Affectionately known as Yogya, Yogyakarta is the cultural heart of Java. A university town with a strong artistic and intellectual heritage, Yogyakarta is the place to visit a Royal Palace and browse craft markets. Just outside the city lie the ancient temple complexes of Prambanan and Borobudur with the picturesque coffee plantation regions of Central Java beyond.
The self-governing city of Yogyakarta is one of Java’s main attractions, nestled in the shadow of Mount Merapi to the south of Central Java, it is culturally significant and an important seat of academia. The city has long been protective of its customs and traditions and is the only province in Indonesia that remains governed by the pre-colonial monarchy, the sultan. The Sultan’s Palace, also known as the Kraton, is a huge walled complex that hosts cultural events every morning in one of the pavilions, so when visiting the Palace, you may also see a classical Javanese dance or hear a gamelan orchestra.
This is an intriguing city of contrasts, where open-air barbers, batik and silversmith artisans, rub shoulders with glitzy shopping malls, hip restaurants and trendy bars. But for all its contemporary cool, Yogyakarta is a stronghold of traditional Javanese culture and the best place to watch a wayung kulit, or shadow-puppet show. Both art and music play an important role in the life of the city and the streets are teeming with musicians, artists, graffiti, art galleries and exhibitions.
Yogyakarta is also a great place for just soaking up the atmosphere. As a university town, there is lots to see and do and it’s easy to while away the time walking through the lively streets browsing the craft markets, bars and restaurants and enjoying the beautiful old Dutch colonial architecture. If your feet get weary, there’s always the option to take a pedicab, as Yogyakarta is one of the few places left in the world with human rickshaws.
If urban life here gets too much, this is a great base for visiting two of Indonesia’s most important archaeological sites, Prambanan and Borobudur. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and important temple complexes. The Hindu complex at Prambanan is around 17-kilometres from the city, while the Buddhist complex at Borobudur is 40-kilometres away. If time allows, It’s also worth exploring the fertile countryside around Yogyakarta, filled with verdant rice paddies, mountain scenery, winding rivers, tea and coffee plantations.