Yogyakarta is Java’s most popular tourist city; it is also central to the island’s artistic and intellectual heritage. Blending modernity and tradition, Yogyakarta is where you’ll see the Javanese arts at their brightest and traditions at their most visible. The city is still headed by a sultan, whose kraton (walled city palace) remains central to traditional life.
Modern day Yogyakarta is, however, a huge urban centre complete with shopping malls, fast-food chains and traffic jams. With numerous cultural attractions in the city and a plethora of natural wonders just outside the urban sphere, Yogyakarta makes a great base. Indonesia’s most important archaeological sites, Borobudur and Prambanan, are also just a short drive away.
See Below for Your Complete 4 Day Guide to Yogyakarta!
DAy 1: Make a Day Trip to BOROBUDUR
Admission Fee: 325,000 IDR (USD 25)
Sunrise/Sunset Admission Fee: 475,000 IDR (Entrance is via Manohara Restaurant)
Borobudur and Prambanan Combo Ticket: 630,000 IDR (USD 45)
Borobudur and Ratu Boko Combo Ticket: 630,000 IDR (USD 45)
Borobudur, Mendut and Pawon Combo Ticket: 420,000 IDR (USD 30)
The combo ticket is valid for 24 hours after purchase, single entry at each temple.
This means you must either visit both Borobudur and Prambanan in one day or on two consecutive days.
Opening Hours: 6am-5pm
Sunrise/Sunset Opening Hours: 4:30am-6am/5pm-6:30pm
Dating from the 8th-9th Centuries and built from two million blocks of stone, Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and one of Indonesia’s most important archaeological sites. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, the temple, a symmetrical stone stupa, is wrapped around a small hill inside a beautifully manicured compound. The valley in which it lies is a bowl of bottle-green rice paddies and palms, a supremely beautiful landscape home to traditional farming villages; overlooking it all are soaring volcanic peaks.
With a square base, the structure is made up of a series of square terraces topped by three circular platforms; these are linked by four stairways at the cardinal points that lead through carved gateways to the summit. From the air, the temple resembles a 3-D tantric mandala.
The 2.5km of narrow corridors lead past intricate stone relief sequences that depict the spiritual journey towards enlightenment; they are like a textbook of Buddhist philosophy. Entering at the eastern gateway, follow the lower terraces clockwise to observe scenes of the bodily world (passion and desire). As you move on to the upper platforms, you’ll see multiple images of the Buddha.
There are nearly 1460 narrative panels and 1212 decorative panels over the six terraces; look out for the sequence showing the birth of Prince Siddhartha and his attainment of enlightenment. Many panels relate to the Buddhist concept of cause and effect and karma.
There are a total of 432 seated statues and 72 other figures, many of which are now headless, that decorate the latticed stupas on the top three terraces. The uppermost circular platform signifies the eternal. It’s highly recommended that you move clockwise through each terrace in turn, ascending slowly to the summit; don’t do as most locals do and rush straight to the top!
The views from the summit, at any time of day, are spectacular; on a humid day watch the mist rising from the surrounding paddy fields. I can only imagine how atmospheric the energy must be atop the monument at sunrise or sunset.
Located just east of the monument, Karmawibhangga Archaeological Museum contains 4000 original stones and carvings from the temple, as well as some interesting photographs and other relics; gamelan performances are held at 9am and 3pm.
The Museum Kapal Samurrarska contains a full-size replica of an 8th Century spice ship, the design of which was based on an image depicted in one of the panels adorning Borobudur Temple. The boat was sailed to Madagascar and on to Ghana in West Africa in 2003, a journey that retraced the original spice trade route of ancient Java. Admission to all of the above museums is included in your Borobudur Temple entrance ticket.
Other Sights around Borobudur
If you come with your own wheels or stay in Borobudur village, there are numerous other sights in the area that deserve to be visited. Local homestays and travel agencies can also arrange trips to nearby villages, each of which specialises in a particular cottage industry, such as tofu making. Worth the hike through stunning rice paddy scenery is Selogriyo Temple, a small Hindu temple near Magelang village.
