As Jakarta is very chaotic and crowded, many travellers only spend a brief time in Indonesia’s capital before heading on to Bali’s beaches. Although the ‘Big Durian’ does of course have its downsides, its historic mix of cultures means the buzzing metropolis has loads of fun and fascinating things to see and do.
Nestled along Java’s northwestern coast, the port city has long been an important economic, cultural and political center. Founded in the fourth century by the Sunda Kingdom, it has since developed into one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in Asia.
While this does make its unending concrete sprawl rather unappealing, its top-class museums, malls and modern tourist attractions more than make up for it. Besides all these things to do in Jakarta, it is one of the best places to learn about Indonesia’s history and culture. Add in its incredible energy and the idyllic Thousand Islands just offshore and Jakarta might just be one of the Southeast Asian nation’s most underrated destinations.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Wayang Museum
Lying right in the heart of the Old Town is the wonderful Wayang Museum. Set alongside the vibrant Fatahillah Square, it offers up a very interesting look at the ancient art of Javanese puppetry. Known as ‘Wayang’, it is one of the country’s most prized cultural traditions.
Established in 1975, its extensive collection of puppets, dolls, sculptures and paintings now occupies a fine Dutch Colonial-style building that dates to 1912. Engaging exhibits examine this important part of Indonesian culture and present the history of story-telling through puppetry over the centuries.
Aside from seeing the intricately-crafted shadow puppets and musical instruments, visitors can also attend workshops, wayang-making courses and puppet shows. Afterwards, you can always visit the Jakarta History Museum or the fine arts museum right beside it.
16. Taman Suropati Park
After exploring the city’s chaotic streets, relaxing in the gorgeous green Taman Suropati Park makes for a welcome change. Although it is not particularly large, its picturesque fountains, trees and lawns act as a much-needed haven from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle all around.
Very well-maintained, the popular park was inaugurated in 1919 to prevent congestion in front of the important courthouses and embassies alongside it. Showcasing a range of architectural styles, this row of Art Deco and Colonial-style bungalows now paint quite the pretty picture.
Its leafy confines contain some striking statues and monuments with many coming here to jog, walk or feed the pigeons. In the evenings, numerous street musicians and food stands help create a lively yet laidback ambience.
15. Sea World
A firm favorite with families, Sea World has thousands of brightly-colored fish, corals, sharks and sea turtles to check out. Part of the enormous Ancol Dreamland complex along the city’s waterfront, its ginormous tanks and tunnels are loads of fun to wander around.
When it first opened in 1996, the oceanarium was impressively the largest in the whole of Southeast Asia. Still massive, it is most known for its Antasena tunnel that sees you walk underwater with vast shoals of fish swirling above you.
Other than ogling at its immense aquarium full of marine life, you can stroke adorable sea creatures in its touch tanks. Entertaining yet educational dolphin and sea lion shows also regularly take place as do educational films in its 4D theater.
14. Museum Bank Indonesia
Just south of the Wayang Museum next to the city’s main train station is the very well-done Museum Bank Indonesia. Its innumerable artifacts and enthralling exhibits cover the history of banking in the country from pre-colonial times to the present day.
Only dating to 2009, the museum’s interesting old coins and colourful notes are housed in the former headquarters of De Javasche Bank. Built back in 1909, its grand Neo-Renaissance facade looks very impressive with countless sparkling white columns also lining its courtyard.
Inside, interactive exhibits present various monetary policies and payment systems from the last few centuries. The history of the spice trade is also examined as is that of the Dutch East India Company and Japanese occupation during the Second World War.
13. Flea Market at Jalan Surabaya
If you’re after a quintessential Jakarta experience, then you just have to amble about the Flea Market at Jalan Surabaya. A fantastic place to pick up unique gifts, souvenirs and antiques, its stalls stretch over half a kilometer in length.
Since the seventies, hundreds of antique sellers have set up shop along one side of the long, straight road. While some specialize in traditional masks or wooden carvings, others instead hawk old coins and cameras, ceramics and vinyls.
Their cluttered rooms and stands are lots of fun to inspect with interesting items on show wherever you look. Make sure to haggle though before you buy anything as the prices are usually inflated quite extortionately. Despite this, we really loved the market as each shop almost appeared like a museum, displaying unusual arts, crafts and curiosities.
12. Jakarta Cathedral
Definitely one of the city’s most eye-catching buildings, the gorgeous Jakarta Cathedral can be found right in the centre of town, not far from Merdeka Square. Although it is somewhat overshadowed by the enormous Istiqlal Mosque alongside it, it’s three soaring spires and fetching facade still make for some fabulous photos.
Exhibiting some exquisite Neo-Gothic-style architecture, the colossal cathedral was completed back in 1901 after the previous one had collapsed. Standing sixty metres tall, its two towers flank the fine facade with its wonderful rose window and pretty entrance portal.
Inside is just as attractive as plenty of imposing pillars and wooden pews line its cavernous nave. As well as three elaborate altars, stupendous sculptures and stained-glass windows adorn its old walls. The cathedral also has a small museum to visit that explains how Catholicism arrived in the country after the Dutch East Indies fell under French rule in 1806.
