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3 Days in Yogyakarta – Itinerary Tailored by a Local (2024)

What is it that makes people visit Yogyakarta? Three words: Culture, Temples, Adventure.

This 3-day itinerary devotes 1 day to each of them.

Why listen to me? I first went to Jogja (Yogyakarta’s nickname) as a tourist, returned as a traveler 3 years later, and then stayed as a local for 6 months.

I know what you must visit and what people frequently miss out on. I’ve included both the 3 UNESCO heritage sites (Yes, 3!) and the less-known attractions. There are also different options for you to choose from!

Are 3 days enough? Probably not. But if that’s all you have, this 3 days in Yogyakarta itinerary is for you.

The 3 days in Yogyakarta at a Glance

  • Day 1: Culture – the Cosmological axis, the Kraton, Taman Sari, Malioboro, Pasar Beringharjo, Alun Alun Kidul plus Kota Gede or Imogiri;
  • Day 2: Temples – Borobudur, Prambanan, plus a choice of several other ancient temples and a quirky chicken-shaped house of prayer;
  • Day 3: Adventure – A choice between a Jeep Safari on Mount Merapi, rappelling down Goa Jomblang cave, or a ride on the bizarre gondola at Timang Beach with a lobster for dinner. Or all of those in 1 day!

What’s Special About Yogyakarta?

Yogyakarta is administratively a Special Region but this is only because it’s a special city and place to begin with.

It’s still a Sultanate ruled by the monarch Sultan Hamengkobuwono X.

Taman Sari, the Water Castle in Yogyakarta
The gate to Taman Sari

More importantly, it’s the cradle of Javanese civilization with the highest concentration of ancient temples anywhere in Java.

Last but not least, Yogyakarta is a keeper of Islamic traditions on the island and a direct descendant of the Sultanate of Mataram – one of the great political entities in Java.

Day 1: Cultural Yogyakarta

I will assume you have a full first day in Yogyakarta, although it’s often not the case. If your first day is shorter, cut out a part of the itinerary.

Morning, Lunch, and Early Afternoon

Yogyakarta was on the UNESCO tentative list for years before finally being granted full status in September 2023. What exactly is the heritage site?

It’s a straight line of about 6 km. called The Cosmological Axis of Yogyakarta.

The Javanese people have very unorthodox beliefs about the cycle of life and connecting things with imaginary lines. This axis connects two of the most important places for them: the Merapi Volcano and the South Seas.

If you draw a straight line from the crater of Merapi, down to the beach, it will run through Malioboro, the Kraton Palace, both public squares (Alun-alun), and a few gates in the shape of arcs that mark important entrances.

The cosmological axis of Yogyakarta visible on a satelite map with pins for the most important locations
You can clearly see the Cosmological Axis on a satellite map

Most foreigners stay around the Prawirotaman area. If you do too, start your morning from Panggung Krapyak, the south gate of the Cosmological axis. From there, stop at:

  • Plengkung Gading: the gate to the Imperial City. Unfortunately walking on the walls is not possible anymore;
  • Alun-alun Kidul: A big open square where soldiers used to train. Now it’s a popular hangout and snacking spot. Go again in the evening to get some Indonesian snacks and desserts;
  • Taman Sari: Not on the Axis, but a fascinating place nonetheless. That’s the water temple where the Sultans of ages past kept their concubines. Don’t miss the underground mosque!;
  • Kraton: The Royal Palace of Yogyakarta. It’s both an acting royal residence and a museum. Dancing and music performances are held daily;
  • Alun-alun Utara: The northern public square; It’s also a good spot to stop for lunch.
  • Masjid Gedhe Kauman: The Great Mosque of Yogyakarta in traditional Javanese architecture;
  • Museum Sonobudoyo: Most of the Javanese written records are kept in this museum;
  • Titik Nol Kilometer: The center of it all and a popular meeting spot;
  • (Optional) Vredeburg Museum: A museum based in a former Dutch fort dedicated to the Indonesian struggle for independence;
  • Pasar Beringharjo: One of the biggest markets in Yogyakarta. Built in 1926 in Art Deco style;
  • Malioboro Street: The hustle and bustle is on this street. It’s the aorta of Yogyakarta. Walk up all the way to the end for the last stop;
  • Tugu Monument: An ornate monument in the middle of an intersection marking the beginning/end of the walk along the Cosmological Axis.
This map was created with Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android

Late Afternoon and Evening

You’ve ticked off the most important cultural places in Yogyakarta. Now what? Here are your options.

Kampungs

For an afternoon walk, I suggest you pick one of the many kampungs in Jogja: small neighborhoods with winding streets, kids flying kites, and their parents cooking or fishing in the rivers. I love kampungs.

Check out my favorite kampungs in Yogyakarta.

Coffee

If you want a little break from all the walking, pick a cool coffee place to relax for an hour or two. Here are my favorite ones:

Food

Grilled chicken with spicy sambal and delicious mendoan

You can’t go to Yogyakarta and not experience the food culture!

Food is everywhere in Yogyakarta – warung at every corner, angkringan on every street. You don’t need to search a lot to find good food, but here are my top 10 places to eat in Jogja.

