A guide to Jakarta, the surprisingly beautiful and interesting capital of Indonesia!

After being in Manila directly before coming to Jakarta, a city we had mixed feelings about, somewhere overcrowded with traffic, poverty, inequality, grime and crime, we expected much the same in Jakarta. Though there were shades of similarities, being huge sprawling cities with unregulated development, traffic jams and chaos, we found Jakarta to be surprisingly interesting for the few days we spent here planning our Indonesian adventure! Here’s our places to visit in Jakarta if you happen to pass through!

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A strange and surprising city!

A sprawling city of over 28 million residents in the greater Jakarta region it is one of the largest and most populous cities in the world. The hasty development of the city outgrowing the speed in which infrastructure can keep up leaves it hard to navigate both on foot and on the chaotic public transport. However the city is developing, changing, modernising.

There are huge apartment and office blocks, malls, restaurants, bars and nightclubs  much like any other large city around the world. Of course poverty exists here but it isn’t as shocking or as extreme as the inner city shanty towns and slums of Manila where you feel the people are largely ignored. The contrasting cultures of Dutch colonial architecture with the Islamic Indonesia we find today create an interesting city to spend a few days exploring and definitely worth the stop over, here are our best places to visit in Jakarta. 

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Places to visit in Jakarta

Take a crazy ride through the streets in a rickshaw!

Jakarta has some crazy traffic, some day some of the worst in the world! Personally we though the traffic over in Manila was marginally worse but Jakarta can be a nightmare to navigate! One of the most fun and convenient ways to get around this is by jumping in one of the unique Jakarta rickshaws. Be sure to negotiate a price before hand and then enjoy as you are whisked around the city, down back streets and alley ways, weaving in and out of the traffic and getting to your destination via the quickest route! You can even organise a city tour with these guys too so you can take in all the places to visit in Jakarta in one!

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Visit the huge National Monument

The centre of the city and the main area to stop by as a visitor and one of the top places to visit in Jakarta. This area feels much more suited to recreational use and pedestrian access than much of the city containing and park and plenty of open space. The centre is of course the huge National Monument standing 137 metre/ 450ft high obelisk with a flame sculpture covered with 50 kilograms of solid gold foil at the top! This was built to celebrate Indonesian independence and there is a strong sense of pride surrounding it. You can even climb to the top for views over the city, though on the day we visited it was a little too hazy to see anything! The presidential palace is also along here and looks quite like the White House, though getting up close is much harder! 

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See the contrasting Istiqlal Mosque and The Catholic Cathedral

Another prime example of the blending together of cultures and history of Jakarta is the two main religious buildings that stand across the road from each other. The Istiqlal Mosque is the largest in South East Asia and was opened in 1978. Despite being typical of the modern Mosques built in this era, in that is it quite blocky and not the most photogenic, it is an important structure to the people of the most highly populated Islamic country on earth. The national Mosque is named “Istiqlal” which means independence and was built in celebration of the newly formed Indonesia. 

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Directly across the road from the Mosque is the Jakarta Cathedral which today is much quieter than its neighbour. Consecrated in 1901 it was built by the Christian Dutch colonial on the site of a much older church dating back to 1829 which had collapsed. An interesting couple of places to visit in Jakarta. 

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Take in the European and lively Old Town or Old Batavia

My favourite area of the city has to be the lively Old Town, here you would be forgiven for thinking you had stepped through a portal back into Europe. Often in large Asian (and American!) cities they lack the design and layout that characterises a European old town such as having large squares designed as a focal point and centre for people to meet. For me the best of the places to visit in Jakarta!

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Here it reminded me very much of the town squares in Lithuania, Latvia, Czech republic, Poland to name a few, a large open area flanked by many wonderful old buildings. People gather here especially in the evenings and it become a hub of live music, cafe culture, teens catching up with their freinds, kids playing and people chatting. A real charming area and an interesting insight into the colonial past of the city.

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Explore the many historic museums

Around the area of the Old Town of Jakarta there are many grand old buildings than now play home to museums. They include the National Museum, Jakarta History Museum, the museum of Fine arts and many more. These are mostly centred around the cultural heart of the city and many other amazing examples of the cities varied and historical architecture.

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Try the local food from one of the cheap Padangs

During our time in Indonesia we became a little obsessed with the humble Padang and the delicious Nasi Perkadel they served up for hardly anything! Indonesia as a general rule is pretty cheap even for the region. But head into one of the local “Pandangs” and you will eat amazing local food for pennies! The name comes from the Padang region of the country but they are now widespread throughout all of the Indonesian islands. Here you are served up food that is set out on several plates usually in the shop window alongside rice (nasi). You can choose from a variety of different dishes but as vegetarians we loved the Perkadel which is like a potato cake and the jackfruit curry and also the egg curry. Generally for the two of us it would cost around 20-30,000 Rupiah, that’s around £1.50 / $2.00!

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Have you ever visited Jakarta, what were your impressions or best places to visit in Jakarta?

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INDONESIA

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.
  • Jakarta is an own kind place to go and have a wonderful great time time there.