The following can all be visited before or after a visit to Borobudur Temple:
Mendut Temple and Monastery
Admission Fee: 3500 IDR, including entry to Candi Pawon
Opening Hours: 6am-5:30pm
This temple, around 3.5km east of Borobudur, is notable for its magnificent 3m-high Buddha statue that sits Western-style with both feet on the ground. The figure is flanked by Bodhisattvas – Lokesvara on the left and Vairapana on the right. The temple is especially atmospheric at night when it is lit up against the dark sky.
The Mendut Buddhist Monastery lies opposite the temple; the beautiful leafy grounds contain some lovely Buddha statues, small stupas and pavilions and are a peaceful place to wander. Group meditations are held here at 7pm daily, which visitors are welcome to join.
Admission Fee: 3500 IDR, including entry to Mendut Temple
Opening Hours: 8am-4pm
Around 1.5km east of Borobudur lies this small solitary temple that is similar in design and decoration to Mendut. It has a broad base and a pyramidal roof and is adorned with intricately carved relief panels. With dwarfs pouring riches over the entrance, it is suggested that the temple was dedicated to Kuvera, the Buddhist god of fortune.
Punthuk Setumbu Hill and Giant Chicken Church
Punthuk Setumbu Hill Admission Fee: 30,000 IDR
Punthuk Setumbu Hill Opening Hours: 4am-5pm
Giant Chicken Church Admission Fee: 20,000 IDR
Roughly 6km from Borobudur Temple, Punthuk Setumbu Hill is one of the best spots from which to watch the sunrise. With Mount Merapi Merbabu in the background, this scenic vantage point offers stunning views over Borobudur Temple, which rises from a sea of mist in the early morning light. From the parking area, steps lead 500m uphill to the summit.
On a neighbouring hillock, around 2km by driving, lies the Giant Chicken Church, which is, as its name suggests, shaped like a chicken! It is clearly visible from Punthuk Setumbu Hill. The building contains displays in the main hall (the chicken’s body) that document its construction and renovation, as well as a café at the top where Indonesian snacks and coffee are sold.
Getting to Borobudur
To get to Borobudur you can take a bus from Yogyakarta’s Jombor terminal (25,000 IDR, 1.25 hours, every 30 minutes). This terminal can be reached by TransJogja bus 3A from Jalan Malioboro to Jalan Ahmad Dahlan and then bus 2B to Jombor. Travel agencies and hotels in Yogyakarta also run day tours to Borobudur.
A much better idea, however, is to hire a scooter in Yogyakarta and drive yourself. Not only do you have no time constraints but you’ll also have transport in which to explore the surrounding area. Borobudur is an easy drive from Yogyakarta, taking around 1.5 hours.
It’s also possible to stay in Borobudur village; there are numerous homestays and guesthouses that make a peaceful escape for a few nights. Staying here is recommended if you intend to see sunrise over Borobudur Temple.
Day 2: See the Amazing Temples at PRAMBANAN
Prambanan Admission Fee: 325,000 IDR (USD 25)
Ratu Boko Admission Fee: 325,000 IDR (USD 25)
Prambanan, Plaosan and Sojiwan Combo Ticket: 420,000 IDR (USD 30)
Prambanan and Ratu Boko Combo Ticket: 630,000 IDR (USD 45)
*The Prambanan and Ratu Boko Combo Ticket includes a round-trip shuttle service
Opening Hours: 6am-5pm
You’ll need a whole day to do justice to the temples in Prambanan, which is home to the remains of some 244 temples. Indonesia’s largest Hindu site, Prambanan is UNESCO World Heritage listed and a highlight of any Java itinerary.
All of the temples in the Prambanan area were built between the 8th and 10th Centuries AD; much restoration has been done after the site suffered extensive damage in the 2006 earthquake. The highlight is the central compound, which contains eight main and eight minor temples assembled on a raised platform.
The following can all be found within the central compound:
Candi Shiva Mahadeva
Candi Shiva Mahadeva, dedicated to Shiva, is the largest of the temples in the central compound and also the finest; its main spire is 47m-high and the structure is covered in lavish carvings. Scenes from the Ramayana are carved onto the inner wall of the gallery that encircles the temple.
