The gargantuan capital of a huge nation, for many Indonesians Jakarta is a city of promise. The lure of jobs and a better life has caused the city’s population to escalate to over 10 million. Though individual tourist attractions are scattered thinly, the city has a rich cultural life, with an abundance of performing and visual arts. And its greatest saving grace remains the easy-going, welcoming atmosphere and ready humour that endures at street level, despite the surrounding mayhem.
The best travel tips for visiting JakartaJakarta sprawls across a vast area. South of the harbour on Jakarta Bay and Ancol recreation park is Kota, the old Batavia area, where remnants of Dutch colonial rule reside. Heading south are Pecinan (Chinatown) and busy Glodok, the electronic, gadget and computer centre of the city.
A major north–south artery, Jalan Hayam Wuruk, merges into Jalan Gajah Mada, lined with shops, restaurants, hotels and nightlife, ending at the huge expanse of Lapangan Merdeka (Freedom Square), the heart of Central Jakarta.
The busy Jalan Thamrin-Sudirman corridor, south of Lapangan Merdeka is one of two major Central Business Districts (CBDs), a wall of glimmering glass and steel with some of the most interesting high-rise architecture in Southeast Asia. This thoroughfare in turn connects with Jalan Rasuna Said and Gatot Subroto, the second CBD and a golden triangle for international companies, banks, hotels, shopping malls and embassies.
Surrounding the city mayhem on all sides are residential areas, ranging from upper- and middle-class streets to the most basic shanties. Scattered throughout are pockets that seem frozen in time, including diminutive residential districts with market gardens and makeshift kampung (village) dwellings that impart something of a village atmosphere to many back alleys.
Best things to do in JakartaThe best things to do in huge sprawling Jakarta are well hidden, but city dwellers are proud of the cultural and intellectual life in their ever-changing, chaotic capital city.
#1 Taman Fatahillah (Fatahillah Square)Kota is the heart of the old 17th-century Dutch settlement at Batavia, originally a walled town modelled on Amsterdam. Most of Old Batavia was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century, but the town square area survived and has been restored and renamed Taman Fatahillah (Fatahillah Square). Adjacent colonial buildings have been converted into museums, and the whole neighbourhood has been considerably gentrified in recent years.
The main square bustles at weekends with street entertainers, old-fashioned bicycle rentals, artists and food vendors. The best thing to do here is to visit the museums that line the square: Museum Sejarah Jakarta (Jakarta History Museum), which houses memorabilia from the colonial period; the Museum Wayang (Puppet Museum), home to many puppets and masks including rare buffalo hide shadow puppets; and the Museum Seni Rupa (Fine Arts Museum), which features paintings and sculptures by modern Indonesian artists.
#2 MonasAny visit to Central Jakarta should begins at the top of the Monas (National Monument). A 137-metre-tall marble obelisk is set in the centre of Lapangan Merdeka (Freedom Square). There is an observation deck at the top surmounted by a 14-metre bronze flame sheathed in 33kg of gold symbolising the spirit of freedom. It was commissioned by Sukarno and completed in 1961 – a combination Olympic Flame-Washington Monument with the phallic overtones of an ancient Hindu-Javanese lingga. The museum in the basement contains 12 dioramas depicting historical scenes from a nationalistic viewpoint. A high-speed elevator rises to the observation deck, where on a clear day there is a fabulous 360-degree view of Jakarta.
#3 National MuseumOn the west side of Medan Merdeka (Freedom Field) lies one of Indonesia’s great cultural treasures, the National Museum. Founded in 1868 by the Batavian Society for Arts and Sciences, the museum now holds a huge array of antiquities and ethnographic artefacts. The courtyard of the original building is crammed with an impressive mass of Hindu-Buddhist statuary, while the new wing houses well-displayed collections spread over several floors. Highlights include the ceramics section, and the glittering golden regalia of various Indonesian royal houses. Be sure not to miss the excellent, though poorly signposted, fourth floor, accessible by elevator.
#4 Taman Ismail MarzukThe very impressive Taman Ismail Marzuki is a cultural centre that presents a programme of drama, dance and music from around Indonesia and the rest of the world. It also has a planetarium. It's worth wandering over to nearby Jalan Surabaya, the city’s so-called ‘antique street’. Dozens of shops here sell everything from wayang (puppets) to ship fittings – but little of it is authentic.
#5 Masjid Istiqlal (Istiqlal Mosque)The imposing white-marble Masjid Istiqlal (Istiqlal Mosque) on Jalan Veteran is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. Opened in 1978 and designed by a Catholic architect from Sumatra, it stands at the former site of the Dutch Benteng (Fort) Noordwijk. The mosque is open to appropriately dressed non-Muslims for tours outside of prayer times.
#6 Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park)Taman Mini Indonesia Indah covers nearly 100 hectares (250 acres) of land near Kampung Rambutan. While not entirely successful in compressing the entire archipelago into a single attraction, the park nonetheless permits you a glimpse of the many thousands of Indonesian islands you will probably not end up visiting. The various pavilions are each constructed in the traditional architectural style of a different Indonesian province. Housed inside each pavilion are interesting displays of handicrafts, traditional costumes, musical instruments and other artefacts for which each region is known.
