you will be able to make the most of your limited time and be able to ask all the questions you want on the car ride.

Yogyakarta Borobudur tour once the crowds had dispersed
Enjoying our time at Borobudur without the crowds

If you are even more crunched for time then the half-day Borobudur Sunrise tour includes a pick up at 3:30 am in the morning. They will have you back at your hotel by 10:00 am. 

Or if you just don’t want to wait in line (especially that early in the morning) you can buy your admission passes beforehand for Borobudur here and Prambanan here.

Things to do in Yogyakarta: Visit Borobudur Temple at sunrise
Borobudur Temple at sunrise

Kraton Yogyakarta

Back in town, Kraton Yogyakarta or the Sri Sultan’s Palace tops the best places to visit in Yogyakarta after the temples. The Kraton consists of two separate entrances: the Main Court (Pagilaran & Siti Hinggil), and the Residence, with each one requiring a separate entrance ticket. 

You can take a guided tour of the courtyard and the living quarters with one of the local student volunteers who offer tours of the Kraton as part of their university internship. Their knowledge of the Kraton itself will impress you, but their ability to discuss Indonesian history and cultural insights may vary.

yogyakarta tour: Kraton
Kraton Yogyakarta, Java Indonesia
Yogyakarta tour: Kraton grounds
Chickens held in cages on the Kraton grounds. Yogyakarta, Java. Indonesia

You can easily spend 1-2 hours exploring each section of the Kraton, so choose the one you are most interested in seeing and budget your time and Yogyakarta itinerary accordingly. We recommend the Residence over the Main Court.

Taman Sari

Taman Sari, also known as the water palace, is one of the sections of the Prince’s Palace, located about 2kms from Kraton Yogyakarta. The partly ruined complex of Taman Sari was originally built as a pleasure garden by the first Sultan in 1765.

Things to do in Yogyakarta: Taman Sari
Thanks to this view from the tower above the water pools, the Sultan had a great view of the ladies in the harem at all times.
Taman Sari water pools on your Yogyakarta itinerary
Admiring the pools

The water pools may be the highlight of the palace. However, if you explore a bit further, you’ll love getting lost in the intricate network of tunnels and rooms that you can explore at your own pace.

One of the ruins deep in the network of tunnels inside Taman Sari on Yogyakarta itinerary
One of the ruins deep in the network of tunnels inside Taman Sari. Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

Shopping on Malioboro Street

Visiting Malioboro Streets may seem like one of the more touristy things to do in Yogyakarta but the 2km stretch of shops is worth checking out. First of all, you probably won’t be able to avoid them. They line Jalan Malioboro, which you will probably take on your way to Kraton Yogyakarta. 

Take your time popping into the shops and checking out the local textiles and souvenirs. It’s a great place to pick up a few gifts for those back home and to remind you of your Yogyakarta travel. Just don’t forget to bargain hard!

places to visit in yogyakarta: Jalan Malioboro, popular shopping promenade
Jalan Malioboro, popular shopping promenade in Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta attractions: Horse carriage on Jalan Malioboro
Horse carriage on Jalan Malioboro
places to visit in yogyakarta: Shops on Jalan Malioboro
Shops on Jalan Malioboro

Strolling along Malioboro Street is a fun activity even without the shopping. If nothing else, it’s a great place to people watch!

Rows of becaks on Jalan Malioboro which can take visitors on a yogyakarta tour
Rows of becaks on Jalan Malioboro
Becak driver taking a break on Jalan Malioboro before taking visitors on yogyakarta tour
Becak driver taking a break on Jalan Malioboro

Get lost on your way to Taman Sari

The neighbourhood near Taman Sari is probably our favourite part of the entire city. Exploring it quickly became one of our favourite things to do in Yogyakarta. Here, tiny alleyways wind lazily in random directions creating perfect neighbourhood playgrounds for the local children. 

Watch adults go about their daily life as you pass by their humble homes. Enjoy the kids giggling and screaming “bule” (foreigner) as they point into your direction and shyly run to hide in their homes.

yogyakarta attractions: Small street near Taman Sari
Small street near Taman Sari
Things to do in , Yogyakarta. Indonesia visit small streets near Taman Sari
another one…

Visit Surrounding Villages

When the hustle and bustle got a bit too much and we started thinking of what to do in Yogyakarta past the city limits we hopped on a scooter and set off to explore the villages surrounding the city. 

There is nothing particular to see and nothing special to do. But we always find that exploring the countryside is the best way to see real-life outside of the tourist hot spots. Drive around, stop for lunch at one of the local warungs, and experience true Javanese culture away from the other tourists.

Sharing the road with the locals. outside of Yogyakarta. Java. Indonesia
Sharing the road with the locals. outside of Yogyakarta. Java. Indonesia
Rice fields in Java countryside. Indonesia
Rice fields in Java countryside
Locals working away in rice fields in Java countryside. Indonesia
Locals working away in rice fields in Java countryside. Indonesia

Ratu Boko

Some Yogyakarta tour companies may offer Ratu Boko as an add on to the Prambanan trip. This archaeological site, known to local Javanese as Kraton Ratu Boko, is located on a plateau, about three kilometres south of Prambanan. 

We didn’t get a chance to check it out ourselves but from what we heard from other travelers it is well worth an addition to your Yogyakarta itinerary.

Boko Temple by Chandrahadi Junarto via Flickr CC
Boko Temple by Chandrahadi Junarto via Flickr CC

Avoid the main roads and travel to Ratu Boko via smaller side roads for a chance to admire some of the countryside and local life.

Where to Stay in Yogyakarta

When it comes to choosing where to stay in Yogyakarta, we always narrow down our search by selecting environmentally responsible Yogyakarta hotels or guesthouses owned by members of the local community. 