The main chambers at the top of the four stairways each contain a different figure; the one at the top of the eastern stairway houses a four-armed statue of Shiva the Destroyer whilst that in the western cell is of elephant-headed Ganesh, Shiva’s son and the god of knowledge.
Candi Vishnu is 33m-high and stands just north of Candi Shiva Mahadeva; reliefs tell the story of Lord Krishna, a hero of the Mahabharata epic. A four-armed statue of Vishnu the Preserver can be found in the inner sanctum.
The twin of Candi Vishnu, Candi Brahma is carved with the final scenes of the Ramayana; the inner chamber contains a four-headed statue of Brahma, the god of creation.
Outside the central compound, in the surrounding park, lie a number of lesser known temples. They include:
Candi Sewu dates from around AD 850 and is made up of dozens of outer shrines, decorated with stupas. It was originally surrounded by four rings of 240 smaller guard temples, which lead to its name, ‘Thousand Temples’.
One of four sanctuaries that once stood at the cardinal points outside the Candi Sewu compound, Candi Bubrah has finely carved niches around the inner gallery, which at one time held bronze statues.
Away from the main Prambanan central area lie other smaller temples, scattered about the surrounding plain. The Plaosan Temples, 3km from the Prambanan complex, are especially worth seeking out.
Admission Fee: 3000 IDR
Opening Hours: 6am-5pm
The Plaosan Temples were built around the same time as the Prambanan temple group and contain both Hindu and Buddhist symbols and carvings.
Plaosan Lor (Plaosan North)
A compound containing two restored, identical main temples, surrounded by some 126 small shrines and stupas, most of which now lie in ruin. Stone Bodhisattvas can be found inside the two-storey, three-room main structures; fronting each one you’ll see two massive temple guardian statues.
Plaosan Kidul (Plaosan South)
This small complex contains more stupas and the remnants of a temple but little renovation work has been done.
The Southern Group
Kraton Ratu Boko (Palace of King Boko)
Perched atop a hill overlooking Prambanan, Kraton Ratu Boko is a partly ruined palace complex that dates from the 9th Century. It is believed to have been the central court of the Mataram dynasty. The site contains a large gateway, as well as the platform of Candi Pembakaran (the Royal Crematorium).
The admission fee is exceedingly high; we couldn’t justify it on top of the Borobudur-Prambanan combo tickets that we had already purchased. If you purchase the Prambanan-Ratu Boko combo ticket, a shuttle between the two complexes (3km apart) is included.
Other Smaller Temples
Located about 1.5km southeast of Prambanan village, this ruined Buddhist temple has a peaceful setting near the rural hamlet of Sajiwan. Surrounding the temple’s base are carvings from the Jataka (scenes from the Buddha’s various lives).
Lying 50m off the main Yogyakarta road near Kalasan village, this is one of the oldest Buddhist temples on the Prambanan plain. The temple has been partially restored and has some detailed carvings on its southern side; the inner chamber once housed a huge bronze image of Buddha or Tara.
Situated 200m north of Candi Kalasan, the second floor of this temple may have served as a dormitory for the Buddhist priests who cared for Candi Kalasan. The sculpted reliefs of the exterior are similar to those of Kalasan but are in better condition.
The isolated Candi Sambisari, located 2.5km north of the main road, is a Shiva temple and possibly the last temple at Prambanan to be built by the Mataram dynasty. Lying almost 6m below the surface of the surrounding fields, this temple is remarkable for its perfectly preserved state.
Getting to Prambanan
You can take TransJogja bus 1A (3500 IDR, 40 minutes) from Jalan Malioboro to Prambanan. It’s also possible to cycle the 17km from Yogyakarta or rent a scooter. Taxis tours can also be organised through any hotel or travel agency in Yogyakarta.
