Jakarta is a true megalopolis. Indonesia’s capital heaves with a population of more than 9-million people, swelling by a further 2-million commuters each day. From the outside looking in, it seems to be one of those cities that could swallow you whole. That is, until you get to know it a little better. We discovered the top things to do in Jakarta and learned there’s a lot more to Jakarta than first meets the traveller’s eye.
Jakarta was the first stop on a four-destination discovery tour I took with about 40 other travel writers and digital influencers from the Asia Pacific region. After my previous trip with the Ministry to Sulawesi and Maluku, I knew there would be some amazing experiences in store for us and I wasn’t disappointed. This trip, we visited Jakarta, Bintan Island, Labuan Bajo and Bali.
As we only had about 48-hours in Jakarta, I wanted to pool my experiences and information about the city with some insider knowledge from a friend who has just returned from living in Jakarta for four years. Our powers combined means I am able to give you a comprehensive guide to the city: what you should see and do and where you can eat, stay and play in Jakarta.
Arriving in Indonesia
- I flew to Jakarta from Brisbane via Singapore with Singapore Airlines. Garuda also runs many direct flight from Australia to Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, daily.
- You may need to pay an entry tax of about $US35 per person when you arrive in Indonesia. The fee has been scrapped for Australia and 145 other countries. Check your exemption here. Indonesian airports generally accept cash or credit cards (with about a 3% surcharge).
- The departure tax of Rp 150,000 ($15) should now be included in the cost of your plane ticket. Confirm with your airline before you travel.
- Bring some IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) with you to Indonesia. Particularly if you want to shop at the markets as they only take cash. All the big hotels, restaurants and malls except credit cards and ATMs are readily accessible.
- Hotels and banks are probably the safest places to change money should you need to. Indonesian banks advertise their rates daily online (you can also do a quick estimated using this tool). Always check your money at the counter before walking away.
- Grab a Prepaid SIM card (ensure your phone is not locked on a plan like mine was) at the airport on arrival. It should set you back about $AUD10 and should give you plenty of credit for a week-long trip. You can buy more credit at convenience stores and most bars and cafes have wifi. Be aware you may need to cut the SIM down to fit your iphone. Ask the vendor to help you with that.
- The same health and safety tips apply in Jakarta as when you are travelling to other parts of Indonesia. You’ll find those in our Pocket Guide to Sulawesi here.
Cultural Considerations for Jakarta
- While Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, Jakarta is very much an international city and feels much more liberal when it comes to dress than other parts of the country. You will only really need long pants or a skirt, closed toe shoes and something to cover your shoulders if you are visiting the Presidential Museum or any mosques.
- Bargaining at markets is expected and encouraged.
- Learn a few phrases in Bahasa and try them out on the locals. The important ones will be: Thank you = Terima kasih, Good morning/evening = Selamat pagi /malam
Getting around Jakarta
- Hiring a car and driver is by far the most comfortable way to get around Jakarta. Book one at the airport on arrival or pre-book through your hotel (expect to pay a little more). A driver, car and petrol will cost you about Rp 500,000 per day (about $AUD50). Prepare for the infamous Jakarta traffic jams and allow ample time to get from one place to the next.
- Mini buses seat about 8-9 people and cost about Rp 4000 ($AUD0.40). Keep in mine, they are not necessarily air conditioned.
- Public buses are another cheaper, local option at about Rp 3500 ($AUD0.35) per ride.
- Bajaj (rickshaw) is by negotiation with driver.
- Motorbike taxis or Ojek are also available. Go-Jek is a new app that you can use to book a car or ojek in the same way you would use Uber. Due to safety concerns (and having written many devastating news stories on accidents), I personally don’t hire motorbike taxis or scooters while travelling.
- Pedestrian crossings in Jakarta can be quite daunting. Even when the light is green, beware that cars, bikes and buses may not stop. Hold on to your handbag, put a hand out and walk with locals. I approached a group of lovely locals who happily escorted me across a busy eight-lane road without issue. Simply a selfie request in return.
Where to Stay in Jakarta
- Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation options in Jakarta. From backpacker accommodation to 5-star luxury hotels, you will find something to fit your budget. If you can afford it, choose somewhere centrally located as the traffic in Jakarta is very bad and will cost you valuable sightseeing time.
- We stayed at the 4-star Mecure Sabang, which was clean and modern with large, well appointed rooms. I had a king-sized bed, desk, seating area and large bathroom. The hotel is also conveniently located within walking distance to Merdeka Square, the National Monument and Jalan Sabang famous for its nasi goreng and sate kambing.