11. Go Cycling on Car Free Day
One of the most enjoyable ways to explore the sprawling city is to go cycling on Car Free Day. Every Sunday morning, its main avenues are thankfully closed-off to traffic for a few blissful hours. During these times, thousands of pedestrians, joggers, skateboarders and cyclists reclaim the streets and a fun, festive atmosphere takes over.
Long associated with chaotic, traffic-clogged streets, the capital’s hugely popular car free days were initially introduced in 2007 to help tackle its ever-worsening pollution. Now a weekly event, this sees the constantly busy Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Thamrin completely rid of cars from 6 AM to 11 AM.
Taking their place are huge hordes of locals enjoying some exercise and delighting in the lovely, lively ambience. Along the roughly eight-kilometer stretch of road are street vendors selling snacks, drinks and, well, everything under the sun really! We couldn’t believe the contrast with how Jakarta’s streets are normally and super enjoyed the car free day’s festival-like feel.
10. Old Harbour
Offering up a tantalizing glimpse at how Jakarta once looked is the atmospheric Old Harbour at the northern end of Kota Tua. For almost a millennium, ships have moored along its secluded stretch of waterfront which still retains its charming character.
As it was the main port of the powerful Sunda Kingdom, it played a key role in the city’s development. Also later used by the Portuguese, its importance slowly waned under the Dutch as silting and larger vessels led to the ‘Haven Kanaal’ being used less.
Nowadays, it is only Pinisi boats – traditional two-masted sailing ships – that are permitted to dock here. At the harbour, you can still see cargo being loaded on and off the colourful schooners which look very picturesque bobbing about its waters. Well off the beaten path, Pelabuhan Sunda Kelapa provides an authentic look into the modern metropolis’ traditional side.
9. Day Trip to the Thousand Islands
If you want to escape the city for a bit and see some of its scenic surroundings, then the absolutely idyllic Thousand Islands are the place to go. Numerous companies run excursions to the popular day trip destination where you can enjoy their pristine beaches and exciting watersports.
Stretching from West Jakarta Bay out into the shimmering Java Sea, the archipelago consists of 342 isles strung out in a chain. As they are uninhabited or undeveloped for the most part, there are only really thirteen that people visit.
At islands like Pulau Bidadari and Pulau Tidung, visitors can lounge on breathtaking beaches, splash about in the sea and stay in top-class resorts. There are also a couple of historic forts to see and the legendary ‘Love Bridge’ to take pics on. Action-packed activities here include jet skiing, scuba diving and swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat.
8. Ancol Dreamland
One of the most fun things to do in Jakarta is to visit the epic Ancol Dreamland back along the city’s waterfront. Spread across a huge area, the family-friendly resort has everything from a theme park and aquarium to beaches, an eco-park and a golf course for guests to make use of.
Once home only to mosquito-infested swamps and ponds, the bay area was completely transformed in the sixties when the immense entertainment complex was first unveiled. Since then, it has grown considerably with countless rides and rollercoasters now dotted about its landscaped grounds.
Other than shooting down fun water slides, you can spend the day on the beach, go bowling or watch dolphin and sea lion shows. Plenty of plush hotels and holiday cottages are also found here as are a traditional handicraft market and souvenir shops. With a small zoo, botanic gardens and marina also on offer, it could take days to see all its sights.
7. Taman Mini Indonesia Indah
On the opposite side of the capital is another theme park that you just have to check out if you have the chance. At Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, visitors learn more about the country’s diverse cultures, customs and clothing across its 17,000 islands.
The park presents a synopsis of daily life across the archipelago’s 38 provinces. Next to all its models of traditional homes and important monuments are also over a dozen museums to see. These look at not just sports and transport across the nation but its animals and nature too.
As well as exhibiting different architectural styles from each region, there are tons of tools, costumes and weapons to inspect. Each province’s pavilion also has a stage where dances and concerts often take place. Scattered about amidst its lovely lush grounds are a number of restaurants and souvenir stalls to stop by. For an amazing, in-depth overview of Indonesia’s untold riches, the Miniature Park is certainly a must when in Jakarta.
6. Istiqlal Mosque
Long one of Jakarta’s most important and impressive landmarks, the ornate Istiqlal Mosque is where thousands of worshipers head to pray every single day. Instantly catching the eye, its contemporary building can be found at the northeastern corner of Merdeka Square.
As Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, it is only fitting that Masjid Istiqlal is the largest mosque in all of Southeast Asia. Built to commemorate the country’s independence, its colossal domes, courtyards and decorative minarets date to 1978.
An architectural gem, the majestic marble monument’s staggering size, straight lines and sparkling interior make for some phenomenal photos. We took a great tour around the mosque which provided more information on its delightful design and significance to Indonesia. The fact it is located right by the Neo-Gothic cathedral highlights the importance placed on respecting all religious faiths.