We took the bus to Prambanan and then walked to each of the temple clusters. This was slow going so, if you’re looking to do things independently and want to see more than just the main Prambanan temples, we recommend you hire a scooter in Yogyakarta. This way you have transport not only to Prambanan village, but also to get between all of the lesser known outer-lying temples.
Day 3: See the Sights in YOGYAKARTA
Start Day 3 at the Kraton; get there for when it opens!
Admission Fee: 15,000 IDR
Camera Fee: 1000 IDR
Opening Hours: 8:30am-1:30pm Sat-Thurs, to 12:30pm Fri. Closed on national holidays.
Yogyakarta’s enormous kraton (palace) is the cultural and political heart of the city. It is, effectively, a walled city, a complex of pavilions and residences that is home to around 25,000 people. With a market, shops, cottage industries, schools and mosques, the area is a fascinating place to wander. Around 1000 of those who live within the kraton are employed by the resident sultan.
The kraton is made up of luxurious halls, spacious courtyards and pavilions that were built between 1755 and 1756 with European touches added in the 1920’s. Originally, there were separate entrances for men and women, marked by huge male and female dragons. Whilst the innermost complex is off-limits, visitors can enter some of the surrounding courtyards.
The Reception Hall or Bangsal Kencana (Golden Pavilion) lies at the centre; it has a marble floor, intricately decorated roof, stained-glass windows and carved teak columns. Two small museums can be found within this courtyard complex, containing gifts from foreign dignitaries, gamelan instruments, the royal family tree, old photographs of grand weddings and portraits of the former sultans of Yogyakarta.
There are daily performances in the kraton’s inner pavilion, which are included in your entrance ticket. The current schedule is:
- Monday and Tuesday: Gamelan (10am-noon)
- Wednesday: Puppetry (9am-noon)
- Thursday: Classical dance (10am-noon)
- Friday: Javanese poetry (10am-11:30am)
- Saturday: Leather puppetry (9am-1pm)
- Sunday: Javanese dance (11am-noon)
As you amble around the complex, you’ll notice the dignified elderly attendants who wear traditional Javanese dress. Entrance to the kraton is on the north-western side; be careful in this area as batik sellers are known to hang around, some practicing scams.
After visiting the kraton move on to Taman Sari!
Admission Fee: 15,000 IDR
Camera Fee: 3000 IDR
Opening Hours: 9am-3pm
Otherwise known as the Water Palace, this once-amazing complex of palaces, pools and waterways, built between 1758 and 1765, was the playground of the sultan and his entourage. Rumour has it that the sultan had the Portuguese architect, who designed this elaborate retreat, executed, in order to keep his hidden pleasure rooms secret. Today, the complex lies in ruin but much has been restored to make a visit here worthwhile.
Around Taman Sari is a fascinating residential district, a web of traditional Javanese homes, which is home to around 2000 people. Some sell crafts or coffee and snacks from their front room! Hidden within the labyrinth of small lanes, don’t miss the unique underground mosque with a central open-air atrium.
Spend the afternoon exploring a couple of Yogyakarta’s museums; here are six to choose from!
Admission Fee: 5000 IDR
Opening Hours: 8am-3:30pm Tues-Thurs, Sat-Sun, to 2:30pm Fri
This small museum is home to a collection of Javanese art, including wayang kulit puppets, topeng (masks), and batik. The courtyard contains some Hindu statues and other artefacts, including Balinese carvings.
Museum Kareta Kraton
Admission Fee: 5000 IDR
Camera Fee: 1000 IDR
Opening Hours: 9am-4pm
Located near the kraton entrance, this museum exhibits the opulent chariots of the sultans, which are leather-upholstered and intricately painted. The blue-eyed horse statues are also worth seeing.
Admission Fee: By donation
Opening Hours: 9:30am-3pm Mon-Sat
This small museum houses a pendopo (large open-sided pavilion) that can hold a full gamelan orchestra. There is also a pretty colonial house on the grounds, not open to the public, which was built in 1884.
