We had only a week to spend in Java, not much time for a trip halfway around the world. So we concentrated on Yogyakarta and Surakarta and carved out a great itinerary if you have limited time. Here is my recommendation for a week in central Java.
Plan on staying four days in Yogya. We spent two roaming around the city. The Keraton, the Sultan's Palace, occupies the better part of one. Built in the 18th century, it is a huge complex housing a walled city within a city, and some 25,000 people. The luxurious pavillions and courtyards contain a living museum, one in which the current Sultan still resides. The architecture, the history, and the culture frequently represented in live gamelan players and Javanese dances make for a fascinating day. A second day can be spent simply roaming the city. We are great urban walkers and were quite comfortable exploring the backroads of much of Yogya.
For the remaining two days, plan on getting out of the city. We visited the Dieng Plateau and Borobudur on a long day-trip. It was the only way we could squeeze them both in, but the time did neither justice. The Dieng Plateau is out of the way, but I regard it as a must stop. Admittedly there is not much to the remaining ruins, although our guide took us to one farmer's house who had just unearthed a sizable monument and parked it in his living room (or Javanese equivalent). The landscape at 9,000 feet is fascinating, and were I to do it over again, I would find a guide to take me on an extended walk into the hills, overnight if possible.
Borobudur is of course miraculous. You could spend a full day there and visiting nearby sites, if you have the time. After all, it is a 5-kilometer walk if you want to circumambulate all the levels and observe the 1500 panels depicting Bhuddist doctrine.
Prambanan can occupy your final day. Starting from the central Loro Jonggrang complex, you can take a good walk to some of the outlier ruins. You will pass thousands of blocks and carved stone figures in your wanderings. If you like a good jigsaw puzzle. . . think about moving - you will have found your life's work.
If you have a couple more days, move on to Surakarta, Solo for short. This city seemed to us a bit more relaxed than Yogya, but there is plenty to entertain you on a day wandering around - including a rival Sultan's palace. For a day trip out of town, we chose a couple hours walk from the Sukuh Temple to Tawangmangu. We hired a driver to drop us at the Temple. After an hour exploring, we began our trek along a well-worn path through a terraced countryside. Although the walk is not far off the beaten path, it gave us a good glimpse of daily life in rural Indonesia. About three hours later, we landed at Grojogan Sewu, a waterfall by the hill town of Tawangmangu. As this was the weekend, the place was swarming with Javanese on a day off. We spent a good hour searching for our driver, who had agreed to meet us there and take us back to Solo. If you make this trip, identify a restaurant or guest house for the rendevous.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication