In a country of over 17,000 islands, a whole spectrum of religions and a unique blend of cultural influences, Jakarta marks the beating heart of Indonesia! Visiting this overpopulated city usually marks the beginning or end of many travels’ Indonesian adventures, and luckily there are plenty of extraordinary sites to explore.
From quirky museums to national monuments and colonial relics, there are more than a few ways to learn about the city’s complex history and vibrant culture. So, in that case, let’s take a look at some of the best things to see in Jakarta!
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Standing proudly in the centre of the city, Monas Tower has become an iconic symbol of Jakarta and Indonesia alike! The monumental structure symbolises the country’s struggle for independence against their Dutch colonials. Thus, the national monument holds a special place in the heart of the Indonesian people.
The tower stands in the centre of Merdeka Square (merdeka meaning freedom) and is surrounded on all sides by a myriad of other worthwhile sites (some of which we’ll get to later). To get a better look at these spectacular surroundings, there’s no better place than the top of the tower itself!
Though there are plenty of fascinating sites to see in Jakarta, one of the best highlights is found just outside the city.
The Thousand Islands are a chain of tranquil beaches, secluded coves and luxury resorts spread across a gorgeous archipelago. While some offer an opportunity to escape civilization, others are home to a myriad of restaurants and opulent resorts which provide some wonderful getaways.
Boat tours will drop you off from one island to the next which allows you to enjoy the full spectrum of what the islands have to offer.
In the cultural melting pot that is Indonesia, the country’s vast spectrum of cultural ideals and religious beliefs is best represented here in the capital. Of the many religions practised in Indonesia, Islam is by far the most prominent, and as such, there are some spectacular mosques to be found!
Constructed in 1978, Istiqlal Mosque is in fact the largest mosque in Southeast Asia with a capacity of up to 200,000 worshippers at any one time. That’s twice as much as Wembley stadium!!
Outside of prayer times, non-Muslims are more than welcome to visit. While inside, you’ll be able to marvel at the beautiful Islamic iconography scattered amongst the marble courtyards and numerous water features.
Across Indonesia’s long and tumultuous history, many of those years were spent under Dutch rule. During that time, Jakarta became a major centre for the infamous Dutch East India trading company. They established the first walled settlement in the city in the region known as Old Town Batavia, which was once dubbed “The Jewel of Asia“ by 16th-century sailors.
Once the trading company fell into bankruptcy in 1799, the area was soon abandoned. Fortunately, since then, the local government worked to preserve the few remaining colonial buildings and revitalise the area as a living museum.
As much as you’d want to, you could never see everything Indonesia has to offer. But don’t fret, Jakarta has provided the next best thing!
Taman Mini Indonesia gives a brief crash course into the country’s biggest highlights and cultural phenomenons! The park is arranged according to province and includes models of traditional homes exhibits on local traditions, costumes, and the diverse ways of life across the islands. There’s also a theatre which will give you a live-action demonstration of each province’s culture
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As Jakarta stretches all the way to the northern coast, the city also boasts plenty of picturesque beaches to see. Of the many ones to choose from, Ancol Beach should be your first choice!
Located 12 km from the city centre, the beach forms part of the greater Ancol Jakarta Bay City, a purpose-built recreation park which acts as a one-stop-shop for entertainment and relaxation.
Not only does it have a pristine strip of golden sand, but it also has a couple of nearby swimming pools, a Sea World and a water park too. It also has several shopping complexes, malls and a few decent restaurants on offer. It’s the perfect little getaway!
Spread over 1 km, this monumental square is the point at which the city gravitates around. It’s so vast that it dwarves the size of Tiananmen Square in Beijing and rivals that of Times Square in New York!
Monas Tower stands as the talisman in its centre, while many of the city’s best highlights are also found along its perimeter, including the National Museum and Merdeka Palace. Speaking of which…
Right on the edge of Merdeka Square stands Jakarta’s greatest museum and one of the oldest too! The immense collection of relics and artefacts within paints an extraordinary picture of Indonesia’s long and storied history and cultural heritage.
Amongst the museum’s many different galleries are some fascinating pieces of Hindu-Buddhist artwork, treasure troves of golden artefacts, and even a few prehistoric fossils and ceremonial weaponry. If you only have time for one museum, this should be it!
Istana Merdeka (Merdeka Palace)
On another edge of Merdeka Square is the equally opulent presidential palace! Not only is Istana Merdeka the home of the current president but it also holds an immense historical significance to Indonesia.
In 1949 the nation witnessed the Dutch flag finally being lowered and replaced by the red and white flag of an independent Indonesia. The beginning of this new age was witnessed by thousands who all came to chant “merdeka” or freedom.
