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 over crowded 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 thought 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 beforehand and then enjoy as you are whisked around the city, down back streets and alleyways, 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/ 450 ft 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 Southeast 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 friends, kids playing and people chatting. A real charming area and an interesting insight into the colonial past of the city, also if you’re wondering where the best areas in Jakarta are to stay in then this is the ideal neighbourhood.

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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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21 thoughts on “A guide to Jakarta, the surprisingly beautiful and interesting capital of Indonesia!

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1 parent" id="comment-4427">

    The national monuement has such an interesting base. Is there a story behind the use of an inverted pyramid?

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4430">

      It apparently is based off both a pestle and mortar as well as representing fertility!

    li class="comment even thread-odd thread-alt depth-1 parent" id="comment-4426">

    I have been curious about Jakarta, as I have only been to Bali and nowhere else in Indonesia. The Old Town with the European influences sound like a lovely place to visit. The food would also be a highlight for me. I would be happy to spend a couple of days here.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4431">

      It’s such a different experience to Bali. Of course, it’s not the same sort of trip either but I think it gives a good rounded picture on Indonesia to visit the capital for a couple of days too.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1 parent" id="comment-4425">

    So many people. in one city.. close to the entire population of Canada!!! I think I would head straight to the lively Old Town. I need to return to Indonesia one day and experience more of the country. I might have to consider a day or 2 in Jakarta!

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4429">

      I know, it’s totally crazy and chaotic but it’s an experience for sure. I think a couple of day just to see it and see this side of the country is perfect. Also lots of other places to visit on Java so it’s a good base to start from.

    li class="comment even thread-odd thread-alt depth-1 parent" id="comment-4418">

    What an interesting mix of colonial and islamic architecture! I would also go for the food in a padang, it looks like a great way to get local food!

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4419">

      It’s a really interesting place once you really look at it and get past the stereotype.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1 parent" id="comment-4417">

    I visited Jakarta for a short 2-day visit, and really enjoyed the Old Town of Jakarta. Lovely buildings, nice atmosphere, great to see people going about their daily life. But Jakarta traffic… I don’t think I have ever seen such bumper-to-bumper stuck for hours situation anywhere else! Just insane!

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4432">

      Yeah the old town is really quite nice to visit and it’s an interesting city for sure. The traffic is insane for sure, we just walked for our bus, no way we were waiting in that!! Manila is comparable though!!

    li class="comment even thread-odd thread-alt depth-1 parent" id="comment-4416">

    I have heard from so many folks to avoid Jakarta simply due to the crush of humanity … but your post has me thinking I might need to spend a day or two just to experience the “crush” … albeit from the relative safety of a Jakarta rickshaw. That sounds like the only way to travel in the city.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4420">

      Yeah very true and I can understand why, but having the opportunity to explore as we had to transit through there was a real eye opening experience and worthwhile if you have the time.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1 parent" id="comment-4415">

    I have to admit, Jakata is not on my list of travel plans or top things I want to do in the future as my thought of the city is that it’s just another business city with lots of people and pollution and I would rather go to other islands and check out the nature, beaches, wildlife etc. You kinda have lightened up the place for me, so if I was in the area, I would probably now check it out.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4421">

      Yes I can understand why and if you are pushed for time I can see why you wouldn’t make the effort, but having seen stuck there in transit for a few days it was an eye opening experience and if you like seeing local culture then it’s interesting.

    li class="comment even thread-odd thread-alt depth-1 parent" id="comment-4414">
    The Holidaymaker | Renee

    28 million people! No wonder traffic and driving is as hectic as it is! I love the European influences on some of the architecture. You referenced a Dutch influence, that is interesting. I would love to explore this, I am just not sure about all the people. Are there places close by to escape to the countryside?

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4422">

      Ha ha, yes it’s a pretty intense place but also quite different in parts too and mostly because of that influence. I’m not sure as we stayed here a few days waiting for a bus to a more rural part of the country.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1 parent" id="comment-4413">

    Thank you for an introduction to Jakarta. I am sure a city with 28 million people would make getting around chaotic. We always love to visit different kinds of churches. Great to be able to see both a Cathedral and a Mosque in close proximity. So very different in architecture. Finding the local foods for cheap prices will definitely be on our plan.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4423">

      Yeah it’s a chaotic place for sure but it does have it’s quieter areas and a lot of that is in those places with colonial or religious architecture. It’s really fascinating actually seeing a place like this first hand.

    li class="comment even thread-odd thread-alt depth-1 parent" id="comment-4412">

    I can see how Jakarta and Manila would be hard places to visit as a westerner. The poverty and and sheer numbers would be such a culture shock. But it sounds like you were able to see past that and really experience the place to its uniqueness and embrace what was on offer.

      li class="comment byuser comment-author-nic-hilditch17hotmail-co-uk bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="comment-4424">

      Yeah for sure they are so shocking and eye opening and a totally different experience that most expect when backpacking in Southeast Asia. But at the same time they are so very authentic and real and interesting for that reason if not brutal too.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-4226">
    Saurabh

    I’ve lived in Jakarta and have seen a lot more by living here, and I understand that there’s so much more to Indonesia than just Bali

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