The first settlements on the site of Jakarta were established at the mouth of the Ciliwung, perhaps as early as the 5th century CE. The city’s official history, however, starts in 1527, when the sultan of Bantam defeated the Portuguese there and called the place Jayakerta, which in Sundanese means “Glorious Fortress”. The Dutch, under the leadership of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, captured and razed the city in 1619, after which the capital of the Dutch East Indies, a walled township named Batavia, was established on the site.

The colonial history of the city can be divided into three major periods. First was that of the Dutch East India Company, when most of the activities of the city centred around the fortress and the company warehouses. At that time the city somewhat resembled a typical Dutch town, complete with canals. The second period began in the early 1800s, when the city was extended to include higher and more healthful areas to the south, which would later become the seat of the new colonial government. A brief interval of British control during the Napoleonic Wars, ending in 1815, interrupted the second period. During the third period, which lasted from about the 1920s to 1941, the city became modernized.

The colonial era ended when Indonesia was occupied by Japanese forces in World War II. After the war the city was briefly occupied by the Allies and then was returned to the Dutch. During the Japanese occupation and again after Indonesian nationalists declared independence on August 17, 1945, the city was renamed Djakarta. The Dutch name Batavia remained the internationally recognized name until full Indonesian independence was achieved and Djakarta was officially proclaimed the national capital, and its present name recognized, on December 27, 1949.

Jakarta has undergone tremendous growth and development since Indonesia’s independence. During the 1950s the city began its transformation, as President Sukarno supported large scale construction projects. The city’s infrastructure was modernized, and office towers rose. Jakarta became one of the largest metropolises of tropical Asia and emerged as a financial and commercial centre during the tenure of Suharto, whose reign was marked by widespread corruption and nepotism. After decades of economic growth, the city and the country were hit hard by a financial crisis in Asia in 1997–98. Widespread antigovernment protests and rioting ensued, which claimed the lives of more than 500 people; Suharto was forced to resign in 1998. Thus, at the outset of the 21st century, Indonesia and Jakarta were undergoing a dramatic economic, political, and social transition.

Hectic Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia and has a rather unfortunate nickname as it is often referred to as the ‘Big Durian’ in reference to the famously pungent Southeast Asian fruit. Many tourists treat Jakarta as an entry and exit point to Indonesia, but if you are passing through the city and have some time to spare then there are a wide range of attractions to enjoy from quirky museums to a variety of national monuments.

Jakarta is also a great place to learn more about Indonesia’s complicated history, and you can visit a variety of culturally and historically significant locations such as the old town and the port which will give you a glimpse of how the city would have looked in past times. As well as harking back to the days of old, Jakarta is one of the most modern cities in Indonesia, and you can spend time embracing this cutting edge side to the city at its famous malls, bars, and restaurants. Jakarta may be crowded, loud, and busy, but it certainly is not boring.

1. National Monument 

Monas Tower is the most famous monument in Jakarta and stands proud in the city as a symbol of independence in Indonesia which was declared in 1945 after years of Dutch colonial rule. The monument is located in Merdeka Square which means ‘freedom’ in Indonesian and there is a gallery where you can learn more about Indonesia’s often turbulent history. The main draw however is a trip to the observation deck at the top of the tower which affords views in all directions across the city.

This monument is open to the public every day from 8 AM to 3 PM, except on the Monday 

2. Day trip to the Thousand Islands

Amazingly, the Thousand Islands are considered part of greater Jakarta which means that if you are looking for some beach time in the city you will not have to venture too far. Just a few hours outside of the city center finds you at the Thousands which are called Pulau Seribu in Indonesian and you will find gorgeous beaches, coves, and inlets here. The best way to enjoy the islands is to take a boat tour which will let you hop from one island to another and allow you to take in all the best sights at the same time. If you are looking for a little luxury then Pulau Macan is home to an upscale resort where you can enjoy some fine dining and delicious cocktails at sunset.

3. Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII)

Indonesia is well known for being made up of over 17,000 islands and is split into 26 provinces. As a result, it is unlikely you will even be able to scratch the surface of this immense country on a trip here, but if you want to get an overview of the highlights then head to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah or Beautiful Mini Indonesia. This park is arranged according to province and you will find models of traditional homes and can learn about the local traditions, costumes, and diverse ways of life across the archipelago. This is a great place to come if you are travelling with children and gives you a whistle stop tour of the country if you do not have time to actually visit each province in person.

4. Go shopping in Menteng

One of the main pastimes in Jakarta is shopping, and if you want to take advantage of this fully then head to the district of Menteng which is famous for its flea market. Here you will find a huge range of goods including arts and crafts, miles of textiles, and even food items. The main market is known as Jalan Surabaya Flea Market which first started operating in the 1970s and is also known for its antiques. Some of the signature items that you will find here include ornate wood carvings and vinyl records, and the market is over half a kilometer long which means that you will be spoilt for choice whatever you budget. Bargaining is expected so do not be afraid to haggle if you spot something you like.

