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Jakarta – what to see in the capital of Indonesia?

by Mario

Many people planning their trip to Java overlook Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. However, in our opinion, it’s worth spending two to three days here. After all, it’s the second-largest city in the world! However, it’s important to carefully consider how you want to explore Jakarta, especially when traveling with children.

We started our three-week journey through Java in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. We wanted to see this 30-million tropical metropolis with our own eyes, which resembles a gigantic pulsating carpet woven from small kampungs – densely populated Indonesian urban settlements tightly packed next to each other.

We knew we wouldn’t be able to see everything. We would probably have to spend several weeks there. That’s why we chose to focus on the three oldest districts that we wanted to explore more, experiencing the spirit of this city, and also adding a few iconic spots that you simply have to see when you’re in Jakarta.

Below you will find a ready-made three-day itinerary for exploring Jakarta with children, tailored for families – not too much, not too little. Just enough to get to know some of the city’s history, taste local delicacies, wander through historic streets, and feel the enormity of this massive city.

See for yourself why it’s worth visiting Jakarta.

Sunda Kelapa – the harbor district with blue sailboats

On the first day, in the morning, we went for a walk in Sunda Kelapa, the historic port of Jakarta. This place is enchanting at every step. It’s like a journey back in time to an era when traditional Sunda sailboats called “pinisi” dominated the seas of the Indonesian archipelago. And interestingly, these sailboats still operate on these waters, transporting coconuts (kelapa means coconut – hence the name of the port) and palm oil, among other things, from nearby Sumatra.

Sunda Kelapa is also a place where you can feel the rhythm of daily port life, observing the work of fishermen, traders, and other people involved in maritime affairs. And that’s the most fascinating aspect of it all – history intertwines with the present, colonial Dutch architecture coexists with port containers and a local kampung, inhabited by families of port workers. It’s an incredible experience.

★ Our walking tip ★

It’s worth starting the walk from the colonial-era Batavia Marina hotel in the heart of the modern port. From there, we head towards the old port where the sailboats are docked. In our opinion, it’s worth hiring a local guide who can tell us about the historical highlights, take us on a short boat trip around the port, and lead us through the narrow streets to local eateries.

Kota Tua – Old Town Jakarta

The second day in Jakarta is dedicated to Kota Tua, the historical district in the heart of the city. This is an extraordinary place with a rich history that has preserved many traces of the city’s colonial past (Java was under Dutch occupation for several centuries). There are many beautifully preserved historic buildings, including Dutch residences, former warehouses, palaces, and churches. If you look closely during your journey through the city, you may even spot Dutch windmills. The district is known for its distinctive architectural style with cobblestone streets and colonial building facades.

In Kota Tua, you will also find Jakarta’s most important museums and galleries, such as the Bank Indonesia Museum, the Jakarta History Museum and Art Gallery, and the Wayang Museum (Indonesian puppetry museum). The district is traversed by the Kali Besar canal, which adds charm to the place. It’s worth taking a stroll there early in the morning to see the city come alive. People jog, exercise in large groups to music, play badminton, ride bicycles, or sit on benches and enjoy their coffee.

★ Our tip for a walk ★

Make sure to visit Fatahillah Square, the main square of the Old Town, just after dusk. The square fills with people, families have picnics, and children play. People ride colorful bicycles, and there are concerts taking place in several spots at the same time.

Also, don’t miss Cafe Batavia, an iconic restaurant and bar with a history dating back to colonial times. It is located in a beautiful historic building, filled with artwork and photographs of various artists from around the world. Be sure to try gado gado, a popular dish in Jakarta that consists of a variety of cooked or raw vegetables served with a distinctive peanut sauce. The sauce, called “bumbu kacang,” is a key element of gado-gado and is made from roasted peanuts, chili, garlic, ketchup, tamarind, and coconut milk. Its flavor is unmatched!

Glodok – a journey back in time to the Chinatown district in Jaka.

Glodok is the oldest and largest Chinese district in Indonesia. It was established in the 18th century and served as a settlement for Chinese traders. Today, Glodok is still vibrant with life – behind beautiful temples and bustling markets, there are many small alleyways where you can try authentic Chinese mooncakes or dumplings. It’s worth taking a stroll there to experience the atmosphere of this extraordinary district: visit traditional family-owned shops, popular local cafés, explore a historic tea house (also try their dumplings), or get lost in the bustling market.

