Yogyakarta, a monarchy in the Republic of Indonesia
Yogyakarta is one of the main cities in Indonesia and is this independent country’s cultural capital. It’s in the centre of Java, in the Special Region of Yogyakarta. Surprisingly, the region is governed by a monarchy, the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, which continues to exist and is recognised by the Republic of Indonesia.
Yogyakarta is an essential stop on any trip to the country. The birthplace of civilization in Java, it has a long historical and cultural legacy and the region is packed with wonderful temples and impressive natural settings – it’s well worth spending several days exploring the city and surrounding area.
- History of the city
- What to see in Yogyakarta
- What to see nearby: Borobudur and Prambanan
- Where to eat in Yogyakarta
- Where to stay in Yogyakarta
History of the city
The origins of Yogyakarta are intricately linked to the creation of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in 1756. Central Java had previously been part of the Kingdom of Mataram but a civil war broke out between members of the royal family, who disagreed on the role that the Dutch should play in their former colony.
During the conflict, Sultan Hamengkubuwono defeated his brother and took the region for himself, creating the new Kingdom of Yogyakarta. Today, it’s the only kingdom to remain in the Republic of Indonesia. The city always fought hard to free the country from Dutch control until it finally became independent in 1945. In fact, it was briefly made the capital of the new country.
Culture and education have always had an important place in Yogyakarta and the first university in Indonesia was founded here. Today, it’s the country’s cultural capital.
What to see in Yogyakarta
As we mentioned above, Yogyakarta has a rich history with a powerful cultural legacy and exciting street life. Here are the essential places to visit on your trip to the city.
Beringharjo Market (Pasar Beringharjo in Indonesian) is the main market and an important tourist attraction in the city. It’s in Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street), one of the biggest and liveliest thoroughfares. Browse its stands and be delighted by a sea of exotic fruit, food, clothes, souvenirs and antiques.
The Sultan’s Palace
Yogyakarta is a monarchy within a republic; the city is part of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta which was created in 1755. The official residence of the sultan and his entourage is the Kraton, or Sultan’s Palace, a palace complex in the heart of the city and one of its most visited attractions.
The palace is one-part royal residence and one-part open to the public with rooms and exhibition areas where you can learn more about the culture of Java. It was built between 1755 and 1756 and has European-inspired halls, courtyards and pavilions.
The Water Castle (Taman Sari) was formerly the sultan’s garden and a leisure area used by the monarch for relaxation and enjoyment among the company of his women and concubines. This colonial-style complex had various pools and buildings with different functions, including rest, meditation and protection of the sultan.
Much of the Water Castle was destroyed during the 1812 British invasion and 1867 earthquake. Today, the only well-conserved part is the bathhouse complex.
The Sumur Gumuling or underground mosque is inside the Water Castle and is a circular underground building that was used as a mosque within the palace. It has five staircases that connect the different levels and symbolise the principles of Islam, and two mihrab that indicate the direction of Mecca. This unusual mosque has a deep sense of mystery and symbolism.
Sosrowijayan Street is famous for its lively atmosphere and cheap accommodation for backpackers. It’s close to the train station and Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street). Here you’ll find guides, motor scooter hire, rickshaws, currency exchange and even batik workshops, the famous fabric dying technique from Java.
What to see nearby: Borobudur and Prambanan
Two big attractions in Yogyakarta region are the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, which are two of the most important religious sites in Indonesia. They are both essential places to visit.
Borobudur temple is just over an hour north-east of Yogyakarta and is famous for being the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It has a surprising, highly characteristic structure that delights and surprises all who visit.
Prambanan temple is around 40 minutes east of Yogyakarta and is the biggest Hindu temple in Indonesia. It’s actually a complex of 200 temples that began to be built in the 9th century – this spectacular place never fails to impress.
Where to eat in Yogyakarta
Below we’ve made a list of some of the best restaurants in Yogyakarta where you can sample delicious Javanese cooking at reasonable prices. Get ready to make notes!
- The House of Raminten: this restaurant is popular with locals and visitors alike. Traditional Indonesian dishes at great prices, it’s a must on your visit to Yogyakarta.
- Canting: if you’d prefer something a bit more upmarket, try Canting. Set on a roof terrace, dishes on this restaurant’s menu blend Indonesian and international flavours.
- Gudeg Pawon: one of the best places to try gudeg, a typical Yogyakarta and Central Java dish.
- Mang Engking Soragan Castle: does eating in a castle take your fancy? This surprising place is famous for its grilled king prawns with honey and other seafood dishes.
- Joglo Mlati: this joglo house (a typical Javanese home) has been converted into a charming restaurant. An authentic foodie experience that takes you to the heart of local culture.
Where to stay in Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is a backpacker’s paradise and you’ll find countless guest houses and hostels if you’re after budget accommodation. Sosrowijayan Street has the largest number of options in this category. If you’re older, there are also modern four- and five-star hotels, many belonging to international chains.
In fact, Barceló Hotels now has a hotel in Indonesia in the capital, Jakarta: The Orient Jakarta is a five-star luxury hotel and member of The Leading Hotels of the World group.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get to Yogyakarta?
Yogyakarta is in the centre of Java, roughly 550 km from the capital, Jakarta. Trains run between the two cities and the journey takes about eight hours. There is also an international airport.
What is there to see in Yogyakarta?
Don’t miss the Sultan’s Palace, the Water Castle and taking a stroll along Malioboro Street.
What is there to visit around Yogyakarta?
The temples of Borobudur and Prambanan are essential sights on your trip and both are near to Yogyakarta.