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Top Things to Do in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Activities, Entertainment, and Eating Out in Central Java's Cultural Capital

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Not much further than an overnight train ride from Jakarta, the historic Central Java, Indonesia city of Yogyakarta serves as a repository for Javanese high culture and history. A special region that is still ruled by a Sultan in the present day, Yogyakarta is a living museum for Indonesian crafts, cuisine, architecture, and performance. The activities in this list only scratch the surface of the things you can do when visiting Yogyakarta; read up and plan a Yogyakarta itinerary of your own.

Visit the Yogyakarta Sultan's palace

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The ruling monarch of Yogyakarta, Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, reigns from a palace, or Kraton, located in the middle of the city. The Kraton serves as a religious and cultural center for the locals: religious processions wind through the Kraton to the nearby Masjid Gede Kauman on special feast days, open-air festivals are held on the Alun-Alun Utara field next to the palace, and daily cultural performances are conducted at the Bangsal Sri Manganti within the Kraton.

The "Palace" may not be as grand as the royal residences you'll find in Thailand or in Europe, but the buildings are rich in symbolism: the tour guide you're required to hire at the gate will prove extremely helpful in untangling the legends and symbols associated with the Sultan and his sprawling residence.

For more information on the place, read our article on the Yogyakarta Kraton, or look at our list of museums and attractions near the Kraton.

See batik being made

Image © Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

Yogyakarta's batik industry is rooted in the city's long artisanal history, associated with the presence and blessings of the Sultan. Thus the city's batik makers are located close to the city center, with a number of workshops located south of the Taman Sari. Many batik shops have a shop front, with the doors of the workshops in the rear remaining wide open for visitors who want to see how the colorful fabric patterns are made.

Your guide visited Luwes Putra Batik & Handicraft (Jl. Mongkoyudan No. 45; tel: +65 274 369023), which sells a wide variety of batik fabrics. The prices are fixed, but the look into the batik-making process is enlightening: you get a guided tour with some hands-on experience, from laying lines of hot wax onto the fabric to soaking the fabric into the dye.

Eat the city's favorite meal: gudeg

Image © Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

Yogyakarta has long been known as "gudeg city", and it behooves you to try this savory dish before you leave. Gudeg is jackfruit meat stewed in coconut milk, spices, and palm sugar, then served with hard-boiled egg, edible cow skin (krecek), and rice. It's hearty and it keeps well: visitors from elsewhere in Indonesia often order gudeg for take-home, then bring the package all the way to their hometown to share with friends or family back home.

The best gudeg eateries can be found at Sentra Gudeg Wijilan, east of Alun-Alun Utara along Jalan Wijilan near the Kraton. For a more upscale gudeg experience, visit Bu Tjitro (Jalan Janti 330, tel: +62 274 564 734), a cozy family-style restaurant located across from Jogja Expo Center.

Visit a silver workshop

Image © Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

As with Yogyakarta's batik trade, the silver industry in the city is linked to its long history of artisanship in the service of the Sultan. To see Jogja's silver artists in action, visit Kota Gede, about 2 miles southeast of Jalan Malioboro, accessible by bus or becak.

The area's main street, Jalan Kemasan, is heavily populated with silver workshops turning out fine filigreed silver craft and jewelry. (Look out for their silver-crafted miniatures, like the silver Harley pictured at left.) As with the batik shops, some silver shops allow visitors to look at the silver being crafted by artisans.

While you're in the area, visit the Royal Cemetery, the burial place of Mataram Kings who established their capital in Kota Gede in the 1500s. As the Cemetery is a religious place of pilgrimage, conservative clothing is required for visitors.

Watch a cultural performance

Image © Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

Jogjakarta's the perfect place to get your fill of Java's culture. The daily cultural performances at the Kraton (see above) let you schedule a show on any day within your visit. You can also watch a show at a diverse number of venues throughout the city: some silver shops offer a wayang performance on the side, allowing you to get your cultural and shopping fix in a single place.

The Ramayana also serves as the basis for a number of shows around the city - try seeing the Ramayana at the Prambanan grounds. For the show schedule, check out their official site. For the basic plot of the Ramayana as performed elsewhere in Indonesia, read our article on the kecak dance in Bali.

Ride a becak around Yogyakarta

Image © Mark Tafoya/Remarkable Palate - used with permission

From the Kraton or around Jalan Malioboro, you can hire a becak (rickshaw) to take you around the historic part of town, or just to get from place to place. The fare is cheap - as cheap as $1 per trip - and the ride is a rush, as passengers are positioned in front of the driver, so you are completely exposed to the oncoming traffic.

One downside to riding the local rickshaws: becak drivers are often working on commission from the shops in the area, and will constantly attempt detours to these shops, in the hopes of your buying from these places, and them getting a cut.

Go shopping at Jalan Malioboro

Image © Java Tourism / Creative Commons

Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street) is Yogyakarta's center for cheap shopping - a whole street lined with stalls selling batiks, silver, and mass-produced souvenirs. Start at Beringharjo market and proceed down the street to check out each stall's wares. The batiks along Malioboro are particularly worth checking out.

The street is one of Yogyakarta's main thoroughfares - in olden times, Malioboro used to be a ceremonial avenue for the Sultan to parade through on the way to and from the Kraton. The place is still steeped in history, with a number of historic buildings standing along its length. Fort Vredenburg, the State Guest House, the Central Post Office, and Yogyakarta's oldest hotel (the Inna Garuda, formerly the Garuda Hotel - compare prices), all magnificent examples of Dutch colonial architecture.

Visit Central Java's many ancient temples

Image © Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

The land surrounding Yogyakarta has long been the seat of empire. Traces of the ancient Hindu and Buddhist empires that once ruled Java can still be found nearby, from the jigsaw-puzzle Prambanan Temple to the magnificent Borobudur stupa, some 40 minutes away from Yogyakarta by car.

While in Yogyakarta, visit a few other temples off the beaten path, like the Plaosan temple complex (located near Prambanan), the Sambisari temple, and the somewhat dangerous Dieng Plateau and its Hindu temples.

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