Yogyakarta (widely referred to as “Jogja”) is Indonesia’s most pleasant and accessible city. There’s plenty to do within the city center. It’s perfectly situated to visit two amazing temple complexes. It’s a student town, with a generally laid-back vibe and friendly locals. And you don’t have to look far to find amazing food. Most visitors spend three days in Yogyakarta and the surrounding area. So in this post, I’ll walk you through how to get the most out of your time.
- 1 What to do in central Yogyakarta
- 2 Prambanan temple complex
- 3 Borobudur temple
- 4 Where to eat in Yogyakarta
- 5 Where to stay in Yogyakarta
- 6 How to get to Yogyakarta
- 7 Finally…Enjoy your three days in Yogyakarta!
What to do in central Yogyakarta
If you have three days in Yogyakarta, spend one of them exploring the city center. It may make more sense to split it up across two half-days, but either way, it’s plenty of time to get to know the heart of this city.
Yogyakarta is the only place in Indonesia that is still governed by a Sultan. The Sultan’s Palace makes up the heart of the city center, and is surrounded by a historic neighborhood known as the Kraton. This makes a good place to start your three days in Yogyakarta.
The Kraton is not a historic relic — it’s a living, breathing urban neighborhood. Many of its residents still work for the Sultan. Sure, sometimes it feels like there are more bicycle taxis and batik salesmen than bureaucrats, but dig a little deeper and wander down the side streets and you’ll get a feel for what life has been like here for hundreds of years.
Start with the Sultan’s Palace and Taman Sari. But even with only three days in Yogyakarta, it’s worth taking your time in this neighborhood and going beyond the main attractions.
The Sultan’s Palace
Start your exploration of the Kraton at the Sultan’s Palace. This complex contains some of the best-preserved historic buildings in the Kraton. Only a few of them are open to the public, but you can still get a good sense of the opulence of the Sultan’s life.
Entrance to the palace costs 13,500 rupiah, including a photography permit. Make sure you enter through the main gate — look for a clock just outside. Some unscrupulous batik sellers may try to direct you to a different gate that only gives you access to a single room.
You’ll first come to a pretty little courtyard with a pavilion. The pavilion hosts daily cultural performances between 10 am and noon. They’re included with the price of your ticket, so try to time your visit to coincide with one (check at your guesthouse for exact times). I was there on a Sunday and saw a gamelan and traditional Javanese dance performance. On other days you can catch puppet shows and other musical performances.
Wander deeper into the palace complex to see some of the more grandiose buildings. A few of them contain artifacts from sultans of the past. Unfortunately, the treasures here aren’t well-explained, so you can breeze through pretty quickly.
Don’t miss the two banyan trees in the field behind the Sultan’s palace as you’re leaving. You can actually get a better look inside the complex from the other side of the gate.
Taman Sari was originally built as a garden complex and series of bathing pools. Now, it’s largely in ruins. A few key structures have been restored, and it’s a gorgeous place to wander around for an hour or so.
Enter at the gate along Jl. Taman Sari and pay your 8,000 rupiah entrance. You’ll walk through a well-restored main gate lined with serpent carvings. This will bring you to a series of pretty pools. You can climb a watch tower on the left-hand side to get nice aerial photos of the complex.
At the back of the series of pools, there’s another gate. Climb this one for great views over the Kraton. It’s a great way to get a feel for what the city looked like way back when — with only a few telephone lines and satellite dishes to remind you that you’re in the 21st century.
Follow the path behind the main gate to access some of the Kraton’s most characterful alleys. There are few tourists, no bicycle taxis, and no touts back here — just local shops and cafes. Kids play in the street with no worries about traffic. Cats sun themselves in open windows. Colorful murals line the whitewashed walls. It’s super easy to get lost back here, but don’t worry — keep following the network of alleys and you’ll eventually figure out where you are.
There is another series of preserved buildings (accessible with the same ticket) at the top of the hill. They’re not that exciting, but it’s worth poking your nose in for a minute.
The Banyan Trees
At the opposite end of the Kraton from the Sultan’s palace, there’s a large field with two banyan trees. These are meant to mirror the trees just outside the palace.
