Things to do in Jakarta

Things to do in Jakarta: Planning Your Visit

In Asia, City Guides, Indonesiaby Sheena1 Comment

We show you the best things to do in Jakarta, along with how to get in & out of this megacity of overpopulation & urban sprawl! The capital of Indonesia is not that bad, really!

Jakarta Today

Like its fruit namesake, Indonesia’s capital city is a spiky shock at first sight & smell. But we here at DIY Travel HQ discovered that there are a number of things to do in Jakarta, aka “The Big Durian,” if you find yourself here.

Located on the world’s most populous island (Java), Jakarta is also the country’s political, economic & cultural centre.

With over 10 million people, Jakarta’s population has grown faster than Beijing, Bangkok & Kuala Lumpur – in Greater Jakarta it’s 25 million.

It’s a mass migration magnet for people all over Indonesia & Southeast Asia looking for work & opportunity, as well as having a sizeable expat population.

Jakarta is now rapidly being depleted of its own resources – poor sanitation, lack of water, insufficient housing & transportation issues are of ever-growing concern.

Polluted Skyline from National Monument

The polluted skyline from the National Monument

It didn’t always used to be the “Big Durian”.

In the Dutch colonial era in the 17th century, Jakarta was known as “Queen of the Orient” for the urban beauty of its canals & mansions.

After all, its orderly city layout was designed for 800,000 people, not 10 million.

Fortunately, tourism doesn’t attract all that many visitors – many find themselves here only for transportation connections but there are some interesting things to do in Jakarta.

Local bus station in Jakarta

You can wait for the bus but these won’t take you out of Jakarta!

Sure, it’s scorching, smoggy & sprawling but Jakarta reveals so much about Indonesia’s past, present & future.

I believe the capital of any country is a must-visit, it contributes greatly to an understanding of the essence of a nation & its people.

So in that very spirit, let’s explore the top things to do in Jakarta:

Friendly food cart vendors in Jakarta

Friendly people for one thing!

Things to do in Jakarta

Jakarta has a few tourist attractions: museums, monuments & the historic Kota (Old Town) district.

We were expecting the worse in traffic & chaos but on a Sunday morning, Jakarta was a ghost town.

Commercial Centre of Jakarta

Downtown Jakarta was a ghost town

Many tourists will be based in the modern part of the city, to the south of the National Monument.

This area is packed with skyscrapers, shopping centers & big hotels – but where are the people?

Turns out they were all on the streets around Jalan Jaksa, closed on Sunday mornings to traffic.

No traffic in Jakarta on Sundays

Like in many Indonesian cities, traffic is closed in some of the main streets on Sunday mornings

  • National Monument (MONAS)

The “Big Apple” has Central Park & the “Big Durian” has Merdeka Square – #1 on the list of things to do in Jakarta.

It’s a huge space, with the National Monument at its center, surrounded by museums & colonial buildings.

At 132m high, the National Monument is a symbol of Indonesia & the main historical landmark of Jakarta.

It was built between 1961-1975 to celebrate Independence. The sculpted flame at the peak is gilded with 35kg of gold leaf.

National Monument in Jakarta

National Monument, landmark of Jakarta & symbol of Indonesia

There are smoggy views of the city from the Observation Deck at the top of the Monument, if you can get up there.

Go early or be prepared to wait up to 2 hours, as there’s only one elevator going up & down. Also, tickets are limited – avoid weekends when it’s especially crowded.

Inside the base of the National Monument is the National History Museum (there is a small fee). Through 48 dioramas, it tells the story of Indonesia’s struggle for Independence, catering more to local tastes.

National Monument (MONAS) opening hours: 8am-3pm/1pm on Sunday

MONAS observation Deck entrance fee: 15,000 IDR / $1.10

The long road to National Monument Jakarta

Wide open space around the National Monument

  • National Museum

Built in 1862, the National Museum is one of the best of its kind in Southeast Asia & one of the top things to do in Jakarta.

It contains a huge collection of ethnographic & archaeological artifacts, particularly from the various ethnic groups around Indonesia: model houses, musical instruments, costumes, etc.