Shopping in Menteng
Amongst locals of the booming capital city, shopping is one of the favoured pastimes, and there are plenty of places to do just that! The administrative centre of Menteng has been a favourite for centuries, and even plays host to some of Indonesia’s biggest celebs!
The district is mostly renowned for its flea markets which stretch for entire city blocks! Inside you’ll find plenty of arts and crafts, textiles, antiques and of course a myriad of amazing snacks to sample. Oh, and don’t forget to haggle, it’s expected!
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In a city of incredible diversity, one of the best-preserved communities is found within Jakarta’s Chinatown. Known as Glodak among the locals, the area was first established by Chinese immigrants who arrived in Jakarta in the 17th Century. In fact, it’s one of the largest Chinatowns anywhere in the world!
The amazing traditional architecture, markets, temples, and amazing food make it a worthwhile detour. Not to mention the peculiar medicine stores that include a range of odd remedies, including dried frogs!
Jin De Yuan (Vihara Dharma Bhakti)
Whilst walking amongst the streets of Chinatown, it’s worth checking out the city’s most important Chinese temple. Though you might have 140 others to choose from, this is by far the oldest!
Originally built in 1650 by a Chinese lieutenant, the Taoist temple is treasured by the city’s Buddhist community. Once inside, visitors will be treated to plenty of intricate designs, ornate ceremonials bells and a collection of ancient calligraphy.
National Gallery of Indonesia
Yet another museum surrounding Merdeka Square, the National Gallery of Indonesia stands as the pinnacle exhibit of art the country has to offer.
Within the museum are 2,000 pieces of Indonesian artwork ranging from regional pieces to different creative styles. There is also a separate section dedicated to foreign collections including paintings, ceramics, photographs, and sculptures.
Jakarta War Cemetery
Though Europe and the Pacific are remembered as the theatres of World War II, Indonesia also fell victim to the tragedy.
The country was invaded by the Japanese who then ruled the country with an iron fist. Hence, the series of islands became battlegrounds where Indonesians fought alongside Britons and the Dutch to protect their country. Many years later, the War Cemetery was established to house the graves of those who gave their life for Indonesia’s freedom.
Sunda Kelapa Port
Jakarta wouldn’t be what you see today if it wasn’t for the all-important Sunda Kelapa Port! This harbour became the main conduit through which the colonials and worldwide traders would come to purchase exotic spices. The most prized item was pepper, which became the Sunda Kingdom’s main commodity and financed Jakarta’s success!
Though the harbour is no longer the city’s main port, it stands as a reminder of the role it once played! The waterways have been decorated with ornate and vibrant ships, much as they would have looked many centuries ago!
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Who knew that one of Indonesia’s most prized cultural traditions would be hand-made puppets! And good news for you, there’s no better place to learn about this unique tradition than at Museum Wayang!
Inside are a collection of fearsome masks and wooden puppets that help detail the history and culture of the art form. Along with the collections of dolls collected from across the world, the museum is also a place where you can train in the art yourself! It’s certainly one of the quirkiest sites to see in Jakarta!
Taman Anggrek Mall
In a city of shopping-lovers, the city has answered all locals’ store-related prayers with the monstrous Taman Anggrek Mall. The mall is said to have 10,000 visitors per day and is one of the biggest in Southeast Asia!
You’ll find an array of shops suitable for all tastes and budgets. You’ll also be able to find numerous cafes, eateries and even its own ice-skating rink!!
After a day’s worth of exploring and shopping, there’s no better way to end the day than with a quiet little drink. Even better when you’re able to enjoy one on a rooftop that overlooks the city!
Though there are plenty of places to choose from, your first choice should be Awan Lounge at the top of the Kosenda Hotel. Sitting amongst the gentle lights of the rooftop bar as you see out across the cityscape really puts the cherry on the Jakarta cake!
In one of the most populated cities in the world, there are plenty of little oases scattered in between to escape the hustle and bustle! Of these fascinating parks, Taman Suropati is one of the best delights.
This brief strip of greenery finds itself in a culturally important part of town and looks out over a plethora of colonial-style bungalows from the 1920s. There’s also a nearby art market worth checking out that has a range of local pieces.
In the cultural melting-pot that is Jakarta, even the Christian religion is well represented alongside the other major religions. Built in 1901, it serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic in Indonesia.
Stepping inside brings you to the other side of the globe with a scattering of unmistakable European designs. However, the most iconic design feature is the peculiar white spirals atop the cathedral that make it stand out over any of its European counterparts!
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A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.