The field is a popular gathering place for students and teenagers in the evenings. Legend dictates that it’s impossible walk between the trees with your eyes closed. Stroll through just after sunset to see hordes of young people giving it a go — and join them! It’s a great way to make local friends.
Museums in Yogyakarta
If you like museums, Yogyakarta has a couple worth visiting. If you’re generally not a museum person, these are skippable if you only have three days in Yogyakarta.
The top museum to get a feel for Jogja’s history and culture is Museum Sonobudoyo. It has collections of puppets, folk art, historical artifacts, and batik. Entrance is 3,000 rupiah and it’ll take you about an hour to see it all.
The Sultan’s Carriage Museum is interesting if you want to learn more about royal culture. It’s small — you can see everything in under half an hour. I don’t remember exactly what I paid to enter, but it was less than 5,000 rupiah.
The Affandi Museum is highly recommended. It features the 20th-century artwork of its namesake painter. Unfortunately, it’s also well outside the city center (closer to Prambanan). I didn’t have time to visit with only three days in Yogyakarta. Plan on at least three hours (including getting there and away) if you want to go.
Malioboro Street is the hub of life in Yogyakarta. Tourists flock here, but there’s enough of a local vibe that it still feels authentic. You’re sure to walk the length of the street at least once during your three days in Yogyakarta.
Malioboro’s clothing shops spill into the street, giving it an informal market vibe. If you like shopping, you could spend hours browsing their wares, hunting for cheap souvenirs.
Yogyakarta’s traditional market lies at the northern end of Malioboro. It’s best to visit first thing in the morning — by noon, it’s already largely shut down.
This area is also one of the best places to eat in Yogyakarta — more on that later. And the alleys off of the north end of the street are one of the best places to find cheap accommodation, conveniently located near the train station.
Prambanan temple complex
One of the highlights of your three days in Yogyakarta will likely be the stunning Hindu temple complex of Prambanan. Even if you’re feeling templed-out, make time and shell out the dough to see these. There is nothing else in Southeast Asia like them.
The best time to visit Prambanan is late afternoon. As the sun sets, the light hitting the temples is gorgeous. Unfortunately, the complex closes at 5 (a little before sunset), but you can get away with hanging around until about 5:30 — you just won’t be able to get right up to the temples after 5. I arrived around 3:30 and was able to take my time seeing the temples.
The complex contains temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. There are dozens of smaller temples in the main compound, and several other temples on the grounds, including one fascinating temple with strong Buddhist influences reminiscent of Borobudur.
Don’t miss the stunning, detailed reliefs that cover the outer walls of each temple. The most beautiful ones are on the west side of the Shiva temple.
Prambanan is about 45 minutes outside central Yogyakarta. Expect to spend half a day getting there and back and visiting the temples. If you are interested in Hinduism in Southeast Asia, you could make a whole day of it exploring the lesser-known temples in the surrounding area — but with only three days in Yogyakarta, that may not be very realistic.
The easiest way to get to Prambanan is on a shuttle bus tour. This costs about 100,000 rupiah and you can organize it through your guesthouse. The price only includes transportation — not a guide or admission. It’s really only worth it if you’re super-pressed for time or want to cover Prambanan and Borobudur on the same day. Most of the shuttle bus tours aren’t timed well for sunset, and travelers report feeling rushed.
If you prefer to take your time at the temples, take the local bus. Yogyakarta’s Trans Jogja bus system is easy to understand, comfortable, and cheap (3500 rupiah per ticket). Hop on Bus 1A from Jl. Malioboro. Theoretically it takes 45 minutes to get there, but with traffic, it’s more like 1-1.5 hours. The bus stop in Prambanan is close to the temple complex — cross the (busy) main road, follow it in to your right, and the gate will be on your left after about five minutes walking.
You can also rent a bicycle or motorbike to visit Prambanan. This option is best if you want to explore the outlying temples. But the traffic along the main roads in Yogyakarta is insane. If you’re a newbie motorbike driver, consider hiring an ojek (motorcycle taxi) instead. Motorbike rental is typically 50,000 rupiah per day plus petrol, while bicycles cost 20-25,000. It’s a 16 km bike ride and personally, I would not want to ride back in the dark.
