The sweltering, smoggy and people-packed capital of Indonesia may pack a punch for the first time visitor, but Jakarta still has many charms.
You could have breakfast in your hotel, but if you are staying in the heart of the city you could head to the Grand Indonesia Mall, the largest shopping mall in Southeast Asia. There are around 100 eateries here, as well as boutiques, grocery stores and a cinema complex. Djournal Coffee, which opens at 8am, has good coffee, pastries, eggs benedict and other cafe favourites.
Also in central Jakarta is Tanamara Coffee, which offers fabulous coffee sourced from across Indonesia. It also serves pastries, omelettes, and other breakfast dishes.
Now it’s on to the striking National Monument, a 132-metre-high tower that was built to symbolise Indonesia’s struggle for independence from the Dutch. Ride the elevator up to the observation deck for sweeping views of this frenetic city.
Next door is the National Museum of Indonesia. A highlight here is the ‘hobbit man’ skull of Homo floresiensis, which was dug up on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. If you’re lucky you might experience a gamelan music concert in the lobby.
Jump in a taxi for a ride to Jakarta’s historic centre, called Kota. The area was once the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, and is today known for its colonial buildings.
Getting hungry? Stop by Cafe Batavia, which dominates part of Kota’s main square. Expect cane furniture and dozens of photographs of famous identities covering the walls. Western, Indonesian, and Chinese dishes are on the menu.
The square itself is very popular with Indonesian tourists who come here to eat from street stalls selling things like steamed fish dumplings, and spicy salad with peanut dressing. You might want to change your lunch plans to join in.
Nearby is the tiny Museum Wayang, which features lots of traditional rod puppets from across Indonesia. Here you’ll gain an understanding of the centuries-old relationship puppetry has to Indonesian storytelling.
Why not rent a vibrantly-coloured bicycle and an accompanying broad-brimmed hat in the square, and peddle the 1.5 kilometres to Sunda Kelapa, the city’s old port. Here you can stroll among traditional boats and stalls selling the day’s catch.
If you’re interested in local maritime history you could spend a little time in the Museum Bahari, located in some 17th century Dutch warehouses close the port’s entrance.
Back in central Jakarta it’s cocktail time. A highlight on the mixed drinks scene is Cloud Lounge, which boasts almost 360-degree views across the city from 49 stories up. The Vodka Room here allows you to drink speciality vodkas in a space with a temperature of zero degrees. Cloud Lounge also serves dinner, Western style.
There are plenty of dining and nightlife options south of the city centre in Kemang, a trendy area popular with expats. You can get sausages and German beer at Die Stube, Italian at Mamma Rosy, a British pub vibe at Eastern Promise, an Irish one at Murphy’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, and authentic Indonesian food at Lumpang Emas.
Dress up to get into Dragonfly nightclub, which kicks on until late in the night.
Getting around and staying in Jakarta
The easiest way to get into the centre of Jakarta from the airport is by hotel transfer. Otherwise, ignore the touts outside the airport and head to one of several taxi stands owned by reputable taxi companies. Taxis are the best way to traverse the city. Insist on using the meter rather than agreeing on a fixed fare. It usually works out to be cheaper. On–demand services like GO-JEK, Uber, and Grab are also popular.
In general, Jakarta’s hotels offer good-value for business travellers. Among the best are the JW Marriott Hotel Jakarta, the Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta, and the Pullman Jakarta Indonesia. Good, cheaper options include the Holiday Inn Express Jakarta Pluit Citygate, near the airport and a shopping mall, and the very central Crowne Plaza Hotel Jakarta. The Citadines Rasuna Jakarta offers spacious serviced apartments.