A Guide to Jakarta – How to See Indonesia’s Capital in a Day

Jakarta - A Day in Indonesia's Mega City

I’d read little positive about Jakarta and the general advice seemed to be “don’t bother”. “It’s dirty, it’s congested, there’s nothing to do”; these were descriptions I’d often read.  Yet, we were flying out of the city, so though we’d explore it for a day.

Jakarta Traffic Jan Indonesia
The traffic can get a litte crazy in Jakarta

First things first, Jakarta is huge! The ultra modern highway leading to the city seems to stretch forever. It’s a route surrounded by office blocks and gigantic billboards. All displaying adverts for  the latest smartphones, fast cars and jewellery. This sprawling metropolis seems like another planet compared to the rest of Indonesia. It’s hard to imagine many people ever being able to have the latest luxuries.

Jakarta Office Buildings Indonesia
High rise office blocks are everywhere in Jakarta

We opted for a cheap stay in the centre, so grabbed a room at the Ibis Budget Jakarta Menteng. This is a 30 minutes walk from Merdeka (Independence) Square, which is one of the largest squares in the world!  More on that soon.

Mohammad Husni Thamrin Statue Jakarta Indonesia
Mohammad Husni Thamrin played a key role in gaining Indonesia's independence

The National Museum of Indonesia

First we visited the impressive Museum Nasional Jakarta, which is a must see. The museum gives a fascinating insight into the history and culture of Indonesia. It’s a country which spans almost 18,000 islands and you can imagine the diversity is like nowhere else on earth. The museum has displays of ancient monuments, ethnography, anthropology, archaeology and history. 

Homo Floresiensis Skull Jakarta Museum
Homo Floresiensis Skull in Jakarta's National Museum

The skull of Flores Man (a Homo Floresiensis) is there too, who was a member of the Homo Floresiensis. They’re thought to be a group distinct from modern humans (research is ongoing).  

Rose Kasili Jakarta Indonesia Selfie
The locals kept stopping us for selfies. They don't see westerners every day so it's a great way to meet new people

The opening hours of Museum Nasional Jakarta are 08:00 – 16:00 (but closed on Monday and open until 17:00 on Friday and Saturday). The entrance fee is 10,000 IDR and I’d recommend spending two – three hours there.

Merdeka Square

Leaving the museum we ventured across the road to Merdeka Square. Gated walls surround the area and it was difficult to find a way in! To try and find it we walked….and walked…and walked. Top tip – it’s at the north of the park (as is the exit). Once inside, it’s a more peaceful walk! 

Merdeka Square is a large green space, hosting events, parades and sports. It’s been in it’s current state since the early 2000’s, but has been in development for over 200 years!

National Monument Jakarta Indonesia
Indonesia's National Monument in Merdeka Square

Shooting 132 metres in to the sky and representing Indonesia’s struggle for independence is the National Monument. It took years for approval of the design as the economy couldn’t handle the escalating costs!

Masjid Istiqlal Mosque

A 15 minute walk away, Masjid Istiqlal was our next stop. It’s the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and third largest Sunni mosque in the world! Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. With the size of Jakarta, it’s no wonder there is a mosque of this grandeur. Opened in 1978, it has has a bustling modern feel to it. 

Masjid Istiqlal Mosque - Jakarta Indonesia
The huge Masjid Istiqlal Mosque

Removing our shoes, we entered the cavernous building to look around. We respectfully avoided key areas of worship, but within ten minutes were moved on.

Masjid Istiqlal Mosque Jakarta Indonesia
Inside Masjid Istiqlal Mosque - it can hold 200,000 people at once!

Across the street we saw Jakarta Cathedral. Nowhere near the size of Masjid Istiqlal, but an impressive house of worship all the same. Its vicinity to the mosque was intentional to represent religious harmony between the country’s diverse people.

Jakarta Cathedral Indonesia
St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral

Feet tired we jumped in a tuk tuk and headed back to the Menteng district where we were staying. This is where many of Jakarta’s other half live in huge colonial houses. The Monument Selamat Detang (Welcome Monument) fountain is impressive. Although aside from that it’s all designer shopping malls. There was little more to see in this area, so it was time to put our feet up with a beer and then get a taxi to the airport.

Indonesia Welcome Monument Jakarta
Checking out the Welcome Monument in Jakarta

From what we saw of Jakarta it felt like many other huge capital cities. Interesting to see, but not necessarily a must see. We only experienced major monuments and sights, but with more time to explore would have uncovered a different side. Poverty is a huge issue in Jakarta, but it’s something we weren’t exposed to.  

Other thing to see in Jakarta

I would have loved to experience the not for profit Jakarta Hidden Tour (and here) run by local people. You can bring useful donation such as food, medicine and clothes (maybe you have something to donate at the end of your travels?). Sounds good to me!

  • Have you been to Jakarta? 
  • What was your experience?  
  • Did we miss out by only spending a day there?
Let us know in the comments below:


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