Things to do in Jakarta
It seemed fitting that our visit to Jakarta coincided with Indonesia’s Independence Day (17 August, 1945). The city was buzzing, locals were out with the family and friends enjoying the festivities and red and white flags were flying high from every street corner. We began our tour in Fatahillah Square, the epicentre of the old city or Kota Tua.
Arriving first thing in the morning meant we had some time to wander the square before the crowds and the intense heat grew. To celebrate Independence Day we took part in traditional games such as kerupuk (sack races) and a rice cracker eating contest before chatting to the locals in the square.
You’ll find locals and visitors alike donning Dutch style hats and riding around on bikes splashed in neon hues. A bike will set you back about $AUD2.50 for 30 minutes and it’s a fun way to cruise around the square. It is selfie-stick central so watch where you are riding.
If you have ever wanted to feel famous, walk around Taman Fatiahillah Square. This was my second visit to the square and on both occasions I struggled to cover a couple of metres without a request for a selfie from a perfect stranger. The square is known for it. I found it fun and flattering and loved that we were made to feel so welcome.
Visit the Museums
The square, recognisable by the iconic colonial facade of the former Batavia City Hall. The 18th century building in now home to the Jakarta History Museum. You will also find the Wayang Museum (puppet museum), the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, located in the 19th century Dutch Supreme Court building around the square.
We took a quick break from the heat and our new flock of fans at Cafe Batavia. A visit to Kota Tua really isn’t complete with a coffee or lunch at this iconic cafe. Housed in the second oldest building in Central Jakarta, taking in the very old world atmosphere (dark wood, soft lighting, low chairs and walls covered in memorabilia), is reason enough to stop in.
If you want more of a local feel (and your stomach is accustomed to street food), head to the markets at the south west corner of the square where you’ll find traditional street vendors serving food straight from the wok at a fraction of the cost.
Escape the midday heat and brush up on your Indonesian history at the Museum Nasional. The museum is also referred to as Gedung Gajah or Elephant Building for the bronze elephant statue that sits out the front of the building. Built in 2007, it now houses 141,000 objects dating back to the prehistoric era. It costs about $AUD1 per person for entry and the museum is closed on Mondays and public holidays. Free tours are given in English on Tuesdays and Thursday at 10.30 and 13.30.
I really enjoyed our visit to Istiqlal Mosque (Independence Mosque). The largest mosque in Southeast Asia, it is expansive and can accommodate 200,000 worshippers at any one time. Despite that enormity of the space, I found it to be very peaceful. I split off from our group to observe.
I watched a group of girls giggle as they snapped a selfie on their Samsung, while three little boys sprinted across the outer courtyard, seemingly oblivious to the heat of the sun hitting the pavers below their bare feet. Inside, men and women, separated by a barrier were kneeling in prayer under the 45m wide dome. The women’s hijabs created a rainbow effect, their handbags carefully lined up in front of them. I watched intently from the gallery above.
Non-muslim visitors must sign-in on entry and will be given a guided tour. Ensure you are dressed appropriately to visit the mosque. You will need to leave your shoes at the entrance or carry them inside in a bag and store them in the cloak room. If you are a not properly covered you will be provided with a gown to wear.
The Jakarta Cathedral is just across the road from the Istiqlal Mosque. The ground level of the Neo-Gothic structure is where worshippers gather for traditional mass, the upper level acts as the Jakarta Cathedral Museum, with relics from Catholic practices in the Dutch East Indies and history of Catholicism.
Just around the corner is Merdeka Square, the world’s largest square at five times the size of Place de la Concorde in Paris. It’s there you’ll find the 137 metre tall obelisk shaped National Monument.
Bogor Botanical Gardens
If you are in Jakarta for more than a few days, you may want a break from the city crush. About 2 hours drive south is Bogor, Indonesia’s third largest city. Visit the Presidential Museum, wander the 87-hectare Bogor Botanical Gardens and stop in for lunch with a view back across the the gardens at Grand Garden Cafe.
Where to Eat in Jakarta
Jakarta’s food scene has an answer to everyone’s taste and budget, from the local food vendors selling nasi goreng for as little as $AUD2 on Jalan Sabang, to a 5-star long brunch at one of the city’s best hotels setting you back about $AUD80 a head.
Set across two refurbished 1940s shophouses, the dramatic decorations forms a part of the cultural dining experience they offer at Dapur Babah Elite. Specialising in Babah Peranakan cuisine, expect dishes that are a fusion of Chinese and Javanese flavours.