National Museum entrance fee: 10,000 IDR / $0.75

National Museum Jakarta

National Museum has an excellent collection!

Students inside National Museum Jakarta

And many students doing hair & make-up?!

  • Jakarta Cathedral

Jakarta Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church, built in 1901 on the site of an earlier church.

The gothic architecture features twin spires on the outside & stained glass windows on the inside.

Jakarta Cathedral

Jakarta Cathedral

Roman Catholic Church of Jakarta

Inside the Cathedral

  • Istiqial Mosque

Apparently the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, Istiqial Mosque has a capacity of 120,000 people.

Interestingly, it was designed by Frederich Silaban, a Christian architect.

Parts of the grounds are open to non-Muslims but be prepared to make a donation.

That’s why we decided just to take a photo from the outside:

Istiqial Mosque in Jakarta

Istiqial Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia

  • Kota Tua

The old town of Batavia, Kota Tua was once the hub of Dutch colonial life in Jakarta.

Many of the old buildings have been destroyed but Taman Fatahillah, the cobblestone central square, remains well-preserved.

The attractions in Kota Tua certainly make the list of things to do in Jakarta.

On Sundays, there’s a festive atmosphere, the area crowded with cos-play, cartoon characters & street performers, posing for tips.

Taman Fatahillah in Kota Tua Jakarta

Sunday Funday at the main square in Kota Tua

Other Things to do in Jakarta (Kota Tua):

  • Museum Wayang: Puppet Museum
  • Jakarta History Museum
  • Fine Arts & Ceramics Museum
  • Gereja Sion: church
  • Toko Merah: formerly the home of Governor General
  • Chicken Market Bridge: last remaining Dutch drawbridge

For more suggestions, check out the Backstreet Nomad!

Fine Arts & Ceramics Museum Jakarta

Fine Arts & Ceramics Museum in the old colonial area

Accommodation in Jakarta

Many cheap hotels can be found in the Jalan Jaksa area, south of the National Monument.

The best value we found was at Nina’s House for 140,000 IDR / $10.50 with a private bathroom.

Nina's House Jakarta

Stay at Nina’s House – the area is being renovated but the room is built & nice!

How to Get to Jakarta

After checking out the things to do in Yogyakarta, we took a bus for 105,000 IDR / $7.85.

The ride took 17.5 hours.

How to Get out of Jakarta

From Jakarta, our next destination was exploring the things to do in Bukittinggi – here’s how we got there:

  • Jakarta-Merak bus: 28,000 IDR / $2.10, 4 hours
  • Merak (Java)-Bakahueni (Sumatra) ferry: 15,000 IDR / $1.10, 2 hours
  • Bakahueni-Bandar Lampung bus: 30,000 IDR / $2.20, 3 hours
  • Bandar Lampung-Bukittingi bus: 250,000 IDR / $18.75, 24 hours

Total travel time from Jakarta to Bukittingi was around 40 hours.

Some of the bus seats are very cramped – be prepared for a long & rough trip if you choose to attempt this journey!

Bus from Jakarta to Bukittinggi

Extremely cramped bus seats don’t even have room for these chicken legs!

The ferry from Java to Sumatra was a real highlight – it was an old cruise ship, complete with bars, cafes & modern décor!

Java to Sumatra Ferry

The Java to Sumatra ferry was amazing! The Titanic of Indonesia, without the sinking!

Did you enjoy reading Things to do in Jakarta: Planning Your Visit?

Pin it and help others find it too!

Like its fruit namesake, Jakarta is a shock at first sight & smell – a spiky & stinking megacity of overpopulation & urban sprawl! Located on the world’s most populous island (Java), Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia & the country’s political, economic & cultural centre. Check out our post & find out what to see & do in Jakarta, along with where to stay & how to get to Bukittinggi.

*** The Final Word: Indonesia’s capital is skippable but there are things to do in Jakarta that make it ok for a day or 2 ***

Do you love or hate Jakarta?

Visited in October 2015


  1. Always an interesting read and the pictures capture it beautifully. Cartoon characters? 40 hours on buses? Unreal!

Leave a Comment

four + 10 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.