Admission to Prambanan costs a hefty 250,000 rupiah (students get in half-price). You can purchase a combination ticket that includes entrance to Borobudur for 420,000 — you have to visit both temples on the same day and you can’t use the combo ticket for sunrise or sunset at Borobudur.
Borobudur is the one can’t-miss attraction on your three days in Yogyakarta. This temple, atop a hill in a small village an hour and a half from central Jogja, is among Southeast Asia’s most iconic sights.
You’ve probably seen the images of Buddha sitting among bell-shaped stupas overlooking the jungle. But Borobudur also contains hundreds of relief carvings describing Buddha’s journey toward nirvana. It’s well worth spending at least three hours here to fully explore.
If you can swing it, I highly recommend spending the night in Borobudur village and visiting the temple for sunrise. (Details on visiting Borobudur for sunrise here.)
The cheapest way to the temple is with a motorbike. Due to rather insane traffic, this is not a good option for first-time motorbike drivers. The drive takes about an hour in the early morning and maybe a bit longer to get back.
If motorbike driving isn’t for you, you can organize a minibus tour through a tour agency or your hotel/hostel. It costs 100,000 rupiah round-trip. Similar to the Prambanan tours, this only includes transport. If you’re willing to leave at 3 am, you can even see the sunrise at Borobudur this way. If you’re really stretched for time on your three days in Yogyakarta, you can take a combined minibus tour to Borobudur and Prambanan (starting around 150,000 rupiah).
Borobudur is straightforward but time-consuming to visit on public transportation. The first step is to get to the Jombor bus terminal in Yogyakarta. Trans Jogja buses 2A and 2B run there from the city center. Due to traffic, this first stage takes a full hour. Once you arrive at Jombor, bus station staff will whisk you onto a Borobudur-bound bus (which will have no space for luggage). It costs 25,000 rupiah and takes another hour. The bus station in Borobudur is 200 meters outside the town center — you can walk pretty much everywhere.
Some travelers visit Borobudur and Prambanan on public transport on the same day. It’s possible (if exhausting), but requires at least three changes of bus between Borobudur and Prambanan. Start as early as you can if you plan to do this.
Admission to Borobudur is 325,000 rupiah (or 420,000 for a combined ticket with Prambanan). If you want to visit for sunrise, you have to book through the Manohara Hotel and it costs 450,000 rupiah.
Where to eat in Yogyakarta
In three days in Yogyakarta, you can sample can enormous variety of food. From swanky Western cafes to cheap and cheerful street eats, Jogja has it all.
The traditional cuisine of central Java is more sweet than spicy, so don’t worry too much about rogue chilis. Coconut milk features prominently — assume most meat (especially chicken) is cooked in it.
Yogyakarta’s restaurant scene caters to a mix of well-to-do locals and international travelers. The backpacker ghetto around Prawirotaman has a much more tourist-cafe feel, while Malioboro and the side streets that surround it have a better mix.
For authentic Javanese food in a charming setting, head to Bu Ageng. Its signature dish is eyem penggeng, a grilled, coconut-y chicken dish served with rice. You can build your own nasi campur (mixed rice), and for a place where the chefs are so clearly carnivores, it has a surprisingly large veggie selection. Better yet — you can eat well for under 50,000 rupiah.
Vegetarians should not miss Milas. Seating is on floor cushions around a pretty garden. Try the phenomenal gado gado with cashew sauce (for around 35,000 rupiah). This place supports street kids, so don’t feel bad about spending a little extra. Go early or make reservations — the place fills up.
Mediterreana is the most popular international restaurant in Prawirotaman, and the one that may be worth splurging for. If you’re craving comfort food (like bread that isn’t Wonderbread), it’s highly recommended. Expect to spend about 150,000 rupiah per person, minimum.
For a large city with such a noticeable digital nomad population, it’s surprisingly hard to find good coffee in Jogja.
The best antidote to your caffeine withdrawal headache is Via Via in Prawirotaman. The cafe is above the popular tourist agency of the same name. Good, strong espresso drinks and juices feature prominently.
Before or after you visit Borobudur, drop by Alea Coffee Shop. Order an iced Americano to sip from a gorgeous terrace overlooking the rice fields, while you watch village life go by.
