The two main attractions in the area are Borobudur and Prambanan. I’ll cover each of those in more detail on separate posts.
The main drag is Malioboro St. This is downtown if you will. It runs for a few blocks from the train station all the way south until it ends at a big park. The street is crowded with the main attractions being shopping and street food. You can walk the length of the street in about 30 mins and you’ll see all kinds of stalls selling the same touristy stuff. If you enjoy haggling, this is the place for you. However, if not, there is a store at the far end called hamzah that is a large souvenir shop that doesn’t require any haggling. You’ll be able to find anything you want there along with some fairly cheap batik clothing. There are stores all selling batik here but just be warned that you really get what you pay for here. Real batik is handmade and probably start in the 300K range and only goes up. There’s nothing wrong with the cheaper clothing but just expect the colors to fade as well the material to shrink after the first wash. Sure, items are cheaper here but don’t expect high quality for $5.
Nearby, you can also visit the Water Palace as well as the mosque. Again, going during the week is key because of how crowded it gets Luckily it’s fairly cheap to get a ticket (15K I think?) which gives access to both. It’s a nice way to kill an hour if needed but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit it if I had to do it over again. The mosque isn’t really worth is (more so because of the crowds) but to be honest, finding its location is half the fun. I didn’t notice any signage to suggest where it was and I ended up asking a local for directions. You might also try to find a tour guide that’s leading a fairly large group and just follow them there. If you’re trying to get the optimal photo, you’ll have to be extremely lucky since I don’t know how you’ll be able to be there when no one is around. My only guess is to go right before it closes and maybe bribe the person at the entrance after everyone leaves.
One final note about Malioboro. I understand the desire to stay near here because this is where all the action is. It’s also going to be a huge pain to get in and out of your hotel here. The street is so crowded with cars and people that it really could become a nuisance. I thought taking a cab to/from my hotel there was worth it and it cost about 20 – 50K each way (if you can, use Indonesia’s version of Uber). Another option is to go into the tourist office and ask them to order an Uber for you vs. trying to flag down a taxi. The tourist office is right in the middle of the street so you can’t miss it and the people there are so nice and helpful it really shames any tourist booth I’ve ever visited in the US. The bus stop is also right in front of the office so you can take it to Prambanan if you wish.