Taman Sari

Top choice palace in Yogyakarta

This once-splendid pleasure park of palaces, pools and waterways, built between 1758 and 1765, functioned as the playground of the sultan and his entourage. It's said that the sultan had the Portuguese architect of this elaborate retreat executed, to keep his hidden pleasure rooms secret. Today the complex is in ruins, damaged by Diponegoro’s Java War and an earthquake in 1865, but enough has been restored to recapture its former glory.

Surrounding Taman Sari is a fascinating residential district of traditional Javanese houses, each of which seems to be vying for the most gorgeous bloom or vine, or for the most vocal songbird. The area is home to a community of around 2000 residents, some of whom have set up shop in their front room, selling crafts or offering coffee and snacks. One enterprising owner requests donations for photographs of an elaborate garden of flowers made from recycled objects.

In the middle of this district, via a labyrinth of small lanes, there's a unique underground mosque with a central open-to-the-sky atrium accessed via an Escher-esque stairway. It's become a popular place for a selfie, and watching locals queue for the privilege of posing on the central stair is part of the experience.