Seribu Rasa serves up a journey of tastes on one plate. “One Thousand Flavours” to be exact, bringing together the local Indonesian dishes together on their menu.
An institution for Jakartans, Pondok Laguna has been serving up seafood in their busy space for over 20 years. It’s a busy spot so be prepared to wait for a table. The gurame goreng (fried carp) and deep fried catfish is reportedly worth queuing for.
Garuda Central Jakarta
Indonesia’s answer to fast food, when you are seated at these 24-hour restaurants, 15-20 dishes are laid out for you immediately (it’s all pre-cooked). You can try the sauce, but once you try the vegetables or meat you must pay for that dish. The food is usually eaten with you hands and you will rarely see tourists in a padang restaurant. The dishes can be quite spicy and if you have a sensitive stomach the food may not be quite clean enough for you. Garuda is considered the cleaner of the many chains around, with a number of branches around the city.
You’ll find French style bistro dining with a New York edge at Loewy. Think Thonet chairs, subway tiles and stiff cocktails in a casual but cool setting. If you need a break from Indonesian fare, feast on your European favourites here. From the creators of Loewy, another hipster hit is Union brasserie, bakery and bar in Plaza Senayan.
Quieter than its Bali cousin, the original Potato Head is a cute and trendy spot to eat, drink and chill out with friends, complete with the trade mark shutters adorning the ceiling.
Giyanti roasts their own coffee and also makes their own pies on site. The cafe is set among the antiques shops in Jalan Surabaya. Pop in for an iced coffee after you visit Istiqlal Mosque around the corner.
A popular weekend breakfast spot, Social House is known for it’s delicious Western and Asian favourites and a great view of the city skyline. It’s no surprise the Ismaya Group is behind the cafe, known for the hot rooftop spot, Skye Bar.
Skye Bar was Jakarta’s first rooftop bar, sitting atop the BCA Tower at Grand Indonesia. At 56-floors high, the concept behind Skye was to create a “Lifestyle Resort in The Sky”, lifting Jakartans from the busy urban sprawl for some indulgence among the crowds. A trendy place for dinner and drinks with a panorama of the city.
Another rooftop lounge complete with below zero vodka room. Sip on cocktails or choose from the fine dining a la carte or set menus and settle in for dinner.
A rooftop oasis to the south of the city, Lucy in the Sky is a fun spot that attracts a young crowd. It promises catchy music and strong pours.
Low key Beer Garden is ideal for the backpacker or budget traveller. The beer and food is inexpensive and live acoustic bands entertain punters all week long.
Like Beer Garden, Camden Bar is a relaxed budget bar, popular with locals in their 20s and 30s. Meet friends for a beer tower and sing along with the band playing western cover songs.
If you are looking to make an impression or you simply prefer to sip on single malt to the soothing sounds of jazz or R&B, Nip and Dram is your jam. Budget for this one, it is higher on the scale with prices more reminiscent of home.
Where to Shop in Jakarta
One of about 10 large scale shopping centres in the city, Senayan City is the stand out. With restaurants, cinemas, food courts, bars and plenty of retail shops, is a veritable one-stop shopping spot. It’s not uncommon to find families spending a day at a mall like Senayan City, working their way through the food and entertainment and enjoying the air conditioned comfort of the space.
Spend the afternoon shopping up a storm in high streets shops and then head straight up to Skye Bar for sunset drinks. Grand Indonesia and Plaza Indonesia sit side by side in down town Central Jakarta to you can eat, drink, dine and shop all in one therapeutic afternoon.
Those after a bargain, DVDs or imitation pieces should head to ITC Mangga Dua Mall in the north of the city. Bargaining is essential to ensure you get a good deal.
Where to Relax in Jakarta
Movie tickets start at about Rp 25,000 for standard chairs to Rp 120,000 for Gold Class style lounge seating with full service and Rp 350,000 for velvet class, bed-style seating. Most of the big malls have cinemas.
Massage is a popular past time in Indonesia and the perfect activity to follow a morning of sightseeing around Jakarta. We were treated to a fabulous one-hour full body massage at Kokuo Eastern Reflexology and would highly recommend it.
The Bersih Sehat chain is also very popular. It has been around since the 80s and the name translates to Clean and Healthy.
A special thanks to my friend Matthew for his incredible insider tips.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry for Tourism for this trip to Jakarta. As always, the opinions, imagery and words are authentically our own.
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Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.