Merdeka Square and Monumen Nasional – icons of independent Indonesia.

Merdeka Square, also known as Lapangan Merdeka, is one of the most significant historical and symbolic places in the capital of Indonesia. It is the central square of the city that played a crucial role in the history of Indonesia’s independence. It was here, on August 17, 1945, that the first President of Indonesia, Sukarno, proclaimed the country’s independence. Every year, on the anniversary of this event, ceremonies and parades take place at Merdeka Square.

At the center of the square stands Monas, short for Monumen Nasional (National Monument), which is one of the most important symbols of Indonesia. It stands at a height of 132 meters and is surrounded by a pleasant park where visitors can enjoy picnics. The interior of the monument houses a museum where visitors can learn about the history of Indonesia’s struggle for independence.

Istiqlal Mosque – tour with guide.

Istiqlal Mosque is one of the largest mosques in Southeast Asia and one of the most important Muslim places of worship in the country. It’s no wonder it is located in Jakarta, as Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim democracy (though it is not a religious state). The mosque can accommodate around 200,000 worshipers, making it one of the largest mosques in the world in terms of capacity. The sheer size of the mosque left a tremendous impression on us.

The history of the mosque’s construction is also significant. Istiqlal Mosque was built between 1961 and 1978 and was officially opened in 1978. Its name “Istiqlal” means “independence” and symbolizes Indonesia’s struggle for independence.

Interestingly, Istiqlal Mosque is located adjacent to the Cathedral of Christ the Highest Priest, symbolizing tolerance and interreligious harmony in Indonesia. The close proximity of both places of worship is unique and serves as a perfect example of mutual respect and religious peace. Our guide emphasized this point during the tour.

The mosque is also open to visitors from other religions and cultures. It is possible to visit the mosque with a guide (you cannot wander around on your own; the visiting hours are indicated in the photo below), but it is important to observe a few rules: clothing should cover the legs and arms, and visitors are required to go barefoot. If you don’t have appropriate attire, the guide can provide it for you.

And finally: Bajaj – a ride around Jakarta.

Thailand has its tuk-tuks, and Indonesia has various types of three-wheeled rickshaws. In Jakarta, they are called “bajaj” [pronounced badzh-eye]. While the most common means of transportation in the capital of Indonesia is the TransJakarta system – a network of rapid transit buses similar to those in Bogota, bajaj is still very popular, especially in the older parts of the city, such as Kota Tua and Glodok, which I mentioned earlier.

Try taking a ride on a shorter route – it’s an incredible feeling when the small and agile bajaj finds its way through traffic jams or narrow alleys where other modes of transportation have difficulty maneuvering.

Jakarta – what to see and how to get around the city?

In the city, you can get around in various ways. In the modern districts, there is a metro system, and the entire city is covered by a dense network of TransJakarta buses. To use these buses, you need to purchase a special card from designated points. In the older parts of the city, you can opt for a blue bajaj (three-wheeled vehicle), a scooter (although if you’re not accustomed to navigating the unique Indonesian road conditions, I would advise against it :), or a regular taxi.

We installed a very popular app here called Goyek (equivalent to Grab or Uber) and mostly relied on these taxis to get around Jakarta. Additionally, we did a lot of walking. We used either the classic Google Maps or iDiscover illustrated maps, which I found online while preparing for our trip to Indonesia.

iDiscover – illustrated maps showing what’s important.

And I highly, highly recommend iDiscover Asia maps. They have been created by non-profit organizations and local urban activists. You know, not just temples and monuments, but also popular cafes in historical neighborhoods, local meeting places, and lesser-known spots. Just the way we like to explore the most. Slowly, unhurriedly, in the rhythm of little feet.

That’s how we discovered the old port in Jakarta, and we knew it was worth getting assistance from local guides. We delved into various mysterious corners of Glodok and found the fantastic WonderLoft hostel in the heart of the Old Town, where we stayed.

You can download the map on your phone and read more about the highlighted places on their website: their history, residents, culture, etc. It’s a fantastic resource!

Jakarta – what to see? How to experience the city? I hope our tips will help you plan a few days in the capital of Indonesia. Let us know if you have been to this city and what memories you have from it!

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