The vibrant Indonesian capital

The Indonesian capital is one of Asia’s most compelling destinations, a teeming megalopolis home to more than 10 million people. At times frenetic and often surprising, it offers visitors unique insights into the world’s largest Muslim country while reflecting the rich history and heritage that melds Javanese, Chinese, European and Balinese cultures into a truly global city. Jakarta’s inhabitants are some of the friendliest and most hospitable anywhere, always happy to give advice – especially when it comes to the critical subject of what to eat.

  • Hotel
  • Foursquare

What to see and do in Jakarta

The best way to get around is by using Go-Jek, Indonesia’s version of Uber, where motorbike taxis whisk you through the city. Start with drinks on the 56th floor at Skye Bar and Restaurant: it is the perfect way to orient yourself and if you are there on a clear day, prepare to be wowed by the vistas.

Another way to take in views is to climb to the top of the Syahbandar Menara Watchtower, part of the Maritime Museum which is housed in a former Dutch East India Company warehouse in the historic Kota Tua quarter. Do not miss the Kota Intan drawbridge or Semasa Di Kota Tua, a café, shop and art space in an original building that plays host to occasional art markets.

To put the city in historical context, the excellent National Museum of Indonesia is a must-visit where you can see everything from ceramics to a huge collection of Hindu and Buddhist art. Other important landmarks include the largest city square in the world, Merdeka Square, which has an obelisk-shaped National Monument at its centre; and the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in South East Asia. One of Jakarta’s most famous residents, at least temporarily, was Barack Obama, and his house in Menteng on Taman Amir Hamzah is now an increasingly-popular stop on the visitor trail, while a statue stands outside his former school.

For anyone wanting retail therapy take your pick from high-end designer malls that rival Hong Kong such as those at the swish Pacific Place, the Grand Indonesia Shopping Town or the central Plaza Senayan where you will find international brands such as Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg. Once you have shopped your fill, it is time to indulge in one of Jakarta’s biggest draws – the food.

A buzzing area full of hip dining options is Cikini in the Menteng district. Choose from rooftop tapas and cocktail bars where mixologists work their magic as well as some of the most elegant (and expensive) restaurants in town. At Kaum for instance, which is part of the Potato Head group, dishes from across the country are served to a young crowd in funky surroundings.

For cheaper eats, try Padang food from West Sumatra at Rumah Makan Medan Baru (order the beef rendang) or Chinese street food, such as dumplings steamed in banana leaves, in the Chinatown alleyways of Glodok. Street desserts are a national obsession so take your pick from options such as klepon (coconut rice balls) or Martabak Manis, which are sweet, thick pancakes. You will find them all over the city, but some of the best are on Jalan Pecenongan where Martabak#65A became famous for adding toppings such as Nutella and Toblerone.

Finally, it comes as a surprise to some that Jakarta’s nightlife scene is one of the most vibrant anywhere in Asia, so save energy for the countless bars and clubs that ensure a great night out. Immigrant is a much talked-about sophisticated cocktail bar and club, while Blowfish is a nightlife institution.

Share this Guide to Jakarta