Admission Fee: Adult/Student 100,000/50,000 IDR
Camera Fee: 30,000 IDR (Mobile Phone Camera: 20,000 IDR)
Opening Hours: 9am-4pm Mon-Sat
Affandi (1907-1990) is one of Indonesia’s most well-known artists; he lived and worked in a quirky self-designed studio 6km east of the city centre. Today, his former home is the Affandi Museum, which contains an extensive collection of his abstract paintings. You can also see his car (a lime-green and yellow customised 1967 Galant) and his prayer room, which lies inside a converted horse carriage, painted in a rainbow of colours. The on-site café screens a documentary on Affandi’s life and your entry ticket includes a drink or ice-cream. Reach the museum by bus 1A from Jalan Malioboro.
Museum Sasana Wiratama
Admission Fee: By donation
Opening Hours: 8am-2pm Mon-Thurs, to 1pm Fri and Sat
Located in the northwest of the city, this small museum honours the Indonesian hero, Prince Pangeran Diponegoro, who led the bloody but futile rebellion of 1825-1830 against the Dutch. The museum is his former Yogyakarta residence that contains an assorted collection of his belongings, as well as other exhibits.
Jogja National Museum
Opening Hours: 10am-9pm
Located inside a large concrete block that was originally built as an art faculty in the 1950’s, this building houses Yogyakarta’s leading contemporary art gallery. It exhibits assorted shows by Indonesian artists that change on a monthly basis; there’s also a record store and the possibility to see local bands play.
Day 4: MARKETS, SILVERWARE, SHRINES and SHOPPING!
Start Day 4 with an early morning market visit!
Opening Hours: 9am-5pm
Just 800m north of the kraton, Yogyakarta’s main market is an interesting place to wander. The front section contains a wide range of batik, while the second floor is home to cheap clothes and shoes. More exciting, though, is the older section at the back, which is crammed with fruit and veg sellers, as well as spice vendors on the first floor. The market is most active and atmospheric in the morning.
Next make a half-day trip to this silverware district!
Sacred Tomb Opening Hours: 10am-1pm Tues-Fri, closed during Ramadan
Located 5km southeast of Jalan Malioboro is this upmarket suburb of Yogyakarta, famous as the centre of the city’s silver industry. The main street, Jalan Kemasan, is lined with busy workshops, which sell items such as hand-beaten bowls, boxes, fine filigree work and modern jewellery.
Kota Gede was made the first capital of the Mataram kingdom in 1582; the founder of which was Panembahan Senopati. It’s possible to visit his tomb, located in a small graveyard of an old mosque, in Kota Gede; other royals are also buried here. Mandatory sarongs are provided (donation required) at the entrance to the inner tomb complex. You may notice that the buildings here resemble Balinese temple structures, demonstrating a combination of architectural styles.
To reach Kota Gede you can take bus 3A or a becak (cycle rickshaw) that will cost around 50,000 IDR. It’s also possible to cycle here or drive yourself by rented scooter.
Finish your stay in Yogyakarta with some shopping and eating!
Jalan Malioboro is the main thoroughfare that runs down the centre of the city; lined with shops, restaurants, food vendors and market stalls, it is an exciting part of Yogyakarta. Traffic here is almost always at a standstill, cars competing with motorbikes, bicycles, buses, cycle rickshaws and horse carts. Love it or loathe it, you’re bound to end up on this street during your time in the city!
As well as all the modern stores and souvenir shops, look out for batik bags, topeng masks and wayang golek puppets. For more upmarket galleries, art shops and batik factories, head to Jalan Prawirotaman and Jalan Tirtodipuran in the south of the city.
More Time to Spend in Yogyakarta? Consider Trips to the Following:
- Imogiri Royal Cemetery (20km south of Yogyakarta atop a hill)
- Kasongan (Pottery centre 6.5km south of Yogyakarta)
- Gunung Merapi (Can be summited from the village of Selo, when conditions permit)
- Kaliurang (Hill resort 25km north of Yogyakarta)
- Candi Sukuh and Candi Cetho (Two famous Hindu temples on the slopes of Gunung Lawu)
GETTING AROUND YOGYAKARTA
Many of Yogyakarta’s sights are located within the kraton area, which is eminently walkable. For sights further afield you can rent a scooter (50,000-90,000 IDR/day) or a bicycle (25,000-30,000 IDR/day). It’s also possible to organise a car and driver (500,000-600,000/day) for trips in the Yogyakarta region. The above transport can be arranged through most hotels and guesthouses or at travel agencies on Jalan Sosrowijayan or Jalan Prawirotaman.
