Located on the island of Java, Yogyakarta (or Yogya) is a large, young city where art and culture are always present. Day or night, you can feel the dynamism of Yogyakarta on the streets, and you’ll understand why the city is one of the most popular on the island.

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How long should you stay in Yogyakarta?

In my humble opinion, it’s not necessary to spend more than two days in Yogyakarta. Even if I found the city more pleasant than Jakarta, I think there’s more to see and do elsewhere than here. Especially if, like me, you love the countryside and aren’t really interested in “big” cities.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you’ll get bored visiting Yogyakarta, as it’s always an interesting place to visit.

Best things to do in Yogyakarta

1. Alun Alun Kidul Park

Alun Alun Kidul Park in Yogyakarta

The square is a place to relax, to meet up with friends and family, but there’s also a mythical ritual called Masangin. What’s it all about? The ritual says that if you can walk between the two Banyan trees with your eyes closed, you’ll have good luck and your wishes will come true.

When I was there, you could see many locals having fun and trying their luck. Some succeeded right away and others kept trying until they succeeded.
Have I tried? Of course, I’m always willing to try new things, aren’t I? I won’t tell you if I’ve made it to the other side, that’s a secret. All I can say is that it’s a lot harder than you’d think!

Sunset in Alan Alan Kidul Park in Yogyakarta

After standing there for half the day, playing and lounging on the grass, I finally decided to sit down a little longer to admire the sunset. With music in the background and food to complete the atmosphere, I have to say it was a pretty quiet but cool day.

2. Borobudur & Prambanan temples

Often visited at sunrise, Borobudur (Candi Borobudur in Javanese) is one of the world’s largest Buddhist temples. With its 9 levels and 72 bell-like stupas, the temple is unique in that it is also built on a hill rather than a flat surface. Each bas-relief represents a different story (the law of karma, Buddha’s birth, Buddha’s past lives…).
A visit with a guide is a must if you want to get the full story and learn more about this architectural feat.

Prambanan (Candi Prambanan in Javanese) is a group of temples dedicated to the three great Hindu deities: Shiva the destroyer, Vishnu the preserver and Brahma the creator. Considered a masterpiece of stone carving, you can’t help but be impressed by its magnificence and astonishing detail.
Like Borobudur, the layout of the temple complex is a Mandala, a symbol of the Hindu cosmos.

Here too, the bas-reliefs represent a story (Ramayana). Pay close attention and let yourself be enchanted by the magic of the tales.

Local vibe

3. Jalan Malioboro

Malioboro street in Yogyakarta
Photo by muhammad arief on Unsplash

Yogyakarta’s famous shopping street where you’ll find clothes, bags, batiks, jewelry… you name it, you’ll find it in Malioboro. You’ll also see becaks lined up on the road (photo above) with drivers sitting or sleeping inside, ready to take you wherever you want to go.

And if you don’t like shopping, don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and stallholders offering their best local dishes!

4. Street Art

Street art in Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is well known for its temples, that’s for sure, but for me, it’s also for its street art. And if you’re wondering where to find these magnificent works of art, I’d say just about anywhere in the city. You don’t have to look for them, they’ll find you.

I wandered for 4 hours in the rain to see this art gallery. Many different artists have painted all over the city and although each work has its own style, you can clearly see that a unique story is unfolding behind these beautiful colors and brushstrokes.

Street art in Yogyakarta city

5. Batik

Batik art
Photo by Agto Nugroho on Unsplash

What is Batik?

Listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage site since 2009, this is a traditional art that uses wax and dye to create a pattern to decorate a piece of fabric. The process can be quite lengthy, taking months before the final result can be worn. Each pattern is different and has a precise meaning. Batik is worn by people from all walks of life for all occasions, whether religious or everyday.

As Yogyakarta is the cultural center of the island of Java, you’ll see more workshops here than in any other city. That’s why you’ll hear about many scams and meet people on the streets who will try to take you to their family’s or friend’s workshop. Once there, they’ll let you try their hand at the batik-making process, but they’ll also pressure you to buy their pieces.
So before you go, you need to do a bit of research and find a place that suits you and sells batik at a fixed price.

Where can you experience it?

Batik Winotosastro is a shop/workshop where you can visit and discover the batik creation process for free. And if you’d like to try it for yourself and leave with a special souvenir, that’s quite possible, with classes starting at IDR 50.000/person (~$3.50).

6. Enjoy simple, delicious dishes

It would be a shame to be in Indonesia and not taste some of its delicacies. Here, food is prepared with spices and herbs, giving it a savory, comforting taste. For someone who loves spicy food, I’ve never been more satisfied than on my travels through Asia.

Here are some of my favorite dishes from Indonesia:

Sate

Sate in all its versions (Ayam, Kambing) is so good that I start salivating just thinking about it. You know how sometimes the simplest things are the best? Well, that’s exactly the case here.
This dish consists of seasoned, skewered and finally grilled meat. It’s often accompanied by a sauce and sometimes rice. And when paired with peanut sauce, it couldn’t be a more perfect match!

Nasi Goreng & Mie Goreng

These two dishes, which literally mean “fried rice” and “fried noodles”, are my go-to when I’m too tired to look for another meal, or when I just want something hot, cheap and easy to find.
Since they’re available in every food market, they make a quick but comforting meal. They’re essentially made up of vegetables, chicken and eggs, but there are also variations depending on where you are or what the cook has in his kitchen. They’re also often accompanied by shrimp or fish crackers, which I love and which give the dish that little crunch.

Rendang

If you like your meat simmered or braised, you should add this dish to your list. Made with beef, Rendang is full of flavor. Coconut, spices and a caramelized aftertaste form an incredible blend. So much so, you’ll be asking for more.

Tempeh (or Tempe)

Tempeh is the kind of food for which I thought, “How on earth did I survive without it?”. Yes, it’s that good, at least for me!

When you know it’s made from fermented soybeans, your first thought may be, “that sounds disgusting, doesn’t it?”. But it’s not, on the contrary, and it’s a very good source of protein and vitamins. Often fried, they’re then added to a meal, but you can absolutely eat them as a snack. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Bakso

Yogya
Image by Stivian Putra from Pixabay

A popular dish in Indonesia, bakso is a kind of meatball soup made from beef and tapioca flour, often eaten as a comfort food. The heartwarming broth, vegetables and various accompaniments you choose to add will make for a delicious meal.

Once again, a simple meal, but one of the best in Indonesia!

Martabak

I couldn’t end this gastronomic tour without dessert. So here it is: Martabak is a kind of pancake with your choice of filling (chocolate, peanuts, grated cheese…). This sweet, soft dessert is the perfect way to end a hearty meal on a high note!

In a nutshell

A cultural center, a culinary paradise, friendly locals who love to take photos with you and famous temples, Yogyakarta, although not a big city, is vibrant with life. Like Batik, it’s a unique place, less touristy than Bali, where you’ll never get bored, even on a short stay!

🎯 Would you like to go straight to my recommendations?

🛌 Hostel: Sante Commune Yogyakarta

🗺️ Recommended Tour:
Borobudur and Prambanan Temples Tour

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