#7 Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands)One of the best ways to unwind and recapture a taste of the tropics after the bustle of the city is to escape to clear blue waters and whites and beaches at any one of the 600 small islands off the north coast of Jakarta, known as Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands), one of Java’s national parks. Day trips can be taken to Bidadari, Kelor and Kahyangan islands near the coast. On Onrust island, explore the ruins of an old Dutch fort, which has remains of an 18th-century shipyard. Bokor and Rambut islands are home to bird sanctuaries; you need a permit from the national park office, PHKA, in Jakarta. Ferries depart every day from Ancol Marina to various islands between 8am–9am and return between 1.30pm–2pm.
Where to stay in JakartaSprawling out across three provinces, the are plenty of areas to stay in Jakarta but for travellers there are five main districts that are the most useful.
MentengThis upscale south-central district is home to some of Jakarta's most luxurious hotels, restaurants and swish cocktail bars. Its tree-lined streets also has art galleries and a number of cultural landmarks.
KemangPopular with expats and young professionals, this trendy neighbourhood has vibrant a nightlife scene and numerous cafes, bars, and restaurants. It also has a bohemian vibe, with street art and independent boutiques.
Central Business DistrictAs the financial and commercial hub of Jakarta, the CBD is ideal location for business travelers and those who want to be close to the city's shopping and entertainment districts. It's littered with business hotels.
Kebayoran BaruThis affluent neighbourhood has high-end boutiques and exclusive communities. Its hotels reflect that.
AncolPart of Ancol Bay City, a coastal waterfront resort, this waterside space is a popular choice for families with an amusement park, beach, and marina.
Best restaurants and bars in JakartaFor years, eating and drinking in Jakarta has been defined by its incredible street food scene. Vendors, carts and night markets filled the bellies of busy locals with fresh soto betawi (beef stew), grilled chicken satay and nasi goreng (vegetables and rice, topped with a fried egg), plus other on-the-go snacks.
But now, aside from amazing street food, the city's restaurant scene is flourishing too. You can now get a variety of cuisines from Japanese to Italian at world-class standards. What's more, a growing number of ritzy speakeasies and high-rise cocktail bars have added a new dimension to Jakarta's nightlife, too.
- Jalan Sabang Something of a street food mecca, Jalan Sabang is a great place to try a range of Indonesian cooking. From mountains of rice to gado-gado (an Indonesian salad of mixed vegetables, tofu, tempeh, and peanut sauce), all via the mouth-watering lamb satays from Sate Jaya Agung, you won't go hungry.
- OKU This relaxed Kempinski Hotel restaurant brings traditional Japanese dishes into the 21st century, all served in a calming, Zen-like space.
- Koda Japanese mixologist Yukata Nakashima is the brains behind this elegant cocktail speakeasy on the second floor of Sudirman 7.8 building.
How to get around JakartaThe traffic in Jakarta is so bad that some office workers are paid to start in the back of the taxi they’re riding to work. There isn't really a good way to navigate this massive city without getting stuck at some point.
By busBuses crisscross the entire city but the most useful service is the Transjakarta Busway as it uses dedicated bus-only lanes. However, it does also suffer from regular traffic jams.
Tuk-tukUbiquitous and ingenious at slipping through small gaps to queue jump, tuk-tuks can be speedier than other ways of getting around. Agree on a price before setting off.
By taxiRoughly the same price as a tuk-tuk, but with air-con, metered taxis can be a good option for longer journeys. Urban Indonesia has been transformed by the emergence of the ride-hailing apps go-Jek and grab. Go-Jek was originally just a means of hailing ojek (motorbike taxis) in Jakarta, but it soon expanded to provide private minicabs and registered taxis. Fares are fixed in advance via an app.
By carIt is possible to hire a car with a driver for very little and it's much better than tackling the roads yourself. Still, expect to hit traffic at some point.
By trainOpened in 2019, Jakarta MRT trains run north (Kampung Bandan) to south (Lebak Bulus). They are clean, quick and efficient – but only really good for commuters.
How many days do you need in Jakarta?Most travellers who visit Jakarta tend to use the Indonesian capital as a springboard to other destinations around the country. It's worth sticking around for at least a couple of days, if not more. You need four days to see the best of Jakarta.
Kota and the museums around Taman Fatahillah (Fatahillah Square) are a great introduction to the city and will take a least a day, but you'll also want to also spend time in the alleys or Glodok and Chinatown. A day's shopping in the city's bigger malls and along the city’s ‘antique street’, Jalan Surabaya, should also be on the cards.
You could easily while away a day at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park) on day three. Day four, spend the morning at one of the nearby islands, before heading to Jalan Sabang to chow down on some amazing street food
Best time to visit JakartaThe best time to visit Jakarta is from May to September when the weather is dry and pleasant. Temperatures during this time average between 24°C and 32°C. June to August is the city's high season, when domestic tourists visit the city for their holidays. Prices for flights, hotels, and attractions tend to be higher. Peak tourist season in Jakarta coincides with the Christmas and New Year holidays, as well as the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha celebrations in the Islamic calendar. Expect crowded streets, busy markets, and long queues at popular attractions.
The wet season in Jakarta lasts from October to April, with heavy rainfall and occasional flooding that may disrupt travel plans. Air pollution from traffic congestion is a persistent issue in Jakarta. It's worst in September, during the peak of the dry season in September.
Find out more about the best time to visit Indonesia.