Seriously, what is there to do in Jakarta? That question has taken me a while to answer. Jakarta is an incredibly tough city to get to know. Measuring 662 square kilometers and consisting of over 30 million people (in the greater Jakarta area) exploring this megacity can be a daunting task – and that goes for tourists and newbie expats, like myself. As someone who has lived in Jakarta for 11 months, I’ve learned how very little information exists about tourist attractions here. And that’s especially true if you don’t speak bahasa Indonesia. In my experience, finding things to do in Jakarta is kind of difficult.
I’m trying really hard to make more of an effort to get to know this city before my time here comes to an end. In the past few months I’ve done a lot to branch out and explore more of this crazy city. And I’ve been trying my best to visit as many of Jakarta’s top tourist attractions as possible before I move on from this city. Since I know how tough it is to find fun things to do in Jakarta, I decided to put together a little guide about what to do in the city.
9 fun & weird things to do in Jakarta:
A visit to Monas (the National Monument) is probably the number one tourist attraction in Jakarta. I’ve driven past the monument countless times and even visited Merdeka Square, but I have yet to go to the top of the 137-meter-high monument. Monas opened in 1975 and serves as a symbol of Indonesia’s independence. It is known to offer one of the best views in town. And with an admission fee of Rp 15,000 ($1.25 USD), there’s no excuse for not visiting the iconic monument. The observation deck is open every day from 8am-3pm (it is closed the last Monday of each month).
Located right next to Monas is the National Museum. If you’re visiting the Monas observation deck, admission to the National Museum is already included in your ticket. I haven’t actually been, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about this museum which offers a glimpse into the diverse cultures, colonial history and natural wonders that make up the Indonesian archipelago. For hours and more info go here.
2. KOTA TUA (OLD TOWN)
Aside from Monas, the Dutch colonial district of Kota Tua is the one other tourist attraction I was aware of when I first visited Jakarta in 2014. Before I visited I hadn’t exactly heard great things about Kota Tua, but considering it still stands as a relic of Jakarta’s colonial past, I had to see it for myself. This part of town boasts beautiful buildings leftover from the Dutch. Because of the riots in 1998 much of the area is still pretty rundown, but in my opinion it makes Kota Tua all the more fascinating.
Kota Tua is a great place to walk around, take a look at the old buildings and sample some street food. There are also a few museums that offer a decent insight into Jakarta’s history. If you visit on a Sunday (like I did) the square will be filled with Indonesians. The scene was slightly bizarre, complete with magic shows and people dressed in Halloween costumes (look closely at the picture above)…and no it was not October when I visited.
3. ISTIQLAL MOSQUE & JAKARTA CATHEDRAL
It feels like there are literally mosques on every street corner in Jakarta. But what makes Istiqlal Mosque special is that it’s the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. It opened in 1978 in commemoration of Indonesia’s independence, hence it’s name (istiqlal translates to “independence”). It’s also possible to arrange free guided tours of the grounds.
Istiqlal Mosque was build directly across the street from Jakarta Cathedral in order to represent the tolerance between religions in Indonesia. The neo-gothic cathedral dates back to 1901 and it is definitely worth a visit. Both of these structures are located a short walk from Monas and Merdeka square.
4. PASAR BARU
Dating back to 1820, Pasar Baru is the oldest market in Jakarta. The pedestrian-only shopping area is filled with vendors hawking fabrics, vintage cameras and fresh flowers. It is also home to a diverse mix of Javanese, Indian and Chinese so it’s the perfect place to go to sample all sorts of amazing Indonesian street foods. I went here on a Sunday. It was packed with Indonesians and there was no shortage of street food. A word to the wise…do not eat before you go here.
Pasar Baru is also lined with some of the city’s older buildings. You’ll notice that many remain damaged from the riots in 1998. It’s a historical and truly fascinating part of town. Pasar Baru is located within walking distance from Monas and the Jakarta Cathedral.
5. SKYE BAR
When I moved to Jakarta, one of the first places I was told to visit was Skye Bar. Located in the heart of the city and surrounded by Jakarta’s modern skyscrapers, the rooftop bar on this 57-story building is supposedly home to the best view in town. Jakarta might not be the most beautiful city on earth but when it comes to skylines, Jakarta’s is ridiculously picturesque. Driving around the city I’m still stunned whenever I glimpse skyscrapers in the distance. And I definitely want to pay a visit to Skye Bar at least once…even if I do have to pay $10 for a Bintang.
6. SUNDA KELAPA PORT
Because Jakarta is such an enormous city, sometimes I forget that it’s actually located on the ocean. After living here for nearly a year I’ve only glimpsed the ocean twice, which is why I was so excited when a friend suggested we take a drive to the harbor. I’ll admit that there are no stunning vistas from the Sunda Kelapa Port. The harbor might be polluted and dirty, but it was kind of cool.
It’s definitely not your average touristy thing to do in Jakarta, but I liked it. The fishing boats are enormous and though it’s a little on the dusty side I enjoyed strolling past the colorful boats and smiling fishermen. Many fishermen even offered to take us on their canoes to give us a little tour. Though this would qualify as a weird thing to do in Jakarta, I regret not taking them up on it. They were only asking Rp 30,000-50,000 and it would have offered a very different view of Jakarta. If you ask nicely it’s also possible to take a look around one of the big fishing boats (you’ll likely be asked for a bit of money afterwards).
7. GLODOK (JAKARTA’S CHINATOWN)
After coming across this post, I was intrigued by Glodok, Jakarta’s historic Chinatown. The chaotic and maze-like market is made up of narrow alleyways lined with food carts, temples and hawker stalls, selling everything from incense to electronics to traditional snacks. I’m a big fan of wandering around markets – finding weird trinkets, sampling unique foods and doing some good ol’ people watching. And Glodok is the perfect place to do just that.
8. PASAR SANTA
UPDATE (May 7, 2017): I’ve been hearing from a lot of readers that Pasar Santa has all but shut down. Because I no longer live in Jakarta, I’m not exactly sure what the status of Pasar Santa’s businesses is. It looks like some are still open, but it sounds like a lot of them have been forced to close due to drastic raises in rental prices. I highly suggest you look into it yourself before making the journey to Pasar Santa.
Pasar Santa is definitely the new hot spot in Jakarta, and in my opinion it’s a must visit. Pasar Santa is actually a traditional indoor market but in 2014 Jakarta’s young entrepreneurs had the genius idea of renting out its cheap stalls to house their startup businesses. Today Pasar Santa is filled with dozens of trendy eateries, vinyl record stores, vintage clothing shops and cool coffee lounges. It’s probably the only place in town where you can find things like a vegan sandwich shop, a Mexican cantina and a funky hot dog stand. Pasar Santa is the epitome of cool and a great place go to eat and do some people watching. (For a more in-depth post all about Pasar Santa head here.)
9. MARTABAK BOSS
After a day full of sightseeing there is pretty much nothing better than visiting Martabak Boss. This place is pretty much a food truck and there are a few locations around the city. For those who don’t know what martabak is it’s like a super thick pancake that’s stuffed with anything from chocolate to cheese to chicken. And they are so good!
Martabak Boss is all the rage in Jakarta right now because they put a contemporary twist on this traditional street food. You can get martabak filled with anything from Toblerone to Green Tea Kit Kat to Nutella. I finally got a chance to visit Martabak Boss last week and tried the Nutella, cheese and peanut martabak. The combination might sound weird but it was heavenly. And it’s yet another fun thing to do in Jakarta! (I believe these move around sometimes but the one I visited was located right down the street from the Artotel in Central Jakarta.)
Have you ever been to Jakarta? Do you have anything to add to this list?