Treat yourself to a gelato at Tempo del Gelato at least once during your three days in Yogyakarta. Try the black seseme.
Yogyakarta has the best street food scene I found in Indonesia. The variety of dishes on offer is enormous. Meals are jaw-droppingly cheap — you’ll rarely pay more than 20,000 rupiah. And the atmosphere is friendly and accessible, even if you speak no Bahasa.
The northern end of Jl. Malioboro turns into street food heaven after dark. This is a good place to try ayam goreng — a traditional Yogyakarta fried chicken dish. Seating is on cushions on the ground at most stalls here.
Another famous Jogja dish is gudeg — a sweet jackfruit curry, typically served with a duck egg and shrimp crackers over rice. Gudeg stands appear in clusters, and the most popular ones are fairly obvious. They typically sell only gudeg (with accompanying side dishes). There’s a large cluster in the Kraton, one street east from the Sultan’s Palace.
In the mornings, street stalls set up around the banyan trees in the Kraton. This is a great breakfast option if you don’t mind Asian-style breakfasts. Try a nasi campur for 8,000 rupiah. Simple warungs line the street running south from the banyan trees, serving delicious vegetarian food for 15,000 rupiah at lunchtime.
Where to stay in Yogyakarta
You’ll have a wide variety of accommodation to choose from during your three days in Yogyakarta. The big decision is, would you prefer a great location, or a better guesthouse?
The most convenient neighborhood to stay in is Sosrowijayan. It’s close to the train station, steps from Jl. Malioboro, and not too far from the Kraton. The alleys have real local character, even if there are backpackers swarming them. And you’re close to good street food.
The trade-off is at the budget end of the price spectrum, the guesthouses here are a little worn. They also don’t have a very social vibe, since most places only have a handful of rooms. Still, you can find a perfectly acceptable room in a friendly family-run place for under 100,000 rupiah.
The other popular area is Prawirotaman. The main drag of this neighborhood is obnoxiously backpacker ghetto-y. But just a couple blocks away, you can find brand-new, well-run guesthouses and hostels that still have a somewhat local feel.
The downside to Prawirotaman is location. If you intend to visit Prambanan and Borobudur on public transportation during your three days in Yogyakarta, you’ll be either a long walk or another local bus transfer away. It’s quick to reach the Kraton, but the south end of Malioboro is about a half-hour walk away.
I stayed at OstiC House — a popular hostel just west of Prawirotaman. It was one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. The entire staff knew my name and were super helpful. They booked train tickets for me, held onto my luggage when I spent a night in Borobudur, drew me extensive maps of how to use the Trans Jogja buses, and organized a street-food dinner with other guests. The facilities were equally amazing and amazingly clean. Even the WiFi was fast! I regretted staying there a little bit when I had a 3 am train to catch (Sosrowijayan would have been much more convenient), but I’d highly recommend it overall.
How to get to Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is one of Java’s biggest cities, so it’s very accessible from everywhere else on the island.
If you’re short on time, it’s worth checking prices on a flight to Jogja — they can be as cheap as $30 from Jakarta. The airport is 8 km outside the city center, along the route of Trans Jogja Bus 1A. If you don’t feel like taking the public bus, you can arrange airport pickup from your guesthouse for $6.
Java has an excellent rail system. So if you don’t want to fly, the next-best option to get to Yogyakarta is the train. Trains run to Jakarta, Malang, Surabaya, Probolinggo, Banyuwangi, and destinations in between. Book tickets 2-3 days in advance. The train station is just west of the north end of Jl. Malioboro.
If you’re desperate, or coming from a relatively nearby city, Yogyakarta is also accessible by bus. The Giwangan Bus Station is 4 km outside the center. Buses run to destinations all over Java, but they’re slow and uncomfortable — you’re much better off taking the train or flying if you can.
Finally…Enjoy your three days in Yogyakarta!
Yogyakarta was my favorite city in Indonesia. It’s more accessible and friendlier than Jakarta or Surabaya, with a lot more to see, but it still feels like a big, lively city. And the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan were the highlight of my trip. So don’t miss this dynamic and fascinating city!
Have you been to Yogyakarta? Did I miss any of your favorite spots? Leave a comment!
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