You can also visit the Alun-alun Kidul after dark and see how different and lively it becomes with the pedaled neon minibuses (called odong-odong) and the over 100 food stalls.

a neon pedaled minibus at alun-alun kidul
Odong odong at Alun-alun kidul

Check out these too:

Last but not least, if you’re into an organized food tour experience where a local will bring you to all the hidden food places and show you the best food to try, check out this street-food-tasting tour:

More Culture

Do you want an even deeper dive into Javanese culture? Something older, maybe a bit occult?

I have two suggestions: Kota Gedhe and Imogiri.

Kota Gedhe was the first capital of Mataram. It had its own cosmological axis that connected Merapi to the South Seas. It was well-preserved until the big earthquake in 2006. Restoration works brought back some of the important sites.

Masjid Kotagede
Masjid Kotagede

The Masjid Gedhe Mataram with its cemetery is still standing, welcoming pilgrims and curious visitors.

Imogiri on the other hand is the acting royal cemetery of both the Yogyakarta and Surakarta royal families. It’s a deeply spiritual place, especially Sultan Agung’s tomb. Read about my visit to Imogiri.

Other things

If these suggestions are not good enough for you, here are even more things to do in Yogyakarta!

Day 2: Temples and Ancient History

On day 2, we will go out of Yogyakarta to visit the two other UNESCO heritage sites: the temples Borobudur and Prambanan.

Borobudur Temple is a must visit if you stay 3 days in Yogyakarta
Borobudur Temple is part of any Yogyakarta itinerary

Without going into too much detail, the ideal day 2 involves an early wake-up with sunrise at or near Borobudur, a flexible program for midday (several other ancient temples), and sunset at Prambanan, followed by a Ramayana ballet performance near the temple grounds.

I have specific articles on each of these to help you plan ahead:

I also have a very detailed guide on how to visit Borobudur and Prambanan in 1 day using only public transportation. If that’s not for you, take a look at these tours that will organize a private transport for you:

Day 3: Adventure!

The awesome thing about Yogyakarta is that after all the cultural and historical places and all the ancient temples, there are still ways to escape to nature and do something exciting. Very, very near!

There are beaches, volcanoes, caves, pine forests, lookouts, and rice fields to choose from. You can easily spend a full week in Yogyakarta and have exciting new places to visit every day.

Three experiences trump the others:

  • A jeep ride on the slopes of Mount Merapi;
  • Rappel down Goa Jomblang cave;
  • Take the hand-drawn cable car on Timang Beach and have fresh lobsters for dinner.

Mount Merapi Jeep Safari

Jeep on a Merapi Lava Tour

Mount Merapi is one of the most active volcanoes not just in Indonesia but in the entire world!

How about a jeep ride up its slopes and the chance to see lava coming out of the crater? Yes, it is possible!

The jeep safari will bring you to a museum about Merapi and its eruptions over the years. You will visit villages directly affected by the eruptions in 2010. Your guide will bring you to the best Instagram spots for pictures and bragging rights.

Combine all of this with a lot of adrenaline from riding in an open-air 4×4 jeep!

It’s not something you can do independently, so here’s the tour I recommend:

A Dive Inside Goa Jomblang

Light rays inside Goa Jomblang

Goa Jomblang is not an ordinary cave. Rather, it’s a sinkhole that collapsed ages ago forming a deep hole in the ground.

The bottom is so isolated that the vegetation there is markedly different from the one above ground.

On the tour, you will get rappeled 90 meters down just before noon and do what locals call “the muddly walk” for 20-30 minutes. When you turn around you will be able to watch the sun shoot a single ray down.

You can visit Jomblang Cave alone but it’s difficult. Public transport to it is non-existent and entrance to the cave requires prior booking. An organized tour is strongly recommended. Here’s the one I recommend:

Timang Beach

Hand-drawn gondola at Timang Beach

Out of the many beaches on Yogyakarta’s south coast, two stand out but for different reasons.

The first one is Parangtritis Beach, considered to be the home of the legendary Kanjeng Ratu Kidul (the Queen of the South Seas). Remember how the Cosmological Axis ends at the South Seas? That’s why.

The second notable beach is Timang Beach. Here the reason is not mythological but rather scenery-wise and a bit of engineering.

At Timang Beach there is a hand-drawn gondola that will take you to the nearby rocky island. It’s an odd place unlike anything else I’ve seen.

To end the day, you can get some fresh lobster for dinner at the beach. If you’re lucky, you will see it caught in directly front of you (and if you aren’t, it’s still the fresh catch of the day)!

Since Goa Jomblang is on the way over from Yogyakarta, most tours combine the two. Coming solo is only viable with a scooter as there’s no public transport.

Here is the combo tour I recommend:

How about all 3 in one day?

Yes, that’s right! It is possible to do the Merapi Jeep Tour, Goa Jomblang, and Timang Beach in just 1 day. Since that’s all you have, this tour is PERFECT for travelers with limited time.

And given the amount of places you will visit, the price is more than fair!

More Experiences and Tours in Yogyakarta

If the previous 3 didn’t appeal to you, I have this list of the best tours and experiences around Yogyakarta. They include both adrenaline-heavy adventures and slow, peaceful activities too.

Where to Next?

If you’re going east, your next stops could be either:

If you’re going west, your next stops could be:

Check out my full 14-day itinerary for Java for even more ideas.

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