For short trips within the city you can take a becak (cycle rickshaw), though always agree on a price before getting in; short trips generally cost 20,000-30,000 IDR. Taxis are also available but ensure the driver uses the meter; a short trip should cost around 30,000 IDR and a longer trip around 60,000 IDR. Go-Jek and Grab are Indonesia’s versions of Uber; rides can be booked via an online app and are generally cheaper, faster and safer than ordinary taxis.
Yogyakarta also has a reliable public bus system called TransJogja; the buses are modern and air-conditioned and run from 5:30am-9pm on 11 routes around the city and to as far away as Prambanan. Tickets cost 3500 IDR/journey. Because of their unique design, the buses only stop at designated bus shelters.
GETTING TO/FROM YOGYAKARTA
From the Airport:
Yogyakarta has an international airport located 10km east of the centre. Bus 1A connects the airport to Jalan Malioboro. The taxi rate from the airport to the city centre is fixed at 150,000 IDR.
From Giwangan Bus Terminal:
This bus station is located 5km southeast of the city centre and is connected to Yogyakarta train station and Jalan Malioboro by bus 3B.
Buses run from Giwangan to destinations all over Java and also to Bali. Although it’s cheaper to buy tickets at the terminal, it’s more convenient to book through an agency in town; agents can also arrange hotel pick-ups.
Heading to Bali? Be sure to check out: How to Spend a Month in Bali: Island of the Gods.
Examples of Buses from Giwangan:
- Bandung – 140,000 IDR (AC), 10 hours, 3 daily
- Jakarta – 210,000 IDR (Normal)/270,000 IDR (AC), 12 hours, 10-12 daily
- Denpasar – 325,000 IDR (AC), 19 hours, 2-3 daily
From Yogyakarta Train Station:
The main train station is centrally located just a short walk from Jalan Malioboro. It’s a 35,000-50,000 IDR taxi ride to most other areas within the city.
Train is by far the best way to travel around Java; journeys are fast and smooth and you don’t have to worry about the island’s notoriously bad traffic! As well as the main Yogyakarta train station, there is also Lempuyangan station 1km to the east, where economy-class trains also arrive and depart. The morning trains to Probolinggo and Banyuwangi leave from here.
Examples of trains from Yogyakarta Train Station:
- Bandung – 180,000-370,000 IDR, 7.5-8.5 hours, 6 daily
- Banyuwangi – 94,000 IDR, 14 hours, 1 daily
- Jakarta – 350,000-430,000 IDR, 7.5-8 hours, 12 daily
- Malang – 175,000-430,000 IDR, 7-8 hours, 6 daily
- Probolinggo – 70,000-325,000 IDR, 8.5-9 hours, 1 daily
- Solo – 50,000-350,000 IDR, 1 hour, many
- Surabaya – 70,000-300,000 IDR, 4-5 hours, 8 daily
ACCOMMODATION IN YOGYAKARTA
There is accommodation in Yogyakarta to suit every budget, from backpacker hostels and cosy homestays to upmarket hotels and resorts. The area around Jalan Sosrowijayan, just south of the train station, is where many of the budget options are located; the alleys of this traditional neighbourhood are packed with accommodation.
We stayed The Wayang Homestay, about 2.5km (a 30 minute walk) south of the kraton. Our room was clean and comfortable, the included breakfast was good and the family were very friendly. We were also able to rent a scooter and there was free drinking water and tea available. The location was peaceful but, realistically, too far away. We spent our last two nights in the city at another homestay off Jalan Sosrowijayan, which allowed us to walk to Lempuyangan train station for our 6am departure.
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Heading to Jakarta or Surabaya? Check out our post: Jakarta and Surabaya: Two Cities You Shouldn’t Miss!