Places to stay in Yogyakarta: Greenhost Boutique Hotel
Room at Greenhost Boutique Hotel. Photo courtesy of Greenhost Boutique Hotel.

Amongst Yogyakarta hotels, Greenhost Boutique is the most sustainable. It was designed based on the principles of ‘agricraftcure’. The staff work hard each day to decrease their ecological footprint through their operating practices, purchasing policies, and water and waste disposal systems. They are conveniently located in the heart of Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta hotels: NOMORE Guesthouse
The living room at NOMORE Guesthouse. Photo courtesy of NOMORE Guesthouse.

For an authentic homestay experience, stay at “NOMORE” Gallery and Guesthouse. The hosts Rolly and Lala, are committing to creating a positive change through art. They offer one bare-bones room in their home and invite guests to contribute to their ever-changing art exhibit. They are located close to the Sultan’s Palace in Yogyakarta in a residential neighbourhood.

Where to stay in Yogyakarta: Griya Asih Guesthouse
Twin room at Griya Asih Guesthouse. Photo courtesy of Griya Asih Guesthouse.

Griya Asih is located in a quiet neighbourhood in the centre of the city. Their rooms sleep two people and every stay includes breakfast with fresh juice. The guesthouse itself is large, airy, and constructed in a traditional Javanese style.

Where to Eat and Drink in Yogyakarta

You’ll never go hungry in Yogyakarta, as the city offers over 500 restaurant choices ranging from basic eateries on Jalan Malioboro to high-end western restaurants scattered all over the city and close to most of the top places to visit in Yogyakarta. 

If you want our advice check out one of the cities vegetarian restaurants or choose to eat at one of the small mom and pop shops that set up on the side of the road in the evenings.

things to do in yogyakarta at night eat Mie Goreng at Warung Mie Jakarta
Mie Goreng at Warung Mie Jakarta

Our favourite was Warung Mie Jakarta, located on Jalan Pakuningratan right across the street from Hotel Pakuning. The shop is run by a local family and has only 1 table which we always shared with other locals. 

The food was so good that we were there daily in an attempt to try every dish on their menu (we fell a few short). Try Nasi Gudeg, Cap Cay, Fuyunghai, or Biskit Ayam. And of course, don’t forget to order a glass of their delicious Es Teh.

In Es Teh (Iced Tea) heaven at Warung Mie Jakarta
In Es Teh (Iced Tea) heaven at Warung Mie Jakarta

If you are after a vegetarian restaurant check out Milas Yogyakarta. They put a strong emphasis on procuring organic and seasonal produce and never use MSG. They serve western and Indonesian inspired meals. Plus, every Wednesday and Monday they hold an organic market. 

Warung Vegetarian Somayaoga offers great vegan and vegetarian alternatives to traditional Indonesian food. Had your eye on satay? Try the vegetarian version at Warung Vegetarian Somayaoga. The food is reasonably priced and the restaurant itself is located next to a field of rice paddies. 

what to do in Yogyakarta: Visit one of the many small street food stalls near our hotel on Jalan Ponwocinatan
One of the many small street food stalls

Otherwise, head to one of Yogyakarta’s markets. It became our favourite way to stock up on snacks. As well as try new street foods and watch the locals go about their daily life in Yogyakarta.

How Much Time Do You Need in Yogyakarta?

We recommend spending no less than 2-4 days in Yogyakarta. This will give you 1-2 days to explore Prambanan and Borobudur. Then a couple more to tackle the lesser-known things to do Yogyakarta.

Bali Itinerary for the Responsible Traveler
Jalan Malioboro, the most popular street in Yogyakarta

Many travelers wonder what to do in Yogyakarta after Prambanan and Borobudur. However, there are many lesser-known attractions to explore. Despite the intensity of the city, it is one filled with character and authenticity. It needs to be given more than a day on your itinerary!

Have you ever visited Yogyakarta or plan on adding it to your travel wish list?

About The Author

14 thoughts on “Things to Do in Yogyakarta, Indonesia for Sustainable Traveler”

  1. wooow… Super great photos… , im from Indonesia, Jakarta. Many thanks to wrote about Indonesia.

  2. John Yavorsky

    Going June 2016 with OAT, to Java, Bali and Flores (Komodo+Rinca).. Thanks for your insights; maybe I’ll try sunrise at Borobudur.

  3. Going next March (2018) and looking forward to seeing Yogyakarta, Ubud,Malang, Komodo and Bali. Your posts have been very informative and you’ve given me the best choices so far

  4. Having just left yogya a few days ago, i can honestly agree with your writing. Great city to visit and much cheaper than bali. My only criticism is your suggestion to use the horse n carriage that are so common. Most looked skinny n had foam coming from their mouth , a sure sign of extreme dehydration. We saw horses whipped, bleeding n limping. A great city but please use the many motorised or push pedal becaks to enjoy this great city.

    1. Hi Paul, that’s very fair note. When we traveled to Indonesia we weren’t well educated about the fair treatment of animals around the world. We didn’t come across any unwell looking horses ourselves, so we assumed that the practice of using horse carriages was ok in Yogyakarta. Having now traveled to many other countries, we have learned more about what good treatment of horses looks like and know that what we saw in Yogyakarta was definitely not it. We agree with your recommendation. Thanks for your comment and for pointing this out!

  5. There are still many hidden spots in Jogja. My favorite hidden site is the Dirgantara Mandala museum. It’s an aviation museum from the Cold War era, the highlight is the huge Soviet Tu-16 bomber, MiG-21, the notorious SA-2 missile and dozens of other vintage aircrafts. Just check the Google Image for it.

  6. I am from Pacitan, East Java … I am very interested in your photos … I used to go to college and lived in Jogja for about 8 years … I will never be bored with Jogja and all its activities … Jogja is my second home …

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