A-Z of Capital Cities: Jakarta

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is a sprawling megametropolis known for traffic jams and incomprehensible road signs. Packed full of people, it is an exciting, vibrant city with plenty to eat, see and do. Perhaps not a typical tourist destination, (Jakarta is used mostly by tourists as a stop-over for other areas in Indonesia), there is still plenty of culture to experience due to the wonderful mix of Betawi, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese and Javanese influences across the city.

Jakarta is such an enormous, rambling city that it would be impossible to cover it all in one visit. Indeed, it is almost overwhelming to know where to start. One option is to go back in history, catching a glimpse of the small amount of Dutch colonialist influence that remains by visiting Taman Fatahillah square in the old part of Jakarta, Kota. On one side of the square is the Jakarta Historical Museum, located in the former city hall, where you are able to learn about the evolution of the expansive city. Having been educated in Jakarta’s history, visitors recommend stopping at Café Batavia in the square for a bite to eat in one of the oldest buildings in central Jakarta. Other Dutch creations worth a visit include Ragunan Zoo and Suropati Gardens.

At the heart of the city is the National Monument, an obelisk in the centre of Jakarta symbolising the struggle for Indonesian independence. Visitors can climb to the top of the monument and take a glimpse of the expanse of the city on the observation deck, offering stunning panoramic views. The monument is located in the centre of Merdeka Square, reportedly one of the largest open squares in the world and bordered by important governmental buildings. One such building is the Presidential Palace, home of the Indonesian president and surrounded by beautiful gardens. The whole area of the square is a huge open park where locals jog and cycle and deer can sometimes be seen. While the square is a must-see, it is highly recommended to avoid midday hours, when the humidity and sheer amount of people can sometimes become all too much.


For a whistle-stop tour of Indonesian culture, visit Taman Mini Indonesia Indah gardens, miniature gardens depicting each of the Indonesian provinces, complete with regional crafts and clothing. The park’s grounds also include a handful of museums, an IMAX theatre, an orchid garden and a bird park. You may even be lucky enough to catch one of the cultural performances held each day.

Arguably a key element of Jakartan culture is shopping; it is highly likely that during your visit you will stumble upon one of the 150 shopping malls across the city. Indeed many bargains can be found in the malls, but for a more cultural shopping experience try Jalan Surabaya flea market. Filled with row upon row of stalls, it is important to haggle and ensure that you are getting a genuine ‘antique’ before you buy.

As the evening draws in, head south to Kemang, an area full of wealthy young Jakartans, restaurants, pubs and an excellent nightlife. A tourist ‘must-visit’ is the Skye Bar, located on the 56th floor of the BCA Tower with stunning views of the city. However be warned that drink prices are sky-high to match the view.

With 28 million people living in the Greater Jakarta area, this city is likely to be a visit like no other. Once you get used to the noise, the crowds and the traffic, Jakarta is a fascinating destination, filled with history, wonder and plenty of culture.

Joanna Hill 

Images courtesy of Thrillseekr and Donald Man via Flickr

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