“My time here made me cherish respect for people’s differences.” — former US president Barack Obama on his childhood years spent in Jakarta.
Diversity is the name of the game in Jakarta, where much of its 10 million-strong population has roots elsewhere. Javanese, Balinese, Chinese, and European influences are firmly knitted into the capital city’s cultural tapestry. Although Islam is a cornerstone of the city’s identity, its secular government has provided space for other religions to flourish.
To experience Jakarta city life to the fullest, bring an open mind, and prepare to be captivated by its potpourri of colours, flavours, and lifestyles.
1. What to Eat in Jakarta
To eat as the locals do, seek out Padang cuisine. Hailing from the culinary traditions of the Minangkabau ethnic group in West Sumatra, it is considered one of Indonesia’s most popular local cuisines.
In Jakarta, the thriving Pagi Sore restaurant chain is a safe bet for upscale Padang food. If you prefer your spice levels dialled down a notch, visit Pagi Sore’s Cipete Raya outlet—a crowd favourite. Regulars swear by the rendang (meat stewed in coconut milk and spices) and murtabak (pancake stuffed with egg and meat).
For a unique Jakarta experience set to the music of a traditional “live” band, head to Lapo Ni Tondongta to sample Batak (North Sumatran) cuisine. The Batak people are predominantly Christian; they are not restricted by Islamic dietary practices, and pork features prominently on their menu. Be sure to feast on the delectable babi panggang (grilled pork) or the much raved-about saksang babi (grilled pork in a blood sauce).
2. Fun Things to do in Jakarta
Curious about the hidden gems of Jakarta, from a local’s perspective? Whether your interest lies in the best street foods, traditional markets, or nightspots, community-oriented services such as Withlocals can connect you with self-styled city experts, creating an adventure tailor-made for you.
Meet Vera. A highly rated tour guide on Withlocals, her passions include strolling around Jakarta city, sharing stories, and meeting new people. Vera offers a day tour that includes stops at Jakarta’s Chinatown and Old Town, where you will have a chance to view Chinese and Dutch colonial architecture.
You can also join her on a market shopping expedition where you will navigate your way through stalls selling everything from tropical fruit to clothes and fabric—a good opportunity to do some souvenir hunting while fine-tuning your haggling skills.
For more local favourites, look out for recommendations on international web sites and services that rely on community contributions; an up-and-coming site (and app) to keep your eye on is Like A Local, which has recently added Jakarta to its line-up.
3. Free Jakarta Sightseeing Tours
City-owned bus operator TransJakarta has recently launched several free “City Tour” bus services to give travellers easy access to Jakarta’s places of interest.
Bus routes are organised by themes, which currently include “History of Jakarta,” “Art and Culinary,” and “Jakarta Skyscrapers.” On each city tour bus, an audio recording provides basic information, while TransJakarta personnel are on board to lend assistance when necessary.
To catch a free bus, check the route maps and schedules and wait at any bus stop labelled “City Tour” along the route, or call TransJakarta at 1500-102 for more information.
4. Best Places for Street Shopping in Jakarta
For upmarket antique and artefact finds, spend a morning or afternoon trawling through the renowned Jalan Surabaya flea market in central Jakarta—high-profile visitors have reportedly included rock legend Mick Jagger, Oscar-winning actress Sharon Stone, and former US president Bill Clinton.
To indulge in street shopping with a dash of modernity, patronise areas favoured by young entrepreneurs, such as Pasar Santa, home to hipster coffee shops and stores specialising in vinyl records and vintage apparel.
Art connoisseurs can home in on Jakarta’s creative enclaves—Pasar Seni Ancol and along Jalan Pintu Besar Selatan—where you can rub shoulders with artists at work and street performers, as well as participate in the occasional workshop or social event.
5. Where to Capture Iconic Jakarta Photos
If you have time in your busy schedule for only one iconic building in Jakarta, make it the National Monument (also known as Monas or Monumen Nasional). This 137-metre high obelisk commemorates the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence—a declaration which took place in 1945.
Capped with a scintillating 32-kg gilded flame, the National Monument is a fitting tribute to freedom built during the tenure of President Sukarno, the first Indonesian president (from 1945–1967).
At the base of the monument, a historical centre houses a diorama depicting Indonesia’s road to independence, as well as a display of the original text of the Proclamation of Independence. A lift takes visitors up to the lookout platform at the base of the flame, where they can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
Other significant landmarks in the city centre include the Istiqlal Mosque—the largest mosque in Southeast Asia—and the century-old neo-gothic Jakarta Cathedral across from the mosque. Seen in tandem, these spiritual icons are an enduring symbol of Indonesia’s commitment to preserving diversity.
To complete your itinerary for your Jakarta holidays or business trips, consult our guide to the city’s best museums, and speak to our team at Sari Pan Pacific Jakarta to enquire about our latest offers for rooms and suites.