5. Istana Merdeka

Istana Merdeka sits in the center of Jakarta and is the presidential palace located close to Merdeka Square. As this is the current residence of the sitting president in Indonesia, it is not open to the public, although it is well worth swinging by and admiring the exterior as this is one of the most historically and politically significant buildings in the country. The building dates from 1879 and it is here that the historic flag changing ceremony happened when the Dutch Colonial period ended and Indonesia declared independence.

6. Ragunan Zoo

Ragunan Zoo sprawls over an impressive 185 hectares of land and you will find an amazing 3,600 species here. Just some of the Indonesian animals that call the zoo home include Komodo Dragons and graceful orangutans, and there are also a variety of species from other parts of the world. The zoo is also home to an array of pretty indigenous flowers and plants and is a great place to come to learn more about the Indonesian wildlife. Note that the zoo is closed every Monday and make sure to wear plenty of insect repellent when you visit to ward off the insects.

7. Ancol Beach

You might not imagine that a big city like Jakarta has a beach but it does in the form of Ancol Beach which is part of the wider Ancol Jakarta Bay City. The beach here consists of a strip of golden sand that skirts along the sea front and although this is technically a public beach you will have to pay an entry fee to enjoy the facilities. There are a number of swimming pools along the shore line and you can recline on a rented sun longer and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere outside of the city center. There are also a range of other attractions in the same complex such as a Sea World and a water park.

8. Kota Tua

Kota Tua also goes by the name Old Town Batavia and is one of the most historically significant parts of Jakarta. As you walk around the area you will find pretty architecture that dates from the Dutch colonial period and you can also visit the cobbled central town square which is the signature feature of the area. This is seen as the cultural heart of the city and many artists and photographers gravitate here to take in the relaxed atmosphere and old world feel, and the area is also studded with cafes so you can have a drink and enjoy the surroundings. It also has a high concentration of museums so you can learn some history here at the same time.

9. National Museum

The National Museum goes by the name Museum Nasional in Indonesian and is the place to come if you want to know more about this fascinating country. The museum tells the story of the history, art, culture, geography, and ethnology of this country, and is separated into different galleries that include collections like early Indonesian ceramics and Hindu art through the ages. The museum has been in operation since 1868 so it is also a historical gem in its own right.

10. Taman Anggrek Mall

Jakarta is a city that is famous for its malls but the biggest of these is Taman Anggrek Mall in the west of the city. Locals claim that some 10,000 people visit the mall every day and you will find a vast array of shops here that are suitable for all tastes and budgets. As well as retail outlets you will also find cafes and eateries all over the mall and it is well worth a trip to see some of Jakarta’s famous mall culture firsthand. Other attractions in the mall include a large cinema and it even has an ice skating rink.

11. National Gallery of Indonesia

Located at Merdeka Square in Gambir is the National Gallery of Indonesia which is one of the best museums in the city and has some 2,000 pieces of Indonesian art work. For any art lovers or those who do not know much about Indonesian artists this is definitely not to be missed and it takes you on a colorful journey through different regional pieces. There is also a separate section dedicated to foreign collections and you will find paintings, ceramics, photographs, and sculptures here.

12. Jin De Yuan

Located in Glodok is Jin De Yuan which is a spacious Buddhist temple that was built in 1755. It is one of the most important places of worship for the Buddhist community in the city and some signature points to look out for include the roof which is topped with two ornate dragons with pearls in their mouths. Inside the temple you can take in the aromatic incense as well as ceremonials bells and a collection of ancient calligraphy.

13. Dine at Seribu Rasa Menteng

Jakarta is a food lover’s paradise and you will find restaurants and street food stalls all over the city. One of the most famous restaurants in the city however is Seribu Rasa which means ‘A Thousand Tastes’ and is set in a beautiful colonial style mansion. The food served here will give you a snap shot of a range of Indonesian cuisines and you will find classic dishes with an upscale twist. Conveniently located in the center of town in Menteng, Seribu Rasa also has a variety of draft beers so that you can enjoy a cold drink with the spicy Indonesian food.

14. Museum Wayang

Wayang is the Indonesian name for traditional puppets and is one of Indonesia most prized cultural traditions. To learn more about the history and cultural importance of wayang, head to the puppet museum which will take you on a journey through time and explain how these amazing objects are made. Located in the old town part of Jakarta, this is a quirky museum that is not to be left off the itinerary and collections include fearsome masks, wooden puppets, and a show that is held every Sunday at 10 o’clock in the morning.

15. Take in the views at Awan Lounge

At the top of the Kosenda Hotel is Awan Lounge which can serve as a welcome break in the middle of the hectic city. This rooftop bar includes a vertical garden with trees studded around the area and the signature feature here is a glass skylight that plunges down over nine floors and is not recommended for those who don’t have a head for heights. In the evenings you can sip a cocktail here and take in the sparking lights of the city below.

Monas Tower (National Monument)
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah
shopping in Menteng
Thousand Islands
Istana Merdeka
Ancol Beach
Ragunan Zoo
Kota Tua
National Museum
National Gallery of Indonesia
Jin De Yuan
Seribu Rasa Menteng
Museum Wayang
Taman Anggrek Mall
Awan Lounge (Rooftop Restaurant and bar)

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