5. Grand Indonesia Mall
More than just a place to shop, malls in Indonesia also serve as a social hotspots where people hang out, see friends and escape the sweltering heat. One of the largest is the chic, sleek Grand Indonesia which boasts loads of luxury boutiques and brilliant restaurants.
Made up of the West and East Mall, its two main buildings are linked by a multi-level bridge with hundreds of stores and eateries being spread across eight levels. These include not just big brands like Adidas, Nike and Converse but shops selling accessories, electronics and toys too.
In addition to a vast food court, there is also a humongous cinema complex, fun arcade and fountain show to enjoy. Its atrium also often hosts concerts, cultural events and art exhibitions.
4. Merdeka Square
Covering a considerable swathe of Central Jakarta is the massive Merdeka Square which is lined by important government buildings, the mosque and National Museum. Its green spaces contain lots of statues, fountains and, of course, the National Monument rising dramatically at its center.
One of the largest public squares in the world, its name Merdeka means freedom or independence in Indonesian. Originally established in the early nineteenth century by the Dutch, its flagstones are now dominated by the 132-metre-high obelisk at its heart. Symbolizing the country’s struggle for freedom, the iconic landmark was unveiled in 1978, having been commissioned by President Sukarno.
At its base are detailed reliefs depicting the country’s colonization and its uprisings and revolutions against the Europeans. From its observation platform, you can also bask in breathtaking views of the city extending away before you. A treat to stroll around with a lot to see, Merdeka Square is definitely one of the capital’s most famous attractions.
3. National Museum
An absolute must for history lovers, the magnificent National Museum shines an invaluable light on Indonesia’s rich and varied cultural heritage and its storied past. One of the best in Southeast Asia, its grand galleries display an astounding array of ancient artifacts and impressive artworks.
Remarkably founded in 1778 by a group of Dutch intellectuals, its extensive collection now occupies a beautiful Neoclassical-style building along the west side of Merdeka Square. Its interactive exhibits cover everything from the archipelago’s prehistoric past to Hindu Kingdoms, Dutch colonialism and the country’s eventual independence.
Alongside its incredible old Hindu-Buddhist stone statues, you’ll therefore see countless textiles and tools and glittering golden jewellery from Java. We were blown away by its outstanding ethnographic displays and really couldn’t recommend it enough. Actually one of the best museums we’ve been to, it covers almost every aspect imaginable of the vast country’s age-old history and culture.
2. Jakarta Aquarium & Safari
Home to over 3,500 species of awesome animals, reptiles and fish is the gigantic Jakarta Aquarium & Safari in the Neo Soho Mall. Since opening in 2017, its innumerable tanks and exhibits have proven extremely popular with young and old alike.
Part of an extensive retail and leisure complex in West Jakarta, it has nine exciting zones for visitors to explore. While some look at all the animals and ecosystems of Indonesia’s islands and rainforests, others examine its coral reefs, mangroves and life in the depths of the ocean.
Asides from marveling at its many fish, lizards, meerkats and macaws, you can actually meet some yourself! The aquarium puts on plenty of unforgettable animal encounters where guests hold snakes and stick insects and feed some of its friendly residents. To top it off, there are also educational and entertaining penguin and otter shows to enjoy.
1. Kota Tua
While much of the sprawling capital is modern and made out of concrete, pockets of well-preserved old buildings can be found here and there. At Kota Tua, there are tons of interesting historic sites and museums to see and charming cobbled streets to explore.
Also known as Old Batavia, its countless Dutch colonial-style buildings are centered around the lively Fatahillah Square. Many date to the seventeenth century when Jakarta was the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company during the spice trade. Besides admiring all their elegant architecture, you can also visit the Jakarta History Museum and Wayang Museum. Chinatown is another top draw for its delicious fried noodles and dumplings.
After wandering about the Old Town, we really enjoyed stopping for a drink at the 1830s Cafe Batavia which has a wonderful Old World look and feel. One of the prettiest parts of the city, Kota Tua offers up a fascinating look at what colonial Jakarta once looked like.
Best Time to Visit Jakarta
Chaotic and crowded at any time, ginormous Jakarta has two seasons – wet and dry – though the city remains hot and humid the whole year round. The most popular time to visit is from June to September when the skies are clear and the sun is shining.
While temperatures still average 32 or 33°C (89 to 91°F), the dry weather makes sightseeing much more bearable. If it gets too hot, you can cool off in its vast shopping malls or head to its parks and green spaces. During these months, exciting events like its Independence Day celebrations, We The Fest and the Jakarta Food and Fashion Festival also take place. The Big Durian is even more crowded though with prices at their highest.
October to June is the rainy season when the torrential downpours make exploring the city unpleasant and wet. Jakarta is also prone to flooding with typhoons sometimes striking offshore. Most people stay away with prices lower as a result.
As many have holidays, December is still packed with both its Christmas festivities and New Year’s Eve celebrations attracting huge crowds. Towards the end of Ramadan around March or April, the capital sees more visitors with the Java Jazz Festival in May also a big hit.